Alaska News Nightly: July 27, 2012

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Gov. Parnell Frustrated With Senate’s Bi-Partisan Majority

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Governor Parnell has said he’d like to see the Senate bipartisan working group broken up and he’ll strive to help more Republicans get elected this fall. Part of the Governor’s frustration with the group centers around his failed efforts to get his oil tax reduction legislation HB110 passed.  Parnell’s efforts are being challenged by members of the resurrected Backbone organization that is working to support the bipartisan group. But the Governor says the coalition is bipartisan in name only.

Shell Modifies Summer Drilling Plans

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Shell has modified plans for drilling in the Arctic this summer. Shell spokesman Curtis Smith says lingering sea ice and logistical challenges are shrinking their window for work.

Earlier this month Shell asked for a revision of its air quality permit from the EPA for its Discover Ship. Normally that would take months. But Shell is counting on the agency to issue the permit, so it can drill this summer. Smith says the work on the partial wells would jump start next summer’s work.

He says the well’s total depth would be 9000 feet. Shell has invested $4.5 billion to date.

Sen. French Asks State To Withdraw Proposed Abortion Payment Condition Regulations

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Anchorage Democratic Senator Hollis French says he wants the state to withdraw proposed regulations for abortion payment conditions.  French says the regulations may be unconstitutional, and are narrower than the current standard.   French has requested a legal opinion on the regulations.

Avalanche, Injuries Prompts Denali Rescue

Lorien Nettleton, KTNA – Talkeetna

Three mountaineers were evacuated from the 17,200-foot camp on Denali’s West Buttress after an avalanche injured two in the party. They were the last climbers registered to climb this season, and were the only ones remaining on the mountain.

Danish mountaineers 26-year-old Michael Pilegaard; Mads Knudsen, age 30; and 26-year-old Nicolai Bo Silver had set out from the high camp on Sunday for a summit attempt. At around 1:00 in the afternoon they triggered an avalanche while attempting a non-standard route up the Autobahn section of the Best Buttress at 17,600 feet

According to Denali National Park Spokeswoman Kris Fister, the trio survived the avalanche, and didn’t call for assistance right away.

On Wednesday morning the party made radio contact with a sightseeing aircraft who was then able to notify the park of their situation. The incident happened after the main climbing season, and park personnel were not on the mountain at the time. According to Fister, the park first established direct contact with the trio by helicopter, which dropped a bag containing radios, food and fuel.

The two injured climbers were flown down to base camp at 9,000 feet in a basket slung from the park’s helicopter. They were then transported to Mat-Su regional hospital for treatment

All registered climbers are now off Denali. A total of 1,223 attempted the mountain this year, and 498 made it to the summit, for a summit success percentage of about 40 percent. This is the second lowest summit rate in the last 25 years.

State Updates Management Plan For Large Portion Of Central Interior

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The state is out with an updated plan for managing a large swath of the central interior.  The draft Yukon Tanana area plan encompasses over 9 million acres from the Denali borough north to the village of Rampart and from Fairbanks west to Tanana. Department of Natural Resources planner Brandon McCuthcheon says the document accounts for changes since its last update in 1991.

The plan classifies state lands for various uses and many areas have overlapping designations, allowing for multiple uses.  McCuthcheon says the public has provided input.

The draft Yukon Tanana area plan is out for public review through the end of August. A similar plan for state lands from Fairbanks to the Canadian border is due out soon.

Groups Go After Invasive Weed On Admiralty Island

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

There’s an effort underway to eradicate a Lower 48 weed that’s choking off plant life in part of Southeast Alaska.

AK: Libraries

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

A library is more than a collection of books. In a small town like Sutton in the Matanuska Valley, the library serves many functions. It’s a meeting place for people of all ages, a storehouse of information, and a door allowing a peek into the community’s past. Sutton residents have worked for years to raise funds for a new library, and last month, that dream became reality.

After year’s of bake sales, grant applications and planning meetings, Sutton’s new library opened quietly in mid June of this year. A grand opening a few weeks later drew a crowd. Perhaps in keeping with the hush normally associated with libraries, the chamber music group Fireside String Quartet entertained

“And then we had bluegrass music, so it was a full afternoon,” librarian Nancy Bertels said.

But now, in mid July the tidy, cedar sided building surrounded by murmuring cottonwoods already fits the town like a favorite pair of sneakers.

Bertels is just finishing up pre-school story hour with a few rambunctious members of Sutton’s future generation.

“Our parking lot has been full every day since we opened. And I think, part of it it’s a beautiful facility and we’re offerering some great programming to our community, so people are excited to come and participate. We had over twenty kids for a story hour this morning, and then arts and crafts and a little chaos afterwards,” Bertels said.

Bertels finally gets a quiet moment to reflect on the new library’s significance

“It creates a perfect community center here in Sutton. People are walking through the park, visiting the library,” Bertels said.

As if on cue, a teenage girl walks to the front door with at least 10 books piled high in her arms. Sutton is a readers’ town.

The library replaces the worn out old frame building down the road that served the community since the 1980s. Bertels says the old library was so cramped for space, that when a new book came in, an old book had to be disposed of. This new one is purposely located next to Sutton’s Alpine Historic District . The Historic District is an acre of green lawn, on which are displayed in haphazard fashion, the rusted hulks of coal mining paraphernalia from ninety years ago. A crumbling foundation marks the spot where the Sutton coal wash house stood. The wash house’s dimensions were used in the library’s floor plan

“And it’s designed after the old coal washing facility that used to sit on the cement ruins in the historic park right in front of our building,” Bertels said.

Sutton is sticking to its heritage. The town was founded on coal, although more recently, opposition to that type of mining is rife. But the controversy has not rocked Sutton as it has split other communities.

“It’s part of the history of this community, and it [the library] was designed in that period, to look like that period of housing. I don’t think that anybody disputes the fact that coal has been a part of this community’s history. Nobody had anything really bad to say about that,” Bertels said.

Once barely a blip on the map, Sutton has become a not quite suburban community popular with young families.

SUVs and compact sedans have replaced battered pickup trucks on the local roadways, a sure sign of gentility moving in. Bertels says the iconic Alaska bachelor, once prevalent in these parts, is now a rarity

Bertels: ‘Even those old bachelors have kind of cleaned up and at least bought a new truck.’ Ellen: ‘Do they read?’ Bertels: ‘They do, they read a lot, and they use the computers a lot.’

Although improved Glenn Highway conditions bring Anchorage and Wasilla closer now, Suttonites identify strongly with their town and are a close knit bunch.

“We are so proud of our new building. The visibility between the library and the Historical Park has been a wonderful partnership,” Former Matanuska Susitna Borough Assembly member Lynn Woods said.

Sutton got lots of help in paying for the new building. The Borough, the Rasmussen Foundation, BP and Conoco Phillips, and Usibelli coal added corporate dollars to the donations gained from garage sales and benefit raffles. Names of donors large and small are engraved on gilt leaves decorating a tree mural inside. Free first time library cards are a bonus for Borough residents, but woe to the procrastinator. Late book return fees will be strictly enforced.

300 Villages: Fox

Now it’s time for 300 villages. This week, we’re visiting Fox, a community of about 500 people a short drive from Fairbanks. Gina Yensen manages the general store in Fox.