State briefs

Posted: Thursday, March 07, 2002

Police question man about hangar fire

JUNEAU - Police say they have a man in custody who may have been involved in the Tuesday morning fire that destroyed part of a local airplane hangar.

Police said they believe a 28-year-old man arrested Wednesday afternoon for a probation violation may have had something to do with the fire that destroyed an office at the Wingnut Aviation hangar at the Juneau Airport.

Wingnut Aviation representatives declined to comment.

Sgt. John Boltjes said police were asked by the hangar's owner to investigate the fire, which broke out around 1:30 a.m. Tuesday. Police said that in the course of their investigation, they discovered the man was in the vicinity of the hangar at the time of the fire.

The man, who was questioned, has not been charged in connection with the fire, although police said the investigation continues. Fire Marshal Randy Waters also is investigating the fire, but was unavailable for comment by the Empire's midday deadline.

Police and probation officials declined to detail the alleged probation violation that led to the man's arrest. The man is being held at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center.

House OKs bill for prison in Whittier

JUNEAU - A bill that would permit the state to contract with the city of Whittier for a private prison was passed by the House State Affairs Committee this morning.

The bill, passed on a 4-2 vote, next goes to the House Finance Committee.

Some members were concerned about whether the location of the 1,200-bed prison would be accessible enough for family members, who would be critical to the rehabilitation of inmates. But others said it's a better alternative than Arizona, where hundreds of Alaska prisoners are now doing their time.

House Majority Leader Jeannette James, a North Pole Republican, said that the bill doesn't require the executive branch to enter into agreement with Whittier, which would contract with a private firm to run the facility.

"But the talking can't even start if we don't do this," James said.

There also are concerns that the state would not be soliciting proposals from any community in the state that would be interested in having a private company come in to run a correctional facility.

But Rep. Gary Stevens, a Kodiak Republican, noted that the concept has been discussed for years and previous proposals for private prisons in Delta Junction and then Kenai failed due to community opposition.

Group seeks recall of Assembly, mayor

FAIRBANKS - A group of rural residents has filed applications to recall the entire Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly, the school board and the borough mayor.

The 19 applications were filed Monday.

They all list a one-paragraph charge centering on Denali and Nordale elementary schools. The school board has passed a bond proposal that would demolish the schools and replace them with new ones. The proposal awaits action by the Assembly.

Recall supporters say the current bond proposal constitutes fraud because it denies the action of a 1996 school bond ballot measure that included money for renovations to both schools, said Phil Skilbred, president of the Two Rivers School Committee.

"The proposal is to tear down two buildings that had extensive renovation and upgrades to code in a bond issue that was a 20-year bond," Skilbred said. "We already bonded for them to make them adequate."

Physical plant director Dave Ferree said that though Denali and Nordale are compliant with the codes applicable to their age, they do not meet current building codes for elementary schools. They also are not handicap accessible, he said.

Bill would end some coastal zone appeals

JUNEAU - The House passed a bill Wednesday that removes a citizen's right to ask for a state review of coastal zone program decisions.

Most Democratic and Republican legislators agreed that the current law isn't working and frustrates both developers and those protesting projects.

"The process is no longer meaningful to anyone," said Rep. Beth Kerttula, a Juneau Democrat.

Now, those wanting to do projects in a coastal zone must receive a state finding that their project is consistent with the coastal plan for that area.

After the state Division of Governmental Coordination has made its decision, people who live in the affected area and who commented when the agency was considering the issue can petition to the state Coastal Policy Council.

But in deciding whether to reject the agency's decision, the council can look at only whether the petitioners' comments were fairly considered by the agency, not whether they have merit.

As a result, citizens have never succeeded in having a decision reversed through the petition process, said Patrick Galvin, director of the Division of Governmental Coordination.

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