Alaska News Nightly: November 16, 2011

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‘Occupy Fairbanks’ Protestors Braving Temperatures Well Below Zero

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The mettle of “Occupy” protesters in Fairbanks is being tested as the mercury dips well below zero.  The temperature dropped to minus 38 Wednesday morning, but Occupy Fairbanks has not been frozen out.

Judge Considers Exxon Valdez Reopener Clause

Associated Press

A federal judge is considering whether the state of Alaska should be allowed to collect additional money for unforeseen damages from the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Arguments were heard Tuesday over the so-called reopener clause in the billion-dollar settlement over the 1989 spill.

That settlement capped reopener damages at $100 million. The state has asked for $93 million.

Arguments centered mainly on the distinction between cleanup and restoration. Exxon Mobil Corporation argued the state’s request was for cleanup and that, under terms of the 1991 agreement, it’s not liable for cleanup anymore. Attorneys for the state and federal governments said Exxon Mobil’s protection from liability for cleanup doesn’t extend to unforeseen damages.

U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland took the matter under advisement.

Young Speaks on Obama Energy Plan

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

Alaska Congressman Don Young gave Interior Secretary Ken Salazar a piece of his mind on the Obama Administration’s energy policy Wednesday. Young tried to drive his point home by showing up late into the hearing wearing a beanie on his head.  It was topped by a propeller, and sported a pin that said “Obama’s Energy Plan.”

Young said he’s concerned about how seriously the Obama Administration will weigh public input on the future of ANWR, because he’s worried it could sway them against development.  Tuesday, marked the end of the public comment period on a management plan for the Arctic Refuge.  It includes a recommendation that the Coastal Plain be designated as wilderness.  The environmental group Alaska Wilderness League says more than 850,000 people submitted comments to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asking that it be off limits from oil and gas drilling.  And Young says those should not weigh as heavily as the comments of pro-drilling Alaskans.

Young said he suspects the signatures go with form letters.

Secretary Salazar repeated his position that drilling in the Arctic Refuge is, in his words, “not appropriate.”

Salazar was at the committee meeting to talk about the Obama Administration’s oil and gas plan.  Wednesday the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced it has the information it needs to begin reviewing Shell’s plan to drill up to three wells per year in the Chukchi Sea beginning next summer. The company already has conditional approval for a similar plan in the Beaufort Sea.

McAdams Forms Non-Partisan Interest Group

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

Former Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams – who was the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate last year – has formed a non-partisan interest group with the expressed purpose of providing financial support to candidates who commit to putting Alaska’s communities and people ahead of out-of-state interests.   And the group – named “It’s About Alaska”- now on file with the Alaska Public Offices Commission – is already touching a chord in other parts of the state.

About 200 Turn Out to Comment on Wishbone Hill Project

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A couple of hundred people packed into the Sutton elementary school in the Matanuska Valley Tuesday night to make their feelings known about  proposed coal development in the area.   The Department of Natural Resources division of mining land and water hosted the public hearing, as part of the permit renewal process for Usibelli Coal’s Wishbone Hill project.  The proposed coal mine is located in an area with a long history of coal mining, although more recently a residential community has grown up there, and conflict between the two seems unavoidable.

Archaeologists Uncover Unusual Bronze Artifact in Northwest Alaska

Ben Matheson, KNOM – Nome

Archeologists working at Cape Espenberg at the northern tip of the Seward Peninsula have discovered the earliest bronze artifact found in Alaska.  The find raises questions about possible international trade hundreds of years ago.

Local Group Starts Co-Housing Project for Anchorage

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

This evening a group in Anchorage is hosting a gathering at the Anchorage museum to discuss their plans for creating a co-housing project in the Anchorage area. The concept isn’t new, tonight’s speaker Charles Durret has designed more than 50 cohousing communities throughout North America and he lives in one with his wife and 33 other families in Nevada City, California- near Lake Tahoe. Terri Pauls is a long time Anchorage resident and is working on the local cohousing project for Anchorage, she joined Durret in the studio with me. Charles Durret is quick to say co-housing is not a commune, but rather a place to better know your neighbors, while still maintaining privacy when you want.

Some Bears Still Active on Anchorage Hillside

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Once the snow flies and the skis come out of storage, most Anchorage residents expect bears to be asleep for the winter. But this winter, at least one brown bear, likely a boar, is still roaming the hillside area. Substantial bear tracks have been spotted on some of the popular cross country ski trails there. And the Nordic Ski Association of Anchorage ski conditions forum is buzzing with posts about the bear. Anchorage area biologist Jessy Coltrane, with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, say’s it’s not unusual for brown bears to be awake this time of year.

“While we do see bears up later into the season and even into late November, we typically don’t have bear activity in town from mid November on. So that’s what’s a little bit unusual about this year. Eventhough bears may very well be up until mid November, we usually just don’t see them in town at this time,” Coltrane said.

Coltrane says easy food sources, like outdoor trash and backyard chickens, can convince bears to delay hibernation. And she says both have been problems on the hillside recently. But she also says the early snow cover this winter may make it seem like the bear problem is worse than it really is. That’s because bear tracks in the snow stick out like sore thumbs.

“I think what’s really dramatic right now too is that if you’re out there on the freshly groomed trails that were just groomed last night and the only other thing that’s been out there is a bear, it’s really obvious. Whereas in the middle of the summer, there could have been ten bears that walked that trail where you hit it running that day, and you wouldn’t know it because it didn’t leave any tracks,” Coltrane said.

Coltrane recommends carrying bear spray while skiing. But she hopes Wednesday’s frigid temperatures will help prod the bear to turn in for the winter.