Alaska Digest

Posted: Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Thane Road to close for avalanche control

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JUNEAU - The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities has scheduled avalanche control work on Thane Road today.

The road will be closed to all through traffic. The work is scheduled between 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Shots will be fired from the Treadwell Mine across Gastineau Channel to the west slope of Mount Roberts, releasing slides above the road.

New oil-tax benefit presented to panel

JUNEAU - Gov. Frank Murkowski's lead oil consultant presented lawmakers Monday with a new version of a disputed oil-tax benefit supposed to encourage new oil-and-gas investment while easing companies' transition to a new tax structure.

The idea by Pedro van Meurs is to allow oil companies to recover $1 of their capital investments from the past five years for every $2 they invest in new capital spending.

The capital spending eligible includes exploration and development wells, field facilities, geophysical surveys and other past investments in oil-and-gas fields.

Van Meurs told the Senate Resources Committee on Monday that the "Two-for-One" benefit would be a good way to reward companies who have invested heavily in the past if they plan to invest even more in the future.

The benefit would replace a transition provision in Murkowski's net-profits tax bill that would have allowed companies to recoup 100 percent of their capital investments over the last five years.

At an estimated cost of $1 billion over the next six years, lawmakers in both the House and Senate Resources committees considered that tax break too generous. The House committee stripped the provision from its version of the bill last week.

The governor's bill would scrap the state's production-tax system for one that taxes the net profits of oil companies operating in the state.

House OKs driving, harassment bills

JUNEAU - The Alaska House on Monday tentatively passed a bill to ban motorists from watching dashboard DVDs while driving, with stiff penalties if the driver causes an accident that kills or injures another person.

The bill stems from a 2002 fatal crash in which a Kenai man was accused of driving while watching a movie. Erwin "Jamie" Petterson Jr. testified he was listening to music, not watching the DVD player, when the two vehicles collided on the Seward Highway.

He was acquitted in 2004 in the deaths of Donna and Robert Weiser of Anchorage.

The bill by Rep. Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage, would create the crime of driving with a screen operating. The ban would apply to televisions and video monitors visible to the driver, but would not apply to mobile phones, global position satellite or navigational displays or maps. The ban would not apply to emergency vehicles.

"What we're doing here will make driving in Alaska safer for people who are using the road," Gruenberg said.

Gruenberg's bill would make driving with a screen operating a misdemeanor. If the accident causes injury, the crime becomes a felony. A death would increase the crime to a class A felony, the same as a manslaughter charge.

The bill passed 31-5, but Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, who argued for a title change, gave notice of reconsideration, meaning the bill can be taken up again before it is transmitted to the Senate.

Forgotten AK painting for sale on e-Bay

ANCHORAGE - A forgotten painting from an interesting period in Alaska's history is for sale on e-Bay, the Web auction site.

The painting stems from a time during the Great Depression when the federal Works Progress Administration sent a dozen artists from northern states to sketch and paint Alaska.

The painting is signed by Karl Fortess and shows a gloomy coastal scene with dark mountains, forbidding clouds, dead trees, and boats, nets and shacks.

Fortess died in 1993. The scene depicted in the painting is very similar to a Fortess painting the Anchorage Museum of History and Art has in its WPA collection, said museum curator Walter Van Horn.

Fortess was a Woodstock, N.Y., artist who taught at the Boston University School for the Arts and exhibited at Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., and New York museums.

Jeff Barge, a New York public relations man, bought the painting about a year ago from a collector who had it in a Manhattan apartment. He looked up the artist and discovered Fortess had traveled to Alaska with the WPA. Barge is now trying to sell the painting on eBay for a minimum bid of $5,000.

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