Alaska News Nightly: March 15, 2012

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‘Person of Interest’ Detained In Connection With Koenig Case

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

An arrest has been made in the case of kidnapped Anchorage barista Samantha Koenig.   Anchorage Police Department spokeswoman Anita Shell

says two Anchorage detectives traveled to Lufkin, Texas and have taken in a “person of interest” in the case. He is Israel Keyes, a 34-year-old construction contractor.

Shell says she is not able to release details of what led police to Keyes.

Keyes is being held in a federal facility in Beaumont, Texas.

Israel Keyes operated a business in Anchorage called Keyes Construction.  Shell says there is still no information as to Koenig’s wherabouts, although police are hopeful she is still alive, because no body has been found.   Shell says anyone with information relating to Israel Keyes or who had business dealings with Keyes Construction should contact officials.

Kidnap victim Koenig was abducted on February first from the coffee shack where she was working.

Report Saying Stevens Prosecutors Withheld Information Made Public

Libby Casey, C-SPAN & Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

More than three years after the late Senator Ted Stevens was found guilty of omitting gifts on financial disclosure forms, a report made public Thursday says federal prosecutors intentionally withheld information that could have exonerated him, as well as allowing testimony that they knew was false.

The report is the work of a special prosecutor appointed by the Washington DC judge who presided over the Stevens trial.  The guilty verdict was thrown out in 2009 after allegations of misconduct by the prosecutors, but the new report details the degree to which they hid information and evidence.

State House Rejects Proposed Budget Amendments

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

The House today rejected minority amendments to next year’s operating budget in anticipation of a final vote on the plan this evening.

The changes requested by Democrats pointed to places in the budget that do prepare the state for future financial instability, which they consider an important goal.

Proposed cuts would have reduced or eliminated funding for several individual programs – such as the Alaska Aerospace Development Corporation, Tourism marketing, and the Alaska Land Mobile Radio system.  They would also have increased or restored spending for such programs as a pilot program to demonstrate the value of pre-kindergarten classes in local schools or the Natural Gas Development Authority that voters adopted ten years ago.

Anchorage Democrat Pete Peterson was unsuccessful in protecting school funding from the costs of inflation.

“I’ve had numerous school districts in my office showing me the improvements they have made in the last few years,  including higher graduation rates,  lower dropout rates,  increased test scores and more students going on to college.  Now is not the time to lose the momentum that many districts have gained by forcing districts all over the state to lay off teachers and cancel programs.”

Finance Co-chair Bill Stoltze said he’s working on a more comprehensive approach to school funding and asked members to hold the issue until he can schedule hearings.

And Anchorage Democrat Mike Doogan proposed putting another $2-Billion dollars into the body of the Permanent Fund.  He says the state can afford savings right now.

“So there’s plenty of money on the table.  The last time I looked, if we cashed out everything we’ve got, it’s about $19 billion.  So in my view, it’s time to put a little money really away to help increase the value of the Permanent Fund for a time when we’re actually going to have to go into it and get money.”

Bill Thomas, the other finance Co-chair, reminded members that the state already faces financial challenges – a potential need for as much as $11 billion to cover State Employee and Teacher retirement funds and decreasing revenue from oil production.

The budget remains unchanged from the version the Finance Committee approved yesterday.

Supreme Court Calls For New Voting District Map

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Alaska Supreme Court issued a ruling late yesterday requiring the Alaska Redistricting Board to draw up a new voting district map for the state.  An earlier generated map is the subject of a legal challenge by two Fairbanks area voters, who claim it disenfranchises them, and the Supreme Court review is the latest step in the case.

Petersburg Leaders Encouraged By Redistricting Ruling

Matt Lichtenstein, KFSK – Petersburg

Petersburg leaders are encouraged by the Alaska Supreme Court order on the state’s new legislative districts. The Southeast City was the only other town that had challenged the Redistricting Board’s plan. In that case, the Superior court ruled in favor of the Board last December and the city chose not to appeal.

Petersburg City Manager Steve Giesbrecht says it’s prompted local officials to revisit the issue.

Petersburg has long shared a senate district with Sitka , Wrangell, Ketchikan and some smaller towns. The Redistricting Board’s current plan puts Petersburg together with Juneau and Skagway. Petersburg initially challenged the plan on a number of issues.

Presbyterian Leaders Issue Apology To Gambell Residents

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

Last week, national and regional Presbyterian leaders traveled to the village of Gambell for a two-day reconciliation ceremony on St. Lawrence Island, which is located about 165 miles northwest of Nome in the Bering Sea.

State Releases Mat-Su Coal Health Impact Assessment

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A draft of a Health Impact Assessment of a proposed coal mine related to several communities in the Matanuska Susitna Borough has been released by the state. A state mining permit is still pending for Usibelli Coal’s project at Wishbone Hill. Although approval of the permit does not hinge on the health report, stakeholders in the mine decision are weighing it carefully.

The 140-page document was posted on the state Department of Health and Social Services website this week.  Dr. Paul Anderson, HIA program manager for the state division of epidemiology, says an HIA actually outlines a set of procedures used to evaluate public policy.

Anderson says the HIA program represents a collaboration among state agencies, public health officials and tribal groups. The HIA is open to public comment through April 30.

Survivor Speaks About Deadly Haines Avalanche

Tara Bicknell, KHNS – Haines

A snowboarder who survived the massive avalanche that killed two people near Haines this week is speaking out about the incident. Brandon Corbett was in a group of heli-skiers and snowboarders on a mountain about 20 miles from Haines Tuesday morning when the accident happened. The avalanche killed 26 year old Nickolay Dodov, and a guide, 35-year-old Rob Liberman.

Open North American Championships Underway In Fairbanks

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

The 67th running of the Open North American Championships gets underway in Fairbanks this weekend.  Sled dog teams run a total of 70 miles over three days in what’s been called the fastest and longest running race of its kind.