Alaska News Nightly: November 11, 2010

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House Fire Near Talkeetna Investigated as Possible Homicide-Suicide
Diana Haecker, KTNA – Talkeetna
A house fire in the Talkeenta area is under investigation as a homicide-suicide case after the medical examiner found evidence that three of the four people found in the burned rubble may have been killed before the flames consumed the trailer building.

Election Officials Continue Write-In Count
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
Election officials today continued counting write-in ballots for the U.S. Senate race. The division hopes to finish more than half of the vote counts by the time they finish this evening.

A Soldier’s Memories Pay Tribute To His Comrades
Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage
As is usual on Veterans Day, public ceremonies are occurring across Alaska to honor the men and women who have served in the country’s military.   But at the same time, many are observing the day through their own memories, no matter how many decades have passed.  KSKA’s Len Anderson talked with one such soldier.

Begich Discusses Plans for ‘Lame Duck’ Session
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Senator Mark Begich is in the state for the Veterans Day holiday.  Begich told reporters in Anchorage Wednesday that he’s got some plans for the final weeks of the year before the next Congress convenes in January.  The short time intervening, traditionally called a Lame Duck session, is an important time, he said, and issues could be small or large.

Begich plans to introduce some legislation while trying to figure out what lame duck is all about.  He’ll continue his fight against genetically engineered salmon, which he terms “Frankenfish,”  by introducing two bills when he goes back to Washington – one that will attempt to ban genetically engineered fish,  the other to mandate labeling if the genetically altered product  ever reaches market.

The bills complement two similar bills introduced by Congressman Don Young last month.

Begich is also concerned about benefits to military veterans.  He says Alaska’s National Guard reservists have been denied some benefits, so he will introduce legislation allowing reservists and their families travel benefits on military aircraft and access to commissaries.

Begich says 11 percent of Alaska’s population are veterans, and many of them have fought in the two wars that the country is waging now, and they deserve the benefits.

On the broader issues, Begich said,  the coming session in Congress  is expected to  be one that concentrates on jobs, reducing the national debt,  and reforming the tax system.

Begich said many in Washington are already planning for the 2012 elections, but his feeling is that average voters are sick of the gridlock between the major parties.

Begich predicted that, despite what pundits are saying, common sense will prevail.

Congress goes back to work Monday for a short week before Thanksgiving then back in session for two and a half weeks before taking the Christmas break.

Environmentalists Plan Legal Action Against Use of Oil Dispersants
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Environmentalists are planning legal action against the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard.  Rebecca Noblin, director of the Center for Biological Diversity office in Anchorage, says the two federal agencies have authorized the use of oil dispersants as a spill response tool, without studying how they will affect some wildlife species.  Attorneys for the environmental group are demanding that the federal agencies study the effects of dispersants on endangered wildlife and incorporate that information into oil spill response plans.

The Endangered Species Act requires agencies to assess the impact of oil spill cleanup methods on listed species.

Noblin says chemical dispersants designed to break apart oil release toxic products that can make dispersed oil more harmful to marine life than untreated oil. She says the short-term and long-term effects of dispersants on marine life have not been adequately tested.   She says the legal action is aimed at general response plans for the whole state.

Noblin says her group will file suit in 60 days if the EPA does not address the concerns outlined in a letter the Center sent to the federal agency Wednesday.

Four Rescued After Snowmachine Falls Through Ice Near Kotzebue
Susan Bucknell, KOTZ – Kotzebue
Snowmachine accidents can be tragic in rural Alaska.  A week ago, three lives were lost when a snowmachine went through the ice in Newtok.   Sometimes the outcome is concerning but happy and as KOTZ’s Susan Bucknell reports, four Kotzebue youth are lucky – following a close call when their machine went underwater earlier this week.   Bucknell speaks with Lucy Nordlum, who was first on the scene.

Subsistence Fishing Rules Changing for Kenai Peninsula Tribe
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
The federal Subsistence Management Board finished two days of meetings yesterday in Anchorage. One of the big issues that was unanimously approved by board members was a decade-long request by the Ninilchik traditional council to allow for a customary and traditional use determination for fish other than salmon. New Subsistence Board Chairman Tim Towarak says the board has looked at the request in the past but it didn’t move on it for 10 years.

Subsistence management assistant regional director Pete Probasco says that means the Kenai Peninsula Tribe will soon have different rules for subsistence fishing than in the past when they were restricted to one fish species.

Probasco says if there are no customary and traditional use determinations in an area, then all rural residents qualify.

The C and T designation would apply to areas on the Kenai River. No one could be reached by phone at the Ninilchik traditional council as the office was closed for Veteran’s Day.