Alaska News Nightly: May 22, 2012

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Air Force To Release Report On Eielson F-16 Move

Peter Granitz, APRN – Washington DC

The Air Force is set to release a report by May 31 on relocating the F-16 squadron from Eielson Air Force Base to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. The state’s Congressional delegation is pulling out the stops to block the move.

Both Senators Lisa Murkowski and March Begich have met with Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz this week and neither seems to think the meetings were particularly encouraging.

Murkowski says Schwartz recognizes Eielson’s continued role in defending the west and north, but the report will likely advocate the move anyway.

Begich’s meeting with Schwartz left the Senator questioning the Air Force’s math … and logic.

He says Schwartz insists Anchorage can maintain the growth in population – even though, Begich contends, there’s only a two percent vacancy rate.

“If you look at the last BRAC they did, the savings and cost, the Pentagon was totally off on these before. The overestimated the savings and underestimated the cost,” Begich said.

Eielson Air Force base survived the Base Realignment and Closure Commission – or BRAC in 2005. It’s slated for a downsizing now, and the two senators have pushed legislation to block any move. Begich has also placed a hold on a key Air Force appointee until the report comes out.

The Air Force aims to move the Aggressor Squadron and about half of Eielson’s employees to JBER. And when it does, the Air Force expects to save more than $30 million over five years.

Even if the Air Force moves forward with the plan, Begich says, there’s no way it will happen. The BRAC process needs to survive Congress, and even most budget hawks won’t vote to close a base in their home district.

Court Approves Redistricting Plan For 2012 Elections

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The Alaska Supreme Court approved a redistricting plan for the 2012 elections on Tuesday. Alaska Redistricting Board executive director Taylor Bickford says the high court has accepted the amended proclamation plan of April 5, including voting maps for Southeast Alaska districts that the high Court had previously rejected. The state Supreme Court had asked the Board to redraw the two Southeast Districts as recently as May 10, and the Board submitted the changes, but the Justices decided to reject those changes. Bickford says the justices were listening to Alaska Native objections to the recent changes to Southeast.

Bickford says all aspects of the accepted plan have passed mandatory federal Department of Justice approval.  He says the Board is pleased with today’s decision. The Supreme Court has asked the division of elections and other interested parties whether the candidate filing deadline should be moved. That matter is still unresolved.

New District Pits Southeast Incumbents Against Each Other

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

The Supreme Court’s latest redistricting ruling resurrects a contest between two incumbent Southeast lawmakers.

Tuesday’s decision puts Wrangell Representative Peggy Wilson in the same election district as Ketchikan Representative Kyle Johansen. They’ll face off against each other, as well as other candidates, in the August 28th Republican primary. The new district matchup is only in place for this year’s elections.

Wilson now represents her hometown, Petersburg and Sitka. That would have stayed about the same under the Alaska Redistricting Board’s most recent plan.

But the earlier plan, chosen by the state’s Supreme Court Tuesday, puts her in a district with Ketchikan, Saxman and parts of Prince of Wales Island.

Wilson, reached via cell phone on a trip to the Midwest, says the decision surprised her.

Ketchikan has far more people than any other community in the new district.

Johansen could not be reached for immediate comment. But in past interviews, he’s said he preferred not to run against Wilson.

Wilson feels the same way.

Wilson and Johansen face at least two other Republicans in the August primary.  Ketchikan City Council Member Matt Olsen is the only Democrat running for what will be called House District 33.

Airline Planning Direct Flights Between Russia, Anchorage

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage

Soon, Alaskan travelers won’t have to fly nearly around the world to get to the other side of the Bering Strait. A Russian airline company is planning to launch direct flights between Anchorage and the Russian Far East for the summer season.

Climate Warming Causing Unexpected Release Of Methane

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Climate warming is causing the release of methane in the far north from a previously undocumented source.  Past research has found methane created by biodegradation of thawing organic matter, but a University of Alaska Fairbanks led study has confirmed a deeper, older source. UAF researcher Katey Walter Anthony describes the gas as geologic methane.

Melting of overlaying permafrost and glaciers are allowing the ancient methane to escape. Walter Anthony and fellow researchers surveyed Alaska and Greenland looking for unfrozen lakes in winter, and then checked them for gas bubbling to the surface.

Walter Anthony says lab analysis confirmed the methane was from geologic sources like coal and oil reservoirs, information which could lead to new resource exploration in some cases.  She says the volume of geologic methane could rival ecological sources of the greenhouse gas.  Methane is the third-strongest greenhouse gas behind carbon dioxide and water vapor.

Winter Rough On St. Paul Reindeer Herd

Stephanie Joyce, KUCB – Unalaska

As the Pribilof Island of St. Paul slowly emerges from a brutal winter, it’s becoming clear the cold weather seriously damaged the island’s reindeer herd. KUCB’s Stephanie Joyce reports there might be some tough times ahead for locals who rely on the animals for meat.

Scientists Still Searching For Cause Of ‘Unusual Mortality Event’

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

Investigators say this year’s subsistence seal hunters are being very helpful in the ongoing effort to find the cause of a mysterious ailment that is bringing about hair loss and lesions.  In the Nome area, about 20 animals with signs of the illness have been reported, but they don’t appear to be new cases.

Buffer Zone Established For Nome-Area Mining Permits

Ben Matheson, KNOM – Nome

Offshore gold miners near Nome will have to stay a half-mile from river mouths and keep a 300 foot distance from fishing nets this summer.  DNR and Fish and Game have drafted new stipulations for the 130 mining permits in the works. Fish and Game Area Manager Jim Menard.

The new 300-foot buffer will apply to all set nets. The stipulations add that if a mining operation creates any turbidity, they must stay 500 feet from nets.

Menard says even years have seen the biggest returns on subsistence fish over the past eight years. He says odd years typically bring in about 30 ocean permits.

DNR’s Kerwin Kraus says no final decision has been made on what recourse lessees might have. He says he has not yet spoken with the impacted miners. Kraus says the half mile rule will not affect recreational miners.

Beyond the leases, several registered claims are within the half-mile range of rivers, stretching west to the Sinuk and east to the Solomon River.  Kraus says they will be impacted.

And the DNR has hired the seasonal employee to help manage the increased mining activity. Former Police Sergeant Byron Redburn will serve in the role this summer.  The DNR is still working to find a boat for Redburn to use.

Sitka Fine Arts Camp Welcomes Adult Session

Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka

After three decades, the Sitka Fine Arts Camp is striking out in a new direction. Since 1973 the camp has taught thousands of kids music, dance, theater, and art. This summer, for the first time, they’ll offer a camp for adults.

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