Alaska News Nightly: February 6, 2012

Individual news stories are posted in the Alaska News category and you can subscribe to APRN’s news feeds via email, podcast and RSS.

Download Audio

FAA Reauthorization Passes Senate

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

By a vote of 75 to 20, the U.S. Senate passed the bill that re-authorizes the Federal Aviation Administration for four years. Before the vote, Democrat Mark Begich spoke of the importance of money for runway improvements, upgrades to air traffic control systems and the vital nature of air travel in Alaska where he said, more than 80 percent of communities are off the road system.

Senator Murkowski joined Begich in supporting the bill.

The legislation passed the house last week. Today’s passage by the Senate is significant. Begich says since 2003 there have been 23 short term extensions for the FAA. The reauthorization runs through 2015 and allocates $15.9 billion annually for all sorts of runway and airport improvements, construction projects and modernization of the air traffic control system.

Begich denounced controversial rules that were added to the legislation that affects the ability of unions to organize. Now 50 percent of a company’s employees would have to want a vote on union representation rather than 35 percent. Begich says the language had no place in the bill, but he said it was time to move on and get the reauthorization passed.

EPA Investigating Fairbanks Coal Power Plant

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Environmental Protection Agency is investigating a coal-fired power plant in downtown Fairbanks to determine whether it’s the source of a messy and possibly hazardous dust that blankets the area. The investigation could lead to a designation as a federal Superfund cleanup site.

Two Sentenced To 104 Years In Killing Of Hooper Bay Man

Angela Denning-Barnes, KYUK – Bethel

Jeffrey Hout of Bethel and Harry Williams of Kwethluk will never be free men again, after receiving life sentences Friday in Bethel Superior Court.

Both men were sentenced to 104 years without parole for torturing and killing 19-year-old Benjamin Kaiser of Hooper Bay. As a warning to our listeners, this story includes a graphic description of the crime.

Lawmakers Hear About Coastal Management Initiative

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

Legislators Monday looked at an initiative likely to be on the ballot later this year that would re-establish a Coastal Management Program. The previous program was allowed to close last summer as lawmakers and the administration could not agree on the terms of extending it.

Initiative Sponsor, Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho,  told a joint meeting of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees that – with the measure – coastal communities are recognizing that the federal law that set up the state program gives Alaskans a voice over the federal government.

He said the state currently does not have the right to review any federal activity – and that federal agencies are not now submitting its plans to the state.   He also said that the program is important to local landowners and developers because of its role in coordinating permitting activities.  He says that accelerates rather than delays projects that come before it.

“That function has been paramount to the program and it’s been incorporated into our intiative as well.  That is to make sure that an individual developer does not have to be in a situation where he or she or it has to go to each agency individually, try and sort out the regulatory scheme for that agency, work that time line, go to the next agency and do the same thing,” Botelho said.

The hearing was held as a requirement for all initiatives and no decision or action was necessary.  The legislature may take action on the same subject, however.   If a bill that is “substantially similar” passes this year, voters would not need to act on it.

Director of Elections Gail Fenumiai told the joint committee that she expects to have a decision on whether to certify the initiative in two weeks.

Legislators Discuss DNR Mission Statement Change

Daysha Eaton, KDLG – Dillingham

This week legislators will meet to discuss mission statements.  One topic will be changes to the Department of Natural Resources’ mission statement in January.

UAA Gets Funding For Corrosion And Mechanical Integrity Lab

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The University of Alaska Anchorage is one million dollars richer Monday thanks to a gift from BP.

The money is for the UAA School of Engineering to establish a corrosion and mechanical integrity laboratory, something that has been lacking in the state up until now.

Judge Issues Preliminary Injunction Against Sheraton Hotel Operator

Daysha Eaton, KDLG – Dillingham

Anchorage hotel workers are celebrating after a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against Remington Hospitality, the Texas-based operator of the city’s Sheraton Hotel. The injunction comes after a three-year legal battle. It requires the Sheraton take steps to restore the terms and conditions of employment as they existed prior to the hotel’s decision to stop union negotiations in 2009. Fay Gavin, a Banquet Server with 24 years with the Sheraton says she joined the lawsuit after management started doing things like cutting lunch breaks, increasing workload and giving away hours to temp workers.   The injunction, she says, is a step in the right direction.

Yukon Quest Leaders Leave Circle

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

The early leaders in this year’s Quest headed out of the Circle City checkpoint over 200 miles into the race, onto the frozen Yukon River this morning.  Veterans Hugh Neff, Brent Sass, Abbie West, Allen Moore and Sonny Lindner, and rookie Jake Berkowitz hit the trail within about two hours of one another between 8 and 10:15 this morning.  From Circle, the trail runs 160 miles up the Yukon to the next checkpoint at Eagle, but there are several cabins and the Slaven’s Dog drop to rest at in between.

Fairbanks Man Receives Silver Star

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A Fairbanks man has been awarded the military’s 3rd highest honor.  Retired Staff Sergeant Paul Taylor was decorated with the Silver Star at a ceremony Saturday at Ft. Wainwright.  As KUAC’s Dan Bross reports, the medal is in recognition of Taylor’s bravery during a battle 45 years ago in Vietnam.