Alaska News Nightly: February 27, 2012

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Ft. Wainwright Soldier Facing Court Martial

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A Ft. Wainwright based soldier will face court martial in the death of a fellow Stryker Brigade member in Afghanistan.  Charges against Sergeant Travis Carden, including maltreatment, assault and reckless endangerment, have been referred to court martial in connection with the death of Private Danny Chen last year.  Chen, who was the victim of severe hazing by fellow soldiers, was found dead of an apparent self inflicted gunshot wound in a guard tower at base in Afghanistan October 3rd.  Carden of Fowler, Indiana is one of 8 Ft. Wainwright based soldiers facing charges related to Chen’s death.

Community Leaders Gather Data On Potential Eielson F-16 Move

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

Community leaders have begun compiling data they say will prove the Air Force won’t save money by moving an F-16 fighter squadron, and up to 1,500 military and civilian workers, from Eielson to Anchorage, but base employees are still worried.

Eielson’s civilian workers want to know more about the proposed re-alignment.

Education Committee To Pass Pre-Kindergarten Expansion Bill

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

The Senate Education Committee is ready to pass a bill expanding the number of Pre-Kindergarten programs in local schools across the state.

The measure would allow – but not require – any school district to expand early education to four and five year old children – as long as it is optional and only half-time. It follows a two-year pilot program in six school districts that included some three hundred children.  Those pupils were favorably rated on three separate national standards.

One of the bill’s co-sponsors,  Anchorage Democrat Hollis French said those tests showed the early education was putting children who were in the programs by as much as two years ahead of their expected levels.

“Every piece of data that I’ve seen shows this works.  The only thing that is left out there are some anecdotes about putting kids in school too early or socializing them too early.  You hear lots of anecdotes about this or that reason.  But the proof is here that this is what we need to do,” French said.

French also pointed to studies presented at the Crime Summit held at the capitol earlier this year.  At that series of hearings, he says the Washington Institute for Public Policy – and Alaska’s Institute of Social and Economic Research – showed the positive effects of early education.

“Children as they grow up they are much more likely to complete high school – that makes sense – they are more likely to have higher paying jobs – that makes sense, they’re going to graduate from high school – and much less likely to end up in the criminal justice system.  Early childhood programs are shown to save the state far more money than they cost as children move through school and into adult life,” French said.

At the summit, research found that the state would save six dollars for every dollar spent on early education – and that the crime rate could be reduced by sixteen percent.

The Department of Education asked for time to amend its statewide cost projection for the program – expected to come in at about $41 million.  And to determine if adding the programs will have any effect on the settlements of rural school litigation earlier this year.

The bill will come up again Wednesday where it is expected to pass.

Bill Protects Anglers’ Access to Fishing Streams

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

The state has a chance to protect anglers’ access to fishing streams under a bill that unanimously passed the Senate today.   The bill by Anchorage Democrat Les Gara passed the House last year with no opposition.

Gara says that some of the state’s prime fishing locations – such as the Salcha River and the Anchor River – have several miles of shoreline that, when they are developed, will keep the public out.   The bill requires the Departments of Fish and Game and Natural Resources to inventory streams and rivers and – although the bill does not provide any money for the project – it opens the option of purchasing rights of way to them.

Anchorage Democrat Bill Wielechowski says the goal is to assure the public’s legal access to the streams.

“As more and more land gets developed, we as citizens are going to lose public access.  This bill encourages the Department of Natural Resources to look at those places where the public could lose access and seek low-cost easement purchases before those lands are developed rather than after when they become very expensive to buy,” Wielechowski said.

And Anchorage Republican Lesil McGuire said it serves a good purpose – and avoids the state using its powers of eminent domain in the future.

“It forces the department to be proactive and to really think about access for our citizens to these areas along the streams where we want to enjoy this really important quality of our life,” McGuire said.

The bill next goes to the Governor’s for his action on it.

Coast Guard Rescues Three Fishermen From Umnak Island

Alexandra Gutierrez, KUCB – Unalaska

Three Seattle fishermen were rescued last night after their vessel went aground on Umnak Island.

The crew of the Neptune 1 called the Coast Guard at 11:21 pm, alerting them that their boat had lost propulsion and gone adrift in rough weather. Twenty-five minutes later, the Neptune 1 was on the rocks, and the crew had to swim to shore in their survival suits.

After receiving the mayday call, the Coast Guard launched a helicopter from St. Paul Island to rescue the fishermen. As the helicopter crew traveled down to Umnak, the F/V Alaskan Enterprise also responded to the incident. That vessel was 25 miles away at the time, and it diverted course to shine a light on the Neptune 1 and its crew until the Coast Guard arrived.

According to Petty Officer David Mosley, the Jayhawk helicopter arrived just after 3am and was able to safely transport the three men to Unalaska. He adds that the crews of the Neptune 1 and Alaskan Enterprise took all the right measures to ensure a successful rescue.

“Without the mayday call for help, without the guys on the fishing vessel taking care of themselves by activating their EPIRBs [emergency position-indicating radio beacons] and putting on their survival suits, and without the help of the Alaskan Enterprise crew, this may not have gone so smoothly and these gentlemen may have been in worse shape than they ended up being,” says Mosley.

The 58-foot vessel remains beached on the northwest side of Umnak Island. The vessel was carrying an unknown quantity of fuel, but so far there have been no reports of pollution.

‘Americans Elect’ Offers Alternative To Standard Primary Process

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

While Republicans squabble about their choice for a presidential candidate to go head to head against Democrat Barack Obama, a third party process has quietly gained ground through the internet.   Americans Elect offers an alternative to the standard primary process  by allowing voters to choose presidential and vice presidential candidates through voting on an internet site. The ticket selected to run against the major party’s candidates will appear on Alaska’s November ballot.

Wood-Pellet Heat Pitched As Money-Saver

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Backers of biomass energy pitched wood-pellet heat as a money-saver during a legislative hearing last week.

9 Percent Of Alaskans Living Below Poverty Line

Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham

Recent data from the U.S. Census shows that over 9-percent of Alaskans live below the poverty line.

Road Kill Salvage Program Experiencing Heavy Workload

Lorien Nettleton, KTNA – Talkeetna

As long as snows are deep and nights are dark, moose mingling in roadways is a fact of life everywhere in Alaska. With a higher -than-average number of moose killed in collisions with vehicles this winter, the roadkill salvage program in the Mat Su Borough is rotating through the list frequently. One name on the list is the Su Valley High School Moose Club.

High Winds, Big Waves Wreaking Havoc On Sea Travel

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

High winds in Southeast this winter are wreaking havoc on land and at sea. The state ferry Kennicott postponed a scheduled cross-gulf voyage earlier in February due to heavy weather. The Kennicott is rated for open-ocean travel.

What kind of weather could keep it tied to the dock?

On Friday, February 3, Sitka experienced sustained winds of 53 miles per hour throughout much of the morning, and recorded a peak gust of 86 miles per hour.

Meteorologist Joel Curtis, with the National Weather Service in Juneau, says he and his colleagues have been analyzing data from the Cape Fairweather data buoy.  KCAW’s Robert Woolsey recently spoke with Curtis about the recorded sea height offshore on that morning.

Curtis called the wave height “mountainous.”

Alaskan Wins Oscar For Work On ‘Hugo’

Associated Press

Former Alaskan Ben Grossmann is an Oscar winner. He won an award for groundbreaking work in visual effects in the Martin Scorsese-directed film “Hugo.”

Grossmann, who comes from Delta Junction, was one of four to win the award Sunday for “Hugo” in the best visual effects category. Their group beat films including “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and the last installment of the “Harry Potter” films in visual effects.

Grossmann grew up in a cabin in Big Delta and began attending the University of Alaska Fairbanks at age 16. In Fairbanks, he worked as a photographer for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner and a stringer for The Associated Press. He moved to California in 2001 to pursue film work.