Alaska News Nightly: January 10, 2012

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Judge Rules Justice Department Can’t Withhold Young Investigation Files

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

The Justice Department cannot categorically keep sealed its criminal investigation files on Congressman Don Young, according to a federal judge in Washington, DC.

An anti-corruption watch group is fighting for access to records about an investigation into Alaska’s Republican House member.

Legislators Prepare To Tackle Oil Taxes

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

As legislators move back to Juneau for the 90-day session that gets underway next week,  members are preparing themselves to spend a lot of attention on oil taxes – particularly Governor Parnell’s desire to lower the state’s share of profits from the current level.  After narrowly passing the House during last year’s session, the bill will begin in the Senate where members will have to decide what to believe in the swirl of information and opinions surrounding the issue.

Seward Highway Closed Between Bird Point, Girdwood

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

A winter storm moving up the Kenai Peninsula has created some extremely hazardous driving conditions, even prompting the closure of the Whittier Tunnel as well as a stretch of the Seward Highway.

At 9:00am Tuesday, the Department of Transportation closed the Seward Highway between Girdwood and Potter Marsh due to extreme weather and two early morning avalanches.

The DOT reopened the stretch from Potter Marsh to Bird Point at 5:00pm Tuesday, but says they expect the rest of the highway to Girdwood to remain closed until at least noon Wednesday. Rick Feller, the spokesman for the Alaska DOT, says  crews did successfully trigger an avalanche at mile 98.5, just north of Bird Point

“That slide did cross the highway and cover it. That will be part of our job tomorrow in doing further avalanche risk assessment and cleanup work,” Feller said.

Kevin Wright, with the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center, says that avalanche danger along the Seward Highway is considerable, but with the continued heavy snowfall and high winds, it’s progressing quickly to the high danger range in the back-country.

“That means that natural avalanches are possible, they’re likely to happen. If you’re out traveling in the mountains, it’s very likely to trigger an avalanche yourself if you’re traveling on the steeper slopes. So, we consider those conditions to be not recommended for people to head out into the mountains,” Wright said.

In other areas of the Kenai Peninsula: Seward has received over a foot of snow, and Homer experienced 60 mile per hour gusts and 6 to 7 foot drifts.

Chugach Electric spokesman Phil Steyer says that there have been relatively few outages reported in Moose Pass, Cooper Landing, Anchorage and Hope.

Winter Storm Sinks Boats In Kodiak Harbor

Jennifer Canfield, KMXT – Kodiak

In Kodiak, several inches of heavy wet snow closed several roads, flooded intersections and shut down the airport. All the morning flights were canceled because of water on the runway. It also sank three boats in the harbor.

Harbormaster Marty Owen says that even self-bailing boats- which allow precipitation to run off the deck into the harbor- are at risk of sinking during weather like this.

Owen says that there are still quite a few boats that are listing. If not dealt with quickly, they could be damaged or cause damage to surrounding vessels.

When a boat sinks, the Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Detachment is called. They check for pollution and make sure that if there is a mess, it gets cleaned up. Of the three boats, only one leaked about a gallon of oil.

Weather Closes Valdez, Cordova Schools

Tony Gorman, KCHU – Valdez

Extreme weather is closing schools in Prince William Sound. The Valdez city school district announced Monday the closure of Hermon Hutchens Elementary School for the remainder of the week due to heavy snow on the roof.

And Schools in the Cordova School District are closed for a second straight day. Cordova Superintendent Jim Nygaard says declining weather conditions, traffic concerns, and on-going snow removal factored into the decision.

Nygaard says he hopes to reopen schools Wednesday.

Ft. Wainwright Soldier Killed In Afghanistan

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A Ft.Wainwright based soldier has been killed in Afghanistan.  The Army reports that Private First Class Dustin Paul Napier was killed in a firefight in the city of Qalat in Afghanistan’s Zabul province Sunday.  A release on the incident says two other Ft. Wainwright based Stryker soldiers were injured in the exchange of small arms fire.  Next of kin of all soldiers involved have been notified.  Napier was 20 years old and from London, Kentucky.  He joined the Army 2010 and was stationed at Ft. Wainwright in November of that year.

Private Napier is the 20th Ft. Wainwright based Stryker soldier killed in action in Afghanistan since the 4,000 member brigade deployed in April.

Bethel Judge Announces Retirement

Angela Denning-Barnes, KYUK – Bethel

The judge in Bethel who is being investigated for allegations of improper behavior has announced his retirement.

Unalaska Storm Coats Birds In Ice

Stephanie Joyce, KUCB – Unalaska

A storm sweeping through Unalaska Tuesday brought freezing spray that coated everything in town with a thick layer of ice – including the birds.

That was Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory professor Reid Brewer.  He’s rescued several disoriented seabirds wandering around town today.  He says it’s unclear whether they were on the ground and got coated by ice or were beaten out of the sky by the freezing rain, but either way, they were stuck, unable to get back to the water.

Brewer says he consulted with the Anchorage branch of the International Bird Rescue and Research Center to figure out what to do with the ice-logged birds.  They recommended putting them back in the ocean, as long as they weren’t injured.

But the Center’s Director Emeritus Jay Holcomb says this is a highly unusual event.  He says while it’s common to have birds grounded by storms,

he’s never heard of birds getting coated in ice.

Group Sends Letter Of Intent To Sue Over Wishbone Hill

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Litigation looms over a current coal exploration operation near Palmer. The Trustees for Alaska have sent a notice of intent to sue to Usibelli coal over the company’s Wishbone Hill exploration development.

MIT Sharing Unique Program

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology instructor and a group of Alaska students are travelling to rural interior schools, sharing a unique program.  As KUAC’s Dan Bross reports the outreach project is aimed at stimulating kid’s interest in science, technology and art.