Alaska News Nightly: February 21, 2012

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State Concerned Over Increasing Numbers of HIV Cases

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

The state is concerned about a big increase in the number of new HIV cases in Fairbanks. Last year, Fairbanks reported eight new HIV cases and the outbreak is ongoing. In recent years, two or three new cases were more typical. The state is also seeing a syphilis outbreak in Anchorage.  Susan Jones is Alaska’s HIV and STD program manager.  She says the state first became concerned about the increase in HIV cases in Fairbanks last summer.

Bill Would Help Conversion From Oil Heat Sources

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

A House committee Tuesday morning approved a bill setting up a loan program for people who want to convert their home heating equipment from oil, coal or wood heaters to another fuel source.

Austerman Open to Changes to ACMP Bill

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

House Majority Leader Alan Austerman says he’s open to changes to a bill that would re-establish an Alaska Coastal Management Program.

House Bill 325 was introduced Friday with Austerman as primary sponsor. Six other members of the House Majority caucus – four Democrats and two Republicans – co-sponsored the bill. Minority Leader, Juneau Democrat Beth Kerttula signed on as a co-sponsor immediately after its introduction on the House floor.

The bill was referred to the House Resources and Finance Committees. Austerman says he’ll request a hearing as soon as possible.

“We will request a hearing on it. We will suggest changes that may or may not need to be made,” says Austerman. “And we will deal with any changes that people suggest as far as the process is concerned and what the bill should look like.”

HB 325 closely mirrors a citizen’s initiative on track for a statewide vote later this year. Lawmakers can pre-empt the measure with substantially similar legislation, and would have a lot of leeway in doing so. The initiative proposes a coastal management program that gives local communities quite a bit more input than a bill that failed in the House last year.

Austerman says the fact that initiative backers collected the required signatures in less than a month shows there’s strong support for that version of the program.

“If I look at just the initiative process and the amount of people and time frame that it took to generate those signatures to get it on the ballot, I think it shows a lot of support in reference to recreating the program,” Austerman says.

Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho is prime sponsor of the initiative and chairman of the Alaska Sea Party, the group behind the signature gathering effort. Botelho has said the Sea Party prefers to have the legislature take action, because it would help the program get up and running faster and avoid a costly campaign to convince voters to approve the measure.

Before closing last year, the Alaska Coastal Management Program allowed the state and local communities to have greater input into federal permitting decisions along Alaska’s coastline. It also helped developers by streamlining the regulatory processes of various state and federal agencies.

The legislature failed to reauthorize it after the Parnell administration and some House Republicans fought efforts to expand the role of local communities.

Parnell Signs Bill Changing Disclosure Rules into Law

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

Governor Sean Parnell has signed a bill easing the state’s requirement for certain political candidates to file disclosure information electronically.

The governor signed House Bill 311 on Monday, five days after it passed both chambers of the Alaska Legislature.

The bill provides an exemption to the electronic reporting rule for candidates who have no broadband Internet access or personal computer at their primary residence. It also delays the requirement from taking effect for one year – until February 2013 – and prevents the Alaska Public Offices Commission from changing requirements in the middle of an election cycle.

The electronic reporting requirement only applies to candidates for state office and municipal candidates in communities of 15,000 or more people.

HB 311 modifies regulations the legislature adopted in 2007, in response to a federal corruption probe that ensnared several sitting lawmakers.

Researchers Launch Rocket to Study Northern Lights

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A rocket was successfully launched from Poker Flat north of Fairbanks over the weekend. Saturday night’s flight was part of a multi-university project aimed at understanding  the effect of the northern lights on global positioning system and other radio signals. Principle investigator Steve Powell of Cornell University says satellite data indicated an intense stream, of charged particles from the sun heading toward the earth, and the aurora did not disappoint.

Powell says the tricky part was deciding when to launch. He says success hinged on going up while the aurora was in the rocket’s trajectory above the Yukon Flats.

The timing worked out.  The 46 foot high 2 stage rocket flew an arcing path through the aurora, 200 miles above the earth’s surface during its 10 minute flight. Powell says antennas and sensors deployed, took measurements, and radioed their signals to receivers on the ground. He says the data quality is excellent and will be analyzed to improve G.P.S. signals.

Powell says the models will be used to develop G.P.S. programs that compensate for errant signals, or warn users about them.  He says it’s important as people increasingly rely on G.P.S., and an 11 year solar cycle peaks.  The project was the only scheduled launch from Poker Flat this season.  Poker Flat is operated by the University of Alaska Fairbanks for NASA.

Researchers Investigate Weightlessness Effects on Human Body

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

On February 20, 1962, John Glenn, became the first American to orbit the Earth. And fifty years later, astronauts still face the unknowns of space.  There is new evidence that prolonged weightlessness, or even short periods without the pull of gravity, can have lasting physical impacts on the human body.  In  December of last year, in a paper published by the American Academy of Opthamology, an Anchorage doctor looked at how space travel can effect eyes.

Bill Would Offer Energy Relieve for Alaskans

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A bill introduced in the state legislature offers energy relief for Alaskans.  The bipartisan sponsored measure would provide vouchers to all Permanent Fund Dividend eligible adults for 250 gallons of heating fuel, or an equivalent amount of natural gas, or 1,500 kilowatt hours of electricity. The non-transferable vouchers would only be redeemable in state.  The bill’s prime sponsor, Senator Joe Thomas of Fairbanks spoke on the Senate floor Friday about the proposal, saying residents of urban locations like Fairbanks are experiencing energy pain.

Fairbanks Entrepreneur Setting Up Third Wind Power Generator

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

A Fairbanks entrepreneur is putting up a third wind generator in Delta Junction, and Golden Valley Electric Association intends to buy the additional electricity.

First Iron Dog Racers Reach Nome

Jeremy Scott, KIYU – Galena

The first team of snowmobile racers has reached Nome in the 2,000-mile Iron Dog race. Marc McKenna and Dusty VanMeter arrived Tuesday afternoon. For being the first to reach the race’s half-way point, they pocket $10,000.

Trail conditions for this year’s race are either ideal or a nightmare, depending on who you ask. Here’s two-time reigning champion and Tyler Huntington.

Huntington’s team has averaged over eighty miles-per-hour, despite an early-race shock problem on partner Tre West’s machine.

Rookie Archie Agnes, however, tells a much different story about the conditions.

He and partner Arnold Marks were also clocking in around eighty miles-per-hour during the early stretch of the race. All teams must reach Nome by 11:59 P.M. Wednesday Night to avoid scratching.

The race winds up Saturday in Fairbanks.