Alaska Digest

Posted: Monday, February 27, 2006

Sunday fire damages Lutheran church

JUNEAU - A fire did an estimated $60,000 to Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church early Sunday morning, according to Capital City Fire and Rescue officials.

The fire's cause "is believed to be accidental," Chief Eric Mohrmann said. "However, it is still under investigation."

Firefighters responded at 6:56 a.m., finding flames and smoke issuing from the center of the building at 4212 Mendenhall Loop Road. They discovered the fire was based beneath the floor and put it out, according to their report.

Mohrmann said the building primarily sustained smoke damage along with fire damage beneath the floor at the center section of the building.

No injuries were reported from the fire. Mohrmann said 38 fire fighters responded from throughout the community.

School vandalized over weekend

JUNEAU - Police investigating a reported burglary at Gastineau Elementary school in Douglas Sunday morning found windows broken and several classrooms vandalized.

Police Sunday estimated the total value of the property damage and theft in the case could add up to a $10,000 for the school at 1507 Third Street.

Juneau Police officer Matt Torok said the case remains under investigation, and asked anyone with information that may relate to the case to call police at 586-0600.

The initial report came in from a teacher, according to police. Officers discovered one of the glass doors in the back of the school had been broken. While going through the building, they could not find anyone inside, but found several broken widows and several rooms vandalized.

Stryker Brigade soldier killed in Iraq

ANCHORAGE - A Fort Wainwright soldier was killed and three other U.S. soldiers were wounded in Iraq on Sunday, Army officials said.

The soldiers were conducting operations in Mosul, Iraq, when an explosive blew up near their Stryker vehicle, according to Kirk Gohlke spokesman for the U.S. Army in Alaska.

The military is waiting to release the identities of the soldiers until after relatives have been contacted.

One soldier was listed as seriously injured and was evacuated to Balad, Iraq. Two were not seriously injured, the Army said.

Mat-Su roads are most dangerous in state

ANCHORAGE - The Matanuska-Susitna Borough is home to the three most dangerous highway sections in Alaska, state transportation officials said.

Ten people died in vehicle accidents between 2001 and 2005 on Knik-Goose Bay Road, according to the Department of Public Safety.

In that time frame, there were eight fatalities on the seven-mile section of the Parks Highway from Church Road to a mile before Big Lake Road, and two on the Palmer-Wasilla Highway.

Factors in the rankings included deaths, major accidents, traffic density and total vehicle miles traveled on the roads.

The Seward Highway, between Potter Marsh and Portage, came next on the "most dangerous" list, Department of Transportation traffic safety engineer Scott Thomas said.

The Seward Highway has been the subject of vivid media stories and emotional community discussions recently in the aftermath of several fatal accidents, but apparently it isn't the most dangerous thoroughfare in the state.

"The Seward Highway is a seasonal highway" more than the three Mat-Su roadways, Thomas said. "These are all two-lane roads carrying more than 16,000 people."

Overcrowding, he said, is a primary factor in higher accident rates. Mat-Su is the fastest-growing area of the state.

Augustine volcano calms down

ANCHORAGE - Augustine Volcano appears to be calming down.

New data from the island volcano indicate this winter's eruption is coming to an end, according to scientists. Augustine could get restless again with little notice, they said, but the likeliest course is that no more big explosions will send plumes miles into the sky, triggering ash fall alerts and detouring airplanes as they did in January.

"All indications at this point are that things are slowing down," said Kate Bull, a state volcanologist with the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

Bull flew over the island Friday and studied the peak's still-growing lava dome. The 4,134-foot mountain may be a little taller when the dome-building phase is complete, she said.

Seismic activity from the island now suggest rockfall from unstable parts of the new dome, not deep magma movement, according to Stephanie Prejean, a U.S. Geological Survey seismologist with the observatory. The signals have slowed in recent days, she said.

Augustine, located 180 miles southwest of Anchorage, first erupted Jan. 11 after weeks of growing seismicity. The mountain let off 13 explosive eruptions during January.

Anchorage voters to decide on sales tax

ANCHORAGE - Voters in Anchorage will decide whether the city should implement a 3 percent sales tax, a proposal that lacks even the support of its author.

A bare majority on the Anchorage Assembly decided to put the issue before voters, saying some residents have voiced their support for a sales tax as a way to reduce property taxes.

To become law, the sales tax must be approved by 60 percent of those who vote on it in the April 4 city election.

The only ballot proposition holding the words "sales tax" to attract that kind of support in Anchorage was a 1997 city charter amendment to make it tougher to pass a sales tax. The amendment created the 60 percent threshold for sales taxes.

Construction firm sues Ketchikan

KETCHIKAN - A Sitka construction company is suing the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, alleging breach of contract and failure to pay for work in a school renovation project.

No monetary amount was listed by McGraw's Custom Construction Inc. in the eight-page lawsuit filed Wednesday in Superior Court in Sitka.

The borough awarded a $10 million contract to McGraw's in 2003 for the Schoenbar Middle School project. The wrangling began soon after between the local government and the contractor, and involved architects who worked on the renovation.

Caught in the middle are the Ketchikan School District and hundreds of seventh- and eighth-graders. The building, which was to have reopened last fall, is not yet completed. The borough says the school must be open by fall 2006.

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