Alaska News Nightly: August 2, 2012

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Pen Air Dropping Air Taxi Services

Dave Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham

Pen Air has been operating air taxi services around rural Alaska for more than 55 years. In June, they ended their air taxi services out of Dillingham, and yesterday announced that all remaining air taxi routes will soon be cancelled as well.

Opponents Of Coastal Zone Measure Pick Up Advertising Pace

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

Opponents of measure 2 on this month’s Alaska primary ballot are using their sizable financial advantage to flood the airwaves. Thanks largely to donations from resource development groups and companies, the “Vote No on 2” campaign is running TV and radio commercials in addition to print advertising, encouraging voters to say no to the measure restoring Alaska’s Coastal Management Program. Backers of the citizen’s initiative say they’re not trying to compete with the full on media blitz, but believe their support in coastal communities will help them prevail.

Matanuska River Drives Valley Residents From Homes

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The raging Matanuska River is carving land off its banks fast, and at least five homeowners in the Matanuska – Susitna Borough are losing ground.

Shell Starts Prep Work In The Arctic

Stephanie Joyce, KUCB – Unalaska

Shell still hasn’t received final permits for its Arctic drilling plans, but the company is starting to send vessels north anyways.

Two of the company’s support vessels – the Aiviq and the Fennica – left Unalaska early this week for the Chukchi Sea. The icebreaker Tor Viking is expected to join them in the next few days. Together, the vessels will start prepping the drill site for the Noble Discoverer’s arrival.

“This is what planning for success looks like and this is what efficiency looks like,” says Shell spokesperson Curtis Smith. “And these are days, of course, in a shortened season already that we want to use as efficiently as possible.”

Smith says the company is not putting its Chukchi drilling plans on hold while the EPA considers proposed changes to the Noble Discoverer’s air permit. Shell said last month it isn’t able to meet the requirements of the permit and asked the EPA to make revisions. But Smith says those will take months and that in the meantime, the company is planning to drill anyway.

Once Shell actually starts drilling, the EPA could determine the company is out of compliance with its permit and issue fines. The agency wouldn’t talk on the record for this story.

The air permits are only one of the company’s unresolved problems. Shell’s oil spill containment barge, the Arctic Challenger, is still under construction in Bellingham, Washington. Once construction is finished, the barge will need to be inspected and approved by the Coast Guard. Smith thinks that can happen by next week.

“And then hopefully, in the days to come, given permit approvals, the rest of the fleet can move north as well,” he says.

The Department of the Interior has said previously Shell’s final permits are contingent on Coast Guard approval of the containment barge.

Shell is also waiting for ice to clear from its Beaufort Sea prospects. National Weather Service ice forecaster Kathleen Cole predicts it will be at least a month before the ice is completely gone.

“I don’t know how much ice they’d take, but the ice should be out of that area sometime in late August, early September,” Cole says. “We still have a lot of ice up there to move.”

Cole adds that’s not unusual for the Beaufort. Shell says it won’t break its way to the drill site.

“We have the best information and the best images right now in the world of the ice cover in the Alaskan Arctic,” says Shell’s Smith. “So, of course, we’ll watch that closely and as the ice moves out, we’ll take that opportunity to move in.”

For the time being, both of Shell’s drillships, along with a handful of support vessels, are still in Unalaska.

Officials Ponder Fate Of Rampart School Building

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

In the last 13 years, more than two dozen schools have permanently closed their doors in rural communities across the state. Most are still sitting empty. The schools had to shut down after villages lost too many school aged kids to meet state requirements. That’s the case for the school in Rampart, which closed in 2000.  It’s one of four buildings the state is looking to move, refurbish or demolish.

New Satellite Dish Allows UAF To Expand NASA Work

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A new satellite dish will allow the University of Alaska Fairbanks to expand its work for NASA.  The 11-meter dish on the campus’s west ridge will replace an older smaller one on the roof of the Elvey building. Alaska Satellite facility deputy director Scott Arko says the upgraded dish will provide the UAF, NASA funded center more transmission capacity.

Panel Recommends Warship Be Names For Stevens

The Associated Press

Nearly two years after the death of Senator Ted Stevens, a Senate panel has recommended that a Navy warship be named in his honor.

Stevens’ legacy has already been memorialized through having a mountain named after him in Alaska, as well as the now-annual Ted Stevens Day. But several senators today said it would be particularly fitting for a warship to be named for Stevens, given his own war time service and his strong support for military men and women during his 40 years in the Senate.

Historic Military Vehicle Convoy Celebrates the Alaska Highway’s 70th Anniversary

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Around 200 participants associated with the Military Vehicle Preservation Association will be kicking off a drive up the Alaska Highway on Saturday to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the highway’s construction. Wendy Rowsan is a logistics and public relations volunteer with the group. She says their first convoy was across the U.S from Washington DC to San Francisco.

“And we did that on the Lincoln highway in honor of the 90th anniversary of the transcontinental convoy which was a very famous convoy, Teddy Roosevelt participated in that convoy and it was really the precursor to the interstate travel system,” Rowsan said.

They decided the 70th anniversary of the Alaska Highway was a great next venture.

Rowsan says people have come from across the nation and Canada. One vehicle was shipped from Australia to join them.

“And one from Alaska. So, we’re all spread out, a number of people drove their vehicles here, so I’d say maybe a third to a half of the people on the convoy have already driven their vehicles anywhere from 1500 to 2000 miles to get here to start the convoy, so they’re all raring to go,” Rowsan said.

They will host a big kick off at mile marker zero on Friday night in Dawson Creek BC and start off early Saturday morning. They’ll travel 4100 miles in 27 days. The first stop will be in Chicken on the 15th and the next day on to Glenallen.

“We are in to Willow on August 17th, and that afternoon we’re going to take Hatcher pass. So everyone is very excited to drive that.  As you can imagine Historic military vehicles are very rugged and able to travel rougher roads and our guys like that type of driving, kind of the rougher the road the better for us so they think Hatcher Pass is going to be a lot of fun,” Rowsan said.

Seventy-seven military vehicles are making the trip.

“We have 33 that are World War Two era, 11 from the Korean war era, 17 Vietnam era vehicles and 14 from Desert Storm,” Rowsan said.

Spending weeks on the road in historic vehicles that were built for war efforts not luxury could be uncomfortable. Rowsam says there’s a wide range of restoration and modifications.

“We’re actually traveling in a 1942 Dodge WC21, which is sort of like a pick-up truck size. My husband has done all sorts of restoration and upgrades on it, and, in fact, I have seat heaters in my Dodge, even though it’s an open cab and we have no doors, when it rains you get wet and when it’s cold you get cold but that seat heater is gonna help,” Rowsan said.

Rowsam says there are 60 vets on the trip and 46 women with the group. She says they have some sponsorship for group meals but otherwise members saved for the trip and are funding their own travel.

“It’s one of those once in a lifetime things, and if you’re a collector of a historic military vehicle, the chance to drive the Alaska Highway is sort of one of the ultimates on your bucket list, because of all of the history there. You really can’t be a collector of a historic military vehicle without knowing what a significant role they played in the building of the highway and you can’t look at a photo of that whole construction project without seeing those one of those vehicles,” Rowsan said.

The convoy will end up in Delta Junction on August 21 where they will display their historic rides at the fairgrounds and take a group photo at the end of the highway marker. Rowsam says they anticipate being back in Dawson Creek on August 30.

Anchorage Artist Garners Attention In New York’s Central Park

Wendi Jonassen, APRN – Anchorage

An Anchorage artist is garnering attention for her unusual installation in New York’s Central Park. Paolo Pivi’s latest work involves a single-engine plane, the kind often seen in the skies above Alaska.