Alaska News Nightly: December 21, 2011

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Eight Charged In Death Of Stryker Brigade Soldier

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Eight Ft. Wainwright based soldiers are charged in connection with the death of a fellow Stryker Brigade member.  The men are facing an array of charges related to the death of Private Danny Chen of New York City.  Chen was found dead of a gunshot wound in a guard tower at a forward operating base in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan on Oct. 3.  The most serious charges include involuntary manslaughter, assault and negligent homicide.

In October, Private Chen’s parents told NBC news they did not believe their son took his own life and that the Army informed them he had been racially taunted by fellow soldiers and once beaten by a group of 6 superior officers. Chen, a Chinese American, joined the Army last January and arrived at Ft. Wainwright in May.  He deployed to Afghanistan in August as a replacement in the First Stryker Brigade combat team.

An Army investigation into the circumstances surrounding Chen’s death is ongoing. The Army is not releasing any details and declined interview requests.

EPA Issues New Mercury Emission Regulations

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency issued new, strict, regulations on mercury emissions from coal fired power plants.

The rules tighten allowable emissions of mercury and other air toxics in line with draft rules released in March.

Ruling Expected On Atka Mackerel, Pacific Cod Restriction Roll Backs

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

A federal judge in Anchorage is expected to rule soon on the state of Alaska and the fishing industry’s legal move to roll back restrictions on the Atka Mackerel and Pacific Cod fishery due to start at the first of the year around Adak and in the Western Aleutians.  The restrictions were imposed by the National Marine Fisheries Service to help the Steller Sea Lion recover.

Capital Budget Proposes Southeast Boat Harbor Improvements

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Governor Sean Parnell’s capital budget proposes improving eight Southeast boat harbors. They’re among dozens of regional projects in the administration’s public-works spending plan for the next fiscal year.

Groups Still Seeking Holiday Donations

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

The holidays are upon us and several local non-profits are looking for some elves to help Santa deliver a little Christmas cheer to area families. As KTOO’s Casey Kelly reports, it’s not too late to give.

AWARE is seeking individuals or organizations to participate in its Sponsor-a-Family program. The nonprofit domestic violence and sexual assault prevention center is based in Juneau, but serves nine other communities in Southeast from Yakutat to Tenakee Springs.

Organizer Mandi Johnson says donations will go to help women and families who have utilized AWARE’s services in the past year.

“That includes coming in for legal help, to coming to our women’s education group or children’s groups, to staying here, to just calling us on the phone for the crisis line,” she says.

Johnson says about 30 families are signed up for this year’s program. Most already have sponsors, but there’s a need for one or two more. She says the goal is to give each family a food basket and a few holiday gifts.

“Basic winter items like hats and gloves and we also ask the families if they need kind of fun toy as well,” says Johnson. “So like a toy or a stuffed animal the kids are kind of interested in as well – just to make it a little extra special holiday for them.”

Captain Donald Warriner with the Salvation Army says food always seems to be a big need during the holidays.

“What happens is, we give out 200 food boxes and then that kind of depletes our food for the following year,” Warriner says.

The Salvation Army is already well into its delivery schedule for those 200 boxes.

“We’ve already delivered some of those for the smaller families without kids. But Thursday is our distribution for the families with kids,” he says. “So they’ll be getting coats, they’ll be getting toys, and they’re going to be getting a big food box with turkey, stuffing, cranberries, all that stuff.”

But no matter when donations come in, Warriner says they’ll find a use for them. He says they’re always running low on gifts for teenage boys.

“They’re hard to buy for. So, like, toolkits or wallets, cologne sometimes. Another nice thing is like a gift card to McDonalds or iTunes if they have an iPod. Or even to the theater, it gives them something to do that they might not have a chance to do,” Warriner says.

Despite a relatively strong economy in Juneau, Warriner says the Salvation Army will probably serve 25 to 30 more families than it did last year.

“I know unemployment’s kind of not that bad in Juneau, but here it costs a lot to live,” he says. “So you have people that have a job, it’s just that they don’t have enough to make ends meet.”

Other groups like St. Vincent De Paul and the Southeast Alaska Food Bank are also still accepting donations for holiday programs.

Child Advocates Work to Support Senate Bill 3

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Anchorage commuters passing through the busy Lake Otis/Tudor intersection this evening between 6 and 7 will be encouraged to honk in support of ending child hunger. The local campaign is part of a national effort to address the growing problem of children going without meals. Kokayi Nosakhere is the local coordinator for the By 2015 America movement.

Nosakhere says a senate bill that would have helped feed more Alaska kids languished and died in the House Finance committee in 2009 and 10. He says Senator Bill Wielechowski offered Senate bill 3 in 2011. It passed the Senate and again landed in the House Finance committee.

“This year we’re saying, we see what you’re doing, it is intolerable, and we will stand up and intervene to prevent that from happening. We want the House Finance committee to stop bottle necking the process and allow the bill to go to a vote. If we lose on the floor we lose on the floor and we can deal with that in November. But to not allow legislators to vote on it is almost criminality,” Nosakhere said.

Nosakhere says Alaska has excellent teachers who work hard to help children become better educated citizens, but he says kids can’t learn if they’re distracted by hunger.

“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist, you can just be a grandmother and know that you have to feed your child for the child to learn,” Nosakhere said.

Senate bill 3 would provide a state match for schools participating in the federal free and reduced school breakfast and lunch program.

Strange Weather Expected To Give Way For Traditional Temperatures Soon

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The unusually warm weather is expected to give way to more seasonal temperatures. National Weather Service meteorologist Don Aycock in Fairbanks says an upper level low moving down from the North Pole is forecast to spread frigid air into the interior by the holiday weekend.

Aycock says cloud cover should keep temperatures from really plummeting. He says moisture spread up from the south will also give the interior some snow.

Ayccok says snow is expected today and Friday.  So far December has been one of the three warmest on record in Fairbanks.  Through Dec. 19, Fairbanks temperatures averaged 16 degrees above normal. Aycock says colder temperatures over the next week will help average things out for the month.

Ester Residents Approve Ultra-Efficient Library Design

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

A group of Ester-area residents working to build a community library have approved a ultra energy-efficient design.

‘Mass Wasting’ Event Destroys Popular Sitka Trail

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

A storm that slammed into Sitka in mid-November made news at the time for its sudden violence, sinking two boats at their moorings in the harbor, as well as damaging the harbors themselves.

While the damage to man-made structures was heavy, a further toll from the storm is just now being understood – in the forest along a popular trail just outside of Sitka. Geologists refer to the event as a “mass wasting” – the wholesale destruction of an area of forest due to any one of several kinds of avalanche or debris flow.

Mass wasting is not unusual in the Tongass – every so often large swaths of relatively young and exposed forest are toppled by high winds and slides. But the mass wasting that destroyed the Beaver Lake Trail occurred in old growth, and two hikers were there to see it go.