Alaska News Nightly: March 5, 2012

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Begich Sees The Future In The Arctic

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

US Senator Mark Begich said Monday that Alaska’s future is in helping develop the resources – and increasing the United State’s presence – in the Arctic.

Ron Paul Visits Alaska

Daysha Eaton, KDLG – Dillingham

Republican Presidential primary hopeful Ron Paul made a last minute campaign trip to Alaska over the weekend. Paul spoke to packed houses at ‘Town Hall Meetings’ in Anchorage and Fairbanks to rally voters before ‘Super Tuesday’.

It was standing room only at the Dena’ina Convention Center in Anchorage Sunday night, where a diverse crowd turned out to hear Ron Paul’s campaign pitch.

“People from Alaska I have known have always been independent minded. They’d just as soon the feds stay out of their lives and stay out of their wallets,” Paul said.

Paul made his last minute sweep through Alaska Sunday, rallying an estimated 1,100 people in Fairbanks and 1,500 in Anchorage. He focused his Anchorage talk on getting back to the basics of the constitution and making government smaller.

“The more they spend, the lower the interest rates go. You know they just print the money. And it’s a fallacy. It’s a figment of their imagination that they think this is the answer. And the worst part of it all is that enhances big government,” Paul said.

437 delegates are up for grabs in 10 states, including 24 in Alaska. Most states hold primaries or caucuses. But in Alaska, there will be a Presidential Preference Poll and District Conventions. Paul’s message seemed to resonate with the Anchorage audience and his outlier status proved a plus.

“Ilona Farr, Anchorage, Alaska. I thought it was really good, I’m a physician – I’m extremely concerned about Obamacare. And I’m glad that there’s a fellow physician running. He stands for liberty. He stands for Freedom. And I was really glad that he was one of the only candidates that took the opportunity to come up here and hear from the people of Alaska.”

“My name is Josh Fryfogle and I’m from Wasilla. Well, as an Alaskan, ahhh … there’s definitely an independent streak in Alaskan mentality. You know we think of ourselves not only as geographically separate, but it definitely has its own vibe … so I think just that alone, there’s a lot of support for Ron Paul because of that streak, you know.”

Mitt Romny sent his son to campaign for him in Anchorage and Fairbanks in February … but no other candidates have campaigned *in-person in Alaska. Since the state does not hold a primary, it’s not usually considered a priority state for candidates, but this year the race is close and that means candidates are paying more attention than usual to the last frontier. Randy Ruedrich is the Chair of the Republican Party in Alaska. He says anything could happen in the final hours before the poll.

“One never knows, for example how many pieces of mail will appear, how many phone calls will appear. How many phone calls will be made. Many of those phone calls will be made in the last 36 hours,” Ruedrich said.

There’s a history of underdog candidates picking up votes in Alaska during caucus time by campaigning in-person. Republicans went for Pat Buchanan in 1996 after he visited the state … and Steve Forbes was just a few votes behind George W. Bush in 2000 after he made multiple trips. Paul made it clear at his ‘Town Hall Meeting’ that he was counting on Alaskans to get out the vote on Tuesday.

“We have a tremendous opportunity, on Tuesday, to make a difference. I hope you will join and make sure you’ll be there on Tuesday,” Paul said.

Atka Mackerel, Pacific Cod Won’t Return To Aleutians

Stephanie Joyce, KUCB – Unalaska

There won’t be an Atka mackerel or Pacific cod fishery in the western Aleutians until at least 2015.  U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess ruled Monday that the National Marine Fisheries Service would have 23 months to assess the impact of its Steller sea lion protection measures in the region.

The agency shut down the Atka mackerel and Pacific cod fisheries in 2011 after determining that they were adversely affecting the endangered western stock of Steller sea lions.  Fisheries groups and the State of Alaska sued NFMS over the closures.

In a January ruling, Judge Burgess upheld the restrictions, but ordered the agency to prepare an environmental impact statement, noting that their initial assessment had not given the public sufficient opportunities to participate.  Today’s ruling gives NFMS almost two years to prepare a more comprehensive statement and nine months after that to decide whether any changes to the current rule are warranted.

The plaintiffs had argued for a much shorter timeline that would have potentially allowed for reopening the fisheries in 2014. The closures are estimated to cost the industry more than $80 million a year.  Under today’s ruling the earliest potential re-opening is January 2015.

Iditarod Leaders Leave Rainy Pass

Anne Hillman, APRN Contributor

Hugh Neff is leading the Iditarod. The winner of this year’s Yukon Quest left Rainy Pass at 2:58 this afternoon. Ray Redington, Jr. left the checkpoint at 3:09, followed closely by Aaron Burmeister and Lance Mackey.

Farther back in the race, Anna Berington and her twin sister Kristy set up camp together at the Finger Lake check point this morning just as a snow storm rolled in. The snow and fog had already socked in Rainy Pass.

Anna Berington is running her first race and she says so far so good, but it’s not quite the wilderness experience that she expected.

“It’s hard to get away from anybody this early in the game. You always turn around and there’s somebody behind you.”

Her team is already down one dog.

“I had to drop one of my youngest dogs in Skwentna.  We camped like 10 miles outside of Skwentna. Just as I stopped at the camping spot something didn’t seem right with his shoulder, so I rubbed him down with a liniment and I put a shoulder coat on, kind of a therapeutic thing to help heal him. He looked pretty good leaving the checkpoint but the last few miles into Skwentna I just didn’t like it, so I left him. He’s a yearling so he has plenty of time to get an Iditarod into him.”

Her twin sister, Kristy, discovered a new lead dog.

“I think I got a new lead dog up there, Greystone. She kinda surprised me. I stuck her up there for ha-has and she did pretty good, so I might keep her up there.”

The twins stayed at Finger Lake until about 4 pm and will have go over the infamous Happy River Steps before reaching Rainy Pass. Ray Redington, Jr. hauled over the Steps this morning and was the first into Rainy Pass.

Kristy Berington ran the race twice before and thinks she and her team are ready for the steep, often dangerous challenge.

“Oh yeah, a lot of snow is good. By the time we get to it’ll be like a deep trough that we’ll be in, it’s almost like a luge. It’s obviously nicer for the guys going down first because they won’t have to be inside the trough, but yeah, it’ll be fun.”

Mushers who have already been through the Happy River Steps have reported good conditions.

Lockheed Martin And Alaska Aerospace Announce Partnership

Jennifer Canfield, KMXT – Kodiak

Lockheed Martin has chosen the Kodiak Launch Complex for West coast launches of its proposed Athena III rocket. Friday’s announcement comes as lawmakers in Juneau are debating the merits of funding Alaska Aerospace, which operates the Kodiak launch facility.

Unalaska To Settle Lawsuit For Clean Water Act Violation

Stephanie Joyce, KUCB – Unalaska

The City of Unalaska has agreed to settle a lawsuit with the Environmental Protection Agency over more than 4,000 Clean Water Act violations by the City’s wastewater treatment plant.  Although the lawsuit and settlement are unique to Unalaska, city officials say wastewater is likely going to be an issue in coming years for other Alaskan communities as well.

Oil Tax Bill Draft Leaves First Committee

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

The first version of an oil tax reform bill has left its first committee – Senate Resources – and will go next to the Senate Finance Committee.  After nineteen hearings, getting input from oil companies, consultants and the Parnell administration,   the committee proposed changing the state’s current tax structure – making concessions to the oil industry that were less than what the governor proposed last year.

Apache Emerges As Player In Cook Inlet Oil, Gas Exploration

Aaron Selbig, KBBI – Homer

One of the emerging players in the recent renaissance of Cook Inlet oil and gas exploration is the Houston, Texas-based Apache Corporation. One of the leaders at Apache is John Hendrix, an Alaskan who graduated from Homer High School in 1975. Hendrix returned to his hometown Monday to make a presentation to the Homer City Council about his company’s intentions.

Four Anchorage Youths In Ski Jump, Nordic Combined Nationals

Heather Aronno, APRN – Anchorage

Four Anchorage kids and one Mexican exchange student are traveling to Utah to compete in the Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined Junior Nationals. The competition started yesterday and runs through Wednesday. The strong Alaska delegation is a sign of renewed interest in the sport.