Alaska News Nightly: January 16, 2008

On the first full day of the 2008 Legislative session, lawmakers focus on crime statistics and what to do about them. Meanwhile Fairbanks residents battle toxic mold while Eagle residents protest a project to prevent excessive dust-ups. And get ready to party, Gold Rush style — Juneau’s historic Red Dog Saloon will reopen in time for the summer tourist season. Those stories and more on tonight’s Alaska News Nightly, broadcast statewide on APRN stations.

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Legislators talk up smarter crime fighting
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
The Legislature today opened this year’s session with a major push toward reducing crime in the state.

Federal gun laws updated; will Alaska increase its participation?
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
The National Instant Check System (NICS) is a database designed to keep guns out of the hands of felons and people with defined mental health problems who are found to be a danger to themselves or others. President Bush recently signed a new federal law called the NICS Improvement Act of 2007. It offers monetary incentives for states to enter their records into the national database. Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence says nationally only about 10% to 20% of people barred from buying guns for mental health reasons are actually in the system and 25% of felons or dishonorably discharged former military personnel — individuals that should show up in the database — are not listed. Helmke says the new law seeks to improve those numbers.

New mine safety bill passes U.S. House
Joel Southern, APRN – Washington, DC
Today the U.S. House narrowly approved (214-199) a bill to beef up mine safety, even though a big overhaul of safety measures was enacted less than two years ago. Congressman Don Young was among those who voted “no.” The bill is aimed at shaft mining and is largely in response to the Utah coal mine collapse in August that ended up killing 6 miners and 3 rescue personnel. It would put new restrictions on the practice of “retreat mining,” which is believed to be a big factor in the Utah mine collapse. It would also impose new standards to contain mine explosions and fires, improve emergency response and give federal mining regulators more authority to clamp down on safety violators. And it would update standards to combat health risks miners face, such as black lung disease and asbestos exposure.

‘Dolphin’ runs aground, spills oil and fuel
Lisa Phu, KSTK – Wrangell
Early this morning the U.S. Coast Guard responded to a vessel that ran aground 30 miles southwest of Wrangell. The M/V Dolphin is a 174-foot fishing tender.

Cruise lines want more Alaskan produce on tourist plates
Amy Bracken, KCHU – Valdez
Representatives of Princess and 8 other cruise lines are in discussions with the State Department of Agriculture and Alaskan growers to find ways to serve local produce in their ships and lodges.

Southcentral Foundation mourns loss of long-time Native leader
Dixie Hutchinson, KNBA – Anchorage
A memorial service is planned for Friday for Southcentral Foundation board member Sophia Chase and her family. Chase, along with her husband Allan and 16-year old granddaughter Melissa Pike, were killed Saturday in a 3-car accident on the Glenn Highway.

Sophia Chase was a founding board member of the Southcentral Foundation and served for more than 20 years. Tribal health leaders say her contributions at the foundation were countless. One area where she was especially influential is the Traditional Healing program.

Fairbanks experiencing toxic mold growth
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
A highly toxic mold is showing up in some Fairbanks area homes. Local indoor air quality expert Bill Reynolds says he’s detected the mold in several houses where he’s conducted assessments this winter.

Eagle residents uneasy with proposed dust control project
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
A group of Eagle residents are protesting a road dust control project. With funding from the Denali Commission, the State Department of Transportation plans to coat about 3 miles of gravel road in the town with a chemical substance that will help harden the surface. The project will cost $1.3 million and the dust control is expected to last for 1-2 years. The Department of Transportation is hoping to begin the project as soon as the snow melts this spring.

Juneau’s Red Dog Saloon set to re-open with new owners
Weld Royal, KTOO – Juneau
After more than 30 years, the Red Dog Saloon in Juneau is changing hands. The Gold-Rush-era-style saloon is now closed. The new owners say they hope to reopen year-round on March 1.