Alaska News Nightly: January 19, 2012

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Gov. Parnell Waiting For Answers From Oil CEOs

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

Governor Parnell says he has not yet gotten answers from the CEO’s of Exxon, BP and ConocoPhillips who met with him in Anchorage earlier this month.   He revealed at his State of the State Speech last night that he had called each of them within the previous twenty four hours to tell them he expected them to make decisions on issues that were left hanging after their face-to-face meeting.

Parnell Defends Not Placing Wildlife Official On Leave

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

Governor Sean Parnell on Thursday made his first public comment on the resignation of controversial state wildlife official Corey Rossi.

Parnell said he agreed with Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell’s decision to keep Rossi on the job, even after she learned that he was questioned as part of a criminal investigation.

“Each case is going to be different in who knew what, when, and all that. So, my view is that when a person is charged with a crime that directly relates to their job, they need to be removed. Anything short of that is dependent on a case by case basis,” Parnell said at a press availability in Juneau.

Rossi was charged last week with 12 misdemeanor counts related to an illegal black bear hunt that took place in June 2008. Prosecutors say he lied on state hunting reports to cover up who shot three of the four bears killed in the hunt.

Parnell and Commissioner Campbell say they knew that Rossi was to be interviewed, but did not know the nature of the investigation until after the charges became public.

Rossi was director of the state Division of Wildlife Conservation. His lack of qualifications and advocacy of controversial predator control policies made him a divisive figure within the Department of Fish and Game.

Susitna-Watana Dam Project Moving Forward

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The proposed Susitna Watana Dam project is moving forward. The Alaska Energy Authority, which is planning to  build the huge hydroelectric  facility,  has filed paperwork with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which, if approved, puts the project on a timeline for completion in about six years. Some Alaska Native village corporations in the Cook Inlet area have land holdings near the dam site, and they are becoming concerned that AEA is not addressing their claims before pushing ahead with construction plans.

Renda, Healy Prepare to Leave Nome

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

The Coast Guard Cutter Healy and Russian tanker Renda will begin ice breaking operations Friday morning in preparation for their outbound journey from Nome.

Greg Tlapa, the executive officer of the Healy says the Renda has been taking on water and provisions Thursday. Friday at 9am, he says the Healy will begin warming its engines and coordinating with a helicopter reconnaissance to chart a south-by-southeast path away from Nome. But they’ll first have to dislodge the Renda from the ice.

If that doesn’t work, Tlapa says there are other methods to free the Renda.

Tlapa says it’s difficult to know exactly how frozen in place the Renda is. But he’s confident the Healy will be able to provide the relief needed to free the tanker and begin carving a path south to the ice edge, nearly 400 miles away.

Judge Upholds Fishing Restrictions In Western Aleutians

Stephanie Joyce & Alexandra Gutierrez, KUCB – Unalaska

A federal judge has upheld the National Marine Fisheries Service’s decision to restrict fishing in the Western Aleutians in order to protect an endangered stock of marine mammals.

The decision is the product of a year-long litigation process in which the State of Alaska, industry  groups, and Aleut Enterprise sued NMFS over their efforts to stop the decline of the Steller sea lion population. They say that the closures of the Atka mackerel and Pacific cod fisheries are estimated to cost the industry over $80 million annually and that NMFS’ science doesn’t justify the restrictions. The plaintiffs also argued that NMFS failed to adequately consult the public in this process.

In his opinion, Judge Timothy Burgess stated that he sympathized with plaintiffs, but that ultimately “judges are not scientists” and the court had to defer to NMFS’ technical expertise.

However, the court did conclude that NMFS was in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act by “failing to prepare an environmental impact statement and provide the public with a sufficient opportunity to weigh in on its decision-making process.” As a result, Judge Burgess has ordered NMFS to draft an environmental impact statement, but without vacating their final rule.

Attorney for the Freezer Longline Coalition Ryan Steen says his clients are happy Judge Burgess concluded NFMS did not fulfill its obligation to prepare an environmental impact statement.  But he says they’re disappointed with the other findings.

Alaska Assistant Attorney General Brad Meyen agreed with Steen.

Attorneys for the National Marine Fisheries Service could not offer comment at this time.

Angoon Petitions For Control Of Major Salmon Fishery

Matt Lichtenstein, KFSK – Petersburg

Angoon’s native village corporation is petitioning the federal government to take control of a major salmon fishery in Southeast Alaska. Kootznoowoo Incorporated says state management has favored the commercial seine fleet over the needs of subsistence users in the western Admiralty Island community, and the corporation wants the federal government to assert authority over marine waters. That’s never been done before in Alaska, but the federal Subsistence board will consider the issue this spring. As KFSK’s Matt Lichtenstein reports, the results could have broad implications.

Afghan War Reunites Sitka Classmates

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

A pair of recent Sitka High graduates had an unexpected meeting last week – in a combat hospital in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

J.R. Ancheta is studying photojournalism at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where he’s been working on an extended project with the 125th Stryker Brigade.

Ancheta was invited to visit the brigade in Afghanistan last December to cover its activities. As part of his work, Ancheta also visited a combat hospital that has become famous for saving soldiers’ lives.

KCAW’s Robert Woolsey has the story on what happened next.

Alcan 200 Snowmachine Race Starts This Weekend

Tara Bicknell, KHNS – Haines

The Alcan 200 snowmachine race is this weekend in Southeast Alaska.  The 43rd annual event takes over the Haines Highway from the Canada – U.S. Border to Yukon’s Desadesh Lake on Saturday, as riders and their support teams from around Alaska and Canada race for a prize pot of thousands of dollars.