Alaska News Nightly: March 5, 2013

Individual news stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at and on Twitter @aprn.

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Three Dead in Rainy Pass Crash

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Three are dead in a light plane crash near Rainy Pass.  The plane went missing yesterday afternoon on a trip from Anchorage to Takotna.

Former Sitka Principal Charged With Sexual Assaults

Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka

A former principal in Sitka has been indicted on charges of sexual assault.

A Sitka grand jury on Friday charged 54-year-old Joe Robidou on six counts of felony sexual assault. He also faces an additional five misdemeanor charges.

Senate Democratic Budget Expected To Take Aim At Oil Tax Privileges

Peter Granitz, APRN – Washington DC

While oil and gas companies are inching towards a new tax break in Juneau, they’re fighting to maintain their preferential tax treatment in Washington, D.C.

The Senate Democratic budget is expected to take aim at some controversial tax privileges.

Kulluk Arrives In Unalaska

Stephanie Joyce, KUCB – Unalaska

Several dozen people gathered on the beach in Unalaska this afternoon to watch as Shell’s damaged drill rig was towed into port. Four local tugs helped maneuver the 277-foot Kulluk into Captain’s Bay, while the tugs that towed the rig from Kodiak stood by. The Kulluk will tie up at its specialized dock in the bay until the ‘heavy-lift’ vessel arrives to take it to dry dock in Asia.

Shell spokesperson Curtis Smith couldn’t say when the heavy-lift vessel is scheduled to arrive. According to its automated tracking system, the vessel left China on Sunday. Once it gets to Unalaska, it will empty its ballast tanks, sink below the Kulluk and then lift the drill rig onto its deck.

Smith says Shell hasn’t yet selected a shipyard for repairs to the damaged rig.

House Tightens Operating Budget

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

Lawmakers in the state House of Representatives have trimmed Governor Sean Parnell’s operating budget by two percent. The $9.7 billion budget was released yesterday, and every department except for corrections saw its funding decreased. Behavioral health services were reduced by $8 million, and $1 million was cut from early education. Leadership in the House and Senate have emphasized the need for a tighter budget with oil production on the decline. The state may be facing a deficit for the first time in nearly a decade, and could tap into its $16 billion reserve fund. The finance committee is taking public testimony on the budget this week, and the bill could be up for a vote as soon as next week. After that, it will be sent to the Senate.

13 Mushers Making Iditarod Debut This Year

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

Aaron Burmeister has taken over the Iditarod lead. The Nome musher left the Nikolai checkpoint at 12:25 this afternoon. Aily Zirkle followed out of the checkpoint a little less than an hour later, followed by Mitch Seavey, Lance Mackey and Paul Gebhardt. The Iditarod GPS Tracker has the leaders about 15 miles from McGrath at this hour.

State Workers Rally As Union Leaders Negotiate New Cotnracts

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

About a hundred state workers held a rally outside the State Office Building in Juneau last week to show solidarity with union leaders negotiating new contracts.

The Parnell administration is currently working out new three-year deals with three public employee unions, representing more than 11,000 workers statewide.

Republican legislators have come out against raises for those workers.

St. George Harbor Project Progresses

Stephanie Joyce, KUCB – Unalaska

After decades of lobbying and planning, a project to overhaul the boat harbor on St. George Island is finally moving forward. The state hopes to have fully developed construction plans by 2015.

Long-Running Lawsuit Over Fast Ferries’ Engines Is Settled

Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau

The lawsuit over allegedly defective engines for the state’s fast ferries has come to an end. A settlement was announced Friday afternoon in Juneau Superior Court after nearly three years of litigation and just before the start of trial.

Lawmakers Celebrate First Territorial Legislature Centennial

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Juneau

One hundred years ago this week, the first territorial legislature gathered in Juneau. For the past few days, legislators past and present have been celebrating that event, and reflecting on Alaska’s history since the inaugural meeting.