Alaska News Nightly: December 19, 2008

State Senator John Cowdery pleaded guilty to conspiracy today in exchange for avoiding prison. Plus, State officials are worried about a string of suicides this month in villages in Northwest Alaska.

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Alaska Senator John Cowdery pleads guilty to conspiracy
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
Alaska State Senator John Cowdery was in federal court this morning changing his plea. The three-term senator pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy in exchange for having a bribery charge against him dropped. Cowdery was accused of conspiring with VECO executives during legislative debate over oil taxes in 2006.

Northwest Alaska suicide rate suddenly surges in December
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
State Troopers have responded to a disturbing number of suicides in Northwest Alaska since the beginning of the month. Six people, mostly teenagers and young people, have killed themselves in five small villages near Nome and Kotzebue.

  • Alaska Suicide Prevention Line: 877-266-4357

Interior releases draft environmental report on Arctic offshore drilling
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington, DC
The Interior Department released a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) today on opening more than 73 million acres of the Arctic Ocean to oil and gas leasing. The areas in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas have been available for leases in the past but have not been developed.

State pushing oil companies to move on Cook Inlet development
Casey Kelly, KBBI – Homer
State officials met Thursday with representatives from oil and gas companies that own offshore leases in Cook Inlet to see if they can spark development on some of them. The leases are set to default at the end of the year. But the state is offering to let the companies keep them, as long as they form an agreement to bring a drilling rig up to Alaska. The head of one of the companies says the state’s timeline is unreasonable.

Walt Monegan announces run for Anchorage Mayor
The Associated Press
Former Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan plans to run for Anchorage mayor. Monegan is a former Anchorage police chief. Governor Sarah Palin fired Monegan as commissioner of Public Safety in July. Monegan says he was dismissed for failing to fire Palin’s ex-brother-in-law, an Alaska state trooper. The matter was reviewed by an investigator hired by the Alaska Legislature and one hired by the state personnel board. The legislature’s investigator concluded Palin had abused her office. The personnel board concluded Palin violated no ethics law.

Recession cutting into University of Alaska programs
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The recession is hitting home at the University of Alaska. UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers says University investment funds have suffered in line with the worldwide decline in stock values.

Petersburg air travel briefly losing Alaska Airlines flights in March, April
Matt Lichtenstein, KFSK – Petersburg
Alaska Airlines will bypass its usual stops in Petersburg for a month this spring while the state reconstructs the airport’s runway. Passengers planning travel to Petersburg during that time will have to go through Wrangell and take a shuttle ferry and bus to Petersburg.

Anchorage approves police and fire contracts, costs up $60M over 5 years
Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage
This week the Anchorage Assembly approved two major union contracts. Over the next five years, the combined increased cost to the city above the current agreements could be nearly $60 million.