Alaska Digest

Staff and Wire reports

Posted: Friday, April 01, 2005

SEARHC turns 30 this weekend

Juneau - The SouthEast Regional Health Consortium is celebrating its 30th anniversary this weekend at its regional clinic in Sitka with a summit on health care issues and other events.

Dr. Charles Grim, director of the U.S. Indian Health Service, will be the keynote speaker along with Joel Gilbertson, Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services on Saturday.

Festivities began Thursday with traditional memorial services to honor patients who died in the last year.

Also, all SEARHC clinics throughout Southeast Alaska will serve cake to mark the occasion.

Established in 1975, SEARHC is a nonprofit, Native-administered health consortium that created by local tribes to represent the health care needs of the Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian and other Native and rural residents of Southeast Alaska.

Kenai police, FBI look into letter threat

KENAI - Two Kenai Police Department officers received an envelope containing a white powder and a letter claiming the substance was anthrax.

Tests indicated the powder did not contain the deadly toxin.

Kenai Police Chief Chuck Kopp and Lt. Kim Wannamaker were the targets of the threat Tuesday, as were officers in other U.S. cities.

The letter was mailed from Baltimore. Kopp told the Peninsula Clarion that his department has no connection with the name of the suspect.

"This person said he wanted to reach out and touch a number of other officers around the country. It sounded very despondent - like someone very much on the edge," Kopp said.

Kopp called the Anchorage office of the FBI.

"We told them to check to see if other stations around the country got letters, and sure enough there were," Kopp said.

After opening the letter, Kenai police immediately took safety steps. The letter and powder were isolated and the police station was closed. Officers who might have been affected were treated.

Wannamaker, who opened the letter, followed biohazard protocol by isolating it, taking digital photos of the substance, turning off ventilation and decontaminating all who may have come in contact with it.

The powder was scanned to match it against known samples of anthrax. "There is a probability it is some type of foot powder," Kopp said.

UAF museum project facing problems

FAIRBANKS - The University of Alaska Museum of the North project in Fairbanks is facing problems that could mean it won't be ready for the upcoming tourism season, according to university officials.

The project's construction manager has given the project's general contractor 10 days to get work back up to speed or face being removed from the $42 million job.

In addition, one subcontractor working on the project has filed for bankruptcy and several said they are on the verge because problems with construction have delayed their payments.

Little activity at the site was evident earlier this week.

"We are definitely aware that many people are not working on the site," Kate Ripley, UA director of public affairs, told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Neither UAF Associate Vice Chancellor Kathleen Schedler nor Russ Swartz, vice president of general contractor Alaska Mechanical Inc., would comment.

Several high-profile events planned later this year are dependent on the museum's timely completion, including a ribbon cutting and grand opening in September, a Metropolitan Museum of Art American impressionist painting exhibit, the governor's arts and humanities dinner and the Alaska Federation of Natives elders' reception.

Young seeks legal change to aid Agrium

KENAI - U.S. Rep. Don Young will pursue a change in federal law to allow a Kenai Peninsula fertilizer plant to make marine cargo deliveries to the West Coast.

Young told the Kenai Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday that he will try to "tweak" the Jones Act to allow the fertilizer plant to make cargo deliveries within the United States. The ships would still be manned by American crews, he said.

The Jones Act is a federal statute requiring vessels that transport cargo between U.S. ports to be owned by U.S. citizens, built in U.S. shipyards and manned by U.S. citizen crews.

Agrium delivers its products in vessels that are not U.S. flagged. preventing it from delivering its product to U.S. markets, said Agrium spokeswoman Lisa Parker.

The plant sells its products to Mexico and South Korea, she said.

The public policy reason for the Jones Act was to protect American shipbuilding capacity and the ability to construct war ships, said Mark Manning, an Anchorage lawyer with experience in marine law. The law also protects American jobs, he said.

Parker said Agrium had no comment on proposed Jones Act changes. The company will discuss the matter with Young and his staff, she said.

However, prices for fertilizer currently are higher in the Pacific Northwest than they are in Mexico and South Korea, Parker said.

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