Alaska News Nightly: November 15, 2011

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Judge Gleason Confirmed by Senate
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Alaska will soon get its first female judge appointed to the federal bench in state history.

Judge Sharon Gleason was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Tuesday on a vote of 87 to 8.

She’ll take the job as U.S. District Court Judge that was left open when Judge John Sedwick accepted the role of senior judge on the District Court.

Alaska’s Senators both praised Gleason in speeches right before the vote. Senator Lisa Murkowski cited the praise of fellow judges, and commended Gleason for her strong work ethic and fairness.

“Sharon Gleason last stood for retention last year for retention last year in 2010 and she scored high on measures of legal ability, impartiality, integrity, temperament and diligence,” Murkowski said.

Murowski encouraged her Senate colleagues to vote for Gleason’s confirmation, but eight of her fellow Republicans voted no.  The dissent came from conservatives, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina.  The same conservative block also voted against the other judge up for confirmation Tuesday who won confirmation anyway to be a U.S. district judge in California.  Some Republicans are trying to hold up President Obama’s picks for seats on court benches.

Another Alaskan is waiting for her name to go before the Senate – Judge Morgan Christen, who has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  She can’t take the job though until the Senate confirms her.

Several Clinics Transforming into ‘Medical Homes’

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Several medical clinics across the state are transforming the way they practice medicine. They’re becoming “medical homes.” The idea is to do a better job treating chronic disease at the primary care level, to keep patients from needing more specialized treatment. In pilot projects around the country, medical homes have improved care and trimmed costs significantly. And health providers in Alaska are hoping to replicate that success.

Cleanup Continues in Sitka’s Eliason Harbor

Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka

The clean-up continued in Sitka’s Eliason Harbor on Tuesday from a weekend storm that packed 60-mile-an-hour winds.

Sitka Deputy Harbormaster Chuck Hackett says two boats sank in the storm – the 30-foot Dancing Girl and the 24-foot Lisa Nicole.

Other problems included a vessel that broke free and beached, one that drug anchor, and several that experienced damage from collisions with the docks as they pitched and rolled with the unusual chop that moved through the harbor.

Hackett says the harbor department went through about 300 feet of extra line in attempts to secure boats. But most impressive, he says, were the scores of people in the harbor who came to each others’ aid.

Attempts were made to raise the sunken vessels today. Hackett says most of the damage was to boats. He says the harbor itself experienced some chafing and a few snapped water lines, but nothing major.

Potentially Explosive Containers Cause Unalaska Shipyard Shut Down

Stephanie Joyce, KUCB – Unalaska

The Horizon Lines shipyard in Unalaska shut down on Sunday over worker concerns about potentially explosive refrigerated containers.

Project Will Replace Pipe at Aging Pump Stations

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A major maintenance project will replace aging pipe at Trans Alaska Pipeline pump stations.  The project targets old corrode piping, like the feeder line at Pump Station One that leaked, causing an extended mainline shutdown last January. Alyeska Pipeline spokeswoman Michelle Egan says the failing pipe is the result of low oil throughput that’s makes it more susceptible to corrosion.

Egan says some of the work was already planned but other parts of the project are mandated by the federal department of transportation as result of last winter’s Pump 1 incident. She says replacing underground piping is one of the focuses of the project.

Egan says Alyeska is trying to bypass as much of the suspect pipe as possible until the work can be completed. The pipe replacement will be happening at Pump Stations 1, 3, 4, 5 and 9.  Egan says the new piping sections are being pre-fabricated to limit the amount of time the mainline will have to be shut down.  She says Alyeska will spend tens of millions of dollars over the next few years to complete the work.

Group Calls for Protection of Prince of Wales Island Flying Squirrels

Joe Viechnicki, KFSK – Petersburg

A western conservation group wants Endangered Species protection for flying squirrels on Southeast Alaska’s Prince of Wales Island. The group says logging on Tongass National Forest land is a threat to the animal’s survival.

Coast Guard Cutter’s Experience in the Storm

Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

The news has been full recently of stories about the huge storm that battered Alaska’s west coast last week.

While the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Sherman figured prominently in helping a nearly disabled catcher-processing ship, those reports have few details.

Talkeetna Students Try for World Record

Lorien Nettleton, KTNA – Talkeetna

Students at Talkeetna Elementary school are aiming to help set another world record tomorrow.