Alaska News Nightly: December 6, 2011

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Bag of PCB-Contaminated Soil Falls Into Nushagak Bay

Daysha Eaton, KDLG – Dillingham

A giant bag of contaminated soil recently fell into Nushagak Bay in Dillingham.    The bag contains 11,000 pounds of PCB-contaminated dirt from an old Air Force station at Port Heiden. With the Bay now iced up, authorities say the bag of toxic dirt will sit there all winter long.

Chickaloon Tribe Sends $500,000 Tax Bill to CIRI

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

The Chickaloon Athabascan tribe in the Mat Su Valley surprised leadership at the Cook Inlet Region Incorporated or CIRI regional Native corporation by sending them a tax bill in October for half a million dollars.

Chickaloon tribal chairman Doug Wade contends that the federal Indian Tribal Government Tax Status Act gives them this authority. Chairman Wade says he was in contact with Interior officials before sending the tax bill, saying he didn’t want to do anything illegal. He declined to name who he spoke to but says he basically asked permission to send the bill. And the answer?

Chairman Doug Wade says the tax is an estimated 3 percent of CIRI’s annual income. Wade says he also called the IRS to check Chickaloon’s standing. He says the IRS website lists Chickaloon as a valid entity under the tribal tax status act.

The tax bill got the attention of CIRI officials and Wade says when letters were received from CIRI, he called the IRS again and asked if they would step in and help. They requested a position paper from the tribe stating what they were doing. He says the IRS person he talked to called back after receiving it and said IRS attorneys would not take a position on either side of the issue, but will watch the outcome. A regional IRS tribal representative said he could not discuss the Chickaloon issue with a reporter.

Wade says the Venetie supreme court decision that says there is no Indian Country in Alaska, made it impossible for Chickaloon to impose a land based tax, but he says an income tax has nothing to do with land. He says when CIRI gets large no bid government contracts, the money should flow more directly to the tribes.

The tax bill states that if the $500,000 is not paid by the end of the year, Chickaloon may seize CIRI assets or property. This got the attention of CIRI officials. The Corporation has asked a district court judge to issue an advisory opinion on the applicable law.

CIRI spokesman Jim Jager said in a written statement, in part, “CIRI does not believe that this statute allows an Alaska Native village entity authority to levy a tax against CIRI or any other third party.”

The statement goes on to say, “CIRI is confident that court will declare that Chickaloon Village Traditional Council’s tax claim is not supported by any federal authority and therefore is invalid.”

Attorneys familiar with the Tribal Government Tax Status Act say the act is not a statute that authorizes tribes to impose this kind of tax. Chairman Wade says he has until Dec. 19 to respond and he is waiting to see if Interior department lawyers will assist the tribe. Otherwise he says, other attorneys have offered to help.

Court Hears Arguments On Contested Chitina Dipnet Fishery

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Alaska Supreme Court heard arguments in Fairbanks on Monday in a case involving the contested status of the Chitina dipnet fishery. The Copper River salmon fishery, popular with urban Alaskans, is currently classified as personal use, and when fish run short, dipnetting is a lower priority than subsistence and commercial harvests.  As KUAC’s Dan Bross reports the case, which revolves around the definition of subsistence, has repercussions beyond the Copper River.

Gov. Declares State Disaster Status From November Storm

Ben Matheson, KNOM – Nome

Governor Parnell has declared a state disaster for damage from the November West Coast Storm and is asking for a Presidential disaster declaration.  Damage inspectors tallied $30 million in damage from high winds, water and ice.  The Governor’s move engages the state’s emergency response programs across 800 miles of impacted coastline.

Biomass Plant Almost Ready To Go Online in North Pole

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A new biomass power plant is poised to go on line this month in North Pole. K& K recycling is partnering with United Technologies on the project which will use locally recycled paper, cardboard and wood to fire a generator. K and K owner Bernie Karl says the final pieces of the new plant are coming together.

Karl says United Technologies is sending technicians to North Pole next week to help test the plant, in anticipation of sending power to the grid beginning December 17th.  The biomass plant will provide up to 500 kilowatts per hour to Golden Valley Electric at less than the utility can produce, or buy it for, from other sources.  The facility is also a lynchpin in advancing recycling in the Fairbanks area. K&K already hauls recyclables form the University of Alaska Fairbanks and area military bases, but a deal is nearing completion that will expand that to tap borough transfer stations.

Alaska Waste Chief Operating Officer Jeff Riley says some details still have to be nailed down, but he’s optimistic about the plan.

Alaska Waste is one of several local entities that already collect a variety of recyclables at their own facilities. The Fairbanks Rescue Mission also runs a successful recycling operation, but K&K is the only outfit with a local uses for materials.

ESL Classes Expanding Dramatically in Anchorage

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Anchorage has become a lot more diverse in the past decade. And nowhere is that diversity more apparent than in the city’s adult English language classes. At Nine Star Education and Employment Services, the English as a Second Language- or ESL – Courses have expanded dramatically in the last ten years to handle growing demand.

In a small classroom in downtown Anchorage, a few dozen students crowd around tables, staring down a worksheet with an intimidating list of adjectives. They’re supposed to choose several from the list to describe who they are, who they can be and who they’d like to be. Teacher Lydia Pinkston helps Tomas Mosquete make his choices.

“Can you be diplomatic? My family calls me the diplomat in the family. Ok… then I can be diplomatic if called to…courageous?,” Mosquete said.

This is a level four class – the highest level. And so these students understand English very well. Pinkston says many also speak it well, but others struggle.

“Most of them come with a fear of speaking it, even if they know. So we have to break through those barriers,” Pinkston said.

Pinkston has been breaking through those barriers at ESL courses in Anchorage for 10 years. She has seen amazing changes in that time. The classes used to be small, with just a few countries represented. These days, they are packed with an impressive diversity of the students. This level four class includes students from the Philippines, the Dominican Republic, Sudan, China, Mexico,  Mali, Russia, Japan, Korea, Peru, El Salvador and more.

“I used to have a map up that shows how many countries have gone through my classes and the last time we counted it was 82,” Pinkston said.

She says teaching students coming from so many different countries, cultures and backgrounds can be a challenge. But it’s a challenge she clearly enjoys.

“It’s always very interesting to hear their stories of how they ended up here. Some of them are just regular decisions and some of them are forced here by some circumstance. You get a variety and you get people who have had no schooling and then you get people you have degrees and sometimes two or three degrees and they can’t be used here in the United States,” Pinkston said.

Mechelle Chaplin – from the Phillipines – doesn’t have a degree yet, but that is her goal. She is sitting in the back of the room, choosing adjectives from the worksheet to describe herself.

“I’d like to be enlightened, devoted, dedicated… I’d like to be daring,” Chaplin said.

Mechelle followed her fiance to Alaska four years ago. She has two young kids and only recently turned her attention to improving her English skills. She says she loves the class.

“You know it’s very exciting. You know experiencing different cultures, listening to different accents and, you learn something from then and the experience is beautiful because this is my first time to experience different cultures different countries and seeing different faces too,” Chaplin said.

Mechelle is ambitious. After she passes this class she plans to get her GED and then a degree in psychology. Pinkston says most of her students are taking the class to help them enter the workforce. But that isn’t always the case. Jessica Rojas is from Mexico. Her husband works for BP. She says the class gets her out of the house and has introduced her to a group of friends. And she says it’s dramatically improved her English, which was pretty basic when she arrived.

“Sometimes I’m afraid to talk and go to the market and someone talk to me and ahhh…I’m afraid but I’m improving and I want to learn more,” Rojas said.

Back in the classroom, Lydia Pinkston is handing out homework.

“What are you going to do for homework today? Write about ourselves…,” Pinkston said.

Pinkston celebrated her 10 year anniversary teaching ESL in Anchorage in September. She says she had other types of jobs before, but they never lasted very long. And now she can’t imagine doing anything else.

“This job, I don’t even feel it. Every day’s an adventure. I’ve told my fellow workers here that I don’t have to travel the world to see it. All I have to do is be in my classroom,” Pinkston said.

Juneau Artist Releases Book of Sarah Palin Political Cartoons

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

A capital city artist has just released a book of his Sarah Palin political cartoons. Tony Newman’s work is as much about Juneau and Alaska as it is about the former governor and vice presidential candidate.

CoastAlaska’s Ed Schoenfeld sat down with the award-winning cartoonist, whose work is published in the Juneau Empire, to learn more about his political art.