Alaska News Nightly: December 30, 2009

Individual news stories are posted in the Alaska News category and you can subscribe to APRN’s news feeds via email, podcast and RSS.

Download Audio (MP3)Updated Count on Pacific Walrus Posted
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
The US Fish and Wildlife Service is out with an updated count for Pacific Walrus.  The agency estimates there are a minimum of 129,000 animals in the population, but says the new number can’t be compared to past counts. The massive undertaking was a collaboration between the US and Russia.

Report on MacKenzie Valley Gas Plan Due Soon
Lee Sellek, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
The Canadian Government is due to release a long-awaited report on the MacKenzie Valley natural gas pipeline plan.  The Joint Review Panel’s report is expected to be a very detailed examination of the 760-mile pipeline’s prospects and environmental impacts.  The permitting process for the pipeline has been repeatedly delayed, and the national political climate in Canada has been turbulent. Canada’s Conservative government was almost toppled a year ago, and today, Prime Minister Stephen Harper called off next month’s session of the Parliament until after the Vancouver Olympics. The Joint Review Panel began writing its report in 2004.  It was initially supposed to take just ten months to complete.  Exxon-Mobil subsidiary Imperial Oil is heading up the coalition that wants to build the MacKenzie pipeline, which would deliver gas to a hub in Alberta, just as the proposed Alaska gas line would do.  Imperial has managed to negotiate terms with most – but not all – of the Native tribes whose lands the pipeline would cross.

Minimum Wages Goes Up in January
Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau
Alaska’s minimum wage goes up 50 cents on New Year’s Day, to $7.75 an hour. This is the second increase since state lawmakers approved the raise in April.  In July, the minimum wage went up 10 cents to match the federal rate. The increase is the first since 2003, when Alaska’s minimum wage jumped $1.50 to $7.15 cents an hour.  Five years later that was worth about $6.22 an hour, considering inflation.   State economist Brian Rae says even at the new rate, the real earning power is quite a bit less than $7.50.

Swine Flu Poses Bigger Threat to Alaska Natives
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
American Indians and Alaska Natives are much more likely to die from the H1N1 flu than other populations. The Centers for Disease Control showed the increased risk in a report earlier this month.  Dr. Tom Hennesey is director of the CDC’s Arctic Investigations Program in Anchorage.

Federal Funds Sought for Ketchikan Shipyard
Deanna Garrison, KRBD – Ketchikan
The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority is hoping to secure $73.5 million in federal stimulus funds for new infrastructure at the Ketchikan shipyard. The Alaska Ship and Dry Dock says the money should be enough to fully implement its development plan.

“Healthy Habits” Ends in Southeast
Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka
A five-year program to develop healthy habits in Southeast Alaska has come to a conclusion. Steps to a Healthier Southeast Alaska ran from 2004 until just this last week, when the federal grant funding it ran out. The grant’s manager and other health officials in Sitka say the program made a difference.