Alaska Digest

Posted: Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Ethics complaint vs. Marquez dismissed

ANCHORAGE - Alaska Attorney General David E. Marquez has been cleared by the state personnel board of a second ethics complaint.

Wev Shea, a former U.S. attorney, filed the complaint in November. He said Marquez violated state ethics laws by publicly commenting on a confidential memo written by former Natural Resources commissioner Tom Irwin.

In the October memo, Irwin questioned the legality of secret negotiations with oil companies over tax and royalty terms for a possible $20 billion gas pipeline contract.

Irwin was removed from his job after Gov. Frank Murkowski made the memo available to reporters. Six top Irwin deputies resigned in the shake-up.

The board concluded that Marquez violated no law, said Mark Morones, a spokesman for the Department of Law.

The board found that the governor, as the state's chief executive, released Marquez from any attorney-client privilege surrounding the memo, Morones said.

Shea on Monday sent a lengthy response to the personnel board, which last month dismissed another ethics complaint he filed in August against Marquez.

Shea said the independent counsel hired by the board, John Sedor, reached the wrong conclusion about Marquez in that case and leveled unsupported and biased allegations against Shea.

Shea claimed that Marquez's $1 million to $2 million deferred compensation accounts from his former oil company employers posed an ethical conflict for the attorney general as he helped state officials negotiate a gas pipeline contract with oil producers.

Proposals don't have enough signatures

JUNEAU - Sponsors of just two initiatives met this week's deadline for their measures to be considered for November's ballot.

Backers of four others notified election officials that they would continue to gather signatures and try to have their proposals placed on the 2008 ballot.

The ones that did make it were initiatives to shorten Alaska's legislative sessions from 120 days to 90 days and to tax North Slope oil companies on natural gas reserves that do not go to market were submitted to the state Division of Elections by Monday's deadline.

The division will have 60 days from Jan. 9 to certify the signatures. But if lawmakers pass a substantially similar bill to what an initiative proposes, the proposition doesn't go on the ballot.

Two other initiatives are already slated for placement on November's ballot: one to reshape lobbyist registration requirements and another to add a per-passenger tax on cruise ships entering state waters.

On Tuesday, backers of initiatives to repeal the economic limit factor as it applies to oil taxes said they would hold over their measure for more signatures, as did those supporting an act establishing the Alaska Gaming Commission. Supporters of a prohibition on aerial wolf and grizzly bear hunting and on unnecessary use of pesticides in schools already had announced they had inadequate signatures for this year's ballot.

State intervenes in natural gas pricing

ANCHORAGE - The Alaska Department of Law is opposing a new Enstar Natural Gas Co. supply contract that would tie future costs more closely to Lower 48 prices.

The Regulatory Commission of Alaska agreed last week to hold up approval of a new gas contract between Enstar and Marathon Oil to consider state objections.

State lawyers argue that tying Alaska costs to Lower 48 prices is an arbitrary practice that hurts Anchorage consumers and could result in windfall profits for Cook Inlet oil companies.

Natural gas prices in Anchorage should bear more relationship to local market conditions, according to the Department of Law.

The cost Enstar pays for the gas it pipes into homes has doubled in the past four years. That cost is passed to consumers.

According to Enstar, Cook Inlet gas supplies are dwindling and prices must rise to provide incentives for new exploration.

Man sentenced in killing of brown bear

ANCHORAGE - An Anchorage man who illegally killed a brown bear sow near a popular fishing stream will spend 10 days in jail.

Michael Oswalt, 27, also was ordered to pay fines totaling $2,800.

Oswalt on July 31 shot a sow that had become a familiar presence, usually with three young cubs.

"This occurred in a wildlife refuge, and the public was pretty outraged that he'd done this," said assistant attorney general Roger Rom. "A lot of people had a personal connection with these bears. It was a big loss.

"And we don't know the fate of those cubs, and we won't know for some time," he said.

The Russian River joins the Kenai River near Cooper Landing. The site is a popular roadside fishing destination, with anglers frequently lining the banks when red salmon are running. The rivers also draw black and brown bears.

Oswalt initially pleaded not guilty to six charges. He changed his plea to guilty to taking a bear in closed season, taking a bear in a closed area, and shooting a sow with cubs.

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