Alaska News Nightly: November 21, 2011

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Delegation Reacts to Super Committee’s Failure to Come Up With Debt Reduction Plan

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

Alaska’s Senators expressed disappointment Monday afternoon at word that the special congressional super committee has given up its attempt to combat the federal debt.  The joint deficit reduction committee was made up of six Republicans and six Democrats, half from the House and half from the Senate.  They officially threw in the towel Monday after a week where a deal looked less and less promising by the day.

Alaska’s Senators were encouraging the group to “go big” and offer up a substantive plan that would make major cuts to the deficit.  Senator Mark Begich reacted Monday to news that won’t happen.

“Disappointed, frustration I think.  And I think most Alaskans I talk to are frustrated mostly about the inability of elected officials to step up to the plate, compromise, work together and get things done,” Begich said.

As a Democrat Begich points to his work with the other two members of the Alaska delegation, both Republicans, as an example of how lawmakers can unite when they need to over common issues.

Senator Lisa Murkowski’s office put out a statement Monday saying the debate isn’t over, and that more work – in fact, harder work – must now be done to draw down the debt.  She’s calling for a combination of spending cuts, reform to entitlement programs, changes in the federal budgeting process, and a tax-code overhaul.  Murkowski says the stakes are growing more by the day.

Congressman Don Young was a critic of the super committee from its start three months ago and said he wanted to see all of Congress involved.  His office says the Congressman is “still hopeful” that “cooler heads will prevail” and Congress will pass a big debt reduction package on its own.

But the House and Senate have disbursed for the Thanksgiving holiday, and when members come back next week they face dealing with the triggers slated to go into effect because the Super Committee failed.

$1.2 trillion in cuts are scheduled for January of 2013, far enough in the future that many in Congress say there’s time between now and then to come up with another plan.

Probe Into Stevens Prosecutors Reveals Concealment But Does Not Call For Charges

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

A special independent investigator who probed into misconduct by prosecutors in the case of the late Alaska Senator Ted Stevens says they should not face criminal charges. Despite that the investigator found widespread concealment of evidence that could have helped Stevens mount his defense.

Ted Stevens was the longest-serving Republican in the Senate when he was convicted in 2008 of failing to list on his financial disclosure forms gifts he’d received. Prosecutors said they amounted to $250,000 and included items like house renovations and a massage chair. But accusations of misconduct by FBI agents and withholding of evidence by prosecutors soon surfaced, and when the Obama Administration came into power Attorney General Eric Holder asked that the verdict be vacated.

That was a major blow to the Justice Department and its high-profile Public Integrity unit which handled political corruption cases. It also threatened the investigations and convictions into corrupt Alaska lawmakers.

The judge who oversaw the Stevens case US District Judge Emmet Sullivan threw it out in April 2009 and ordered an independent investigator, DC attorney Henry Schuelke, to look into what happened. After years of silence on the case Judge Sullivan filed an order this morning saying that the investigation found the Stevens prosecution was “permeated” by “systematic concealment” of significant evidence that could have seriously damaged the credibility of the government’s key witness, former Veco executive Bill Allen. Schuelke found that at least some of the concealment by the government was “willful and intentional.” Despite that, he did not find criminal violations.

His 500 page report is sealed until the Justice Department has a chance to respond but Judge Sullivan says he does intend to release it publically.

This isn’t the only investigation into the Stevens case. The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility is conducting its own look into what went wrong and who’s responsible. Earlier this month Attorney General Holder told a Senate panel that multi-hundred page report will be coming out soon, but it’s unclear whether it will be made public.

Ted Stevens lost his bid for reelection one week after being convicted in 2008 and he died in a plane crash near Dillingham last year. Last week would have marked his 88th birthday.

Crews Finish Storm Damage Surveys

Ben Matheson, KNOM – Nome

State and federal disaster survey crews have departed Western Alaska after visiting communities impacted by the fall storm.  The team based in Nome left Sunday after surveying Nome, Teller, Brevig Mission and Unalakleet. A total of 16 communities were surveyed along the west coast of the state.

John Madden is the Director of the State Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.    He says one challenge in understanding the scope of damage is the enormous area, ranging from Togiak in the south to Point Hope in the north.

The teams are now crunching numbers and compiling information to pass to on the Governor and his disaster policy cabinet. The Governor will make the decision on whether to declare a disaster and activate the state’s disaster relief programs. Governor Parnell could request a federal declaration if the damage is beyond the capability of the state’s disaster program. Madden intends to have the report to the Governor sometime next week, with a decision following soon after.  He says the time and labor intensive portion of the process is happening right now.

The state has received local disaster declarations from Goodnews Bay, Kivilina, Nome, and the Northwest Arctic Borough.  Madden says there are likely more communities that wish to issue declarations, but do not have the staff resources to do so.

Madden says the relatively small amount of damage is due to early warning, good local preparations, and some luck.

The Department’s Jeremy Zidek says the team in Nome had hoped to get to Little Diomede, but Evergreen Helicopters was not flying.

Cheseto’s Feet Amputated After Disappearance

Associated Press

A 28-year-old All-American cross-country runner who suffered frostbite after spending more than two days in frigid Alaska temperatures without winter gear has had his feet amputated just above the ankles.

Marko Cheseto disappeared from the University of Alaska Anchorage on Nov. 6 and was found Nov. 9 suffering from hypothermia and severe frostbite to his feet and hands.

The UAA athletic department says in a website posting that Cheseto’s hands are expected to make a full recovery but his lower extremities were so severely injured they required amputation.

Cheseto was one of several runners from Kenya who competed for UAA.

In a statement released by the university, Cheseto acknowledged he was experiencing personal problems when he walked away from campus, and he thanked people who searched for him.

Federal Court Upholds ‘Endangered’ Listing for Cook Inlet Belugas

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

A federal court in Washington DC has upheld the “endangered species” listing of Cook Inlet’s Beluga Whales.

The Parnell Administration had sued to overturn the 2008 listing by the National Marine Fisheries Service by arguing that the whales were recovering and did not need the extra protection that came with the listing.  It also claimed endangered protection would be an economic blow to the tourism, oil and fishing industries.

The Center for Biological Diversity was one of six groups that intervened in the case.  Alaska Director Rebecca Noblin said the decision leaves in place all the protections that went along with the listing.

It still has its critical habitat in the Cook Inlet,  there’s a recovery team working on a plan to help recover Belugas and that work will go forward, and all of the prohibitions to protect the whale will stay in place so the federal government can’t allow any activities that will jeopardize the Beluga or destroy its habitat in Cook Inlet.

The state has the option to appeal the decision, but no decision has yet been made on that.  Noblin says an appeal would be a – quote – “waste of taxpayer money on frivolous challenges.”

Attorney General John  Burns said the state has not decided on its options,  but said he believes the process used by the federal government was defective in not involving the state – or in considering conservation measures that were already in place at the time of the listing.

ANGDA Head Resigns

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

The CEO of the Alaska Natural Gas Development Authority has turned in his resignation so he can “pursue other opportunities.”   Harold Heinze has been in the top job at the authority since voters set it up in the 2002 election.

The timing is right for me, but it’s also the right time frame to look at some new leadership,  I’ve enjoyed being able to work on the gas pipeline and all the gas issues, but the situation in the state is such that it all needs to get sorted out one more time.

The ballot initiative that set up ANGDA led Heinze and the authority to become involved in several of the projects that could deliver natural gas to markets outside the state while supplying energy to Alaskans also.

Heinze says most recently, the emphasis has been on developing markets and facilities that would deliver propane to those parts of the state away from the railbelt.    He says he’s confident that the authority’s current projects will continue.

There’s a small, but very competent, experienced staff here.  More importantly we have several very high quality contractors that are very capable of carrying forward the work that needs to be done.   Our resources are limited so it’s up to the board of directors to decide what priorities they want to set and how they want to work through a process of considering our future.

Although more than sixty two percent of the voters approved the initiative setting up the authority nine years ago,  the idea has not yet been well-received by the executive branch.

Governor Murkowski delayed funding and appointing people to work for the agency,  Sarah Palin did not immediately provide operating money for its work,  and Sean Parnell has left four vacancies on ANGDA’s board of directors  That leaves less than a quorum to accept Heinze’s resignation and appoint his successor.

Human Remains Found Beneath Cable House

Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka

Contractors working in the basement of APRN member station KCAW in Sitka discovered human remains in late October. The remains likely predate the 103-year-old building that houses the station.

Kodiak Overtakes Homer As Top Halibut Port

Marcia Lynn, KBBI – Homer

The final day of the 2011 commercial halibut fishery was on Friday, and the season ended with Kodiak overtaking Homer as the top port for halibut landings in the state.  It’s virtually the first time that’s happened since the Individual Fishery Quota, or IFQ, management system was put in place in the mid 1990’s.

Troller Dan Falvey Named 2011 Highliner of the Year

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

National Fisherman will honor two Alaskans at the Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle this weekend.

Bill Webber, Jr., of Cordova, and Dan Falvey of Sitka will join San Francisco’s Larry Collins as the magazine’s 2011 “Highliners of the Year.”

The honor is not necessarily about amount of fish anyone lands. Instead, the magazine’s editors describe the trio as “bona fide innovators and men of action, each in his own way.”

Falvey is the fourth Sitka fisherman to be named to this elite roster – and he seemed a little surprised by the recognition. KCAW’s Robert Woolsey enlisted the aid of a 2007 Highliner, Eric Jordan, to explain what it means to have your picture on the cover of National Fisherman.

Falvey:“I’m a longline fisherman and a troller. And I think there’s a lot of people out there who catch more fish than I do. So, I’m not quite sure why I was chosen.”

That’s Dan Falvey. Just about everybody gets it but him. Here’s Eric Jordan.

Jordan:“It’s not about how many fish you catch, or whether you were the top dog. It’s about what you did to contribute to the future of the fisheries.”

Falvey:“I got into fishing because I was up in Alaska on a summer adventure and ran out of money in Sitka. Hopping on a fishing boat seemed like the best thing to do. After a while on the boat, I got good enough at my duties on deck to look around and actually see what an amazing place Alaska is, and what a unique perspective you have as a fisherman. Being out there day in and day out, you’re no longer an outsider looking in, you become part of the natural processes.”

Falvey’s Alaska adventure ran short of cash in the 1980s. Not too long after, he went back to school to earn a Master’s Degree from Western Washington University in Resource Management and Policy.

Issues that may frustrate anyone else are Falvey’s sweet spot.

Jordan:“I was always really impressed with how clear Dan’s thinking was on complex fisheries management, sharing, and conservation issues. He had a gift for analyzing and articulating the most complex issues in a way that helped clarify it for all those working with him.”

Falvey began salmon trolling on the Sea Boy, which had once been owned by Sitka’s first National Fisherman Highliner John Mahr. Now, he runs the 47-foot freezer boat Myriad.

Falvey“I think after trolling for a lot of years you just realize that, by moving into the freezer I was able to create a better product, and stay out and follow the fish up and down the coast, instead of having to come back into town all the time. And so it gives you a certain freedom to stay out there and watch the run build and ebb, while you’re creating one of the highest-quality products possible.”

Falvey is too young to have participated in the upheavals that shaped the modern salmon industry. But he’d have his opportunity in groundfish. Falvey and 2009 Highliner Linda Behnken have been the brain trust behind the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association – ALFA — for most of its existence. Behnken would serve three terms on the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council during some of its stormiest years. Falvey served on the Council’s advisory panel.

When the spray had settled, Eric Jordan says the book had been re-written on halibut and blackcod fishing in Southeast, and not just the book on Individual Fishing Quotas, or IFQs.

Jordan:“The collaboration of him and Linda Behnken has been one of the great teams for our industry. When he was on the advisory panel, and Linda was on the council, they worked together to really change the fisheries in Southeast. Everybody knows about the IFQ deal – but one of the biggest things he worked on with Linda was taking the groundfish trawlers out of the federal waters of Southeast Alaska. That has changed the whole ecosystem here in Southeast for the better.”

Recently, ALFA has branched out into research. Falvey is helping administer several concurrent grants studying issues ranging from sperm whale depredation to an onboard electronic observer program that could save the small boat fleet – and the taxpayer – money. Falvey hints that this work is a relief from the bluster of fisheries policy.

Falvey:“What I have most enjoyed is working with the innovation and natural problem-solving abilities the fishing fleet has. To apply those skills to address some of the issues we face. And I also like working with the scientists and the managers of our industry to try and integrate the perspective that the fishermen gain by being out there day in and day out, with the perspective that the fishery managers have. I think when you bring those two perspectives together you each can learn from each other, it helps create a long-term sustainable future.”

Jordan:“Sometimes the mantle just falls on you. And you don’t choose it, as much as you choose not to avoid it. It comes to you almost as a responsibility. And somebody with the gifts that Dan has – I think it wasn’t so much a choice as it was a calling.”

Dan Falvey has a wife, Cathy, and two kids, Emma, 12, and Jake, 9. He says they’re becoming more and more of a fishing family all the time.