Alaska News Nightly: July 22, 2011

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Congress Still Has No Deal for National Debt, Partial FAA Shutdown Imminent

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

Congress is gone for the weekend even though there’s no deal to avoid defaulting on the national debt.

It also left without extending a bill for the Federal Aviation Administration, causing a partial shutdown of the FAA Friday night. Flights will still go and air traffic controllers will be on the job, but thousands of other FAA employees will be furloughed, including 79 in Alaska.  The Department of Transportation says Alaska could lose nearly $70 million in construction funding.  And according to the FAA, $7 million of that is supposed to go to Alaska right away to places like Juneau, Anchorage, Kenai and Barrow, and now is halted, but won’t until the FAA bill is approved.

And there’s just 11 days until the U.S. faces default, and running out of money to pay its bills.  White House officials, Alaska’s Senators, and financial experts have all warned that could be fiscally catastrophic.

Despite numerous proposals in play and an initial demand by Congressional leaders to stay in Washington and work, there’s no deal on deck, and members who aren’t the top negotiators are fleeing 100 degree D.C.

Both of Alaska’s Senators are on their way home since there’s nothing to vote on. Senator Lisa Murkowski says that doesn’t mean this isn’t crunch time.

“Wall Street has gotten used to us crying wolf on this, and don’t believe we could actually not raise the debt ceiling. I think they’re starting to get a little bit more concerned. As they see that we don’t have a clearly defined path forward at this moment less than two weeks from August 2.  So I think what you are feeling here is this heightened anxiety.”

Despite being from different parties, Murkowski and Senator Mark Begich are united in their call for action on the debt ceiling. And both say they’re willing to come to the table and compromise.  But Begich says the hang-up is in the House of Representatives, where conservative Republicans are uninterested in any deal that includes raising revenue. And some Tea Party members say fear about defaulting on the debt is over-blown.

“If thse guys in the House haven’t figured it out, they’d better get on the stick. Because they’re going to drive this economy and country into the hole because of their politicizing this issue. I think the Senate has shown this week, Democrats and Republicans through the Gang of Six and McConnell Reid piece, that we’re moving. And the House is becoming more and more, especially Boehner and his team, is becoming more and more the problem here.”

The focus in Washington may be on the House, but Alaska’s sole Representative Don Young continues to be away Friday in Alaska. He’s been attending a fishing trip that raises money for a charity named after his late wife. Young told Valdez radio station KCHU this week that he’s not interested in the deals being crafted over in the Senate.

“The House doesn’t have a whole lot of respect for the Senate side. I know the House side is they’re insisting on a certain amount of cuts, an equal amount to raising the debt limit. I don’t know where that’s going to go. Because if they don’t get that kind of a deal, I don’t think we’ve got the votes for it, I’ll be right up front with you.”

Young told KCHU that he will be back in Washington next week to vote on any debt ceiling deals that do come together. On Monday, when Congress resumes, there will be just eight days before the nation risks defaulting.

Anchorage Mayor Proposes Limiting Downtown Sidewalk Sitting

Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage

At next week’s Anchorage Assembly meeting, Mayor Dan Sullivan will present an ordinance restricting sitting or lying on downtown sidewalks.   The mayor’s proposal coincides with a homeless man’s month long protest on the sidewalk in front of city hall and across the street.

Since June, John Martin III has protested the municipality’s new policy of seizing and destroying the property of the city’s illegal campers after a 15 day notice or seizing and storing it after a three day warning.  Martin manned his sidewalk stance during the day and occasionally through the night.  He also requested a meeting with the mayor.

At a Wednesday press conference Mayor Sullivan said he had no intention of meeting with Martin. Martin is on the state’s sex offender registry for a 1997, level one sexual abuse of a minor conviction.   He listed his address as simply, “homeless… generally stays in Campbell Creek area.” Also on Wednesday, Anchorage police arrested Martin for failure to register his address.  He posted bail and returned to the sidewalk.

The mayor says his ordinance is not specifically against Martin.

Links to next Tuesday’s Anchorage Assembly meeting agenda relating to the mayor’s sidewalk sitting or lying ordiance:

EPA Releases Two Draft Permits for Offshore Projects

Associated Press

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released draft air quality permits necessary for exploratory drilling projects in Alaska’s Arctic waters to proceed.

Today the agency released for public comment permits for drilling work proposed by Shell Oil, in the Beaufort Sea, and for ConocoPhillips, in the Chukchi Sea.

Public comments will be taken through Sept. 6.

Missing Railroad Employee’s Body Found Near Healy

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A man missing off the Parks Highway north of Healy has been found dead, the victim of apparent suicide. 33-year-old John Robert Gage of Seward was an Alaska Railroad employee, who’d been living in Healy. He went missing last weekend.  His truck was found Wednesday night at a Parks Highway trailhead about 30 miles north of Healy. The discovery triggered a search by family, friends and State Troopers. Gage’s body was found early this morning and Troopers report that all signs indicate he died of self in inflicted gunshot. Gage was a lifelong Alaskan, and a Marine.  His family has requested privacy, and is not releasing any additional information at this time.

Why Donlin Creek Became Donlin Gold

Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel

The biggest prospective gold mine in North America just changed its name. The joint venture rests in the remote interior of the Kuskokwim River. Plans to extract gold from been stalled by transportation and energy challenges, but the new moniker shows the company is serious about progressing to the next phase of development.

Grant to Study Trucking Natural Gas Approved by Fairbanks Assembly

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Fairbanks borough assembly has approved spending half a million in state grant money to fund studies to assess trucking in natural gas from the North Slope and distributing it in Fairbanks. Voters will be asked this fall whether the publicly created Port Authority should be able to pursue a trucking project, and whether the assembly should fund a necessary due diligence study of it. The ordinance appropriating the grant for the more preliminary studies was sponsored by Mayor Luke Hopkins. Hopkins told the assembly it’s a key step.

Fairbanks State senator Joe Thomas helped shepherd funding for the studies through the state legislature. Thomas said the current situation amounts to the worst energy crisis he’s seen in 60 years living in Fairbanks, and the studies are a way to help public assess the gas trucking option.

Thomas noted that if new exploration in Cook Inlet finds significant natural gas, support for an instate gas pipeline from the North Slope will evaporate. The ordinance approving the expenditure of the money for the studies passed the assembly six to two.

More Beaver Activity, More Coho Salmon

Laureli Kinneen, KNOM – Nome

Anecdotal reports from the public have revealed that beaver activity has grown in northern Alaska and looks to have an impact on salmon.

Steve Ivanoff is a lifelong fisherman and resident in Unalakleet. He says the increase in activity he thinks is due to both the warming climate and a decrease in beaver hunting and trapping. The meat was often used to feed sled dogs – now mostly replaced by snowmachines and Ivanoff says North Face and Mountain Hardwear has replaced some of the prevalence of the traditional beaver hat.

With the increased activity, there are more dams, which bring an increase in still ponds. Biologists and fishermen believe that the increase in the amount of still water has benefited one species of salmon – the coho – or silver salmon. There hasn’t been a formal study on the correlation, but observation from biologists and subsistence fishermen make a strong argument.

Fisheries biologist Scott Kent says dammed water is a great place for young salmon growing in fresh water. He says when coho fry hatch in the spring they swim upstream:

Kent says the beaver activity creates what’s called habitat permanence and thermal permanence.

When there’s a lot of freeze down, Kent says it compresses the juvenile salmon to small areas where food resources are finite, creating competition for food. This would not be a problem for salmon that winter in the deep ponds.

But the increased beaver activity isn’t beneficial for all salmon species. For example, the department of fish and game has seen a chum run diminish east of Elim.

The reason chum and pinks do not adapt well to beaver habitat is because they do not jump over obstacles like the coho.

Coho salmon – after hatching – typically spend two years in fresh water before heading out to sea – leaving as three to six inch fish and coming back between four and thirteen pounds.

This Week on AK: Peak Inside Military Training

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

This week on AK… a peak inside a military training exercise.

Recently an anti terrorism battalion of Marine Reservists were in Alaska for a two week training. One focus of the exercise was hand to hand combat. Reservist trainers say fighting up close with insurgents in civilian clothes is different than past wars where uniforms clearly identified the enemy. APRN’s Lori Townsend spent time at the training in June and has the story.

Thanks for listening to AK on Alaska News Nightly. To see pictures and video of the Marine Reservists training, go to our website at

Tune in next week when we go hunting for rare pieces of Alaska history in the most humble of places… the yard sale.

300 Villages: Minto and Soldotna

Now it’s time for our weekly trip around Alaska. We go first to Minto, an Athabascan village smack dab in the middle of the state. And then we’ll head south to one of the best places to net a sockeye salmon right now, Soldotna, on the Kenai Peninsula.

That was January Yaeger in Soldotna and Sheryle Charlie in Minto. 300 villages is AK’s attempt to put every community in Alaska on the radio. We had help this week from Heather Aronno.

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