Alaska Digest

Posted: Monday, March 20, 2006

Insulator failure causes power outage

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JUNEAU - A failing insulator knocked out power to Mendenhall Valley and Auke Bay customers for more than an hour Sunday afternoon, said Gayle Wood, office manager for Alaska Electric Light and Power office in Juneau.

"It had nothing to do with the weather," she said as snow was falling in the affected area. An insulator failed on a line at Glacier Highway near Hurlock Avenue in the area near the airport. One of lines fell, knocking out power at about 3:45 p.m. to customers from the valley on out.

Power was restored to most valley customers at about 5:20 p.m., Wood said. Auke Bay customers had their power restored by 5:45 to 5:50 p.m., she said.

There also was a minor pole fire at the scene, but it was incidental to the outage, Wood said. The snow did not slow the response from AEL&P crews to restore power she added.

"Insulators fail on their own timing," Wood said, adding that the failures can't be predicted. "Thank goodness they don't fail very often."

Military police return from Afghanistan tour

ANCHORAGE - Members of the 164th Military Police Company have returned after a year patrolling in Afghanistan.

The 138 soldiers were welcomed home at a reception Saturday inside a maintenance garage at Fort Richardson. Some families showed up hours before the unit's estimated 9:30 a.m. arrival time, learning later that the unit was running behind schedule.

"My dad is totally late," said 6-year-old Marc Fox as he clopped around the concrete floor holding a teddy bear and miniature American flag.

Evan Wooten, a 12-year-old Palmer resident, said he could hardly sleep Friday night knowing his father was on his way back to Alaska.

"It was like Christmas pretty much," he said. "I went to bed at midnight but woke up at 5 because I was so excited."

The 164th left for Afghanistan last March. Members of the unit were stationed in the capital city of Kabul and at Bagram Airfield. Duties included escorting convoys, staffing customs points, and protecting airfields and polling sites.

Military police are the "force of choice" for many peacekeeping missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Staff Sgt. Joseph McGough, who returned to Alaska ahead of his unit to help prepare for its return.

Just before 11 a.m. Saturday, officials announced over a microphone that the troops had finally landed at nearby Elmendorf Air Force Base and would be arriving shortly on buses.

At 11:10, the mechanical garage door opened, revealing a formation of soldiers in desert cammies standing in the light outside. The crowd inside went wild.

The garage soon went quiet as the soldiers stood on one side of the long narrow building, their families on the other.

A commander called the troops "heroes," then uttered another word that got everyone's attention: "Dismissed!"

With that, everyone rushed to find each other in a burst of emotion.

McGough said he didn't know of any future assignments for the unit, But he said he wouldn't be surprised if another one came up given the pace of deployments other military police units have seen.

Army tightens weapons policy

FAIRBANKS - Soldiers based in Alaska are no longer allowed to carry privately owned concealed weapons, under a new U.S. Army Alaska policy.

The ban is in response to several incidents involving soldiers and weapons, officials said.

"In the last six to eight months, there has been a number of incidents involving soldiers and privately-owned concealed weapons that indicated a need to look at this policy," said Maj. Kirk Gohlke.

Incidents include a fatal shooting in Fairbanks that led to the current trial of three Fort Wainwright soldiers, he said.

A jury is deliberating the fate of Lionel Wright, Freddy Walker and Christopher Cox, who are charged with second degree murder in the August death of Alvin "Snoop" Wilkins. The soldiers have pleaded not guilty, claiming self defense in using personal weapons during a confrontation that killed Wilkins.

Gohlke said there have been seven other instances involving Alaska soldiers and personal concealed weapons in Fairbanks and Anchorage. He did not comment on specifics.

The new policy states that "soldiers who fail to comply are subject to adverse administrative action or punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice or both."

Military personnel and civilians also are prohibited from having or transporting a concealed weapon at any time at a military installation in Alaska under a policy that has been in place for some time.

Alaska law, however, is much less restrictive. In 2003, Gov. Frank Murkowski signed into law a bill that allowed citizens to carry concealed handguns in public without a permit.

Dutch rookie too slow for Iditarod

ANCHORAGE - Iditarod officials have booted rookie musher Ben Valks from the 1,100-mile race, citing his slow pace.

Race marshal Mark Nordman said he ordered the Dutch musher withdrawn Saturday because he was no longer competitive.

Valks, of Haarlem, Holland, couldn't keep up with other back-of-the-pack mushers, Nordman said. The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race has a rule that allows such mushers to be removed from the race because it is difficult to maintain volunteers in checkpoints long after most mushers have passed.

"We always try to keep the back of the pack together," Nordman said.

Valks left Unalakleet at 8:39 p.m. Friday night in 72nd and last place among mushers still on the trail. Katrina Pawlaczyk, another rookie, had been gone for more than three hours.

Her lead over Valks grew even more when he encountered difficulty on the 40-mile trip along the Bering Sea coast. He took more than 18 hours to reach Shaktoolik, arriving at 4 p.m. Saturday, almost four hours after Pawlaczyk.

Valks arrived with his dogs looking forward to a normal checkpoint rest of six to eight hours. That would have put him 10 to 12 hours behind Pawlaczyk, and Nordman decided that wasn't acceptable.

"He felt strongly (about staying in the race) but was not angry about it," Nordman said.

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