Alaska Digest

Staff and Wire reports

Posted: Friday, March 18, 2005

Sorenson is Cowan's choice for JDHS

JUNEAU - Juneau School District Superintendent Peggy Cowan announced Thursday that she is recommending Bernie Sorenson for the post of principal at Juneau-Douglas High School.

Sorenson would replaced interim Principal John Norman.

Sorenson is the district's assistant superintendent and was principal at Glacier Valley Elementary from 1998 to 2003. She has held other positions in the district since 1988.

The Juneau School Board is expected to vote on Cowan's recommendation at its April 5 meeting.

A committee of educators, students and parents at JDHS also favored Sorenson over the other two finalists, Elizabeth Burrell Balcerek of Buckland and Richard D. Hebhardt of Naknek.

Sorenson "is committed to both the students and staff at JDHS," Cowan said in a statement. "She is a wonderful leader and I know would work hard on their behalf. She has provided strong and visionary leadership for the instructional program in the district in her role as assistant superintendent. I know she would take the same energy and vision to her job at the high school."

Searchers can't find missing fisherman

UNALASKA - Searchers have found no trace of an Unalaska fisherman last seen March 11 and feared dead.

Bobby Storrs, 56, was last seen at about midnight that Friday, leaving the Unisea Sports Bar and walking to his boat in the harbor. He was reported missing Tuesday night.

Public Safety Sgt. Mike Holman said volunteers have been walking shorelines and searching with skiffs.

Divers began searching Wednesday with visibility under water at about 10 feet. A diver found a brown leather jacket in water near the boat with a plane ticket in the pocket from February with Storrs' name on it.

Rainy and wind reduced underwater visibility Thursday to just a few feet for eight divers working from the dock next to Storrs' small boat, the Miss Charlene. The dive search was suspended until Sunday.

Storrs is a Vietnam veteran who moved to Unalaska about 25 years ago. He was a founder of the Unalaska Native Fisherman's Association and served as the group's vice president for the past 10 years.

House approves supplemental budget

JUNEAU - The House of Representatives on Thursday gave preliminary approval to a supplemental spending bill of more than $1 billion to pay for higher fuel costs, gas pipeline planning and unanticipated expenses from last year.

About $940 million comes from the state general fund and more than $104 million comes from the federal government.

Senate Bill 98 also uses $7 million from the earnings of the Alaska Permanent Fund to plan a natural gas pipeline. Another $21 million from the general fund will go toward the pipeline project.

Gov. Frank Murkowski urged lawmakers earlier this year to make a financial commitment to getting the pipeline project started.

The bill sends $6.4 million to 135 communities across the state to cover high fuel costs. The grants range from $22,395 to $67,187 and are distributed based on the community's population.

Notice of reconsideration has been given on the bill, which means another vote will be taken before it goes back to the Senate for concurrence.

Should the Senate decide to not concur with the House version, the bill would go to a conference committee where the House and Senate will work out the differences.

Otherwise, it heads to the governor for approval.

Texas firm drills for gas near Glennallen

VALDEZ - A Texas-based firm is drilling for natural gas near Glennallen.

Rutter & Wilbanks of Midland has leased 23,000 acres of Ahtna Corp. lands for exploration. The first drill rig arrived earlier this month to begin exploratory drilling.

If the first well strikes natural gas, three or four more wells will be drilled "to evaluate the potential of the site," Bill Rutter, a senior executive, told the Valdez Star.

The market for the natural gas is Anchorage, which faces a decline in supply from wells in Cook Inlet.

The drilling has been contracted to Fairweather Exploration and Production Services Inc. of Anchorage.

Draft plan issued for Cook Inlet belugas

ANCHORAGE - A federal agency has released its initial plan for trying to help the beluga whales of Cook Inlet, where the population plummeted and now is stagnant.

In its draft conservation plan released Wednesday, the National Marine Fisheries Service said recovery will likely depend on more research.

The whales were listed as depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 2000, and a co-management agreement with the Cook Inlet Marine Mammal Council limits Native hunts to one or two whales per season. Final harvest regulations are being worked out in a federal process.

The new draft conservation plan, required by the marine mammal act, outlines what the agency should do to help the local whales recover to about 780 animals.

Much of the draft plan focused on answering some basic biological questions about the belugas.

The draft plan states that oil and gas development should continue to be restricted from the most important beluga habitat near certain river mouths. It also calls for monitoring underwater noise caused by construction projects and boating in Knik Arm and other areas of the upper Cook Inlet.

Scientists also will conduct a review by 2006 of whether the whales ought to be reconsidered for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.

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