Alaska News Nightly: August 12, 2011

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Coast Guard Commandant Lays Out Arctic Plans

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

The most powerful icebreaker in the world is now being built, and it will belong to China.  That was among the revelations made by a worried Coast Guard Commandant to a U.S. Senate hearing Friday. Admiral Robert Papp has just returned from a trip to the North Slope, and he laid out plans for how the Coast Guard plans to maintain a presence in the Arctic Ocean next summer when – and if – the oil and gas industry starts its exploratory drilling offshore.

Coast Guard Housing ‘Woefully Behind’

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage and Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Admiral Papp told the Senate Subcommittee today that the nation needs to do a better job of providing for its Coast Guard Personnel.  He called their housing “woefully behind” that of other service branches, owing in part to the remoteness of Coast Guard bases and the small number of people involved.

Eliza Evans spoke at today’s hearing about the housing struggles. Evans is the wife of a member of the Coast Guard. She says her husband was planning to retire in 2011. They bought a house in Washington State, but worries over the economy changed their plans and instead of retiring, her husband stayed in and was re-assigned to Anchorage. But they haven’t been able to sell their home in Washington, despite dropping the price twice.

Kott, Kohring Retrials Will Be Held in Fairbanks

Associated Press

A federal judge has ordered the retrials of former Alaska lawmakers Pete Kott and Victor Kohring be held in Fairbanks.

Kott, through an attorney, had asked to have the trial moved out of Anchorage, or out of state, because of “inflammatory” media coverage. Kohring claimed the same in seeking to have his case heard out of state.

U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline said today concerns raised by Kott and Kohring aren’t without merit, considering post-trial publicity. He ordered the trials be moved “in an abundance of caution.”

Beistline found holding the trials out of the state inappropriate.

Murkowski Unveils Early Education Legislation

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

Senator Lisa Murkowski unveiled the “Early Intervention for Graduation Success Bill” on Friday at East High School in Anchorage.

Murkowski says this legislation would not introduce a new program, but would expand on dropout legislation that is already in place.

Alaska has long struggled with high dropout rates, which have been up to twice the national average.

Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent, Steve Atwater, says that in just a couple weeks, he and teachers will see kindergartners in class for the first time who are all over the map when it comes to being ready for school.

Anchorage School District Superintendent Carol Comeau, says that identifying those kids who aren’t quite ready at an early age is a vital part of the process.

Once a student is identified as needing help, Comeau says there are additional steps that will need to take place.

Murkowski says that  the dollar amount allocated to the current dropout program will remain at 125 million dollars per year nation-wide. The bill would provide competitive, renewable five-year grants to fund states’ sustainable dropout prevention programs.

The grants could fund early childhood educator tuition assistance for teachers who will remain in that state… increase and monitor early childhood program quality… align the curriculum and performance standards from kindergarten through college… and expand access to early childhood education.

Fairbanks Schools Receive Mixed AYP Results

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Fairbanks schools performance is mixed in the latest results from standardized tests uses to assess Alaska kids under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.  Statewide 302 schools of 505 passed the Adequate Yearly Progress standards – nearly 60 percent. This is an increase of 3.6 percent over last year. North Star Borough Superintendent Pete Lewis says Fairbanks schools are just above the statewide average in achieving the AYP standard.

Lewis says that’s down from the 21 Fairbanks district schools that made adequate yearly progress last year.

State Gets Support in its Fight Against Roadless Rule

Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

The Juneau Chamber of Commerce, First Things First Alaska Foundation and 12 other Southeast businesses and organizations will join in the state’s lawsuit against a federal rule that prevents road construction in certain areas of the Tongass National Forest.

The Parnell administration in June appealed a federal district court decision setting aside an eight-year-old policy that exempted the Tongass from the so-called Roadless Rule.   The organizations plan to file as interveners in the case next week in federal district court in Washington, D.C.

The conservation policy was implemented in 2001, as President Clinton was leaving office.  Then Governor Tony Knowles sued the federal government. The state argued that the 1980 Alaska National Interest Land Conservation Act – which preserved 115-million acres – also decreed that no more land could be protected in the state.

Two years later, the Murkowski administration negotiated an out-of-court settlement.

Jim Clark was Murkowski chief of staff.

“In 2003 Murkowski administration settled the Roadless rule with the depart of justice, and the way it worked was the Tongass would be exempt from application of the Roadless rule via an interim ruled, promulgated in 2003, then there would be a final rule at some point after that,” Clark said.

Clark is now the attorney for the group that will file as interveners in the Parnell lawsuit.

He told the Juneau Chamber of Commerce Thursday the rule could prevent development of hydroelectric and other renewable energy projects, as well as mining and timber in Southeast Alaska, and even the proposed Lynn Canal Highway out of Juneau.

A number of utility companies have joined the case, including Alaska Electric Light and Power, Alaska Power and Telephone and Inside Passage Electric Cooperative.

If the rule stands in the Tongass, Clark says it will be very difficult to get hydro and renewable energy into remote Southeast communities that now pay 60 cents a kilowatt hour for diesel power.

First things First Alaska Foundation president Neil MacKinnon says organizations that join the lawsuit are “trying to right the roadless wrong.”

“We see this Roadless Rule as probably the biggest economic impediment to the future of SE and it’s got to change or we don’t have a future,” MacKinnon said.

Clark expects it will take 12 to 18 months before a decision comes from the federal court.

AK: Music Lessons

Esmay Joyce, KFSK – Petersburg

But this isn’t your typical after school trip to your piano teacher’s house. In small town Alaska, finding the right music teacher can take a little ingenuity. And for one family in Petersburg, it meant thinking inside the box… you know that little high tech box that you probably spend way too much time on?

300 Villages: Nuiqset and Atka

And now it’s time for our weekly trip around the state. This week, we’re heading to some of the most remote corners of the state. First, its north to Nuiqset near the Beaufort Sea and then west- way west- out along the Aluetian chain to Atka

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