Alaska News Nightly: November 29, 2011

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Postal Service Calls for Bypass Mail Changes

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks & The Associated Press

A U.S. Postal Service report calls for changes to Alaska’s bypass mail program, saying it has evolved past its original purpose and seems to help commercial interests more than rural residents.  Bypass mail employs private air carriers to move cargo to bush communities at subsidized rates.  In the report released Monday, the postal service’s inspector general suggests the state or federal government reimburse the postal service for tens of millions of dollars in program-related losses. It also suggests removing the postal service from the equation and ceding the program to the private sector.

Speaking in Fairbanks Monday, Senator Mark Begich said he was not surprised by the criticism.

Begich sits on the Homeland and Government Services Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Postal Service.  He says the bypass Mail program is intact in the current budget plan despite a U.S. House bill calling for the State of Alaska to pay for it.  Alaska’s congressional delegation has railed against the House bill, noting that postal service is guaranteed by the Constitution.

Senator Begich warned that Alaska will face defense cuts as Congress goes to work to shape over a trillion dollars in budget reductions by January 2013. The automatic cuts are the result of the Congressional Super Committee’s failure to come up with an alternative plan by Thanksgiving.  Begich says the Alaska delegation is worried about the military.

The Department of Defense has delayed several times the award of a $600 million operation and maintenance contract for the missile defense site at Ft. Greely, but Begich says he’s not concerned about that funding.

Begcih says Alaska’s strategic location will help protect its infrastructure, noting major investments at Clear Air Station and Ft. Greely as examples. Begich attended a deployment ceremony in Anchorage at Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson today for 3,500 troops heading to Afghanistan.

Season’s Last Fuel Delivery Unable to Make it to Nome

Ben Matheson, KNOM – Nome

The impact of this fall’s storm may last into next summer in Nome.  The last fuel delivery of the season did not make it in due to the storm and a quick freeze up.

Alaska Native, Conservation Groups Challenge Shell Air Permit

Associated Press

Nine Alaska Native and conservation groups have challenged a federal air permit granted by the Environmental Protection Agency for a second Shell Oil drilling rig intended for Arctic waters.

The groups last month appealed an air permit for the Discoverer and its support vessels. Environment law firm Earthjustice on Monday appealed the EPA permit for the drilling vessel Kulluk.

Shell hopes to use the vessels to drill in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas next summer.

The groups claim the drill ships could emit significant amounts of pollution, setting an unhealthy precedent in the Arctic. Shell spokesman Curtis Smith says that the company has made efforts to reduce emissions to the lowest possible levels.

A successful appeal of air permits played a part of Shell’s decision to cancel drilling for 2011.

Chinook Conditions Expected Through Weekend

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

An abrupt change in the weather is forecast for mainland Alaska.  Cold air that’s hung over much of the state for the last two weeks is being displaced by much warmer air flow.  National Weather Service meteorologist Bob Fisher says a classic Chinook pattern is setting up.

Fisher says warm moist air will bring snow to Southwest and Southcentral Alaska and the Western Interior, while near and above freezing temperatures and winds are forecast to the north and east, including the Alaska Range. Much warmer temperatures are expected as far north as the Brooks Range and North Slope.  Fisher says conditions will moderate late in the week but a second Chinook is expected to push through this weekend.

AHF Awarded Grant to Expand Educator Cross-Cultural Immersion Program

Daysha Eaton, KDLG – Dillingham

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded the Alaska Humanities Forum a big grant to expand its Educator Cross-Cultural Immersion program. The Program sends new teachers to villages to learn about bush life and Alaska Native Culture before they start their jobs in rural districts.

FCC Launching Program Expanding Rural Broadband Access

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Federal Communications Commission is about to launch a program to expand access to high-speed Internet for more than 150,000 Alaskans, who live in rural areas. But Alaska’s governor and some of the state’s telecom-industry leaders doubt the program will solve the problem here. And the program could come at the expense of the Universal Service’s Fund, which has had a big impact on Alaska.

Groups Suing State For Failure to Approve Water Rights Application

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Two groups that are opposed to the development of a coal mine across Cook Inlet from Anchorage are suing the state.   The Trustees for Alaska filed the complaint earlier this month, alleging that the state Department of Natural Resources failed to approve an application for water rights made by the groups, while it granted water use permits to the coal development company.

The Chuitna Citizens Coalition and Cook Inletkeeper have sued DNR and its commissioner Dan Sullivan, alleging that in two years his department failed to process an application for instream flow rights to Middle Creek.  The creek is within the Chuitna River watershed, and is certain to be impacted by the mine development proposed by PacRim.  Valerie Brown is an attorney with the Trustees for Alaska.

Brown says the lawsuit asks the court to require DNR to adjudicate the groups’ application in a timely matter.

DNR works with the Department of Fish and Game to assure that temporary water use permits and water rights applications do not harm fish or fish habitat, according to Ed Fogels,  DNR’s deputy commissioner.  Fogels says in-stream flow permit  review is prioritized.

Fogels says it’s important to understand that because an instream flow application has been filed, it doesn’t mean that DNR will stop all other water permitting activity on that water body while the instream flow application is being considered.

All New Alaska Outlaw Playing Cards Released

Aaron Selbig, KBBI – Homer

Alaska Outlaw Playing Cards are back with an all-new deck of famous – and infamous – outlaws, rebels and con-men from Alaska’s past. The new deck contains many of the old characters that have made the cards a popular gift item with tourists – like Soapy Smith and Sarah Palin – but also has a little something for locals – like a Joker card featuring Mattress Ranch-guy Ted Saddler.