Alaska News Nightly: October 24, 2011

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

High Tech Maps Help Assess Potential LNG Pipeline Routes

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The state is releasing high tech survey data for proposed gas pipeline routes. The Division of Geological and Geographical Survey’s project employed Light Detection and Ranging technology.  Division Geologist Trent Hubbard says LIDAR uses aerial laser scanning to produce maps that portray more than photographs.

That’s important for permitting and design work along several possible corridors being considered for a pipeline to move gas off Alaska’s North Slope to in or out of state destinations.

Hubbard says the LIDAR project augments a more focused effort to assess a pipeline route between Delta Junction and Canada, for which there is minimal historic data.   The LIDAR surveys will continue to be released in coming months.  The data is being made available to companies and groups pursuing gas line projects.  The $2.3 million survey is part of a package of gas line related work approved by the state legislature.

Alaska Native, Environmental Groups Challenging Shell Air Permits

Associated Press

Alaska Native and environmental groups announced Monday they will challenge a federal air permit granted to Royal Dutch Shell PLC for offshore drilling in Arctic waters.

Shell hopes to drill exploratory wells next summer off Alaska’s northern coasts.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday issued an air permit for Shell’s drill ship, the Kulluk.

Earthjustice filed the appeal to the EPA Environmental Appeals Board for a similar permit granted earlier to Shell’s other drill ship, Discoverer, on behalf of 11 environmental or Alaska Native groups.

Earthjustice attorney Colin O’Brien says in a prepared statement Shell’s fleet would emit tons of particulate, nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide. He says EPA is ignoring the cumulative effects of offshore Arctic industrial activity that would harm the health of Alaska Natives and the environment.

Omnibus Lands Bill Could Include Sealaska Measure

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

It looks like the Sealaska land-selection legislation will become part of a larger bill that could be easier to pass. At least that’s the case in the U.S. Senate. Meanwhile, opponents continue lobbying against the measure.

There are a couple of ways to get a bill through Congress.

One is to push the measure through on its merits or its sponsor’s connections – or both. Another is to combine it with similar legislation.

That’s what Senator Lisa Murkowski is trying to do with the Sealaska legislation.

“Historically what the energy committee has done is taken a whole package of lands bill, roll them into what is called an omnibus public lands bill, and then advance them to the floor that way,” she says.

The Alaska Republican is working on such a bill with Natural Resources and Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman. Murkowski says the New Mexico Democrat expressed some concerns she’s trying to address.

She says the timber acreage to be selected is pretty much set. Sections addressing cultural and economic-development areas are more flexible.

“Still some questions remaining on the sacred sites and some of the futures sites. But I would suggest that after years of input from Alaskans and those that have an interest we have gotten to a point where we’ve got a final bill that we can put before the committee,” Murkowski says.

“The idea of the Sealaska land bill being part of an omnibus bill in the Senate has really always been our expectation,” says Rick Harris, executive vice president of Sealaska.

He says bill changes mostly have to do with the futures sites, which could be used for ecotourism or energy development.

“I think they just want to confirm that we’ve done as good a job as we can in the selections to avoid conflict, but to still craft a suitable solution,” he says.

But there’s still plenty of conflict.

“I think it’s a bad idea,” says Davey Lubin, who runs a sea-taxi and ecotourism business in Sitka. He’s opposed to the omnibus approach, or any version of the bill so far.

“There’s some sense that some of the senators from certain states who stand to gain small wilderness areas are willing to throw the Tongass under the bus,” he says.

Lubin traveled to Washington, D.C., last month to lobby against the legislation. He’s concerned about impacts on wildlife, tourism, subsistence, and the overall future of the Tongass National Forest, where the land would be selected.

He says he tells people in Washington that the legislation is a corporate land grab.

“I was giving them a frontline view of what the sentiment here is about privatizing some of the most significant, important, beautiful gems of the Tongass. Most of the time the response was ‘Wow, we didn’t realize that this was anything other than a Native rights bill,” he says.

He’s not alone. Some environmental, tribal and outdoors groups, plus small Southeast communities, have also come out against the measure.

One of the latest to join is the Alaska Outdoor Council. The Fairbanks-based group includes seven Southeast affiliates and is the official state association of the National Rifle Association.

“We’re still battling here in the Interior to try to keep the easements across corporation lands to public lands behind them. And we have not been that successful at keeping that access,” says Rod Arno, the council’s executive director.

He’s among those worried that hunters, hikers and fishermen will be limited by the corporation’s new land ownership.

“The main concern is having more federal Alaska lands legislation when there should be adequate lands in the original withdrawals from ANCSA to meet the needs of the Sealaska Corporation,” he says.

Sealaska could select land now from areas of the Tongass near Southeast communities. Officials say much of that acreage should be protected as fish and wildlife habitat, or community watersheds.

Instead, the corporation wants Congress’ permission to select other lands in the region, much of it valuable timber property. Officials say they will maintain access and be environmentally sensitive.

Murkowski points to support from timber industry, economic development and Native groups, and businesses. She says she hopes the omnibus bill, cosponsored by Alaska Democrat Mark Begich, will move soon.

Meanwhile, Alaska Republican Representative Don Young’s version has cleared its only committee. It could head directly to the House floor, or, like the Senate, also be wrapped into an omnibus lands measure.

Earlier reports:
— Both sides prepare for Sealaska bill’s next stop
— Murkowski, Young post new Sealaska bills
— Sealaska lands bill passes House committee

Alaska Survival Files Suit Over Susitna-Matanuska Area Plan

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage & Lorien Nettleton, KTNA – Talkeetna

A Talkeetna group is suing the state Department of Natural Resources over the Susitna – Matanuska Area Plan.  The non-profit, Alaska Survival, filed suit in Superior Court in Palmer earlier this month,  complaining that the plan interferes with access to and use of fish , wildlife and waters in violation of the Alaska Constitution.  Attorney Paul Bratton of Talkeetna represents plaintiff Alaska Survival.  DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan is named as defendant.

Alaska Survival’s Becky Long  says the Susitna-Matanuska Area Plan,  adopted in August, not only violates Alaska law but  opens the door for increased pressure from development, which would  alter rural life and livelihoods.

The lawsuit claims the land uses as defined by the Chase, Talkeetna and Susitna comprehensive plans were not fully considered and incorporated into the final Susitna Matanuska Plan as required by state law.

DNR’s Marty Parsons oversaw the group that worked on the Susitna Matanauska Plan  for the last two and a half years. He maintains that DNR upheld applicable statues and constitutional law.

Parsons says 16 meetings were held area-wide, and one-hundred-ninety-six people attended those meetings. Long says the process should have included more opportunity for public input. Unless an out-of-court settlement can be reached, the appeal process is expected the take about 6 months before a judgment can be issued.

Murkowski Holds Suicide Prevention Hearing

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

At the Dena’ina Center in Anchorage Saturday afternoon, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski held a hearing of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on suicide prevention. Federal and state officials described the high rates of suicide among Alaska Natives, and causes such as adverse childhood experience, alcoholism, and substance abuse.

Sally Smith, from Dillingham, and a board member of the National Indian Health Board, said funding and programs for suicide prevention are fragmented, lack continuity, and don’t address the root causes of suicide. She suggested agencies provide non-competitive grants to small organizations, which she says often lack the staff needed to write grant proposals and reports for federal and state grants.

Evon Peter is a former Gwitchin Athabascan chief and now director of the Maniilaq Youth Leadership program. He described the effects of multi-generation trauma. His mother lived a traditional lifestyle and spoke Athabascan until she was sent to boarding school at age five or six, and later was a victim of sexual abuse. He says his childhood was also full of trauma.

Peter says his people had lands and resources taken in an era when they weren’t allowed to vote… and reformers thought the best thing to do for Native Americans was to, “kill the Indian to save the man.”

Tessa Baldwin, a member of the statewide suicide prevention council, said she was just five years old and 20 feet away when her uncle committed suicide. Now, at age 17, she’s had seven people in her life commit suicide, including her boyfriend last year. She says funding would help. For instance teenagers trained as peer helpers could call others having problems if both had cell phones. But she says everyone can do something to prevent suicide immediately and at no cost.

Murkowski says Congress needs to support Alaska Natives in the fight against suicide in any way possible, and she will share Saturday’s testimony with other members of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

The Last Yellow Flag

Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

The Service High School Cougars are the statewide football champions for large schools.

The Cougars beat the South Anchorage Wolverines on Saturday for the First National Bowl trophy on a score of 37 to 23.  It capped an undefeated season for the Cougars.

A Juneau man was the head referee for the championship game played at Chugiak’s Tom Huffer Stadium.   After officiating football and soft ball games for 37 years – most of those in Alaska — Guy Warren is retiring. The Alaska Schools Activities Association gave him the privilege to sport the white cap, leading the team of officials at the game.

Rosemarie Alexander from member station KTOO joins Warren in a look back at his career as an official.

Richardson Roadhouse Quietly Disappears

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

A relic of Alaska history has quietly disappeared.  The old Richardson Roadhouse, originally built in 1916, is no longer.

Coast Guard Reality Show to Debut November 9

Jennifer Canfield, KMXT – Kodiak

A new reality show based in Alaska will debut next month. Commanding Officer of Kodiak Air Station Captain Bill Deal said people from the Weather Channel called him earlier this year with the idea for the aptly titled “Coast Guard Alaska.”