Alaska Digest

Posted: Wednesday, April 13, 2005

House panel OKs seat belt measure

JUNEAU - Police could pull over drivers for not wearing seat belts under a bill approved Tuesday by the House State Affairs Committee.

Police officers now issue a ticket for not wearing a seat belt only if they have pulled the driver over for another offense.

Sen. Con Bunde, R-Anchorage, the author of the bill, said he understands the "libertarian mentality" among Alaskans who feel the proposed law gives police too much authority. But, Bunde said, it will save lives and slow the pace of rising insurance rates.

Bunde compared the bill to one passed last year requiring that carbon monoxide detectors be installed in most homes in the state.

"Why didn't that outrage our libertarian sensibility?" Bunde said.

Rep. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, asked if Bunde believed police officers should be able to inspect homes out of suspicion that carbon monoxide detectors were not installed.

"I think that when there is an accident the fire department does indeed inspect," Bunde said.

Police could use the law to pull drivers over on suspicion of more serious offenses, Gardner said.

"They call the practice fishing," Gardner said.

Bunde said police already can pull over most drivers for small infractions such as cracked windows or broken taillights.

Police still must prove probable cause for the stop "and if it wasn't one that would be sustained in court, the following evidence would not be allowed," Bunde said.

Bunde said the state will receive $2 million a year for nine years in federal highway safety funds if the bill is approved this year.

The bill now heads to the House Judiciary Committee. It has already passed the Senate.

Crews respond to North Slope spill

ANCHORAGE - About 1.4 million cubic feet of natural gas and an unknown quantity of crude oil spilled Tuesday at a Prudhoe Bay drilling site operated by BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc., state environmental regulators said.

Crews were cleaning up the spill, which was released as a spray at Drill Site 14. The mist was released in 15-mph winds, said BP spokesman Andrew Van Chau.

According to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, the affected area measured nearly a mile by 300 feet. Most of the spray landed on surrounding structures and a gravel pad, much of which was covered in deep snow, according to Van Chau. Most of the remaining area was lightly misted.

Van Chau said BP is working with the agency on a cleanup and disposal plan and with contract cleanup crews for the actual response.

DEC investigators said the spill appeared to have been caused by a split in a pipe weld. The pipe is part of a system that uses compressed gas to help lift crude to the surface, Van Chau said.

The cause of the weld failure is under investigation, Van Chau said.

Tesoro plans summer maintenance work

KENAI - Tesoro Alaska is planning summer maintenance work on its pipeline that carries jet fuel, diesel and gasoline to the Port of Anchorage.

The company plans to replace 6,800 feet of the 68-mile line in the "proactive maintenance" project.

The bulk of the construction will take place in June and is expected to take about three weeks, said Steve Hansen, vice president of refining for Tesoro Alaska. The company has an oil refinery in Nikiski.

The pipeline starts at Point Possession on the northern Kenai Peninsula and travels under water in Cook Inlet and Turnagain Arm to the Port of Anchorage.

"We have a responsibility to make sure that line is always in the best condition," Hansen said.

The pipeline carries about 1,600 to 1,800 barrels of fuel per hour, the bulk of it jet fuel, Hansen said. During construction, provisions will be made to ensure the demands of the marketplace are met, he said.

It is not unusual for companies to conduct this type of maintenance on their pipelines, said Michael Munger, executive director of the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council.

The council is a federally mandated nonprofit organization that promotes environmentally safe marine transportation and oil facility operations on the inlet.

While refined products, such as gasoline, are easier to clean up than crude oil, the pipeline goes through an area with strong currents and tidal fluctuations, Munger said. This would make a spill in that area difficult to clean up, he said.

Northwest village still without water

ANCHORAGE - Beverly Moto and her neighbors are boiling ice for water and using buckets as toilets in a tiny village on Alaska's frozen northwestern coast that ran out of treated water and is struggling to fix a broken sewage system.

It's the first time since 1999, when the village plumbing system was installed, that the 145 residents of this Inupiat Eskimo community have had to deal with such inconvenient living conditions.

"We have no luxuries like running home and jumping in the shower, or having a cup of tea right away," Moto said Tuesday. "You've got to go out and work for your water and those showers."

The village ran out of water last week because of an increased demand due to a new clinic and ten new homes.

The problem was worsened by an ongoing leak of glycol - a chemical used to keep pipes from freezing. The village has been using diluted glycol and the pipes froze up when water stopped flowing through them, Moto said. The high temperature in Deering was about 4 degrees on Tuesday.

It will take at least $50,000 for repairs, and that's money the village doesn't have, said Moto, who works as the community's city clerk.

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