Alaska Digest

Posted: Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Augustine's constant release may avert powerful eruption

ANCHORAGE - A crescent-shaped plume of steam and ash curved from the summit of Mount Augustine on Monday while boulder-flecked flows of ash and gas sped down the flanks of the island mount and into the sea.

A steady eruption of steam and ash has been spewing from the uninhabited volcanic island since Saturday, punctuated by explosions that thrust the particles almost five miles into the skies above south-central Alaska.

The volcano's constant release of gas, rock and ash - rather than a quiet buildup beneath the mountain - may be averting a more powerful eruption, said scientists at the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

"This current material shows the vent is staying open and letting off pressure continuously, which is suggestive that a very large explosion is less likely," said Michelle Coombs, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

Ash from the volcano grounded flights to and from Kodiak Island, but was not reported in communities within several dozen miles of the volcano, according to the National Weather Service. There were no reports of ash above Anchorage, about 180 miles northeast of the volcano.

State, Forest Service sign timber pacts

KETCHIKAN - State officials have signed plans with the U.S. Forest Service that they hope will strengthen the timber industry.

Gov. Frank Murkowski said his aim is to grow "an integrated industry" with 360 million board feet of timber eventually available every year.

State and federal officials on Saturday signed two memorandums of understanding.

One calls for state and federal officials to provide a framework for the development of economically viable Tongass National Forest timber.

The other calls for the state and Forest Service to work together in amending the 1997 Tongass Land Management Plan as ordered by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in August.

In addition, Murkowski has established a "timber cabinet," made up of the commissioners of Natural Resources, Fish and Game, Labor and Community Affairs and Economic Development, which will work to stabilize and expand the timber industry.

UAA discrimination charge dismissed

ANCHORAGE - A University of Alaska Anchorage employee's discrimination lawsuit alleging he was denied pay and advancement because of his race and religion has been dismissed.

A U.S. District Court judge found there was not enough evidence to prove John Mun was discriminated against while working at the university's enrollment services office.

The case will not go to trial, according to court documents filed late Friday.

"We believe the court ruling accurately reflects there was no racial or religious discrimination of any sort against John Mun," Mark Ashburn, the university's attorney, told the Anchorage Daily News on Monday.

John Mun is a Korean Buddhist who claimed he was passed over for less-qualified white or Christian workers. In his lawsuit, he alleged Rick Weems, now assistant vice chancellor for enrollment management, and other managers in the Enrollment Services office kept minorities from managerial jobs and promoted less-qualified white or Christian workers, giving preference to those who participated in a prayer group.

UAA denied the claims.

Recycling firm opens Anchorage office

ANCHORAGE - Owners of a Seattle-based firm have opened an Anchorage office aimed at helping Alaskans recycle discarded electronic equipment.

From used computer equipment, Total Reclaim Inc. recovers copper, silver, gold and other metals. It's the same for fluorescent lamps and other products.

"Really, what we are doing is trying to educate the public," said Larry Zirkle as he stood in a Hoffman Business Park warehouse packed with used electronics.

"I'm not an environmentalist by nature, but I'm trying," he said. "I'm learning every day."

Zirkle, whose brother Jeff is a partner in Total Reclaim in Seattle, said he got involved after seeing graphic documentaries of "high-tech trashing in Asia and Africa" of discarded electronics equipment from the United States.

Workplace deaths jumped in 2004

ANCHORAGE - Some 40 people were killed on the job in Alaska in 2004, a 43 percent increase over the year before, according to the state Department of Labor.

The department recorded 28 workplace deaths in 2003.

The 2004 number is the second lowest since 1992, the year the state began keeping a fatality census, according to the Labor Department's January issue of Alaska Economic Trends.

Still, the per capita workplace death rate in 2003, the latest year complete nationwide figures are available, showed that Alaska ranked second highest in the nation.

In 2003 Alaska had 9.2 deaths per 100,000 workers, compared to the national rate of 4 deaths per 100,000. Wyoming topped the ranking, with 13.9 workplace fatalities per 100,000 workers.

Transportation accidents were the leading cause of the fatality rate in 2004, accounting for 73 percent of the deaths. Transportation includes cars and trucks, plus fishing boats, aircraft, forklifts and all-terrain vehicles, among others.

Commercial fishing is listed as the nation's most dangerous occupation and fishing in Alaska has proven to be particularly deadly. In 1992, nearly 40 percent of the state's 91 worker deaths were related to commercial fishing. Fisherman in 2004 made up 20 percent, or eight, of the state's total 40 fatalities.

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