Alaska News Nightly: June 11, 2012

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DEC: No Harm to Wildlife Seen in Wake of Monterrey Spill

Jay Barrett, KMXT – Kodiak

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has revised downward the amount of diesel fuel spilled from the U.S. Army Reserve landing craft Monterrey, which was intentionally grounded late Friday night after hitting a charted rock, just off shore of downtown Kodiak.

Steven Russel, the ADEC’s on-scene coordinator for Central Alaska, says at least 8,000 gallons were spilled from one of the Monterrey’s fuel tanks, but the fuel in another tank was partially pumped out after the accident. He says the range of spilled fuel is between 8,000 and 12,000 gallons.

The aroma of diesel was strong and a rainbow sheen of fuel was widely visible on the Kodiak waterfront all weekend. Russel says an extensive effort was made to determine if any marine life or seabirds were harmed by the diesel spill, but none were found.

Skimmers are being used near the Monterrey, and sorbent pads are being used to sop up concentrations of fuel. Russel says there are no plans to burn off or use dispersants on the fuel. Oil booms were also placed at the mouth of the nearby Buskin River to protect salmon spawning habitat. The Kodiak salmon fishery started on Saturday.

The Monterrey will remain grounded on Puffin Island, and surrounded by floating oil booms, until the damaged tanks are empty and the ship’s stability can be assured. Then it will likely be taken to the nearby Coast Guard base.

There, according to Major Annmarie Daneker of the U.S. Army Reserve, a decision will be made how to get the cargo of construction equipment to its destination near Newtok on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta coast. An Alaska barge may be contracted, or a similar landing craft will be sent up from Tacoma, Wash. She said a decision has to be made soon because of Alaska’s short summers and building season.

The Monterrey was transporting heavy construction equipment from Port Hueneme, Calif., to Newtok on the coast between the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, in support of a U.S. Marine Corps mission to relocate the village because of erosion and melting permafrost.

Three crewmen suffered bumps and bruises when the Monterrey hit Humpback Rock and were taken ashore for medical attention. They were treated and released and are reported in good condition.

Parts of Alaska Highway Remain Closed

Margaret Friedenauer, KHNS – Haines

Parts of the Alaska Highway in Canada remained closed today, stranding travelers and supplies in the Yukon and near the communities of Haines and Skagway. The road isn’t likely to open until at least tomorrow.

Grocery Shoppers Feeling Effects Of ALCAN Closure

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Alaska Highway closure has interrupted more than just summer tourists. Grocery shoppers in Interior Alaska are feeling the effects.

NPFMC Reduced Halibut Bycatch Nearly 700,000 Pounds

Jay Barrett, KMXT – Kodiak

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council voted Friday to reduce halibut bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska by 15 percent, the maximum amount under consideration during its meeting here in Kodiak. The cuts to the trawl and longline fleets will be phased in over three years. The reduction passed on a 10-1 vote, with Dave Benson of Washington State dissenting.

Theresa Petersons is a commercial fisherman in Kodiak and works with the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, and followed the deliberations closely.

The next step in the process is for the council to determine how to go about implementing the bycatch reductions. In the Bering Sea trawl fisheries the bycatch is largely salmon, and recently retention of the non-targeted fish has begun to be implemented for the benefit of food banks. But Peterson says it’s a slightly different situation in the Gulf of Alaska with halibut:

Over two-and-a-half days much of the testimony before the council urged a reduction of 15 percent. Huge cuts to both the commercial and charter halibut quotas in recent years prompted a strange bedfellow alliance among the traditionally competing user groups and generated much of the comments.

The cut of nearly 700,000 pounds will be made to the 4.5 million pound bycatch cap put in place nearly 25 years ago.

The council continues its meeting through tomorrow.

Efforts to Find ‘Supersack’ Remain Unsuccessful

Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham

The Dillingham City Council has been updated about a large bag of contaminated dirt that is missing somewhere in the Nushagak River. Last November a barge company mishandled the bag during a transfer from one barge to another at the Dillingham City Dock. And an effort to find it last week was unsuccessful.

Woods Pellets to Power USCG Air Station Sitka

Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka

The U.S. Coast Guard air station in Sitka is abandoning oil as a heat source.

Work will start in the next week on a new heating system that uses wood pellets instead of oil. It’s part of an effort to make the Coast Guard more energy efficient.

Alaska Native Group Suing Division of Elections

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A group of Alaska Natives is suing the state Division of Elections. The group includes Vicki Otte, CEO of MTNT, the McGrath area Alaska Native Corporation, and Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp.

The plaintiffs allege that the state division of elections is going ahead with election preparations before federal authorities have given the okay to the Alaska Redistricting plan. Native American Rights Fund attorney Natalie Landreth represents the plaintiffs.

In late May, the Alaska Redistricting Board submitted its Amended Proclamation Plan to the federal Justice Department for preclearance under the Voting Rights Act.  Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires preclearance by the Justice Department to ensure that the changes will not result in discrimination against racial minorities.

Landreth says as of Monday afternoon, the case has been handed over to a three judge panel.

Alaska Leiutanant Governor Mead Treadwell and division of elections director Gail Fenumai are named in the suit.

Fenumai says oral arguments are set regarding the temporary restraining order for Thursday morning.

Housing Measure Could Help Rural Educators, Medical Providers

Ariel Van Cleave, KDLG – Dillingham

Alaska Senator Mark Begich has introduced a measure that could benefit educators, public safety officers and medical providers in rural communities.

500 Gather for Chickenstock Music Festival

Emily Schwing, KUAC

Nearly 500 people gathered over the weekend for the Chickenstock Music Festival.  The Festival takes place in the tiny community of Chicken, 80 miles north of Tok.  It’s the sixth year in a row the festival has drawn a crowd from Alaska, the Yukon Territory and beyond.