Alaska News Nightly: November 14, 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

Young Faces Criticism for Voting Absence

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

The U.S. House returned to work Monday after a week-long recess and took up a series of non-controversial votes to name post offices after members of the military, some of whom died in battle.  Alaska’s Congressman Don Young was there along with his colleagues, but he’s faced criticism recently for the number of votes he’s missed this year.

State Decides Not Apply for ‘No Child Left Behind’ Waivers Yet

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

The Parnell Administration has let pass an opportunity to get waivers from parts of the federal “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001.   The federal standards that accompany the law have drawn criticism in Alaska — particularly in rural school districts that are not able to provide staff and services needed.

President Obama offered states the opportunity to apply for waivers back in September, and so far, 39 states have said they want to be relieved of some of the requirements.  Part of the waiver process requires that the states present alternative ways of showing student achievement.

Deputy Commissioner of Education Les Morse says Alaska’s decision not to apply for relief is not an indication that the administration will not apply for exemptions at the time of the final deadline next year.  He says the department is taking a more inclusive approach – and there are ideas for changes under consideration now.

“Our intent would be to lay out some ideas that would work, put them to print, actually test them against the data that we have to see what would be the impact on schools.  If we get to a stage where we feel we’re pretty comfortable with things then we’ll want to include stakeholders, we’ll want to include school district superintendents and principals and teachers and other policy makers in looking at what it would look like before we take the step to put it forward to the U.S. Department of Education,” Morse said.

Morse says the department’s cautious approach will not likely need more change in the future.  And, it will give Alaska the chance to see proposals from other states as well.

The No Child Left Behind standards have drawn criticism from educators since it originally became law.  Barbara Angaiak is president of the National Education Association – Alaska.   She points to several elements that have proven to be unworkable in Alaska.  She says some school districts are too small to have highly qualified teachers in all subjects – another fault can cause a school to fail its test for Adequate Yearly Progress because of too many absentees when the test is given – still another is the federal requirement’s heavy emphasis on standardized testing as the means to rate a school.  She says there are aspects to the federal law that present problems for every school in the country.

“It doesn’t really matter what type of school it is because the requirements are very difficult to handle.  And some of it is so intrusive that we have too many schools where the focus has become meeting adequate yearly program and making sure that meeting standardized test results show what we want them to show rather than really being interested in what’s happening with student learning and student achievement,” Angaiak said.

Legislators also see getting waivers as a step the state needs to take.  Anchorage Democrat Les Gara says he hoped to see an application for waivers from Alaska – as other states have done.

“I hope they opt out of as many of the non-productive provisions as possible.  I’m a little disappointed, but I hope they do eventually opt out of the more onerous provisions of the law,” Gara said.

The U.S. Department of Education has announced a final deadline for states to apply for waivers from the law in mid-February of next year.

Audit Claims Air Force Wind Projects Poorly Planned, Costly

Associated Press

A Department of Defense audit says Air Force wind projects in Western Alaska were poorly planned and delays could cost millions of dollars.   The projects were designed to power remote radar sites that currently rely on diesel power generation.

Only one turbine has been constructed so far. In 2008, a $2 million test turbine was built at Tin City, located about 100 miles northwest of Nome, near Wales. An audit by the Defense Department’s inspector general says the turbine was constructed without data from wind studies. The turbine was not operational in 2009 and the Air Force spent nearly a half million dollars to fix power integration issues. The Air force said earlier this year the turbine is producing sporadic and unusable power, and continuing to incur costs.

Three additional wind projects were funded two years ago with stimulus money, costing $4.7 million each.  The radar locations are Cape Romanzof, Cape Newenham, and Cape Lisburne.  The money was supposed to go to “shovel ready” projects. The audit says the new projects were not at that stage.

The report faults the 611th Civil Engineering Squadron based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson as well as the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Installations and Environment office for mismanagement of the project.

Goodnews Bay and Platinum Suffer Weekend Storm Damage

Angela Denning-Barnes, KYUK – Bethel

Over the weekend what was supposed to be a normal Bering Sea storm turned into one that claimed several boats and even a home in a few coastal villages.

Government Sending Crews to Survey Storm Damage

Ben Matheson, KNOM – Nome

The State and Federal governments are dispatching crews to Western Alaska to survey damage from last week’s storm. They will first report to the Governor, who has the option to declare a disaster and activate the state’s disaster assistance programs.

Ft. Wainwright Soldier Killed in Afghanistan

Associated Press

An Alaska-based soldier from Arizona has been killed in Afghanistan.   The Department of Defense in a release Monday identified the soldier as Sgt. 1st Class Johnathan B. McCain of Apache Junction, Ariz.   The 38-year-old McCain died Sunday in Kandahar province from injuries he received from a roadside bomb while on mounted patrol.   McCain was stationed with the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks.

Sutton Residents Protest Controversial Wishbone Hill Project

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Usibelli Coal’s Wishbone Hill project near Sutton could be producing in a year and a half, if all goes according to plan.  The coal mine has the backing of the Matanuska Susitna Borough, although some area residents who live close to the proposed mine are fighting the development. The Department of Natural Resources is to hold additional public hearings on  a permit renewal for the project this week in Sutton. Although the permit renewal is a standard procedure, anti-mine organizers are working to mobilize even Anchorage residents in what they are calling a “Tuesday Takedown” confrontation.

Patients, Family Gather at St. Elias Specialty Hospital

Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage

As reunions go, the yearly patient and family gathering at St. Elias Specialty Hospital provides an unique healing opportunity for patients and staff.   KSKA’s Len Anderson attended this Saturday’s third annual celebration and filed this report.