State Briefs

Posted: Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Southeast chinook salmon quota increased

JUNEAU - The Southeast chinook quota is at its highest level in 12 years, the state Department of Fish and Game said today. Fishermen will be able to catch 366,100 chinook salmon, 10,000 more than last year.

Officials said more salmon are surviving in the ocean, accounting for stronger returns to the rivers.

The chinook abundance index for this year is 1.79, up from 1.74 last year. The index represents the year's returns relative to average returns between 1979 and 1982, said Dave Gaudet, the Fish and Game commissioner's special assistant for the Pacific Salmon Commission. For example, this year's ratio means that, for every 100,000 salmon in the area between 1979 and 1982, there are now 179,000 salmon.

The quota only includes chinook that are governed by the Pacific Salmon Treaty - fish that are spawned in either the United States or Canada, but that are caught in both countries. It does not include hatchery fish. There is no quota for hatchery fish, Gaudet said.

Auke Bay traffic meeting Thursday

JUNEAU - The state Department of Transportation is sponsoring a public meeting Thursday about traffic between Fritz Cove Road and the Auke Bay ferry terminal.

The department is looking for ways to improve safety and traffic flow for cars, bicyclists and pedestrians in the Auke Bay area and is seeking public comment. The project will address Glacier Highway, the University of Alaska Southeast campus, harbors and marinas, along with commercial and residential areas, according to the department.

The meeting is from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Chapel by the Lake in Smith Hall. A presentation about the project is scheduled at 7 p.m.

House passes PFD bill broadening eligibility

FAIRBANKS - The House passed a bill that would allow people to receive permanent fund dividends if they leave the state to care for terminally ill grandparents.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Hugh Fate, a Fairbanks Republican, was broadened from its original form. Fate's draft simply added the words "or grandparent" to a section of state statute that lets people remain eligible for the dividend while out of state caring for a terminally ill parent, spouse, sibling, child or stepchild.

Last year 140 people received dividends under the stipulation.

"The intent of this bill before us is to add one word, and that's a grandparent," Fate said Monday.

But House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, an Anchorage Democrat, proposed an amendment to broaden the language to allow absences for a person caring for any terminally ill family member, with family defined through "blood, marriage, adoption, guardianship, or whose close association is the equivalent of a family relationship."

Berkowitz argued that the current language excludes everyone from aunts to step-grandchildren.

But others expressed concerns that the amendment would overextend the definition, or make it easier to abuse the law. Rep. Norm Rokeberg, an Anchorage Republican, argued it would be difficult for the state to decide what constitutes a family relationship.

Fate shared that opinion and objected to the amendment, saying it reached beyond his intent of the bill.

Berkowitz brought out a revised amendment that would restrict "family member" definitions to the second degree of kinship. That means the language would allow for family members such as fathers, mothers, aunts and uncles, but would draw the line at cousins. The bill would also incorporate relations through marriage, adoption and guardianship.

House members passed the revised bill by a 32-2 vote. Voting no were Republican Reps. Bill Stoltze of Chugiak and Beverly Masek of Willow.

Senate OKs teacher housing bill

FAIRBANKS - A bill that would provide housing loans to Alaska teachers without a down payment through the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. was passed Monday by the state Senate.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Gary Wilken, a Fairbanks Republican, can now proceed to the state House.

Wilken told the Senate the bill is designed to aid teacher recruitment and retention.

"This is just an attempt, a small attempt, to attract the best and the brightest to Alaska," he said. "It allows them to buy into their community ... with something as simple as their first home."

The bill would create a new AHFC program to provide housing loans to teachers without a down payment to purchase owner-occupied, single-family housing. There are already a number of similar AHFC programs in place, but none for teachers.

The bill has been amended by a pair of Senate committees and contains provisions that also extend the loans to school counselors, administrators, or providers of special education or related services.

The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 16-1. The only opposition came from Sen. Lyda Green, a Wasilla Republican, Wilken's co-chairperson on the Senate Finance Committee. Green argued the bill was too broad.

Back-to-back quakes jolt Interior

ANCHORAGE - Two back-to-back earthquakes from the same epicenter jolted Interior Alaska on Tuesday night.

One quake occurred at 9:39 p.m. and the second struck eight minutes later, according to the Alaska Earthquake Information Center in Fairbanks.

The first quake had a 5.0 magnitude while the second quake had a magnitude of 4.3.

Both earthquakes were centered about 16 miles south-southeast of Rampart and both were 10 miles deep.

The earthquakes were felt throughout the Interior, the earthquake information center said. There were no reports of injury or damage.

Three teens accused of setting fire at Palmer dairy complex

ANCHORAGE - Three teenagers intentionally set a fire in February that gutted the historic Matanuska Maid dairy complex in Palmer, authorities said.

The fire destroyed a warehouse and damaged two other buildings.

The state Division of Juvenile Justice has charged a 13-year-old and two 14-year-olds with arson. The boys also are suspected of setting other fires in Palmer, according to Palmer Police Chief Russ Boatright.

Police listed 13 counts of arson and other crimes against one of the 14-year-olds and three counts of arson and reckless endangerment against the 13-year-old.

Police have forwarded the entire case to the juvenile justice division, Boatright said.

Woman charged with bringing alcohol to Anaktuvuk Pass

BARROW - A 51-year-old woman has been charged with bringing alcohol into Anaktuvuk Pass, North Slope Borough police said.

A police officer assigned to Anaktuvuk Pass searched Sylvia Johnson's luggage Friday after she arrived at the airport from Fairbanks. The search revealed 24 bottles of alcohol, police said.

Johnson was charged with two felonies, which carry a maximum of five years in jail and a $50,000 fine.

The search was a result of an ongoing investigation into Johnson bringing alcohol into the village, police said.

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