Alaska News Nightly: June 15, 2012

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Chief Justice Carpeneti Announces Retirement

Casey Kelly and Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Walter “Bud” Carpeneti of Juneau has announced his retirement, effective in January.  Carpeneti served for 17 years on the state Superior Court in Juneau, appointed by Governor Jay Hammond in 1981.  Governor Tony Knowles appointed him to the state Supreme Court in 1998 and he was retained by voters in 2002. Alaska Supreme Court justices selected Carpeneti as chief justice in June 2009. The chief justice serves a three-year term, and Carpeneti’s ends this month. Alaska’s mandatory retirement age for judges is 70. Carpeneti is 66 years old and says it seems like the right time to retire.

BLM Holds Public Meetings To Develop Management Strategy For NPR-A

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Bureau of Land Management has hosted more than 10 public meetings this spring as part of the process to develop the first comprehensive management strategy for National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska. The public comment period for the draft Integrated Activity Plan and Environmental Impact Statement ends Friday.  KUAC’s Emily Schwing attended a meeting in Fairbanks to find out how people are feeling about potential oil and gas development in a controversial corner of the North Slope.

Focus Turning To Senate’s Sealaska Bill

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Sealaska land-selection legislation is poised to pass the U.S. House. But the bill most likely to get through Congress appears to be in the Senate.

The House version, introduced by Alaska Congressman Don Young, is among 14 measures merged into a larger bill this week. What’s called the Conservation and Economic Growth Act is scheduled for floor action next week.

Sealaska Executive Vice President Rick Harris says the Southeast regional Native corporation appreciates the support.

“It is a bipartisan bill and the leadership of the House has said they want to move it. And so, of course we’re not going to stand in the way of that,” Harris says.

Young’s version has undergone some changes. But Senator Lisa Murkowski’s legislation has had more revisions.

Harris says Murkowski’s version is more likely to succeed in both chambers of Congress, as well as be acceptable to the president.

“At this point in time, it’s going to take the support of all three to move that bill. So we believe probably the Senate bill will still be the operative bill for engaging and addressing the Sealaska land issue,” he says.

Both versions would allow the corporation to select federal land outside boundaries set in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

Corporate officials say that will keep its logging operations going, protect traditional sites, and allow for new businesses. Opponents say it’s a giveaway of some of the region’s most valuable lands that would hurt fisheries and subsistence.

The Alaska Wilderness League is one of the bills’ critics. Executive Director Cindy Shogan says the House version would do more damage than the Senate’s.

“Both of the senators from Alaska have been meeting a fair amount with their constituents and talking about their concerns and their bill, on the Senate side, has been modified to reflect some of those conversations,” she says.

Her group also opposes the omnibus measure before the House.

That would also facilitate construction of a Utah hydroproject, step up efforts to stop sea lions from eating Columbia River salmon, and ease restrictions on livestock grazing permits.

“There’s also some other pretty awful bills and they put it into one giant package. And I think they just want to be able to go back July 4th and say to their constituents, ‘Look at all these bills we passed. The Senate’s not doing anything,’ ” she says.

Young and his spokesman could not be reached for immediate comment.

Murkowski spokesman Robert Dillon says the senator is still negotiating with the Forest Service, the Democratic Senate majority and Sealaska.

He says all of the acreage on northern Prince of Wales has been dropped from the measure. Other changes reduce selections on Koscuisko and Kui islands.

Dillon says Murkowski is optimistic an agreement can be reached this summer, allowing the bill to pass out of committee.

“Passage out of the full Senate is complicated by the fact that it’s an election year and nothing of any consequence is moving,” he says.

Judge Denies Request To Temporarily Bar New Redistricting Plan

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A federal judge has denied the request of several Alaska Natives to temporarily bar the state from implementing a new redistricting plan.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason comes one day after she heard arguments in the case.

Plaintiffs have alleged the state is violating the federal voting rights act by moving ahead with election preparations under a new redistricting plan before the plan is approved by the U.S. Department of Justice.  Plaintiffs sought a temporary restraining order until a three-judge panel hears the case.  Native American Rights Fund attorney Natalie Landreth represents the complainants.

Landreth says Friday’s decision only denies the temporary restraining order, and in no way implies the courts have approved the state’s current redistricting plan.

Landreth says the argument regarding whether or not the division should be enjoined from implementing the redistricting plan is still headed for the three judge panel later this month.

The state’s redistricting plan was submitted to the federal department of Justice in late May.  Approval is expected in about a month.

Military Find Old Plane Wreckage On Knik Glacier

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Military pilots spotted the wreckage of an aircraft on the Knik Glacier earlier this week, and officials are considering bringing in the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command to conduct recovery efforts. On Sunday, Alaska Army National Guardsmen on board a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter flying a routine training mission discovered what are being called “vintage” debris before they returned to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.  The wreck is thought to be a military aircraft, according Alaska Command spokesmen.

Militia Case Goes To The Jury

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The case of Fairbanks militiaman Shaeffer Cox and two others is one of the most compelling to hit Alaska courts in recent years.  Arguments in the trail are finished, and the case has gone to the jury.  Host of Alaska Edition, Michael Carey covered the weeks-long trial, and stopped by our studios with this update. He started by describing the closing arguments.

Red Salmon Elude Copper River Dipnetters

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A slug of red salmon that moved into the Copper River at the end of May has so far largely eluded dip netters at Chitina.  State biologist Mark Somerville attributes poor fishing over the last week to river conditions.

A supplemental period during which dipnetters can take an additional 10 reds beyond the season limit runs through Sunday. Somerville says abundant sockeye passage at the river’s mouth that prompted the supplemental harvest, has dropped off.

Somerville says the Copper River king salmon run continues to look weak.  The commercial harvest on the delta is well below average, and fish wheel sample catches near the mouth have prompted the state to close the dip net fishery to king retention as of Monday the 18th.

AK: The Goose

Alexandra Gutierrez, KUCB – Unalaska

The Grumman Goose seaplane has served the Aleutian region for the better half of a century, shuttling residents from remote islands to Dutch Harbor. But once the new Akutan airport is complete later this summer, water landings in the Bering Sea will be a thing of the past.

300 Villages: Petersburg

This week, we’re heading to another island community – Petersburg, in Southeast Alaska. That was Sally Norheim Dwyer, executive director of the Petersburg Chamber of Commerce.