Alaska News Nightly: June 19, 2012

Individual news stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via email, podcast and RSS.

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Alaska Railroad Announces Layoffs, Blames Global Recession

Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage

The Alaska Railroad is eliminating 52 positions. The layoffs seem to be evidence that the global economic downturn that started a few years ago, is starting to have a bigger impact on Alaska. And if the trend continues officials fear more cuts may be looming for the state’s only rail service.

US House Passes Sealaska Lands Bill

Peter Granitz, APRN – Washington DC

The U.S. House passed a bill today ceding tens of thousands of acres of the Tongass National Forest to the Sealaska Native Corporation. Representative Don Young was the chief sponsor of the Sealaska bill.

Earthquake Felt At Shemya Air Station

Alexandra Gutierrez, KUCB – Unalaska

A strong earthquake shook Shemya Island this morning, but caused no damage to Eareckson Air Station.

The 6.0-magnitude earthquake occurred just before 8am in a mostly uninhabited part of the Western Aleutians. The epicenter was approximately 100 miles away from Shemya Island, and the dozen or so airmen stationed there noticed the ground shaking.

“Everybody felt it, but there were no thrown objects,” says Natasha Rupert, a seismologist with the Alaska Earthquake Information Center. “It wasn’t even strong enough to topple objects from the shelves.”

No injuries were reported.

Rupert adds that earthquake was not powerful enough to trigger a tsunami. She says that it was a strike-slip earthquake, where pieces of earth move against each other instead of toppling over each other. Rupert adds that even if it had been a more intense “thrust” earthquake, a magnitude of 6.0 isn’t powerful enough to create a big wave.

“It probably would be measurable,” says Rupert. “But it would be on the order of – I don’t know – an inch?”

Because the earthquake occurred in an isolated region with little monitoring equipment, the Alaska Earthquake Information Center will only be able to detect aftershocks of magnitude 4.0 or greater. As of noon, none have been documented.

Tribes Win Lawsuit Granting Full Payment Of Contracts

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

A long awaited U.S. Supreme court decision is being celebrated by tribes across Alaska and the nation today. The Ramah Navajo case is a 22-year-old class action lawsuit against the federal government that sought full payment for contracts the tribes held for health services, law enforcement and land programs. Anchorage Attorney Lloyd Miller has worked on the litigation. He says government attorneys told the Supreme Court justices during the trial that if it was held responsible for the damages it would be a billion dollars.

Miller says the decision’s impact will most likely mean tribes who have hesitated in the past to contract with the federal government will now do so.

Miller says this is what Congress intended and currently about half of the Bureau of Indian Affairs budget and more than 60 percent of the Indian Health Service budget are under contract with tribes. The amount is more than $2.3 billion. He says because the contract expense the government underpaid were fixed costs such as workers comp insurance, the tribes had to pay for it. And since 70 percent of tribal expense is salaries, this meant reducing positions. He says the impact in Alaska will be huge.

Miller says the funding shortfall averaged about $100 million per year nationally and about a third of that deficit was in Alaska.

Exxon Files Plan For Point Thompson

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

Exxon Mobil has filed a plan of operations for Pt. Thomson.  The action follows a recent legal settlement with the state, and nearly 5 decades of work delays on Alaska’s largest undeveloped oil and gas field. Meanwhile, a lawsuit filed earlier this month could stall things again.

Vessel Grounding Prompts Salmon Hatchery Observation

Tony Gorman, KCHU – Valdez

The Coast Guard is closely watching the Main Bay Salmon Hatchery, 40 miles southeast of Whittier, following the nearby grounding of a fish tender in the Western Prince William Sound.  The Coast Guard Sector Anchorage received a report Monday morning that the Raidawn was taking on water after hitting a rock in the area.  Coast Guard spokesperson Lieutenant Allie Ferko says the Good Samaritan vessel, Bipolar, was in the area to assist the Coast Guard.

She says two crew members were rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter crew and taken to Cordova.

A 20-by-15- foot sheen was spotted in the area when the Raidawn was grounded.  The 49-foot vessel was carrying 3,200 gallons of diesel fuel and 500 gallons of gasoline at the time of the incident.

Bethel Police Get New ‘Mobile Response Center’

Mark Arehart, KYUK – Bethel

In the YK Delta, weather can change suddenly.  And in the winter temperatures can plummet into the -40’s. This prompted the Bethel Police Department to bring a new toy to town. At a shade over 25-feet-long, it’s called the ‘Mobile Response Center’ and it looks like something straight out of TV’s CSI.

UAA Revises Great Alaska Shootout Plane Ticket Deal

Wendi Jonassen, APRN – Anchorage

The University of Alaska Anchorage is revising its incredible airfare deal for the Great Alaskan Shootout during Thanksgiving weekend. Last week, the University offered free plane tickets to residents from rural hubs like Barrow and Cordova, with the purchase of a shoot out package. Not even a week old, the deal stirred up so much controversy UAA is making it a little less sweet.

There’s No Free Beer After All

Jay Barrett, KMXT – Kodiak

Perhaps it was too good to be true. Or perhaps the state frowns on this sort of thing. Whatever the case, the free beer promotion on Era Alaskaflights has been modified, and no longer includes free beer. Under the old promotion the first sample of Denali Brewing Company’s “Single Engine Red,” was free, but each additional 6-ounce glass cost $3. The new promotion charges a dollar for the first one and each additional glass.

Micah Lillard, Era’s marketing manager, explains:

“Well we ran into some unforeseen challenges that we weren’t expecting. So we have gone ahead and decided to charge for the first one and lower any additional samples after that.”

The unforeseen challenge, according to Alcoholic Beverage Control Board Director Shirley Gifford, was a state pricing and marketing statute that prohibits offering or delivering free alcoholic beverages as a marketing tool.

“We’d gotten wind of it yesterday and I saw it on the news last night and of course it created some questions for us. And working with Era, they decided they would just go ahead and charge for the beer.”

Lillard would not comment on why Era made the move to charge a small price for the beer, but it seems to be voluntary as a courtesy to the state, because, as Gifford points out, there is no federal law against giving away free beer:

“While they’re on the ground they have to abide by Alaska law, but federal law preempts state law in the air. So if there’s a grey area, Era’s going to err on the side of caution with that. So I think they’re fine. They’re okay. I mean we don’t see that they’re violating with what they had planned to do.”

The no-longer free beer promotion is scheduled to expire at the end of the month, but Lillard said Era will consider extending it into July. The service is only available on Era’s Dash 8 aircraft flying between Anchorage and Fairbanks, Deadhorse, Homer, and Kodiak.