Alaska Digest

Posted: Thursday, February 05, 2004

Police say skull not result of foul play

JUNEAU - Police have no reason to suspect foul play in connection with an apparent piece of human skull found in the Gastineau Channel on Saturday night, Sgt. Troy Wilson said.

Unidentified local divers contacted police at about 7:30 p.m. Saturday to report their discovery of what appeared to be human remains near Marine Park. The remains were found partially buried in the channel's muddy bottom.

The discovery was turned over to police and placed into evidence. Wilson said an investigation is continuing with an effort to identify the remains.

Snow complicates morning commute

JUNEAU - Steady snowfall Wednesday morning slowed traffic and put some vehicles off the road.

But even an accident involving a sport utility vehicle reported as "wheels up" at 9:03 a.m. in the Mendenhall Wetlands "wasn't as bad as it looked," Juneau police Sgt. Kevin Siska said.

The driver, a 24-year-old woman, was alone in the 1992 Ford Explorer, and her only injury was a cut hand, Siska said. She reportedly sought treatment at Bartlett Regional Hospital.

The SUV was inbound on Egan Drive when the driver lost control and it fishtailed off the roadway, he said.

The rolled-over SUV was righted, pulled from the ditch and towed from the scene, police said.

In the same area of inbound Egan Drive, at 7:28 a.m., police reported a 1996 Subaru and a 2001 Jeep slid into the ditch. Both vehicles were towed from the ditch before leaving under their own power.

Some motorists recovered more quickly.

At 7:32 a.m., police received a report of two vehicles that had slid off inbound Egan Drive near Vanderbilt Hill Road, but both were gone before officers arrived. Police also failed to find a Ford Taurus reported at 9:05 a.m. to be in the ditch against a guardrail on inbound Egan Drive near the Juneau Yacht Club.

Police also reported that at 11:58 a.m., a 1989 GMC pickup truck went off the road at Glacier Highway near Auke Lake. It was towed from the scene.

State attempts to attract forest product investment

JUNEAU - The administration is trying to attract investment from out-of-state forest product companies to develop resources in the Interior.

Gov. Frank Murkowski said Wednesday the state is sending a prospectus to manufacturers throughout the country. The prospectus focuses on timber types, standing volumes, availability, access, transportation links and other information. The state is inviting the manufacturers to visit Alaska.

After the prospectus is mailed this week, the state plans to step up marketing at industry trade shows.

"While we recognize that Interior Alaska is a long way from Lower 48 markets, we believe that the quality, volume and accessibility of our timber, along with our straightforward permitting processes, reasonable stumpage costs and labor pool will result in a profitable operation," Murkowski said.

The project is being guided by a steering committee composed of representatives from the Alaska Division of Forestry, Tanana Chiefs Conference, Fairbanks Economic Development Corp., and other organizations.

Ketchikan borough drops annexation plan

KETCHIKAN - The Ketchikan Gateway Borough has scuttled plans to annex 3,681 square miles of surrounding land.

The borough Assembly voted 4-3 Monday to drop the proposal, an effort to collect an extra $1.4 million in annual federal funding.

The plan drew sharp opposition from residents of Hyder and Meyers Chuck, communities that would have been added to the new borough.

The plan also upset other Southeast communities that would have seen less federal funding.

This week's action came as the Assembly was considering whether to schedule a public hearing in Hyder at an estimated cost of about $10,000.

Assembly Member David Landis said the borough extended itself too far with the proposal.

"It puts us in a position of robbing from our neighbors," he said. "I've never supported this and I don't support it now."

The Valdez Star buys out rival weekly

VALDEZ - The Valdez Star is acquiring rival weekly The Valdez Vanguard after a decade of competition, the Star announced in its Wednesday edition.

"As a newspaperman, I genuinely regret to see the demise of any newspaper anywhere," said Pat Lynn, editor of the Star. "But the decision was dictated by pure economics. The sad reality is Valdez cannot economically support two newspapers. We have had to learn that the hard way."

The Vanguard has been a weekly publication serving the Prince William Sound community of about 4,060 people since 1964, the Star since 1993. The last publication date for the Vanguard will be Feb. 26. It is owned by Alaska Newspapers Inc., which publishes seven other weeklies.

Lynn declined to disclose the selling price.

Initiative sponsor backs Senate selection bill

JUNEAU - A sponsor of a popular ballot initiative calling for special elections to fill U.S. Senate vacancies is backing a bill that would do the same thing and keep the initiative from going to voters.

"I'd like to go ahead and get this over with," said Rep. Harry Crawford, an Anchorage Democrat.

Not all members of the House Democratic minority caucus support the legislation sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Lesil McGuire, an Anchorage Republican.

Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz called her introduction of the bill a "cynical manipulation" of the political process.

McGuire dismissed his criticism, saying Berkowitz, an Anchorage Democrat, had a chip on his shoulder because a similar bill he sponsored last year has not gone anywhere.

McGuire's bill would change a provision in state law that allows the governor to appoint a replacement if a U.S. Senate vacancy occurs with less than two and a half years left in the term.

That provision allowed Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski to appoint his daughter, Lisa, to fill the vacancy created when he resigned his U.S. Senate seat in 2002 to become governor. A public outcry over that appointment was followed by a petition drive to put an initiative on this fall's general election ballot to change the law.

House approves senior citizen prescription bill

JUNEAU - A bill providing a prescription drug benefit for low-income Alaska senior citizens passed the House unanimously Wednesday.

House Bill 374 would give low-income older Alaskans a choice between two programs - a $120-per-month cash assistance option the administration set up last summer or a new $1,600-per-year prescription drug plan.

Both programs would end when a federal prescription drug plan for senior citizens goes into effect in January 2006.

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