Alaska News Nightly: October 12, 2011

Individual news stories are posted in the Alaska News category and you can subscribe to APRN’s news feeds via email, podcast and RSS.

Download Audio

Magistrate Issues Wilde Decision

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

A federal magistrate in Fairbanks issued his long-awaited decision Tuesday on the case of Jim Wilde, the Central man arrested by National Park Service rangers on the Yukon River last fall.

Both Sides React to Wilde Decision

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The ruling in the Jim Wilde case likely will not be the end of a dispute over regulation of state owned waters inside Alaska National Parks.  Wilde’s attorney Bill Satterberg will not comment on the specifics of the case, or a possible appeal, until after Wilde’s Oct. 28 sentencing.

Satterberg unsuccessfully tried to get the charges thrown out early on by challenging Park Service  jurisdiction over state waters, a legal battle he says isn’t over.

Meanwhile, the National Park service welcomes this week’s guilty ruling in the Wilde criminal case, which generated ill will among some Interior residents during the last year, especially in the Yukon Charley area community of Eagle.  Park Service spokeswoman Morgan Warthin says the Park service does not see the ruling as a vindication of law enforcement some locals have called heavy handed.

Warthin says a procedural change announced this spring, re-focusing Yukon Charley law enforcement on shore, will remain. She says that move reflects safety concerns, not a lack of authority.

Dead Killer Whale Found to be Pregnant

Daysha Eaton, KDLG – Dillingham

One of the Killer Whales found dead on the Nushagak River was pregnant. A necropsy performed at the beach in Dillingham yesterday found the whale was carrying a late term fetus. The team from NOAA performing the necropsy says that may indicate pregnancy complications contributed to her death. There was no sign the whale was harmed by humans. But the full results of the necropsy won’t be available for several weeks.

North Slope Finding Some Success in Fall Whaling Season

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

North Slope communities are having some success with fall whaling.

Johnnie Aiken is the executive director of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission in Barrow. Aiken says Barrow crews have landed two whales so far this fall.

But the villages of Kaktovik and Nuiqsuit are having better luck.

AEWC has 11 member villages that share 72 to 75 strikes each year between spring and fall whaling season. Nuiqsuit can take up to four whales, but Aiken says the three they landed this year were large, all three averaged 50 feet, which translates into around 50 tons each. Nuiqsuit gave their fourth strike back to AEWC for another village to use.

Aiken says the weather has been rough, making it difficult for Barrow crews to get out. He says the lack of fall ice makes it more dangerous.

Aiken says Wainwright and Point Lay whalers have been out but have not had success so far this fall.

Mental Health Trust, Forest Service Look to Land Swap

Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka

The Alaska Mental Health Trust is looking to swap thousands of acres of land with the U.S. Forest Service, and it’s hoping to do so with the blessing of a regional group of Tongass National Forest stakeholders.

The Trust presented its plan to the Tongass Futures Roundtable – a group of stakeholders representing communities, organizations and tribal governments throughout Southeast Alaska.

Mental Health Trust Offering 11,000 Acres in Mat-Su for Exploration, Development

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Greg Jones, Executive Director of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, is expected to speak to the Chickaloon Community Council Wednesday according to Council president Frankie Barker.  The Mental Health Trust has announced it is offering more than 11,000 acres for coal exploration and development near the Matanuska Valley community.

The proposed lease could result in significant long-term revenue to support programs for beneficiaries of the Trust, according to Trust officials.

The tract near Chickaloon could contain high quality coal.

A “Best Interest” decision regarding the use of the land up for coal development  was finalized on October sixth.  Notice of the intent to start the application for leases was released the same day.

The lease offering is being managed by the Mental Health Trust Land Office a division within the Department of Natural Resources.

The public will have 30 days to make written comments regarding the lease offering.

New Airline Offering Service in Southwest Alaska

Stephanie Joyce, KUCB – Unalaska

PenAir dominates air travel in southwestern Alaska, but now a new airline is jumping into the mix, albeit on a small scale.

Redistricting Plan Approved by Justice Department

Associated Press

Alaska’s redistricting plan has won approval from the U.S. Justice Department, an important hurdle that must be cleared before the plan can be implemented.

Under federal voting rights law, the plan can’t weaken the ability of the Alaska Native community to elect candidates of their choosing. The redistricting board needed at least nine districts in which an Alaska Native or a Native-backed candidate was likely to be elected to maintain the seats held by those candidates after the 2000 redistricting.

The plan still faces a challenge in state court and must be upheld before it can be implemented.

State Names Jim Pickett Firefighter of the Year

Jennifer Canfield, KMXT – Kodiak

The State of Alaska has named Kodiak volunteer firefighter Jim Pickett as Alaska’s Firefighter of the Year.

Pickett worked with the state to get a grant to bring nearly 900 smoke detectors to Kodiak and then spent the summer installing them with some help from his wife Kiela and a firefighter few buddies. Bayside Fire Chief Bob Himes

Pickett was honored at last week’s Kodiak Island Borough Assembly meeting for not only his work installing smoke detectors, but also for educating kids about fire safety and conducting child safety seat and bike helmet inspections. He’s been with the department for nearly 20 years and says he was surprised by many of the houses he visited.

Pickett says he hopes to bring more smoke detectors to Kodiak when the money becomes available. Though the program is over, for now, Pickett remains committed to the goal of providing smoke detectors to anybody who needs one.

Meanwhile, he’s planning to teach fire prevention to seniors and is looking for money to get the department a fire prevention trailer and a Sparky the Firedog costume.

Japanese Sailor Wintering in Kodiak Harbor

Jennifer Canfield, KMXT – Kodiak

Hundreds of boats are docked at downtown Kodiak’s St. Paul harbor. In one of them lives a 74-year-old Japanese man who left his recycling business in Osaka to travel across the Pacific Ocean.