Alaska News Nightly: August 1, 2012

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Marine Debris Program Funding Bill Held Up In Senate

Peter Granitz, APRN – Washington DC

The U.S. House passed a bill today to fund the Marine Debris Program – the federal entity that will coordinate the clean up as trash from the Japanese tsunami washes ashore. The bill is stalled in the Senate.

ANCSA Amendment Would Recognize Alexander Creek As Alaska Native Village

Peter Granitz, APRN – Washington DC

A U.S. House Committee passed an amendment to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act this morning that would force the government to recognize Alexander Creek as an Alaska Native village under ANCSA.

Alexander Creek, northwest of Anchorage in the Mat-Su Borough, is part of Cook Inlet Regional Incorporated. If it passes, Alexander Creek would incorporate itself, and residents would receive smaller CIRI dividends, with the rest of the money going to the village corporation, which could decide how it would be distributed.

The bill would require the U.S. government to settle land claim issues with Alexander Creek leaders by the end of this year. But that depends on passage. Congress is slated to begin a five-week recess this weekend. When it returns in September, they’ll have to work on more pressing legislation to avoid across-the-board spending cuts and a plan to keep funding the government for six months.

All of that within two months of the election.

CIRI officials did not make themselves available for comment but in written testimony they were against the current proposal, citing concerns over land rights issues and other problems they felt would infringe on CIRI’s holdings

NOAA’s Fairweather Embarks On Arctic Reconnaissance Trip

Stephanie Joyce, KUCB – Unalaska
More ships than ever are operating in the Bering Strait and off the north coast of Alaska, but many of the nautical charts for the region haven’t been updated in more than a century. Now, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is trying to fix that. The research vessel Fairweather sets off Wednesday for a surveying trip in the Arctic.

On the back deck of the 231-foot Fairweather, Operations Officer Caryn Zacharias is showing off a 10-foot long piece of equipment that looks like a torpedo with wings.

“We can fly this fish – we also fly the smaller fish – the 5000.”

The “fish” is a side-scan sonar. Like all sonar, it works by bouncing sound off of a target and then measuring the echoes that come back. In this case, the target is the seafloor and the echoes paint a picture of its topography.

The side-scan is one of several instruments the crew of the Fairweather will be using as they trace a path from Kotzebue to the Canadian border over the next month. It’s the first mapping expedition of the north coast using modern equipment.

“I think we’re probably a little behind the curve right now but we’re trying to understand what we need to do to get that data for the mariner, ” says Fairweather Commander James Crocker.

The main problem is that existing charts aren’t detailed enough.

“You know, you have a lot of barge traffic that goes up there to support the communities,” Crocker says. “They sort of know where they can go, how to operate – but as you start looking at more potential for ecotourism, you start getting container ships or bulk carrier or oil or whatever it is, that local knowledge isn’t going to be there to guide them through the waters.”

Many of the charts are also inaccurate, since they rely on data gathered using less precise instruments.

“On the chart it may say you can get within a mile or so – but that’s based on data from 1890 or who knows exactly when,” Crocker says.

Although this summer the Fairweather won’t be collecting the detailed data NOAA needs to actually update the charts, Crocker says the trip will provide a baseline for future mapping expeditions – or could show that the information is already available.

“For this specific project we’re just doing reconnaissance that will help us compare our data to some outside data [Navy, Coast Guard etc] to see whether we can utilize that and bring in other information onto the chart that may be there and to determine if it meets standards that we need for nautical charting purposes.”

The Fairweather will concentrate on areas close to the shoreline, especially the heavily trafficked zones near Point Hope and Barrow. Crocker hopes to make it all the way to the Canadian border, but that might not be possible because of persistent ice cover in the Beaufort Sea. If that’s the case, he says there’s plenty of work to be done elsewhere – including right here in Unalaska.

Towns Take On New Federal Maritime Emission Limits

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Some Alaska communities are pushing back against a new requirement that ships sailing within 200 miles of the coast burn cleaner fuel. They say the rule, which goes into effect Wednesday, Aug.1st, will hurt cruise traffic and increase shipping costs.

One community is Skagway, where tourism dominates the summer economy.

“It takes years to get a cruise line. And it takes a second to drive one away,” says Steve Hites, owner of the Skagway Streetcar Company and a member of the town’s Port Commission.

He’s telling Skagway’s assembly about new air-emission limits set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. They cover ships in coastal Emission Control Areas, also called ECAs.

Hites says cleaner fuel is more expensive, and cruise lines will pass that on to customers.

“The cost of the ECA on a cruise ticket could be $150, or three times the cost of the Alaska head tax. We lost five big ships because of the head tax. By extrapolation, will we lose 15 ships?” he asks.

Bird Flu Not Responsible For Alaska Ice Seal, Walrus Illness

Laureli Kinneen, KNOM – Nome

Scientists say a type of bird flu – H3N8 – is responsible for the death of the more than 160 harbor seals on the East Coast. Reports of sick seals began in September, which coincided with the reports of diseased seals in Alaska’s northern coasts. KNOM’s Laureli Kinneen reports there is no relation between the avian flu on the East Coast and the disease affecting iced seals and walrus in Alaska.

New Valley Native Primary Care Clinic Unveiled In Wasilla

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Chickaloon Village drummers and singers warmed up the crowd today for the ribbon cutting on Southcentral Foundation’ s new Valley Native Primary Care Clinic in Wasilla

Alaska Native leaders, state and borough officials and a few hundred members of the public gathered inside the spacious atrium of the new clinic to mark the opening later this month of Benteh Nuutah the clinic’s Native name, which means “Among Lakes and Islands.”

The new facility was built to meet the primary health care needs of the 9,000 Alaska Natives living in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.  By next year, the clinic expects to have 8,500 customers.  The project was built in collaboration with the Chickaloon and Knik tribes. Gary Harrison is chief of the Chickaloon Village Traditional Council.

Southcentral Foundation is the non-profit health care arm of Cook Inlet Region, Inc, which manages some 65 health care programs and services.  The new Valley facility is an 84,000 square foot building offering primary, dietary, behavioral health and pharmacy services. Others, such as dental and optometry, will be phased in under an agreement with the Indian Health Service. The facility opens its doors on August 29.

Middle Kuskokwim Residents Fear Subsistence Culture Dwindling

Mark Arehart, KYUK – Bethel

The Middle Kuskokwim village of Chuathbaluk is known for its beautiful mountains and dense spruce trees. The village and surrounding area has a rich history of subsisting off the land, but that subsistence culture might be fading.

Wrangell Looks To ‘Biobricks’ For Heating Fuel

Anne Hillman, KSTK – Wrangell

The Wrangell Cooperative Association is looking into the feasibility of another new economic outlet for Wrangell’s wood mills and forests. They want to use wood waste to heat the community’s homes and government buildings by making woodchip boilers and biobricks. KSTK’s Anne Hillman joined forester Bill Wall for a look at the community’s potential.

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