Alaska News Nightly: October 19, 2011

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Prosecutors Outline Kott, Kohring Plea Agreements

Associated Press

Prosecutors say a plea agreement calls for former state lawmaker Vic Kohring to be sentenced to time served in a federal corruption case.

Prosecutors also say the deal calls for supervised release, to be determined by a judge. They are recommending three years.

Kohring is scheduled to plead guilty Friday in Anchorage. Sentencing is to follow.

Sentencing memoranda, also filed with the court Wednesday, show a plea agreement between another former lawmaker, Pete Kott, and prosecutors calls for a sentence of time served, followed by three years’ of supervised release, with Kott having a curfew for the first year. Kott also would be fined $10,000.

Kohring and Kott were among those caught in a wide-ranging probe of political corruption in Alaska. Their earlier convictions were tossed by an appeals court.

Aerial Predator Control Plan on Kenai Peninsula Under Consideration

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

The state Board of Game is considering a controversial plan to begin aerial predator control on the Kenai Peninsula for the first time. The moose hunt for most of the Kenai has been severely limited. The board of game is looking for ways to give hunters more opportunities to bag moose. But state biologists have said predation is not the issue. And conservation groups are opposing the plan.

The predator control plan for the Kenai is still a proposal at this point. But its chances of passing at the Board of Game meeting next month are good; very good, if you ask Tony Kavalock, the state’s assistant director for the division of wildlife conservation.

“It’s highly likely,” Kavalock said. “The board’s under a lot of pressure, as is the department to do something to recover the moose population on the Kenai Peninsula.”

There are two moose populations on the Kenai the state is concerned about. In the northern Kenai, moose population numbers have fallen by 40 percent, due to habitat limitations. In the South, the overall moose population numbers are fine, according to the state, but there aren’t enough bulls. Department of Fish and Game biologists don’t think predation is causing either problem. And that troubles Theresa Fiorino, Alaska Representative of Defenders of Wildlife.

“In either case, predation has not been shown to be a driving factor and the data is pretty clear on that predation is not driving either one of these moose population concerns the Kenai,” Fiorino said.

To Fiorino, it doesn’t make sense to kill predators if predators aren’t the problem. And Alaska law says the board of game can’t implement predator control if it would be “ineffective based on scientific information.” Fiorino questions how the state would have the authority to implement the plan.

“I think that the board of game believes that anytime there is any sacrifice by hunters an equal amount of sacrifice needs to be taken by the wolf population or any predator population,” Fiorino said.

This year the Board of Game took action to correct the low bull moose numbers on the southern Kenai, virtually eliminating hunting of yearling bulls. Wildlife advocates want the Board to wait to let those actions improve the bull numbers. John Toppenberg lives on the Kenai and is director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance.

“If you’re going to decimate predators it had better be with the scientific data to back it up and it should be an extreme last ditch alternative when everything else has failed, rather than the first option which is how it’s being utilized in this circumstance,” Toppenberg said.

But the state says aerial predator control is warranted, even if the impact it ultimately has is small. In the northern Kenai section only about 3 percent of the land is state owned, because a large chunk is the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. At the Board of Game meeting in March, a state biologist said that meant predator control would not be effective in increasing the moose population. But the state’s Tony Kavalock says the moose hunt on the Kenai has been slashed by as much as 80 percent, so it’s important to give predator control a chance to work.

Kavalock believes the moose population on the Kenai Peninsula has been in trouble for a long time and the state hasn’t paid enough attention to the issue. He hopes a predator control program there will bring needed attention to the problem.

“Quite frankly I think the Kenai’s gotten kind of a back seat to the whole program statewide so it’s been allowed to go for a long time and people have come to a point now where they’re pretty sick of it, they want to see something done,” Kavalock said.

Ted Spraker is a Board of Game Member who lives on the Kenai Peninsula. At the Board of Game meeting in March, he was one of the most vocal members in favor of predator control. At the end of the day, he summed up his argument this way.

“I can’t go back to the Kenai unless I say there’s some hope, some glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel,” Spraker said. “I think if we can temporarily reduce the predators I think you’ll get pretty much across the board support on the Kenai and even people who come to the Kenai to hunt, they’re going to realize we’re trying to do the right thing.”

Spraker did not respond to requests to comment for this story. The next Board of Game meeting is in Barrow Nov. 11-14. Two proposals for aerial predator control on the Kenai will be discussed at the meeting. Both focus on eliminating wolves, but also would allow for predator control on bears. Comments on the proposals must be received by Oct. 28.

VPSO Program Working to Fill 15 More Slots

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

The Village Public Safety Officer Program may be the only line in the state budget where there has been no talk of reducing over the past few years. It’s a program that provides first responder service to rural Alaska communities – and is a critical element in the fights against domestic violence, alcoholism, and suicide.

The House Committee that will write the program’s budget for next year opened hearings on Wednesday for an update on its status.  Public Safety Commissioner Joe Masters, who began his career as a VPSO in Unalakleet, told the House Public Safety Finance Subcommittee that the department has been using every resource the committee has provided to build up the agency, but there’s still a long way to go.

“In 2008, we had 45 VPSO’s in 45 villages. And in 2011, we were looking at 88 VPSO’s – these are actually VPSO’s hired.  In fiscal year 2012, we were allocated the ability to go up to 101.  Currently we are at 88,” Masters said.

Legislators, however, wanted to know why the hiring of officers for 15 new positions was taking so long.   Kotzebue Democrat Reggie Joule said the budget, including money for those 15 new officers, has been available since mid-April – six months ago.    Masters told legislators that he expects to have 20 officers already on the job ready to begin a training academy set to begin in January.  He said it’s the same as with hiring state troopers – the department has a constant recruiting program.

“This past year we’ve experienced something we hadn’t over the past four – for some reason we’re seeing a fairly significant decline in the number of qualified applicants coming out of our process,” Masters said. “We’re seeing high numbers going in, but we’re not necessarily seeing the high numbers coming out.”

“We’ve been very successful in filling vacancies in 2009, 2010 and for some reason the latter half of 2011 we have not seen those high numbers that allow us to maintain hiring for new positions and keeping up with attrition.”

Masters said the VPSO program will likely begin a new collaboration with Village Public Officers – police on the payroll of local communities – and the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ law enforcement branch.  The federal agency has never had any presence in Rural Alaska, but Masters says they plan to begin offering technical assistance and training support next year.

Crooked Creek Flood Victims Grateful For New Homes

Angela Denning-Barnes, KYUK – Bethel

Just in time for winter, Cooked Creek residents have new homes to move into. Nine homes are now standing in the small Kuskokwim village which experienced a devastating Spring flood.

Bethel Residents Surprised By Brown Bear

Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel

Last week police in Bethel received several calls that a bear, a big bear, was spotted walking through parts of the city.  While that may not be a big deal in parts of Alaska, residents in the tundra city say it’s never happened before.

Jurist Helped Shape Juneau; Defended Capital City, Alaskans’ Privacy Rights

Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau

Robert Boochever was a former New York resident and Army Captain who met his future wife, Army nurse Connie Maddox, while serving in Newfoundland. With his Cornell law degree already in hand before World War II, he started work in Juneau as an assistant U.S. Attorney, a federal prosecutor in a small town during territorial days. After roughly a year, he went into private practice, remaining with the same law firm in Juneau — Faulkner, Banfield, Boochever, and Doogan — for 25 years.

Boochever was active in a variety of local and statewide professional, civic, and community activities, ranging from the consolidation of the City and Borough of Juneau governments to drafting of a comprehensive plan, chairman of the first planning commission, even helping to create a road for a new ski area. Some of the various other organizations he participated in were the Boy Scouts (even though he had no sons), Explorer’s Club, St. Ann’s Hospital board, and the Juneau chapter of the American Red Cross.

“When my mom and dad first came to Juneau, there was just a whole group of young energetic people moving into the area,” said daughter Barbara Lindh. “They all worked really hard to make Juneau a vibrant community.”

Lindh says one especially important cause for her dad was making sure that the capital remained in Juneau. That included a debate with Representative Earl Hillstrand and some of the countless cases he advocated as a lawyer. He argued against an improperly-drafted referendum calling for a constitutional convention and against a citizen’s initiative that would have moved the capital.

“He was so, so disappointed. He just couldn’t believe it,” remembered Lindh when her dad was contacted about the Alaska Supreme Court’s decision in that case.

Boochever was named to the Alaska Supreme Court by Governor Bill Egan in 1972, although he initially applied to be one of the Court’s first justices shortly after Statehood.

He also had a hand in pivotal cases as a jurist. Alaska Supreme Court Justice Craig Stowers, who clerked for Boochever 25 years ago, suggests his work on the Alaska Supreme Court may be more notable than his later work on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Way back then, they were addressing issues of first impression even more frequently than we are today,” said Stowers. “Many of his decisions that he authored, I think, have really stood the test of time and have made a huge contribution to the law in Alaska, and the rights that people enjoy and just the way business is conducted on a day-by-day basis.”

For example, Boochever wrote the concurrence opinion in Ravin, the precedent-setting case on Alaskans’ right to privacy in the home.

Boochever also wrote the opinion in the Aguchak case in which a Scammon Bay couple were denied their due process rights. A department store filed a small claims action over an unpaid bill for a snowmachine and freezer in Anchorage, rather than in the rural court district in which the couple resided.

There are also the Glass opinions. Those are the basis for why officers now must always apply for a warrant from a judge before they record your conversations as evidence in a criminal case.

“I think my dad exemplified what the law and the judicial system should be,” said Lindh.

Then in 1980, President Carter named Boochever to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The largest federal appeals court received 13-percent of its cases from Alaska even though, until Boochever, no Alaskan sat as a judge on the panel.

Boochever has been variously called a gentleman with a warm heart, brilliant, meticulous, and demanding – at least while he was a judge when he frequently asked probing questions.

There are also untold young attorneys in the state who benefited from his mentorship, like Stowers who talked about his experience last week.

In 1986, about the same time that Stowers worked for him as a clerk in Juneau, Boochever began the move to Pasadena, California and was named senior judge on the appeals court – a designation that usually entails a reduced case load.

Boochever’s wife Connie was an advocate for the arts in Alaska, and he wrote poetry and told stories. He was also a tennis player, avid fishermen, bird viewer, and outdoorsman.

Boochever is survived by his four daughters which have remained in Alaska.

“To make the best of it, he just took us out like we were sons,” said Lindh as she described some of the fly-fishing and other family outdoor excursions.

Boochever’s daughters include an art teacher, a music and literature teacher, ski instructor, and public relations consultant. And then there are eleven grandchildren — including Olympic skier Hilary Lindh – and three great-grandchildren.

Boochever’s family says he passed away peacefully October 9th at his home in Pasadena. They had just celebrated his 94th birthday several days earlier.

In addition to any family memorial services, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals also has tentative plans to honor Judge Robert Boochever.

Sitkans Celebrate With Alaska Day Parade

Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka

Sitkans lined Lincoln Street for the annual Alaska Day parade yesterday. The parade comes at the end of a weeklong festival that commemorates the 1867 date when Russia transferred Alaska to the United States. For many, it’s also a celebration of the state itself, and of living in it.

The parade included a pipe-and-drum group from Seattle, the Arctic Warrior Army Band, Native songs and dances, and musicians from Blatchley Middle School and Sitka High School.


Last Friday we reported on a bill in the state legislature which would offer public employees a defined benefits retirement plan option.  The story gave actuarial cost estimates in thousands of dollars which should have been in millions of dollars.  The estimated cost of bringing in existing employees who opt for defined benefits is 124 million dollars.  The annual cost of the program after that is anticipated to escalate from 20 million dollars in FY 15, to 66 million in FY 19.

Also, in a story on a redistricting lawsuit, we incorrectly stated the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1971, it was 1965 and Alaska is one of 9 states that it covers.