Alaska News Nightly: December 9, 2011

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Parnell Proposes $4.9 Million For Emergency Food Caches

Associated Press

Gov. Sean Parnell is proposing $4.9 million for emergency food supplies to be stashed across the state.

Parnell says his administration is working to ensure every community is prepared with power generation, safe drinking water and food supplies in case of an emergency or natural disaster. His office says $4.5 million was previously secured for emergency power and water purification to aid in the readiness effort.

The request will be part of Parnell’s fiscal year 2013 budget plan, which he’s set to unveil next week in Anchorage. Parnell also wants $3 million for a helicopter equipped for use by Alaska State Troopers in remote areas in adverse weather.

Legislators Study ‘Rebalancing’ Taxes,  Not Cutting Them

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

In the legislative session that begins in January, members of the House and Senate will face several high priority issues. But at the top will be whether to change the state’s oil tax structure to encourage more new production. Based on the high prices paid earlier this week for leases on the North Slope, there is evidence of renewed interest from possible producers. And lawmakers are now looking at their options.

Fineberg Says Conservation Key To Reducing Foreign Oil Dependence

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Conservation is a better means to reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil than drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  That’s the message of a report commissioned by the Alaska Wilderness League and the Northern Alaska Environmental Center.  Report author, oil industry analyst Richard Fineberg of Fairbanks, cites federal Energy Information Service forecast numbers which predict U.S. foreign oil imports declining by 46. 9 billion barrels through 2030.

Fineberg says the power of conservation is being underestimated amidst a pro-drilling frenzy brought on by high oil prices.

Fineberg cites federal Energy Information Service data that shows U.S. oil imports have declined from 12.9 million barrels per day in 2005 to 9 million a day at present.

Court Upholds Contempt Of Court Citation In Stevens Case

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Federal prosecutors who tried US Senator Ted Stevens in 2008  have lost an appeal against a contempt of court citation.  US District Court judge Emmet Sullivan found the prosecutors in contempt in February of  2009 because they had not made certain documents available to Stevens’ attorneys.

Although Sullivan lifted the citation and did not apply penalties, US Justice Department attorneys Brenda Morris and William Welch  appealed, saying the contempt finding was procedurally improper.  But Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals disagreed and upheld the citation.

Stevens’ 2008 conviction on corruption charges was overturned because of the prosecutors’ mishandling of the case.  Stevens died a year later in a plane crash.

Helo Pilot, CG Command Await Report On Crash Charges

Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau

The hearing into a Coast Guard pilot’s alleged negligence is over. The Article 32 proceeding wrapped up Friday afternoon in Juneau after the last round of witnesses. Lieutenant Lance Leone is the only survivor of last year’s fatal Coast Guard helicopter crash off the coast of Washington State.

Friday morning, some of the pilots that Leone flew with testified to his skills and professionalism.

A Federal Aviation Administration official testified that he would’ve likely recommended better warning measures for a set of power lines near La Push, Washington had he been called in to evaluate the site. Leone’s H-60T flew into the lines and crashed.

The pilot at the controls of the H-60T was Lieutenant Sean Krueger. He was killed in the crash along with Aviation Maintenance Technicians Adam Hoke and Brett Banks.

Government counsel or Coast Guard lawyers serving as prosecutors said that Leone showed no reasonable duty of care as navigator and co-pilot of that flight. Leone’s civilian defense council said the “U-S Coast Guard set a trap that was spring-loaded and that had already worked twice before.” The power lines are owned and operated by the Coast Guard and they’ve already been implicated in at least two other accidents.

Ellen Leone believes her husband is being prosecuted simply because the La Push crash was the last in a string of accidents suffered by the Coast Guard. In the end, she suspects it will backfire on the service.

“It doesn’t bode well for other pilots in the Coast Guard to say that ‘If you survive an accident, no matter what did or didn’t do, (then) watch out.’ Because they might come after you.”

Pat Coyle is a medical airlift pilot now based in Juneau. While in Sitka, he befriended a young Coast Guard aviator – not realizing at first that he was the sole survivor of CG 6017. Coyle says he hopes Leone returns to the cockpit soon.

“I don’t think the crime fits the punishment,” said Coyle. “No matter what negligence you point at the guy.”

Coyle was among the friends and colleagues who attended the three-day hearing.

Many Coast Guardsmen and women who knew Leone from his previous posting in North Carolina took leave to attend the hearing in uniform, but they declined to comment on tape.

Another observer traveled all the way from Florida. Kyla Krueger was the wife of Lieutenant Sean Krueger. She came to provide moral support for Leone and his family. She also wanted answers.

“Because the Coast Guard did afford me the opportunity to hear any of this going into this situation with the Article 32 hearing,” said Krueger who was reluctant to rely on second-hand infomation or from the media. “The vast majority of the information I’m hearing for the first time in a factual manner.”

Captain Andrew Norris, who lead the Article 32 hearing, says he’ll consider an additional charge of dereliction of duty against Leone. Norris was already investigating Leone for one count of dereliction for failing to navigate the helicopter to avoid hazards. Leone is also charged with destruction of government property, and negligently causing the deaths of Hoke and Banks.

The new dereliction charge is for not following proper Crew Resource Management procedures. It follows testimony Thursday from Leone’s commanding officer, Air Station Sitka Commander Doug Cameron, who suggested Leone may have been reluctant to question Krueger as the helicopter’s pilot-in-command. Cameron speculated that Leone deferred to Krueger, because of rank and experience.

The Article 32 hearing – similar to a grand jury proceeding in civilian court – began on Wednesday. Formal motions and one last piece of written testimony will be considered on Monday. Then Norris will make a recommendation to Rear Admiral Thomas Ostebo, commander of the 17th Coast Guard District in Alaska. Ostebo will decide whether to drop the charges, pursue discipline internally, or through a court martial.

Houston Man Arrested For Threatening State Trooper

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A Houston man has been taken into custody for threatening a state Trooper, among other charges.  Kenneth Champ, 48, who owns Champ Septic Pumping, is also under investigation for dumping raw human sewage into a creek that runs near his property.

In September, state Troopers investigated a complaint by one of Champ’s neighbors that he was dumping raw sewage from  his pumping trucks into a creek.  Trooper,  Matthew Heieren, went to Champ’s property to investigate.  Champ did not allow the Trooper into his trailer.  Champ then called 911 and told the operator he had a gun and was going to shoot the Trooper.  Heieren left the property unharmed.

Later, Troopers and state department of Environmental Conservation staffers went to Champ’s property to collect water samples in the sewage investigation.  Samples were found to contain dangerous levels of fecal coliform.  On a follow up visit, officials searched outbuildings on the property and  discovered  a marijuana growing operation that had 1700 plants.  Troopers also found firearms and more than $18,000 in cash in Champ’s trailer.

Champ was arraigned in Palmer on Thursday for assault of a police officer.  Drug charges and environmental charges have not yet been filed.

Fairbanks Residents Weigh In On Long-Term UAF Plan

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

Fairbanks-area residents got a chance last week to add their voices to a planning process launched this fall by University of Alaska President Pat Gamble. As KUAC’s Tim Ellis reports, the aim of the project is to set a course for the university over the next hundred years.

Rudder Repaired, Vessel Headed For Unalaska

Stephanie Joyce, KUCB – Unalaska

Technicians have temporarily repaired the rudder of the 656-foot cargo vessel Morning Cedar.   The vessel was en route from Vancouver, Canada to Japan with a load of packaged timber when a hydraulic leak left it without steering.  It’s been adrift in the western Bering Sea, north of Adak, since Monday.

Both the crew and the Coast Guard tried to fix the rudder without success.  The Morning Cedar’s parent company, Eukor Car Carrier, contracted specialists from Norway and Washington to fly out and attempt repairs.

The Coast Guard airlifted the technicians from Adak to the vessel last night.

The fix is only temporary though, so the ship is headed for the Port of Dutch Harbor for more permanent repairs. The Coast Guard cutter Sherman will accompany the vessel into port. They’re expected to arrive on Sunday afternoon.

AK: The Most Famous Auction In Alaska

Lorien Nettleton, KTNA – Talkeetna

The 31st annual Talkeetna Bachelor’s Auction had another full house when more than 240 ladies packed in to the Sheldon Arts hangar last weekend. Forty of Talkeetna’s finest eligible bachelors were auctioned off and raised over nine thousand dollars for Women and Children in Crisis. KTNA’s Lorien Nettleton- an eligible bachelor himself, got the inside scoop on all the action.

300 Villages: Adak

And now, a trip to the most far flung community in Alaska. Adak is near the end of the Aluetian Chain, farther west than Hawaii. It’s an old Navy base, that is in the middle of a revitalization. Layton Lockett is the city manager of Adak.