Alaska News Nightly: October 14, 2010

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Fairbanks Borough Not Commenting on Former Mayor’s Claims
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
The Fairbanks Borough is not weighing-in on the claims of its former mayor, Jim Whitaker, that Senate candidate Joe Miller broke ethics rules while an employee.

Whitaker told APRN and other news outlets Wednesday that Miller used borough work computers for partisan politics in 2008. Whitaker alleges that Miller was trying to get the state Republican chairman, Randy Ruedrich ousted.

At the time Miller was a part-time lawyer for the borough.  Whitaker says he was disciplined in writing for breaking the ethics policy, but didn’t lose his job because the borough needed him to wrap up work on an oil pipeline tax dispute.

Miller resigned from borough employment five months later.

Miller would not comment on Thursday to APRN, his campaign said it’s not discussing the issue and that his statement from earlier this week speaks for itself.  On Monday Miller’s campaign invited reporters to a press conference, only to have him announce that he’s not going to answer questions about his background or personal issues.

Fairbanks Borough Attorney Rene Broker says the office won’t comment on Whitaker’s accusations.  The Borough released to news organizations in July a heavily redacted set of documents relating to Miller’s employment.  Officials say they can’t release more without Miller’s permission.

Two news outlets, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner and the Alaska Dispatch have filed lawsuits against the borough to get more information about Miller’s time there from 2002 to 2009.

Broker says the borough will comply with the law if there’s a court order to turn over the information.

Young, Crawford Debate Mostly Directed by Audience in Juneau
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Thursday, Congressman Don Young and his challenger, Democrat Harry Crawford faced an audience in Juneau who were more interested in specific issues than in personal ones.

Young says he voluntarily stepped down from positions that would have allowed him to use his 38 years of seniority until ethics investigations were completed.  He told members of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce that he’s now ready to go back to work.

Crawford said that as a Republican, Young faces a majority of Democrats in the House, the Senate and the White House.  And says the congressman has not shown he is able to work with them.

Young says the nation’s voters will repudiate Democratic leadership, repeating his prediction that he will be a chairman next year.

The forum was mostly directed by the audience, however.  And their questions covered a broad range of issues that the two could face.   For example – a recent Forest Service decision not to follow the Tongass Land Management Plan. Both Young and Crawford agreed the Agriculture Department had overstepped its authority.  Crawford called it a reason he should be in Congress.

The two also agreed on the need for more and better use of sustainable and renewable energy.  Crawford has been a promoter of specific projects – such as the Fire Island Wind Power farm in Anchorage, and development of the Chakachamna hydro project.    Young, however, found the shortcoming to be at the state level.

The two candidates will meet again in Fairbanks on the Oct. 25.

Six Absentee Votes Change Verdict on Proposal in Palmer
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Absentee ballots have changed an election outcome in Palmer.  On Oct. 5, Palmer city election results indicated that a proposal to have the city buy the old Matanuska Maid block went down in defeat.  That was before absentee ballots were counted at week’s end.  Now, six absentee votes have turned that defeat into a victory for the $3 million proposal.

Ft. Wainwright Shooting Puts Man in Hospital, Listed in Good Condition
Associated Press
One soldier is under arrest and another soldier is hospitalized after a shooting at Fort Wainwright.

Army officials say the soldier accused in the Tuesday night shooting is a member of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.

Officials have not released his name or the name of the victim, whose condition was listed in good condition with non-life threatening injuries.

Officials say the Stryker soldier shot the other soldier in a parking lot near a barracks, using a .45-caliber gun.

Army spokesman Maj. Bill Coppernoll says the shooting is still under investigation.

Decision on Black Bear Snaring in Holding Until 2012
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
The state’s game board has put a decision on black bear snaring on hold until 2012.   The proposal before the board’s special meeting in Anchorage would have allowed for black bear trapping with snares in six Interior game management units.

Critics of the plan protested the lack of public input on the proposal.

Wade Willis is a former state and federal biologist now working in a public advocacy capacity.

State Fish and Game representatives told the board the bear snaring plan would compliment current predator control practices in some areas. Two game management units already have bear trapping programs under a state predator control plan. Those two units were removed from the proposal.

Fish and Game officials had asked the board to defer the decision until the board of game meets in Ketchikan later this year to give the public time to weigh in on the issue. The Board agreed to that plan.  The next board meeting on Southcentral issues takes place in March of next year.

Currently it is estimated that there are some 100,000 black bears in the state. Bear trapping has not been legal in Alaska since statehood in 1959.

Legislation Aims to Increase Sea Otter Harvests, Pelt Sales
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
Congressman Don Young has introduced legislation aimed at increasing sea otter harvests and pelt sales in Southcentral and Southeast Alaska. The move is targeting a growing population of marine mammals that are consuming more and more shellfish in Southeast.

Salvation Army Reopens Clitheroe Center
Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage
Following state approval, on Tuesday and after several months of suspended service, the Salvation Army reopened its Specialized Treatment Unit at its Clitheroe Center in Anchorage.

Fort Knox Mine Dam Under Scrutiny After Accident in Hungary
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The dam failure and toxic sludge release last week at ore processing plant in Hungary, has raised questions about similar potential at other mine facilities. The Ft. Know Gold Mine northeast of Fairbanks maintains a large dam that holds back a 300-acre tailings pond. The 4,000-foot long, over 300-foot high dam built in the 1990’s, is the largest in the state.  Alaska Department of Natural resources Dam Safety Engineer Charlie Cobb says it was designed and constructed to high integrity standards, and there’s minimal risk of the kind of catastrophic failure that occurred in Hungary.

Cobb says the dam that failed in Hungary was a much older communist regime-era structure that likely bares little design comparison with Ft. Knox.

Cobb says the state requires annual inspections by a consulting engineer, as well as daily
surveillance by the mine’s operator.  A seep was found under the Ft. Knox dam in 2006, but it was determined to be water from a sub dam fissure in the bed rock, and no tailings solution was released.   A monitoring system below the dam detects any seepage.  The state is currently taking public comment on Ft. Knox plan to raise the dam height 52 feet to accommodate additional tailings and waste fluid.

The sludge released from the Hungarian facility is from aluminum processing and contains lead and other heavy metals that have killed nine and sickened many others. Ft. Knox Environmental Manager Delbert Parr says the slurry stored in Ft. Knox is much less toxic.

The Ft. Knox gold mine’s tailings pond contains about 16 million gallons of slurry far less than the Hungarian sludge reservoir, which released 200 million gallons. The Ft. Knox facility is located in a valley, 25 miles northeast of Fairbanks, more remote than the Hungarian site. The state’s Cobb says even if there was catastrophic dam failure at Ft. Knox, the impacts would not be like what’s happening Hungary.

Coffman Cove Trying to Revive Northern Ferry Route
Tony Gorman, KSTK – Wrangell
Representatives from the North End Port Authority based in Coffman Cove met with Wrangell officials over the past few days to unveil a new plan to bring ferry service back to Coffman Cove, Petersburg, and Wrangell.  The inter-island ferry authority ran a route to and from the communities until last year when operations ceased due to lack of funding and low ridership.