Alaska News Nightly: February 29, 2012

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Repsol Still Working To Control Blown Out Exploratory Well

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

It’s been two weeks since the Spanish company Repsol suffered a blow out at an exploratory well on the North Slope. The company still doesn’t have control of the well and extreme weather is slowing that work. The well is no longer active. But environmental groups say the harsh conditions that are hampering the clean-up operation prove how difficult it is to work in the Arctic.

Chief Justice Talks About ‘Smart Justice’

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

Chief Justice Walter Carpeneti on Wednesday took the opportunity of his final address to the legislature to ask lawmakers to consider some alternatives to the judicial systems that have developed in the state.  He referred to a new concept – called Smart Justice – that considers the possible result of every action taken by the justice system.

Adak Expected To Lose Jet Service As Part Of EAS Cutbacks

Alexandra Gutierrez, KUCB – Unalaska

Last year, Alaska’s congressional delegation fought hard to keep the Essential Air Service program alive. They argued that without it, over 40 Alaskan communities could lose the planes that connect them to the rest of the state. Ultimately, the program was saved and its funding was even bumped up to $143 million. But as KUCB’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports, the Department of Transportation is still trying to rein in program costs, and the City of Adak may see air travel to the community change as a result.

Part Two: Ocean Acidification

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

Yesterday in the first of a two-part series, APRN’s Steve Heimel reported on ocean acidification being observed along the shores of the West Coast.  Acidification was found at the edge of the continental shelf in 2007, but this is the first time it’s been found in the rich inter-tidal zone close to shore. Alaska’s ocean acidification is largely un-measured, that’s likely to change now.  In today’s story, Heimel looks at the circulation patterns that may already be acidifying fish habitat in the Arctic.

Course Teaches About Home Sustainability

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Ultra energy efficient building is possible and makes sense.  That’s the focus of a course called: “A 21st Century Sustainable Home” at University of Alaska Fairbanks this Saturday.  It’s taught by Cooperative Extension Service Sustainability coordinator Rich Seifert, author of “A Solar Design Manual for Alaska.” Seifert says it all starts with super insulated walls, doors and windows.

Seifert says two such homes built in Fairbanks in recent years have proven that a near zero net energy house is possible in the interior. The homes rely on storing a large quantity of solar heated water.  The homes are not cheap to build, but Seifert says long term savings make up the difference.

Seifert says contractors are trying to bring down the cost of building the sustainable house by modularizing components.

Anchorage On Pace To Break Total Snow Record

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Anchorage is on track to break the total snow fall record for the season. As of Wednesday, 119.9 inches had fallen in the city. The record is 132.8 inches, set back in the winter of 1954-1955. And National Weather Service Meteorologist Dave Snider says there is more snow in the forecast.

The average snowfall for March and April combined is 14 inches. Snider says it’s been a fun winter to be a meteorologist.

The snowiest winter ever in Anchorage was followed the next year by the second snowiest winter. Snowfall totals in Anchorage still pale in comparison to Girdwood. Alyeska Ski Resort is reporting 715 inches have fallen since October at the top of the mountain.

Federal Funds May Be Available For Avalanche Mitigation

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

Avalanches from Mt. Juneau pose an “unacceptable risk” to Capital City residents and property. That’s the finding of a new report presented to the Juneau Assembly this week (Monday). The study also recommends the city buyout at risk homes.

Consultants from the Swiss Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research looked at Mt. Juneau’s Behrends Avenue and White Subdivision avalanche paths last year.

Over the centuries, slides have carved out huge swaths of hillside on the 35-hundred foot peak overlooking a pair of neighborhoods near downtown Juneau.

The report makes clear it’s only a matter of time before the next large avalanche impacts one of those neighborhoods, says the city’s Emergency Programs Manager Tom Mattice.

“They looked at the history from the early 1900s all the way to present and in the Behrends path they found three avalanches reaching tidewater, in 1890, 1926, and 1962. In 1962 only the wind event reached the tidewater. But in the other two events, snow mass reached the tidewater in great amounts,” said Mattice.

The report says the most effective way to reduce the risk of avalanches from the Behrends path is to have the city buyout homes in the neighborhood below and prohibit development there.

Other measures – such as snow dams and retaining walls near houses, or snow supporting structures on the hillside – are too expensive and might not protect the neighborhood. The report says they could be effective in the White subdivision, which contains fewer homes, but there would need to be more study.

Likewise, Mattice says the consultants do not recommend using explosives to artificially release snow on Mt. Juneau.

“With a mean inclination of 34 and 35 degrees, those are very, very active avalanche paths,” Mattice said. “The worst case scenario is, we’d try and start a small avalanche, the avalanche zones connect to one another, we’d end up with a large avalanche and we’d be buying the houses.”

The report recommends the buyout, which would include at least 28 homes, be done in phases, targeting the most at-risk properties first. Mattice says the same Federal Emergency Management Agency grant that paid for the avalanche mitigation report could pay for a buyout.

“At this point in time, the recommendation would be after to approach the residents in area one, determine their level of interest, and after you’ve gained level of interest you could determine fair market value on those properties. Then use that fair market value to form cost-benefit analysis to apply for the grants for that first step,” said Mattice.

The buyout idea has been floated to city officials in the past. And while the assembly did not commit to any course of action, Assemblywoman Karen Crane said she hopes this report will not be ignored.

“I just hope this doesn’t end up another report – we’ve had several along the way – that ends up on the shelf, and that we can find a path to take some action here,” Crane said.

At a minimum, the report recommends mandatory evacuations and road closures when avalanche danger is most severe.

The consultants say Juneau Douglas High School, which is near the bottom of the Behrends path, would not sustain any damage even from the largest possible avalanche.


WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research Report

Alaska Moose Federation Get Go Ahead For Moose Relocation Program

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The Alaska Moose Federation has been given the go ahead to begin a moose relocation program in the Anchorage and Matanuska and Susitna Valley areas.