Alaska Digest

Posted: Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Sponsors ready with clean water initiative

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JUNEAU - Backers of an initiative that would set stricter pollution standards for new large-scale mines say they have enough signatures to get it on the ballot.

Sponsors of Alaska's Clean Water Initiative plan to hand over petition booklets to the Division of Elections on Monday.

They say they have 30,000 signatures collected from around the state. They need 23,831 signatures from 30 of the 40 House districts to have the measure placed on the statewide ballot this fall.

The initiative was prompted by concerns that the proposed Pebble Mine in Southwest Alaska could harm Bristol Bay fisheries. The measure would prevent mine pollutants being discharged into water used for drinking or salmon habitat.

Opponents say it could shut down mine development across the state.

Man sentenced in Petersburg murder

SITKA - One of three men accused in the 2005 Petersburg murder of Michael Gerber has been sentenced to five years in prison.

Thomas Evenson III pleaded guilty in September to a charge of felony assault as part of a plea deal with the state.

The 42-year-old man had twice faced charges of first- and second-degree murder in connection with Gerber's death, but in both trials the jury was unable to reach a verdict.

Authorities say the men were drinking heavily with Gerber in the Petersburg apartment of another man.

Gerber was found beaten and stabbed on the ground outside the second-floor apartment the next day.

Bald eagles fly to Anchorage for rehab

ANCHORAGE - Thirty bald eagles that were slimed when they flew into a dump truck filled with fish guts are flying again, with some help.

Era Aviation and Alaska Airlines are moving the birds from Kodiak to Anchorage so they can be cleaned and cared for by the Bird Treatment and Learning Center.

Twenty bald eagles died Friday when about 50 of the birds dived into an uncovered dump truck filled with fish guts outside the Ocean Beauty Seafoods plant in Kodiak.

Most of the dead birds were drowned or crushed in the goo. Two died later Friday night, but the rest appear to be getting better, said Gary Wheeler, manager of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge.

"They're getting a little feisty now," he said. "They're feeling their oats, for sure, so you can tell they're feeling better. They're more perky. They're wanting to fly."

Wildlife workers in Kodiak planned to wash the eagles again over the weekend but a bird biologist with the International Bird Rescue and Research Center recommended sending the birds to the rescue center in Anchorage.

"The folks there have more expertise," Wheeler said. "This is the first time since the Exxon Valdez oil spill that we've had to handle this many birds. We've kind of improvised."

The city of Kodiak would like to release the eagles there, Wheeler said, but the logistics of flying the eagles back to Kodiak could mean they're released in Anchorage, said Cindy Palmatier, director of avian care at the rescue center.

The eagles are likely to remain at the recovery center for at least two weeks, Palmatier said.

Town of Huslia holds memorial potlatch

FAIRBANKS - The community of Huslia held a three-day memorial potlatch.

The potlatch was held in late December to honor deceased Huslia residents.

The families of Robert and Mary Vent, Irma Nollner and Jesse Demientieff Huntington staged the event in the Huslia community hall and school gymnasium.

The potlatch included three days of singing and socializing in the 300-person village on the Koyukuk River. Many guests who attended traveled to Huslia from around the state.

Superintendent calls for longer school days

ANCHORAGE - Alaska should consider extending the school day or year to boost academic performance, Anchorage's school superintendent said.

"We are not competitive with other countries around the world," said Carol Comeau. "Many of them go to school 220 days; we go 180 days. ... That, in itself, really narrows the opportunity for our students to get as much education."

Comeau floated the idea to Anchorage lawmakers as they prepared to depart for the legislative session, which starts today. She suggested lawmakers set aside money to pay for the extra teaching. The same fund could be used for training, summer school or additional classes.

Sen. Con Bunde, R-Anchorage, a former teacher, said he supports Comeau. The state and the country have been tied to an antiquated school calendar based on agriculture, he said, and he would like to see year-round schooling.

"Our school year is really too short for all that schools have to do," he said. "We don't have a whole bunch of kids planting potatoes now."

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