Alaska News Nightly: March 27, 2012

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Keyes Arraigned On Fraud Charge

The Associated Press

The man listed by Anchorage police as a “person of interest” in the abduction of 18-year-old Anchorage barista Samantha Koenig has been arraigned in federal court in Anchorage on a fraud charge.

This afternoon, Israel Keyes, entered a not guilty plea to a charge of access device fraud for allegedly making cash withdrawals from a stolen debit card. The card was not Koenig’s. Trial was set for May 21.

No bail was set, pending a further order from the judge.

Koenig has been missing since February 1. A surveillance camera at the coffee shack where she worked showed her being led away by a man police believe was armed.

There was no mention of Koenig during Tuesday’s court hearing.

Coastal Management Bill Stalled In House

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

With less than three weeks remaining in the legislative session, it’s looking unlikely lawmakers will pass a bill to re-establish the Alaska Coastal Management Program.

A citizens’ initiative setting up program has been approved for a statewide vote later this year. But lawmakers could pre-empt the measure with “substantially similar” legislation.

Kodiak Republican Alan Austerman – the House Majority Leader – introduced a bill that closely mirrors the initiative. But Austerman says he’s aware some House members oppose legislative action on the coastal management issue.

“We heard one of the sponsors of the initiative on the discussion at the one hearing we had talking about something that works,” Austerman told reporters Monday. “And so that’s really where our goal is, to find something that works and that’s acceptable to the legislature. Can we get there? We don’t know yet.”

Austerman’s bill had one hearing in the House Resources Committee two weeks ago. A legislative legal advisor testified that lawmakers would have significant leeway to decide what “substantially similar” means.

The group behind the initiative – the Alaska Sea Party – supports legislative action. Sea Party Chairman and Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho has said a bill passed this session would get a coastal management program up and running sooner, and avoid a costly and potentially contentious campaign to get voters to approve the initiative.

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.

School Leaders Explain Plans To Deal With Budget Deficits

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

Local school leaders today got their chance to tell legislators how they are dealing with expected budget deficits for the next school year.  The hearings followed the Parnell administration’s presentation yesterday at the opening of the House Finance Committee’s week-long series of meetings focusing on Education.

FERC Begins Susitna Watana Dam Environmental Impact Analysis

Lorien Nettleton, KTNA – Anchorage

The first of a series of scoping meetings for the proposed Susitna Watana hydroelectric dam took place in Anchorage Monday, kicking off the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s environmental impact analysis of the proposed 700-foot dam. Talkeetna is the first community downriver from the Dam, and some residents are wary of the impacts the $4.5 billion project could have on local river ecology.

Scientists Say Radiation Not Big Concern In Tsunami Debris

Jennifer Canfield, KMXT – Kodiak

It’s been just over a year since a 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Japan. The ensuing tsunami devastated Japan’s coastline and killed nearly 16,000 people. While Japan continues to recover from the disaster, debris has started to show up on U.S. shores. The tsunami took out the Fukushima nuclear plant and there have been concerns that the washout could be radioactive. Earlier this month debris was reported on Sitka’s shores and some was found on Kodiak’s beaches last December. While scientists generally agree people should be careful when dealing with tsunami debris, it’s not because of radiation.

Coastal Communities Prepare For ‘Tsunami Awareness Week’

Aaron Selbig, KBBI – Homer

Alaskans in coastal areas – including Homer – will hear a test of local tsunami sirens Wednesday. The tests coincide with “Tsunami Awareness Week” and are designed to educate the public about tsunami preparedness.

California Man Arrested For Burning Down Cabin Near Healy

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A California man, who lived in the wilderness around Healy, has been arrested for burning down a cabin. State Troopers say Andrew Costales told them he left a fire going in a woodstove of the private cabin near Dora Creek, and the structure burned while he was out.  Costales was arrested in Healy March 23rd, and charged with burglary, criminal trespass, and criminally negligent burning.

Orca Skeleton Scanned, Reassembled In Sitka

Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka

The bones of a killer whale recovered from Kruzof Island last year will soon be on display at the Sitka Sound Science Center. Volunteers and scientists spent last week rearticulating the orca skeleton.

Hundreds Gather For Cama-i Dance Festival

Mark Arehart, KYUK – Bethel

This past weekend in Bethel, hundreds of people flooded the high school for the Cama-i Dance Festival. The annual festival brings in dance groups from around the region, state and the country.   Concessions stands served plenty of nachos, candy and soda, but for those who wanted a little more homemade flavor there was the free Cama-i dinner.