Alaska News Nightly: August 1, 2007

Congress considers legislation that provides funding for Alaska’s Denali KidCare program. Plus, a research vessel finds plenty of pollock in the Bering Sea, but the fish are smaller than usual and much farther north. Those stories and more on tonight’s Alaska News Nightly, broadcast statewide on APRN stations.

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Proposed healthcare coverage expansion for children up for debate
Joel Southern, APRN – Washington, D.C.
Legislation to expand the federal program that provides funding for Denali KidCare was before the U.S. House and Senate today. The House passed a bill that would provide a $50 billion expansion of the decade-old State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP) over the next five years. The bill also has provisions that would avert a planned 10% cut in Medicare reimbursement rates for doctors, boost compensation for rural health providers and offer more generous subsidies to low income Medicare recipients. All that would be paid for by a hike in cigarette taxes and cuts to the Medicare Advantage program.

State of Alaska officials have been urging more S-CHIP funding for Denali KidCare. But Congressman Don Young said several things kept him from voting for the bill.

Over on the other side of Capitol Hill, the Senate continued debate on a bill that would expand the S-CHIP program by $35 billion over five years. Alaska Senators Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski support that bill, although other Republicans argue it costs too much and complain it’s a big step toward a federal government takeover of health insurance. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wants to take a final vote on the bill over the next few days.

Water projects funding may be drained by Bush veto
Joel Southern, APRN – Washington, D.C.
A long-delayed authorization for federally-funded water projects around the country is on the verge of clearing Congress — but the Bush Administration is threatening a presidential veto. The Water Resources Development Act of 2007 is chock-full of port, harbor, flood control and other projects. Congressman Don Young was not selected to be on the slate of House and Senate negotiators that came up with the compromise legislation — but he’s pleased with the two dozen Alaska projects and studies he ended up with.

The package includes navigation projects or studies for Haines, Sitka, Seward, Tatilek, King Cove, the Kuskokwim River and other places. It also authorizes harbor improvements in various coastal communities and erosion prevention projects for Barrow and Nelson Lagoon. The bill also includes a long-time pet project of Don Young’s — a study on the feasibility of building a hydropower dam on the Susitna River.

Unregulated international fishing activity frustrating Stevens
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
During a Commerce Department oversight hearing today, Senator Ted Stevens asked Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez about combating International Unregulated, Unreported (IUU) fisheries. Stevens says fishing vessels operating under flags of convenience from foreign nations are engaging in the IUU fisheries in the North Pacific, taking immature salmon illegally. Stevens expressed frustration that he couldn’t earmark money for what he called a crisis situation and he asked Gutierrez for help.

Gutierrez said illegal fishing will be on every agenda going forward. He says they will be calling for commitment from China to help stop the IUU fishing vessels. Stevens said he hopes the Bush administration will raise the issue with the UN. He also said any vessels off loading fish should be required to record what they caught and where they caught it.

Oscar DysonNOAA documenting Bering Sea pollock population shifts toward Russia
Charles Homans, KIAL – Unalaska
There are more pollock in the Bering Sea now than there were this time last year. But Alaska’s most lucrative fishery is still in the thrall of ecosystem changes that several years ago started sending fishermen farther and farther north in search of pollock. Those are the early findings from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research vessel Oscar Dyson, which wrapped up its summer survey of pollock stocks in the Bering Sea this week.

Cold case finally closed in 1995 Warren murder investigation
Libby Casey, KUAC – Fairbanks
A murder conviction in Fairbanks has solved the 1995 killing of a convenience store clerk. Marvin Wright was found guilty of shooting Trisha Warren during a truck stop robbery in South Fairbanks. Assistant district attorney Corriene Vorenkamp says Monday’s conviction of Wright has finally brought closure for Warren’s family.

Wright faces life in prison and will be sentenced in February. The case was cold for a decade until Fairbanks Police Detective Peyton Meredith made headway by interviewing someone believed to be a witness, who had earlier refused to talk. Vorenkamp says the police and prosecutors had an especially challenging job reviving the case because there was no forensic evidence. She and prosecutor Jason Gazewood relied on witnesses, some of whom, like Wright, were high the night of the murder, and others who are in jail.

Publication of plan to move mining equipment by hoverbarge up the Taku delayed
John Ryan, KTOO – Juneau
The company behind the Tulsequah Chief Mine projectRedcorp Ventures Ltd. — has delayed the release of more information on its proposal to send hoverbarges up the Taku River.

Governor’s health care group concentrates on facts, not strategies
Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage
Monday afternoon governor Palin’s specially-appointed Health Care Strategies Planning Council gathered in Anchorage for its second meeting. The council has until December to come up with strategies to meet Alaskans’ access, quality and health care needs.

Tug for petroleum tankers now a year-round presence at Nikiski
Mike Mason, KBBI – Homer
Tesoro Alaska announced this week they’ll keep a tractor tug in Cook Inlet year-round to help their tankers maneuver safely to and from the dock in Nikiski.

Ancient bones found in 1980s still looking for appropriate burial site
Brian Pollack, KCAW – Sitka
U.S. Forest Service employees have been unable to unravel the circumstances of death with regard to a collection of human bones found in a rock shelter on the southwest of Admiralty Island. Since their discovery, Agency officials and others have struggled to determine in whose care the bones should rest.