Alaska News Nightly: November 25, 2011

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Alaska’s Attorney General Resigning
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
Alaska’s Attorney General is resigning. John Burns will stay on the job until Jan. 2. In a letter to the Governor, Burns says the decision was “based solely on personal reasons.” He goes on to say he has had to live out of a suitcase, which is not fair to his family in Fairbanks.

Anchorage Democrat Hollis French is Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He was a supporter of Burns and will help choose the state’s next Attorney General. French appreciates Burns reasons, but says his resignation is disappointing.

“The first time we met he came into my office, looked me in the eye and said, I’m not a politician. You know, I’ve been asked to serve and I’m going to serve and it was really just a nice refreshing introduction to a person who really put his heart and soul into the job for a year and now has to step down because of the demands of the job,” French said.

Burns became attorney general only 11 months ago. There’s been high turnover in the position in recent years. And French says that’s unfortunate, since it takes a long time to get up to speed in the job. He says the state would be much better off with a long serving Attorney General.

“I don’t know what the number is but I think over the last half dozen years we’ve been through a half dozen attorneys general. And it’s a big job and it’s an important job and what you hope for is some longevity because it does take a long time to get up to speed and get a handle on the different legal challenges the state faces,” French said.

Governor Parnell was not available to comment today. In a statement, he says he accepted Burns resignation with reluctance. Parnell’s spokesperson says she expects the Governor to begin interviewing potential candidates for the job in the coming weeks.

State Lawmaker’s Son Found After White-Knuckled Search

Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel

Charles Herron of Bethel, son of State Representative Bob Herron, was found Wednesday after a search in sub-zero weather. Charles wandered into -35 degree wind chills sometime around 4:00 Wednesday morning. Bethel Search and Rescue volunteers went into high alert after they learned he left without a coat or shoes.

China Starts Country’s First Salmon Farm

Bob Tkacz, APRN Contributor

In northeast China, just 87 miles from the North Korean border lies the city of Benxi. The region’s steep slopes and narrow valleys channel 33-inches of annual rainfall into a reservoir that holds China’s first salmon farm. The farm may be the start of new competition for Alaska’s wild caught salmon.

Ferry System May Make Horse Travel Easier

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

The Alaska Marine Highway System plans to change a policy that keeps many horse-owners from taking their animals on ferries.

Currently, anyone transporting a horse or other large animal must make a $1,000 deposit. It’s most often returned after the trip ends. But if excrement leaks out of the animal’s trailer, clean-up costs are deducted from the deposit.

Horse-owners protested the policy, saying it was so expensive it kept young equestrians from showing and competing in other towns.

Ferry chief Mike Neussl says he’s working on a different system.

“We’re looking at not actually holding money, which is what we do right now. So we’re looking at the possibility of holding the credit card information and having customers be liable for that but not actually taking their money unless there’s a spill that necessitates a cleanup that generates an expense,” he says.

He says he hopes the new policy will be ready for the next Marine Transportation Advisory Board meeting, which is December 15th.

The advisory board heard from horse-owners and youth-group leaders at a September meeting in Skagway. Members were told that Juneau 4-H Club equestrians could not attend the state fair in Haines because of the cost.

Board members and others asked ferry managers to search for an alternate fee system.

“I’ve actually gotten a letter of interest from the Juneau legislative delegation that requested we look into that and try to resolve that issue. And that’s certainly what we’re doing,” he says.

Neussl says ferry staff can no longer hose excrement off the car deck and into the ocean. Recent federal environmental rules require more expensive clean-ups.

Group Releases Report on Dangerous, Potentially Dangerous Toys

Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage

The holiday buying season officially kicked off today. To help parents and grandparents shopping for children, the Alaska Public Interest Research Group has released this year’s report of dangerous or potentially dangerous toys.

Kids Learn the Lost Art of Tinkering

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

Ethan Madsen is seven years old – almost eight – and a regular at “the Saturday Thing.”

“I built a rocket. I kind of mess around with recycling and put it together and see what I can build,” he says.

On a recent weekend Madsen is busy building a robotic arm that will be powered by four separate motors.

“The one is for the fingers to open and close, the other is for the wrist, the next is for the elbow joint, and the last is the base motor that will allow it to move,” Madsen explains.

Since September JEDC has offered “the Saturday Thing” every weekend at its STEM Education office. STEM stands for Science Technology Engineering and Math. JEDC Education Specialist Bob Vieth says the kids who attend the program are exposed to a little bit of everything.

“We do chemistry we do force and motion, physics, magnetism, electricity, optics, engineering – how things go together – gear ratios, it’s just across the board,” Vieth says.

Every week Vieth comes up with a different scientific concept to explore, but mostly “the Saturday Thing” is opportunity for kids to tinker with things.

“It’s kind of a lost art. And you can learn so much through tinkering. You can learn about how things work, why things work, explore scientific questions, phenomena,” he says.

What is tinkering, exactly? Vieth says it involves building things and taking things apart.

“We’ve got vacuum cleaners for kids to take apart and look at how they work. Kids can take apart computers and look at how they work. Just taking apart stuff is a learning experience in and of itself,” says Vieth.

So what’s the plan for Ethan Madsen’s robotic arm when he’s done building it?

“Mr. Bob he wants to put it in the window and just have it move around, maybe pick up a few things and move them around,” says Madsen.

Ethan’s dad, Andy – an electrical engineer – says “the Saturday Thing” has been a great opportunity for the whole family to experiment, learn and of course tinker.

“He’s learned how to sauter down here, and they build rockets, and Bob has a launcher, so we’ve gone next door and launched the rockets,” says Andy Madsen. “My two year old daughter even comes down with us and she sits and works on Legos and so everybody is invited. Nobody is turned away.”

“The Saturday Thing” is free. Because Vieth is the only staff member there, it’s limited to 10 kids per week. Vieth says donations of items for kids to tinker with are always appreciated.

AK: ‘Host a Coastie’ an Unalaska Hit

Stephanie Joyce, KUCB – Unalaska

A few years ago in Unalaska a new Turkey day tradition was born.  It was Mayor Shirley Marquardt’s idea and she gave it catchy name: Host a Coastie.

When the Coast Guard deploys, they leave their homes and their families behind for months at a time. And that’s rough around the holidays.

Marquardt grew up in a Coast Guard family and saw this firsthand.  So several years ago she reached out to local families and asked if they would be willing to host crewmembers for Thanksgiving dinner.

The Coast Guard cutter Sherman has been out patrolling the Bering Sea this fall, but they pulled into port just in time for Thanksgiving.

300 Villages: Talkeetna

Today we’re on the hunt for more good food in Talkeetna. The historic town not far off the Parks Highway attracts mountaineers, fishermen and folks just looking for a great meal.  Trishia Costello owns and operates the Talkeetna Roadhouse.