Alaska News Nightly: October 14, 2011

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Sealaska Defaults on Part of California Casino Land

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Sealaska has lost some its California casino land to foreclosure. But the regional Native corporation says it won’t hinder the project.

Debate Continues Over State Retirement Plan Options

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The debate over state retirement plan options continued in Fairbanks on Thursday.  Legislators will consider a bill next session that would allow public employees, like teachers and fire fighters to choose between the current 401k type retirement account and a traditional pension.  The Senate State Affairs Committee held a hearing on the bill in Fairbanks on Friday.

Thousands of PFDs Sent Out in Error

Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

About 5,500 Permanent Fund Dividends are being recalled.

The PFDs were sent out in error. Approximately 3,600 were deposited directly into bank accounts and 1,900 were sent out as paper checks.

PFD Division Director Deborah Bitney says employees didn’t match correct records in a new software program and dividends were paid to applicants instead of creditors.

The software is called “eGarns” and it’s being used for the first time this year.

“This affects only debts that are basically court ordered, like restitution, judgments for debts that are unpaid, things like that,” Bitney says.

It does not affect garnishments for child support, she says.

The division has requested that direct deposits be reversed and also has issued stop payment orders on the checks. Bitney says the error was discovered late Monday afternoon. While the total amount of the error isn’t available, it’s expected to be nearly $7 million.

Bitney says it’s important to get the word out about the error.

“You know, 99 percent of the dividends that went out are just fine,” she says. “This affects a very small subset of the population. We really are trying to help those people and we would like them to contact us as quickly as possible once they find out they are involved in this.”

Bitney says safeguards have been programmed into “eGarns” to prevent similar errors.

Nearly every Alaskan received $1,174 in this year’s PFD.

NOAA Scientists Finish Killer Whale Necropsies

Daysha Eaton, KDLG – Dillingham

The NOAA Team of Veterinarians looking into the death of two Killer Whales near Dillingham has finished their initial investigation. The team performed two necropsies—or animal autopsies—on the dead whales this week.

ADF&G Issues Warning About Unsafe Hunting in Juneau

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is warning local waterfowl hunters to be safe after a report of someone firing shots toward the runway at the Juneau Airport.

Area Management Biologist Ryan Scott says the hunters were allegedly not on the nearby Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge.

“A couple things there,” says Scott. “One, it’s obviously not very safe to be shooting that direction. Two, during the waterfowl season, waterfowl hunters can use a shotgun to hunt ducks and geese on the refuge, but you’ve got to be on the refuge.”

Scott says the incident is under investigation. He’s not aware of any pending charges at this point.

The waterfowl hunting season stretches from mid-September to the end of the year. Since 2003, Scott says the department has required a permit to hunt on the Mendenhall refuge.

“The purpose of that permit was so that we could have some time with the hunter, explain some of the issues and concerns out there, and then provide them with the information to make sure folks make good decisions out there,” Scott says. “I would say 99.9 percent of the waterfowl hunters utilizing the refuge use very good, safe hunting practices. But it could just take a couple things and it could really reflect negatively on everybody.”

Scott says about 300 people apply for permits every year, making it one of the most popular hunts in Juneau.

AK: Problem Bears

Matt Lichtenstein, KFSK – Petersburg

The kind that will root around in your garbage if its not properly stowed. Many communities in Alaska know this type of bear well. They are cunning, inventive and very, very hungry. Wildlife officials in Petersburg have had an especially busy season dealing with bears. So far, they’ve caught six and relocated them far away from town.

300 Villages: McCarthy and Goodnews Bay

This week we’re headed to the community of McCarthy in Wrangell St. Elias National Park. The little town booms with tourists in the summer, but is much quieter this time of year. Then its on to Goodnews Bay, on the Bering Sea west of Dillingham.

That was Bonnie Kenyon in McCarthy and Mary Brown in Goodnews Bay.