Alaska Digest

Posted: Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Bill strengthens local option laws

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JUNEAU - A bill strengthening law enforcement powers to crack down on illegal sales or possession of alcohol in Alaska's rural communities passed the Alaska House on Monday.

The measure, which passed by 37-0, tightens up the so-called "local option laws" that are in force in about 100 communities around the state.

The measure would strengthen current forfeiture laws by making it clear that bootleg alcohol transported into a dry village by freight may be seized. It also would allow for the state to seize property that has been purchased or obtained through the proceeds of illegal alcohol sales and would set up a procedure for doing so.

The provisions were among recommendations released last year in a report from the Alaska Rural Justice and Law Enforcement Commission. Congress created the commission in 2004.

Rep. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, urged passage of the bill.

"It represents reasonable changes to statute that will strengthen the hand of law enforcement and communities in their fight against illegal alcohol," he said.

The bill was amended on the House Floor to allow for the forfeiture of a firearm that is used in a bootlegging effort.

The House amendments must be approved by the Senate or a conference committee will be called to work out the difference between the two versions.

New medical facility opens in Metlakatla

METLAKATLA - Residents will have more health services available following the dedication of a new medical facility.

The $20 million Annette Island Service Unit, paid for with federal money, was dedicated Saturday. It replaced an older medical center.

The 31,000 square-foot facility has a pharmacy, nurses stations, ambulatory care services, physical therapy, dental, emergency and urgent care services and a comprehensive health services program.

New services to be offered include health education, public health nutrition and environmental health.

"We have a lot more room to breathe and aren't bumping into each other," said Dorothy Altakai, a health center worker.

Rachael Askren, the facility's service unit director, said this new health center is a true place of healing, which is the name of the totem pole that now stands in front of the building.

Dedication festivities began Saturday when the totem pole was carried a half mile by volunteers from carver Wayne Hewson's house. Hewson said it took his family a little more than two months to carve the 20-foot-tall pole.

Chas Edwardson, Ketchikan Indian Community financial director, said the new building will gather the community together.

"This is an opportunity to grow as a community," said Jody Leisholm, a physician's assistant. "It's a step forward to bring better care to the people."

Scientists says ice pack thinning fast

FAIRBANKS - An ice and snow expert is warning that the Arctic Ocean ice pack is thinning dramatically and has not rebounded from last summer.

Abnormally high temperatures across the Arctic basin most of this winter have slowed the production of new ice, according to Mark Serreze of the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado. The ice pack lost an area the size of Alaska in 2005 and has thinned dramatically in the last four years.

Conditions are now right for another record-breaking minimum following this summer's melt, provided there isn't a cold snap, Serreze said.

"It's just not recovering this winter," he said. "And the basic reason it's not recovering is the Arctic Ocean has been so darn warm."

Weather data shows surface temperatures across much of the Arctic were 4 to 5 degrees above normal September through December.

The pack has been at or near record minimums every month this winter and Serreze said Wednesday the latest data for March also shows a record minimum.

The ice pack covered more than 3 million square miles in the mid-1970s. That figure had been whittled down to about 2 million square miles by September, according to satellite observations. More than 500,000 square miles of ice disappeared last summer alone, according to Serreze.

Feds recommend delaying port permits

ANCHORAGE - Three federal agencies are recommending putting permits on hold for expanding the Port of Anchorage so that potential harm to wildlife can be better assessed.

The agencies say the plans could threaten the Ship Creek salmon fishery and the already badly depleted stock of Cook Inlet beluga whales.

The National Marine Fisheries Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency recommend holding back permits for work set to begin next year.

The agencies want to wait for a more thorough analyses of the effects on Knik Arm. They also recommend that the port consider alternative, less harmful designs for a new 1.7-mile-long dock.

Port director Bill Sheffield said last week that the port's fish and whale experts don't think the construction plans will be as harmful as the agencies fear.

The federal agencies don't disagree with the port's importance or its need to grow. But the type of solid, vertical dock face port officials plan to build along that nearly 9,000-foot-long stretch could wreck a shallow, nearshore habitat that is an important migratory route for juvenile salmon and a refuge for adult fish evading belugas, agency officials say.

Noise from construction activity, including pile driving that would continue for several years no matter what kind of dock is built, could injure or kill fish and might harm belugas, the agencies say.

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