Alaska News Nightly: March 4, 2008

The former chief of staff to Governor Frank Murkowski pleads guilty to fraud while in office. Plus, Homeland Defense Secretary Michael Chertoff says he plans a trip to Alaska’s arctic. Also, Lance Mackey leads the Iditarod out of Nikolai. Those stories and more on tonight’s Alaska News Nightly, broadcast statewide on APRN stations.

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Governor Murkowski’s chief of staff Jim Clark pleads guilty to fraud
Duncan Moon, APRN – Anchorage
Jim Clark pleaded guilty today in U-S District Court in Anchorage to charges of federal Mail and Wire Fraud. Clark was former governor Frank Murkowski’s chief of staff. He’s accused of asking oil field services company VECO to pay for political polls and consultants during the 2006
gubernatorial campaign. As Frank Murkowski’s term of office neared an end, Clark was encouraging the governor to run for the job again. The court documents indicate that he approached VECO – asking the company to commission and pay for those early campaign expenses directly – and to hide the actions from the public. The polls and consultant fees cost
a total of $68,550 and were never reported to the Public Offices Commission.

Clark apologizes for unethical actions
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Clark told APRN today that an apology goes along with his guilty plea. He said he knows that what he did was inconsistent with the standard to which government officials should be held. He calls the federal case the result of his foolish, unethical actions.

Federal agency says Alaska’s gas still an attractive investment
Joel Southern, APRN – Washington, DC
The head of the federal government’s Energy Information Administration says Alaska natural gas will be an attractive supply for the nation even if it doesn’t starting flowing to market for another dozen years. The EIA’s newest long-term energy outlook assumes it will be 2020
before an Alaska gas pipeline will be able to supply lower 48 markets. At a US Senate hearing today, Lisa Murkowski noted that every time that outlook is updated, the projected start date for the Alaska gas line gets pushed back. But she’s hopeful a project will get moving before
much longer.

Homeland Defense Secretary Chertoff plans trip to Alaska’s arctic
Joel Southern, APRN – Washington, DC
With climate change opening access to the Arctic Ocean, the Coast Guard is gearing up to increase its presence there. So Homeland Defense Secretary Michael Chertoff plans to come up and get a first-hand look at the situation in coming months.

Lance Mackey leads Iditarod out of Nikolai
David Shurtleff, APRN and Libby Casey, KUAC – McGrath
Defending champion Lance Mackey has taken the lead in the Iditarod. He left the Nikolai checkpoint at 4:17 this afternoon. Norweigan Kjetil Backen was the first into Nikolai, and is still resting there. Gerry Willomitzer is currently in third place followed closely by Paul Gebhardt, Jeff King, Hans Gatt and Huff Neff. They are all at Nikolai.

MEA leadership in flux
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Matanusaka Electric Association membership ousted the electric coop’s board president during the annual board election on March first. A new majority on the board could change the direction of how future power needs are met in the Matanusaka Valley.

Bradfield road still an option
Joe Viechnicki, KFSK – Petersburg
A road up the Bradfield Canal connecting southeast Alaska to Canada is still a possibility. That’s despite the fact that the state legislature last year moved some of the money set aside to study the road to a street project in anchorage. Nevertheless, state transportation officials say they’ll continue to investigate the options for a road out of central southeast.