Alaska News Nightly: October 31, 2011

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Dion Sentenced to 124 Years in Craig Case

Associated Press

A 42-year-old man convicted in a 1994 Anchorage murder case has been sentenced to 124 years in prison. Superior Court Judge Jack Smith sentenced Kenneth Dion on Monday for raping and killing 18-year-old Bonnie Craig.

The body of the University of Alaska Anchorage student was found at McHugh Creek in September 1994.

Dion was sentenced to 99 years for the murder charge and 25 years for sexual assault – the maximum for each count. He was arrested in 2006 after DNA evidence linked him to the murder.

Dion continues to deny he committed the crimes.

As prosecutors in court today said he had not taken responsibility for his actions in the case, Dion called out that he never would because he didn’t commit them.

Court Rules in Favor of Tribes in Child Support Case

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

A Superior Court judge in Juneau ruled in favor of Southeast tribes last week in a case over whether the state has to honor tribal court orders on child support. The Tlingit and Haida Central Council is heralding the ruling as a victory for the tribe’s authority to handle its own family law cases.

Parnell Administration Explains Jump in Real Estate Licensing Fees

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

Monday, the Parnell Administration began explaining the reasons behind a 249 percent increase in licensing fees for Real Estate professionals.   The Division of Corporations, Business and Professional Licensing increased the cost of a license from $275 to $685.

Legislators have received correspondence and complaints from Realtors protesting the increase.  Today’s meeting was of the House Finance Subcommittee for Commerce that deals with the divisions budget.

Division Director Donald Habeger pointed out that by statute, the division must cover all of its costs by the fees from licensees. He told lawmakers that the current increase followed a spike in the number of complaints about real estate transactions – leaving the board with a deficit of $150,000. Habeger had examples.

“One of the things we have recently seen is that there was a particularly difficult case.  And I don’t have all the figures in front of me, but I was looking at this in the last couple of days.  This is an FY’11 case.  And just looking at the cost to the Real Estate Commission on this particular one,  it was about $35-thousand just for the department of law,” Habeger said.

Legislators wanted to know, however, about the flow of money – what goes into reducing the cost of commission operations.  Anchorage Democrat Max Gruenberg pointed to a recent legislative audit that found a half million dollars in expenses were incorrectly charged to professions.

“Presumably, here you may have another $200,000 that should be borne by the offenders rather than by the innocent members of the profession.   That’s $700,000 there – not saying it’s all due to real estate.  But, I would appreciate it if we can get some kind of recommendations by the beginning of the session how this can be addressed, so the right people are paying it and the innocent people are not,” Gruenberg said.

Besides incorrect expenses that Gruenberg mentioned, the question of under-reported income also arose. Past President of the Alaska Association of Realtors Jerry Rice has been a broker in Anchorage for 25 years.  He pointed to an element in the legislative audit that found income to boards and commissions had not been credited – verified by his own calculations.

“The Real Estate industry has been overpaying by about $300,000 a year for the last 20 years.  We have overpaid over $3 million to pay for our professional services which are not being credited in the analysis in the setting of these fees,” Rice said.

The subcommittee offered the administration time to respond to the questions and claims from Rice and others.  The subject will come up again during the session next year – if not before.

Judge to Decide on Fairbanks Redistricting Petition

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A state judge will decide this week on the Fairbanks Borough’s petition to dismiss its challenge to the proposed new state voter district map.  The Borough Assembly voted to drop the suit in an executive session earlier this month, citing concerns about mounting legal costs.  If approved by the court, the decision would leave two Fairbanks area residents, who have also filed suit, alone to challenge the State Redistricting Board.  The suits were combined and set for trial in January. During Thursday’s regular meeting, the Assembly heard substantial public backlash about its move to drop out.  One of the two local men suing, George Riley, told the assembly that a recent ruling by the judge in the case supports claims that a proposed district that would lump portions of Fairbanks in with western Alaska villages, violates a state constitutional requirement that voter districts be compact and socio economically similar. Riley told the assembly the judge’s decision also reduces legal costs for complainants.

Riley’s Attorney Mike Walleri has indicated he will formally challenge the Fairbanks borough’s decision to dismiss its claim, and only participate as a friend of the court on behalf of remaining complainants.   Another person who testified at the assembly meeting, Bruce Jamieson of Ester said any additional legal costs would be well worth it, given what’s at stake if Fairbank’s clout is undercut in the state legislature.

Another testifier, Ian Olsen questioned the assembly’s move to back out of the suit in an executive session.

Olsen said parts of west and south Fairbanks carved out to bring up rural district population numbers, disenfranchise local voters   Van Lawrence of Fairbanks raised concern about a proposed districts that put parts of the Fairbanks Borough in with more rural areas.

The assembly did not respond to public comments critical of its decision to request its redistricting suit be dismissed. A judge is scheduled to rule Wednesday on whether to accept the Fairbanks Borough’s request.

Dance Diva’s Legacy Lives On

Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel

Alaska’s “Dance Diva” Maryann Sundown was laid to rest this Saturday in her home village of Scammon Bay. The 93-year-old inspired countless Yup’ik dancers before she died in her house last week from pneumonia. And while we here in Alaska may be without our favorite dancer, there’s reason to believe her legacy will endure through the generations.

Pilot Dies in Helicopter Crash Near Lake Illiamna

Daysha Eaton, KDLG – Dillingham

State Troopers have released the name of the pilot killed in a helicopter crash Saturday night near Lake Illiamna.   The pilot killed was William Zeman from Douglas, Alaska. The 66-year-old pilot was en route from Nome where he was doing seismic work. Clint Johnson is a National Transportation Safety Board investigator. He says the wreckage of a helicopter belonging to Era Helicopters LLC, was spotted just after noon Sunday.

If the weather cooperates, Johnson says the NTSB will investigate the crash site on Nov. 1.     Era Helicopters says the pilot was the only person on board.

Three Dead in Separate Anchorage Homicides

Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage & the Associated Press

After a quiet summer and early fall for Anchorage homicides, October has proven particularly deadly in the state’s largest city.  Early this month there were two shooting deaths outside an east-side bar while this last weekend produced a trio of unrelated homicides.

Palmer Votes to End Water Fluoridation

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Palmer’s city council has voted to end fluoridation of the city’s water supply.  In a six to one vote, the council decided to stop adding the mineral, which is known to help prevent tooth decay.   Palmer has been adding fluoride to its water since 1967.   The decision last week was made because of the increased availability of fluoride in toothpastes and dental treatments, according to Palmer deputy mayor Richard Best.   He said naturally occurring fluoride is already in Palmer water.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approves fluoride in community water systems.

Palmer joins Fairbanks and Juneau in stopping the fluoride treatments. Earlier this year, the Fairbanks Fluoride Task Force recommended that Fairbanks cease fluoridating its water.    The advocacy group, Fluoride Free Fairbanks lobbied for the change,  because that city has  naturally occurring fluoride anyway, according to spokesman Douglas Yates,  higher concentrations of the mineral in the  water system could pose health risks.

Yates says new information by independent researchers has been developed during the past decade.

The CDC’s website indicates no evidence showing a link between water fluoridation and negative health impacts on people or animals.

Fairbanks Ghost Hunters Tracking the Paranormal

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Today’s the day to be on the lookout for ghosts but for members of a Fairbanks group, seeking out apparitions is a year round hobby.  As KUAC’s Dan Bross reports the local ghost hunters are serious about tracking the paranormal.