Northwest Digest

Posted: Friday, March 30, 2007

Senate OKs ocean ranger funding return

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JUNEAU - Ocean rangers were back on board Thursday when a Senate budget subcommittee returned $2.5 million to the cruise ship pollution monitoring program, but the program's future remains in doubt.

House budget writers had already stripped the rangers' funding while House committees considered a less costly program that would have them check ships in port instead of monitoring them while they are under way.

The three-member Senate group approved restoring the funding and a two-person staff to implement the program that voters approved in the August primary election.

Voters agreed to pay for it with $4 out of a $50 per passenger head tax. The $4 fee should amount to about $3.7 million a year.

The subcommittee said the partial funding should be enough to cover one ocean ranger per ship, and it directed the state Department of Environmental Conservation to pay no more than the lowest commercially available berth rates for the rangers.

If the program funds survive the Senate budget process, then a House and Senate conference committee will have to work out their differences.

The Department of Environmental Conservation, meanwhile, said it plans to have at least a skeletal program in place when the cruise ship season gets under way in early May.

Nenana Ice Classic ticket deadline nears

FAIRBANKS - Less than a week remains to buy tickets for the Nenana Ice Classic.

Organizers of the annual game are hoping a late-season cold snap will trigger a last-minute rush to guess exactly when the Tanana River ice at Nenana will break.

"If it's cold people assume it's going to be a late breakup, that's why they wait until the last minute so they can get a bearing on what's happening to the ice," Ice Classic manager Cherrie Forness said. "I know I wait until the last minute."

The deadline to buy tickets is midnight, April 5.

Ted Fathauer, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Fairbanks, strongly recommends waiting.

"Oh absolutely," Fathauer said Wednesday. "The weather just before and during breakup is everything. My recommendation is to check the long range forecast on April 5," he said.

If he were a betting man, which he isn't, Fathauer said he would lean toward a late breakup this year.

"I'd figure the second week of May," he said.

Each year, thousands of Alaskans pay $2.50 a shot to guess the exact time the Tanana River ice will go out in Nenana. A wire is attached from a wooden tripod on the ice to a clock on shore that stops the clock when it moves 100 feet.

The ice generally goes out in the last week of April or first week of May. Last year, the ice went out on May 2 at 5:29 p.m.

The jackpot for last year's Ice Classic was $270,500 and there were eight winning tickets, each worth $33,812.50 before taxes.

It was the lowest payout in 12 years and the second straight year the jackpot failed to reach $300,000.

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