Alaska News Nightly: November 7, 2011

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Shay Resigns After Arrest

Deanna Garrison, KRBD – Ketchikan

Ketchikan City Council Member Jack Shay tendered his resignation on Monday after being arrested Friday night on 10 counts of possession of child pornography. Shay is a former mayor of both the Ketchikan Gateway Borough and City of Ketchikan. He also served as the former head of the State Division of Employment Security and is a past president of the Alaska Municipal League.

Begich Frustrated Over Lack of Gas Line Project Progress
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Senator Mark Begich cited his frustration at the lack of progress on getting an Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline built as he introduced legislation on Monday in Washington.  His bill would boost prospects of a so-called “stub to hub” line – that is, a shorter pipeline “stub” that could be built from the North Slope to a hub like Fairbanks, with the plan of eventually extending the line from there.  As it is, there are federal benefits such as loan guarantees and expedited permitting timelines – but only for a gas line that reaches the Canadian border.

Senator Begich’s bill would give those same incentives to a gas line that only goes part-way… with the eventual plan of getting gas to outside markets.

“The idea here is to ensure that as the state kind of reconsiders how it’s focused on a gasline we still put into place some opportunities that the federal government will have to have in this process.  One is to expedite the regulatory process, to streamline the regulatory process, to kind of cut the red tape, so whatever gas line they decide to move forward on, that the federal government won’t be blocking it or the stumbling block to getting it to market,” Begich said.

Senator Begich’s bill would also give the Federal Pipeline Coordinator’s office a role in working on a smaller gas project. Right now that DC and Anchorage-based office can only help with a gas line headed to Canada.  Federal Coordinator Larry Persily says as long as FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, sees a smaller stub project inside Alaska as leading to an eventual bigger project, his office could have a role.

“It gives us more options, it says if you’re only going to build part of it, but the federal commission says eventually it will be part of the entire project you can get the benefits, even if it’s a smaller project, even if it’s only half a project,” Persily said.

Persily says he doesn’t see this as a signal that hopes of a gas pipeline through Canada to the Lower 48 are dimming.  He says that’s still the goal, but Persily says he is sensing that Alaskans and its political leaders are grasping at whatever they can to move things forward.

“I guess what this signals is increasing frustration, you might even call it desperation, on the part of Alaskans who are saying, give me a pipe, any pipe, anywhere, any size, give me a piece of steel that holds gas, get something done,” Persily said.

Last week, some members of Senator Begich’s Democratic Party called for a halt to federal subsidies for oil and gas companies as a way to save money – and told APRN that they would not support more financial incentives for an Alaska gasline project.  But Senator Begich says the loan guarantees aren’t the highest priorities in his bill.  He says expediting the process and having regulatory certainty is more important.

“That’s the ultimate at the end of the day.  If we can knock down these regulations, get focused on bringing product to market, that’s what I’m focused on.  So if they have heartburn over 1 piece, we’ll deal with it.  But at the end of the day I hope these people as they get into their big SUVs and head home tonight or flip on their power switch to light up their house that they think about where that’s all coming from,” Begich said.

Senator Begich isn’t confining his focus to what Washington can do to get a gas line moving… in September he wrote to Governor Sean Parnell encouraging the state look at creating its own loan guarantee to give some incentives to the project.  That might get more attention if Congress balks at expanding the federal loan guarantees.

Alaska-Based Soldier Charged With Attempted Espionage

Associated Press

The U.S. Army has charged an Alaska-based soldier with attempted espionage, issuing false statements and other counts.

Specialist William Colton Millay was charged on Monday through the military justice system.

Army officials say no classified information was ever transmitted by Millay and that the 22-year-old military police officer was being observed before any damage could have occurred.

Officials have said there is no connection with the case involving Army analyst Bradley Manning, who is suspected of disclosing secret intelligence to WikiLeaks.

Millay’s Oct. 28 arrest at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage stems from an investigation by the Army and FBI.

Millay is assigned to the 164th Military Police Company. Most company members were deployed Afghanistan in March, but Millay was in the company’s rear detachment that stayed behind.

Ouzinkie Dam Collapse Could Wreak Havoc with City Utilities

Jennifer Canfield, KMXT – Kodiak

The city of Ouzinkie, near Kodiak is working quickly to prevent their 25-year-old wooden dam from collapsing. Extensive rot was discovered on the Mahoona Dam earlier this summer and further inspections have shown that it could collapse at any time.

The dam provides drinking water and affordable electricity for the 161 year-round residents of the Spruce Island community.

Charles Cobb is the state dam safety engineer for the Department of Natural Resources. Cobb was first to inspect the dam earlier this year. He says a collapse could be devastating.

“The hydroelectric generator is just downstream of the damn. It’s a good ways but it’s still in the drainage. If the dam were to fail not only would there not be any water supply to the generator, the flood wave would knock out the generator building,” Cobb said.

The state requires all dams to be inspected every three to five years, depending on their classification. The dam was last inspected in 2007 and should have been inspected again in 2010, but it wasn’t. He says owners, in this case the City of Ouzinkie, are responsible for hiring engineers to conduct inspections.

“I was just following up on the overdue inspection and encouraged the mayor to get an engineer to look at it and he did. That’s when we discovered that the problem was much more substantial than it was several years ago,” Cobb said.

The dam was built in 1986 and was improved 10 later. It had a 20-year life expectancy, according to Ouzinkie City Mayor Dan Clarion. Clarion says the hydropower plant houses several hundred thousand dollars worth of new equipment that was recently purchased with money from the Denali Commission and without the hydropower generator the city would have to rely on diesel generators that would likely double or triple energy costs. If the city can get the water level down from 13 feet to about four or five feet, Clarion says damage will be limited.

“Yeah, we’re kind of on borrowed time right now. The recommendation by DNR is that we dewater the dam and keep it as low as we can and still maintain our water and our hydro system,” Clarion said.

Clarion added that their salmon stream is in the drainage and would be damaged if the dam collapsed at full capacity.

Right now the city is hurrying to install a new valve that would help bring the water level down and allow for further drainage in case of heavy precipitation. Engineers are trying to figure what is the lowest water level at which the dam can still operate. Until the new valve is installed Cobb says the dam can only lose water through the hydropower generator.

“If it rains faster than they can generate electricity it’ll fill back up again to the spillway level. That’s where we have some concerns. When it’s high enough to spill out of the spillway that’s a full load on the dam and it definitely raises some concerns,” Cobb said.

As for a back up plan for drinking water, the city is working to rehabilitate and old infiltration gallery setup at the river. Still, if the dam collapses before the water level is significantly decreased it could take that out as well.

Clarion says with any luck the new valve should be operable within the month. Structural repairs to the dam are still being considered, although the fixes would be temporary. The city has applied to the Alaska Energy Authority for money from their renewable energy fund that would help pay for a design plan and the survey work required for dam permitting. The city still needs to find an estimated $6 million to replace their crumbling dam. That’s something those involved say could take a few years.

Goose Creek Prison Will Open in Spring

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The newest addition to the state’s prison system,  Goose Creek Correctional Center,  will  receive inmates next spring.  The facility, located about nine miles from Port MacKenzie in the Matanuska Susitna Borough, relies less on innovation than  on the tried and true, according to Alaska Corrections Commissioner Joe Schmidt.

Pollock B Season Wraps Up, But Some Fish Still Left on Table

Alexandra Gutierrez, KUCB – Unalaska

The pollock B season closed last Tuesday, and now the final harvest numbers are out.

Over 1.16 million metric tons of pollock were caught in the Bering Sea this year. That’s enough to make more than 3 billion boxes of fish sticks.

But even though that sounds like a lot of fish, this wasn’t the greatest year for the pollock fleet. Many boats were fishing right up to the season’s end in hopes of catching their quota, and some vessels gave up on that prospect altogether. According to Josh Keaton with the National Marine Fisheries Service, that makes this an unusual year.

“In a normal year, the pollock fishery harvests their entire quota,” says Keaton. “This year, due to reasons unknown, the pollock fishery was unable to harvest their entire pollock quota and left about 63,000 metric tons in the water.”

This year, fishermen were allowed to catch 1.23 million metric tons of pollock, a big jump over the past few years’ levels. They ended up harvesting about 95 percent of that. Keaton says that the amount of pollock in the Bering Sea has gone up, but:

“They just weren’t as concentrated as they normally were. It takes a lot longer to tow, to get the same amount of pollock as in a normal year,” says Keaton.

Meanwhile, a slow pollock season could be good news for other fisheries. By regulation, only 2 million metric tons of pollock can be taken out of the Bering Sea each year, with pollock making up the bulk of that. Keaton says that if the pollock quota goes down, then fisheries like Pacific cod and rockfish could get a boost.

“With pollock [total allowable catch] not being completely taken, I believe that gives other gear goups and other fisheries sectors an ability to get more quota if they can show that they can use it,” says Keaton.

Next week, scientists will be meeting in Seattle to discuss next year’s harvest levels.

‘Supreme Court Live’ to be Held at Lathrop High School

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Alaska’s Supreme Court will hear a case at a Fairbanks High School next month.  The December 5th hearing for a local case will be held at Lathrop High School as part of a program called “Supreme Court Live”. Justice Daniel Winafree says the program offers students the opportunity to see the justice system in action.

Winafree says the case to be heard at Lathrop, involves a false arrest claim and an alleged civil rights violation.  Local attorneys will teach students about the case and the legal process prior to the court date. Winafree says after listening to oral arguments December 5th, students will also get to talk with attorneys and justices.

It’s the first time “Supreme Court Live” has come to Fairbanks.  Winafree says the High Court hopes to offer the program in Fairbanks every other year but it depends on having a case  appropriate for students and scheduling.  The Supreme Court Live program has been held twice in Anchorage and once in Juneau in the three years since it was started by Chief Justice Walter Carpeneti.

Sitka Listed Among Global Running Destination

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

A lot of people come to Sitka for the scenery, the culture, and especially the fishing. Almost no one comes here just to run – but that may change. The current issue of the Canadian counterpart of Running Magazine has listed Sitka among nine international destinations not-to-be missed by travelers looking for both adventure and fitness.

Sitka has made this kind of list before: It’s been recognized as a cultural destination by National Geographic, and from time to time gets some press for its amazing location, which rolls together much of what Alaskans like about this state into one compact package.

But running? Really?

“One of the ideas I had with this piece was to give our readers a sense of the unsung running destination, places that they might not have heard of, or might not have considered, but are legitimate running holiday destinations.”

That’s Mihira Lakshman, the editor-in-chief of Canadian Running. Lakshman assigned the story to freelance writer Paola Loriggio, and left the rest to her.

“When she approached me with her ideas about what the destinations would be, and included Sitka I thought it would be a great fit. Runners are a different breed. We tend to explore that unexplored territory and enjoy it.”

Lorrigio generated a story with eight destinations besides Sitka that runners should put on their bucket lists. If my bucket ever gets big enough, I’ll certainly be on my way to Bergen, Norway; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Cape Breton, Nova Scotia; Flinders Island, Australia; Moab, Utah; Moshi, Tanzania; Picton, Ontario; and Seoul, South Korea.

In an email, Lorrigio explained that what caught her eye first about Sitka was the fact that the Great Alaskan Marathon Cruise called here. To learn more, she called up Christine Horan, who for the last eighteen years has organized Sitka’s Alpine Adventure Run.

Horan says Lorrigio asked her what would sell Sitka to runners.

“And the first thing out of my mouth was our amazing trail system that we have here. Along with the uniqueness of the town of Sitka, which I thought was an incredible fit.”

The Alpine Adventure Run began as an Eagle Scout project by Horan’s son in 1994, and has since evolved into one of Alaska’s premiere endurance events. The race is noteworthy for its climb from sea level to 2,100 feet – with most of that coming in the first mile and a half. The entire course is only a little over seven miles, but runners get two-and-a-half hours to complete it – more than enough time for a typical recreational runner to finish a half-marathon.

But, Horan says her racers wouldn’t really be called typical:

“A lot of our runners are not your traditional road runners. There are guys – or gals – out there who want to get in shape for the hunting season. So we get a wide variety of runners.”

A picture of one of this year’s top finishers, Stephen MacIntyre, a former Sitka High cross-country standout, accompanies the article in Canadian Running. It was taken by Don Kluting, the captain of Sitka’s Mountain Rescue team, whom Horan cites as a critical element of the success of the event.

With a blazing finish time of just over an hour, MacIntyre is probably not among those trying to shed a few pounds for hunting season.

Although a few hard-core runners from around Alaska come to Sitka just for the Alpine Adventure Race, it remains to be seen whether any of Canadian Running’s 150,000 monthly readers will be lured in by the town’s prominent placement with other world destinations.

Editor-in-chief Lakshman, says it’s really about giving his audience a way to think differently about their sport.

“We didn’t want to approach it by saying, Hey you want to go to New York? Well, go run through Central Park. Or go to London and do the London Marathon course. We wanted something that was a little bit off the beaten path, and would give our readers something that they hadn’t read before.”

Find links to the article in Canadian running at the Alpine Adventure Run’s Shutterfly page.

Anchorage Receives Over 10 Inches of Snow Since Saturday

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Anchorage has recorded more than 10 inches of snow since Saturday in a series of short but intense storms. Plows around the city are working hard to keep the roads clear. And cross country skiers are excited to have such good coverage early in the season.

Early November snow is not unusual in Anchorage. And National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Peterson says even the amount isn’t particularly remarkable. But Peterson says the weather pattern right now is just right for snow.

“When we get storms coming in from the southwest up the inlet, we get hit with it. That’s why we’re getting it.”

And Peterson says it’s a pattern that won’t let up anytime soon:

“All the way through next week, on and off, we’ll be getting snow.”

The forecast calls for snow showers tonight, clearing tomorrow and then a chance of snow again on Wednesday.