Alaska News Nightly: January 3, 2012

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ACMP Initiative Backers Scramble To Get Signature

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

Backers of a citizen’s initiative to re-establish the Alaska Coastal Management Program have unleashed a full-court press to collect nearly 26-thousand signatures needed to put the measure on this year’s statewide ballot.

Juneau Mayor and initiative sponsor Bruce Botelho got into the act at the Alaskan & Proud supermarket Tuesday afternoon. He says volunteers are mobilized in every corner of the state.

“We’re of course trying to collect the required signatures before the legislature convenes, so that we have a chance to have the 2012 legislature deal with the issue,” says Botelho. “And absent that be able to have it on the ballot in August.”

Initiative sponsors are operating under the Alaska Sea Party moniker. Statewide numbers were not available, but as of Tuesday the group had collected about 10-thousand signatures in Anchorage and 11-hundred in Fairbanks, according to Botelho. He didn’t have a count for Juneau, but said interest has been strong.

Many of the petition gatherers, like Botelho, are local government officials. But he says other groups have stepped forward as well.

“Some Alaska Native organizations, fishing organizations, conservation organizations, and just individual volunteers have said ‘We think this is a good program. We should get it back,’” Botelho says.

The Alaska Coastal Management Program provided one-stop state and federal permit coordination for developers seeking to build along Alaska’s coastline. It closed in July after lawmakers failed to reach a deal to reauthorize it last legislative session. The Parnell administration and House Republicans fought efforts to give local communities more of a voice in the program.

Russian Tanker Renda Set To Depart For Nome

Ben Matheson, KNOM – Nome

The Russian tanker Renda loaded gasoline Tuesday afternoon in Dutch Harbor following the completion of its port state control exam. The Renda is set to depart late Tuesday for Nome.

Man Dies In Anchorage’s Karluk Manor

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

New Year’s Day brought the first death of a client at Anchorage’s Karluk Manor alcoholic housing facility.  Karluk Manor is operated by the non-profit RuralCap and allows its chronic alcoholic clients to drink in their rooms.

Reports are that a 54-year-old man, John Kort, was found unresponsive during regular checks by employees.  Anchorage Police spokeswoman Marlene Lammers says police were told Kort had passed out and appeared to be intoxicated.  Lammers said an autopsy would determine the exact  cause  of death.  Melinda Freemon, Rural Cap’s director of supportive housing, says if Kort had to die at least he died with dignity and was in a safe place.

Karluk Manor opened on Dec. 8.  The “Housing First” program is based on a model that allows clients to drink in their rooms in the hopes that a safe place will help spur recovery.  Karluk Manor is operated with federal funds through the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation.  The project caused controversy in the city, with critics concerned that it would draw more homeless alcoholics to the city’s Fairview neighborhood.  Supporters of Karluk Manor said the project would help reduce arrests of and emergency room visits by the city’s homeless population.

Freemon said Karluk Manor operators realized there would be deaths at the facility.  Most of the clients lived on the street for years before moving to the shelter.  Freemon declined to comment on whether or not the death would affect changes at Karluk Manor.

Some States, Federal Government Ponder Ocean Zoning

Tom Banse, NNN – Oregon

You’ve heard of neighborhood zoning. Now there’s a move afoot to zone the ocean. Oregon, Washington State and the federal government all have fledgling plans to coordinate competing ocean uses.

But wave energy developers say Oregon’s initial draft leaves them in a watery ghetto.  Oregon is the first to produce detailed ocean maps.  Northwest News Network Correspondent Tom Banse was one of the first reporters to get a look, and has this report.

Legislation To Give Employers Tax Credit If They Hire A Veteran

Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham

The Alaska Legislature is scheduled to go back into session on Jan. 17 but in advance of that date lawmakers are starting to reveal some of the bills that will be introduced. One of the bills would give employers who hire a veteran a large tax credit.

Marge Baker Obituary

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

An icon of pioneer aviation in Northwest Arctic Alaska has been laid to rest. Marge Baker of Baker Aviation died while on vacation with her family in Mexico on Dec. 24. She was 79-years old.

Marge was born Nov. 30, 1932 in Kotzebue after her parents traveled by dog team from Selawik to Kotzebue for her birth. Her parents Louis and Clara Rotman ran Rotman’s store in Selawik and Kotzebue. Marge attended boarding school in Seattle and in 1957, she married Robert ‘Bob’ Baker. They made their home in Kotzebue and together started Baker Aviation in 1964.

Four years later, Bob Baker was killed in an aviation accident, leaving Marge to raise seven children on her own. Although the Baker family declined to comment after her death, Marge’s son, 2011 Iditarod winner John Baker spoke more about his mom than himself during the Alaska Federation of Natives convention last fall. Baker recounted to the AFN audience that he was 6-years-old when his father died.

“Never once did my mother exhibit being a victim of circumstances. She faced each challenge with dignity, humility and a can do attitude. My mother raised each of us to be independent, hard working and creative problem solvers,” Baker said.

Baker went on to highlight her extraordinary work as not only a widowed mom of seven, but also the first woman in Alaska to own an airline.

“For two decades, she was the only woman who owned and operated her own air taxi. She was eventually joined by her friend Rita Sholten with Northern Air Cargo and they made aviation history while providing an important service to the people in our rural communities,” Baker said.

John Baker said he found out his mom Marge had cancer on the same day he won the Iditarod.

Marge was on the board of the Alaska Air Carriers Association. She was the Kotzebue station manager for Alaska Airlines and also served on the NANA regional corporation board of directors. Northwest Arctic people remember her as a woman who cared deeply for those Baker Aviation served. One former Kotzebue resident recalled sending gallons of berries from Shungnak to the Kotzebue Senior Center free of charge on one of Baker Aviation’s planes, saying that kind of quiet assistance to others was a hallmark of Marge Baker’s personality.

Boston-Based Firm To Help Design State Health Insurance Exchange

Associated Press

The state of Alaska is planning to sign a contract with a Boston-based firm to help design a health insurance exchange.

An exchange is a marketplace for coverage options. Under the federal health care law, the government could step in and establish exchanges in states where none exist. Gov. Sean Parnell, who is challenging the constitutionality of the law, last year refused federal funds for an exchange.

The state’s moving ahead, for now, on its own.

Josh Applebee, deputy director for health care policy for Alaska’s health department, says states have until next January to certify that they’re able to establish an exchange. The state plans to sign a contract with Public Consulting Group to evaluate such things as the cost of the exchange and its impact on the market.

Sutton Residents File Complaint Against Coal Mine Development To DNR

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Residents opposed to the development of a coal mine near Sutton have filed a citizens’ complaint with the Department of Natural Resources.

The letter was brought to DNR commissioner Dan Sullivan’s office in late November, claiming that Usibelli Coal Company, which is engaged in coal exploration activities at Wishbone Hill, has not been operating with a valid permit.

Jaime Duhamel is a spokesperson for the Mat Valley Coaltion, which opposes the mine at Wishbone Hill.  Duhamel says that the letter was filed by the legal firm Trustees For Alaska on behalf of the members of the Mat Valley Coalition.  Duhamel says the complaint has caught the attention of the Federal Office of Surface Mining.

Discovery Channel Debuts Show Set Near Homer

Aaron Selbig, KBBI – Homer

The Discovery Channel – which is already home to Alaska-based shows like “Gold Rush Alaska” and of course, “Deadliest Catch” – debuted a new Alaska reality show last week, this one set in the outskirts of Homer.