Alaska News Nightly: July 11, 2011

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Shell Oil Permits Opposed by 19 Environmental Groups

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

On Monday, 19 environmental organizations sought to step-up their pressure campaign on the Obama administration to deny, or at least delay, Shell Alaska’s permits to drill in the Arctic Ocean. The company has filed to drill 10 wells next year in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. The groups say they are launching a year-long campaign against that, and any other plans to drill in federal waters in the Arctic. Emilie Surrusco is a spokeswoman for the “United for Alaska’s Arctic” campaign.

Among the coalition’s members are the Alaska Wilderness League, the Sierra Club and National Audubon Society, the Eyak Preservation Council, the Alaska Coalition and others.

Conoco-Phillips has also filed for exploratory drilling in the Chukchi next year. Shell has seen its Chukchi drilling plans repeatedly delayed, most recently because of a successful appeal of the company’s air quality permits. Shell says it has already spent $50 million on its exploration plan and is spending far more for environmental safeguards than any earlier drilling plan in Arctic waters, but Surrusco says compared with Royal Dutch Shell’s profits, the figure is minuscule.

The Shell exploration plan involves six wells in the Chukchi Sea and four in the Camden Bay area of the Beaufort Sea.

Fuel Barge Runs Aground Near Dillingham

Daysha Eaton, KDLG – Dillingham

A fuel barge ran aground near Dillingham Sunday and was re-floated late last night. The barge was carrying more than 1.2 million gallons of fuel. The barge, owned by Crowly Fuel Company, ran aground early Sunday morning on the river’s sandy bottom, when its propeller became entangled in a gill net. The barge remained grounded all day. About 180,000 gallons of diesel fuel was lightered and the barge was refloated around 11:30 last night. The barge was taken to Clarks Point for inspection. The Coast Guard reports there was no pollution from the incident.

Substance Abuse Program for Pregnant Women Celebrates 20th Anniversary

Heather Aronno, APRN – Anchorage

Dena A Coy celebrated its 20th anniversary today. Part of the Southcentral Foundation, Dena A Coy was the first residential program in the United States designed to treat pregnant women for alcohol and drug abuse in an effort to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome.

Carolee Kuka-Hindin was awarded special recognition for her 20-year dedication to the Dena A Coy program. Kuka-Hindin has watched the program grow from a small facility that could only house 18 women to a multi-service organization that has provided care for hundreds of women, toddlers, and infants.

She says that one of the most important parts of the program is the element of mental health treatment services.

“The women have a real lengthy history of trauma, starting in childhood. So addressing those issues of trauma in addition to the substance abuse issues makes a much nicer path for recovery.”

When the program started in 1981, little was known about fetal alcohol syndrome. As more facts have become available about the effects of alcohol use during pregnancy, Kuka-Hindin says that community support for women seeking treatment has increased.

“So I think women are talking to their providers, their healthcare providers about their situations. Services though, I think, I mean treatment services across the state have been reduced over time.”

Citing funding as one of the unavoidable challenges for treatment programs, Kuka-Hindin says that the “missing piece” for Dena A Coy is to find a transitional housing solution for their out-patient program. She says housing is increasingly limited in Anchorage, and villages have even less available for families. Safe housing is key to continued treatment.

“So that when women finish treatment they still have the continuum of care with Dena A Coy out-patient services so we can continue them in out-patient support services for six to nine months, but it really is essential that they have a safe place to be living.”

Dena A Coy was cited in 1997 as a model therapeutic program for pregnant women in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment.

Lighting Strikes Ignite Over 30 Fires

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

More than 4,300 lightning strikes in the northern half of Alaska caused a number of fires over the weekend.

According to Charlie Reynar, the Assistant Fire Management Officer for Western Area Parks with the National Park Service, the number of lightning strikes isn’t uncommon, but it did ignite some fires in the Noatak National Preserve.

Two of the upstart fires near the Aniak River grew together and are now being counted as a single fire — reducing the number of active fires in the Noatak area to eight.

Over roughly the same span of time last year, the Noatak National Preserve had more than 30 lightning caused fires. National Park Service’s Regional Fire Communication and Education Specialist, Morgan Warthin says it was unusual.

The Interior Lightning Belt is defined as anything north of the Alaska Range and south of the Brooks Range.

There are 56 active wildfires in Alaska.

So far this season, the state has had 423 fires, burning over 269,000 acres.

Two Planes Collide East of Dillingham

Daysha Eaton, KDLG – Dillingham

Two small planes collided midair in Lake Clark Pass – about 150 miles East of Dillingham on Sunday afternoon.

The crash happened in uncontrolled airspace. The Federal Aviation Administration reports that a Piper Navajo and a Cessna 206 float plane were involved. The Navajo is reportedly owned by Lake Clark Air and was carrying nine passengers. The float plane is privately owned and was carrying four passengers. The FAA says no one was injured and the planes landed safely. Both the National Transportation Safety Board and the FAA are investigating the incident.

Southeast Fleets Gets No Opportunity for Fishery Targeting

Joe Viechnicki, KFSK – Peterburg

Southeast’s commercial fishing fleets this May had no opportunity for a directed fishery targeting Chinook salmon returning to the Stikine and Taku rivers, two trans-boundary rivers in central and northern Southeast. Run forecasts going into the season were not high enough to open fisheries, and the runs appear to be coming in well below those forecasts. However, there are a few signs of possible improvement in future years.

Climate Change Shifting Southern Fish North

Tom Banse, NNN – Oregon

Alaska fishermen have noticed southern species moving into northern waters in recent years. Now research by American and Canadian fisheries biologists shows climate change is causing the same situation in the Pacific Northwest.

Parnell Names Nine for Timber Task Force

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – APRN

Governor Sean Parnell named nine Alaskans to his new Timber Task Force on Friday.

Randy Ruaro, the governor’s deputy chief of staff, is one of seven Southeast residents on the panel.

The administration announced plans for the task force in May after pulling out of the Tongass Futures Roundtable. That group addressed Southeast timber and conservation issues, but had a broader membership, including environmental and Native organizations.

Parnell said the roundtable failed to help develop the timber industry despite five years of work. Some on the roundtable opposed logging.

Ruaro says the task force will look at national and state forests, as well as private land. And its focus will be statewide.

State Forester Chris Maisch of Fairbanks will chair the task force, which will meet later this month. He played a leadership role in the Tongass Roundtable.

Pelican Struggles with Absent Fish Economy: Part Two

Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka

In the last 10 years, the economy of the Chichagof Island community of Pelican has faltered and the city has lost half its residents. But among many living in Pelican today – 88, according to the Census Bureau – there is a sense of loyalty to the place they call home, and a willingness to persevere through difficult times.

Wrangell Rangers Educate Young Explorers

Charlotte Duren, KSTK – Wrangell

The U.S. Forest Service has a history in land education and conservation, and for years has been offering programs to get the youth outside and learning. The Wrangell Ranger District is doing just that with a series of summer programs that offer young and old a chance to explore the forests right outside their backdoor. KSTK’s Charlotte Duren headed out to Rainbow Falls last week with a group of Forest Explorers.

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