Alaska Digest

Posted: Sunday, April 16, 2006

Greens Creek spill too small to clean up

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JUNEAU - A spill estimated at 21 pounds of dissolved lead at Greens Creek Mine on Admiralty Island was properly reported by the company last week, an Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation official said Friday.

Scot Tiernan, environmental program specialist for the department, said Kennicott Greens Creek Mine also reported the spill to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Anchorage, as it was required to do. Tiernan said an EPA officer told him the amount of lead dissolved in the spill fell below the level that would have required a cleanup.

"Our environmental controls, we believe, are good," Rich Heig, the mine's general manager said. "We hadn't used the water line since the very cold water about three weeks ago."

The water sprayed out through a coupling, damaged by freezing, he said.

According to the spill-notification document, the underground water-discharge line from the mine sump to a treatment facility ruptured Monday while it was transferring sediment water to be treated. Mine employees on the surface heard water being discharged and secured the line. The lead was dissolved into about 4,000 gallons of water.

Tiernan's report said water samples taken above and below the break area, an there were no detectable differences in lead levels.

"We're moving (the line) to an area where a breach would be contained," Heig said, describing how it will be put in a containment ditch.

Fighter jets returned to charter company

ANCHORAGE - Six fighter jets have been returned to an Anchorage air charter and medevac company awaiting trial on charges of illegally possessing and transporting rocket launchers.

Security Aviation Inc. officials invited the media to witness tug trucks pulling the jets across a runway at Anchorage's international airport on Friday.

The company and principal Rob Kane were indicted Feb. 22 on the federal charges.

Company officials and defense attorneys say the business - including the small private air force it assembled - is legitimate.

Security Aviation hoped to win training and operational contracts with the U.S. Air Force, the Navy and foreign governments. It still has the same goals, once the criminal case is resolved, according to Joe Griffith, a former fighter wing commander at Elmendorf Air Force Base who works as a Security Aviation consultant.

The rocket launchers were just for show, and the company never had any actual rockets, Security Aviation representatives say.

A federal judge approved returning six of the eight jets seized in Feb. 2 raids.

Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge John Sedwick has ordered the trial of Kane and Security Aviation to begin May 15.

Ferry may sail to Mat-Su Valley by 2008

ANCHORAGE - The Knik Arm bridge may or may not find clear sailing through the state Legislature, but Mat-Su Borough officials say people could be making the trip on a state-of-the-art ferry by the summer of 2008.

Construction crews have set pilings deep into the Port MacKenzie shoreline for a ferry terminal and office building that is expected to be finished by late this year. And work on a terminal on the Anchorage side should begin next year, borough manager John Duffy and Port MacKenzie director Marc Van Dongen said Friday.

Ketchikan shipbuilders will start on the ferry itself - a prototype for a new style of military landing craft - late this summer.

The latest configurations for the ferry would hold 26 to 28 regular vehicles, or four semitrailer trucks, and about 135 passengers, Duffy said, adding that he's confident the vessel will be able to carry 150 people when the final designs are done.

Models for the high-speed, icebreaking ferry have exceeded 20 knots in laboratory conditions, although the vessel won't be picking up that much steam on its 12-minute transit of Knik Arm, Duffy said. Add about the same amount of time to on-load and off-load vehicles, and the turnaround time on one trip will be about 25 minutes.

They propose to start off running several trips a day, building up with demand. The ferry will be designed to run year-round.

Research on the models is taking place in Newfoundland.

"They have a special tank where they can create ice to your local conditions," Duffy said.

State, tour company continue spat over fee

FAIRBANKS - The Department of Natural Resources has taken another crack at settling a 27-year land lease dispute with one of Fairbanks' biggest tourist attractions.

A spokesman for Alaska Riverways, operators of the Riverboat Discovery, which offers river tours on paddlewheel boats, says the state wants too much money for the company's use of an acre of land on the Chena River.

A DNR decision released Sunday, the 11th proposed settlement, calls for Alaska Discovery to pay 25 cents per passenger for its dock and three boats to use the shoreline. The state would also collect $11,000 for back rent since 1995.

Ryan Binkley, who took over management of the family owned business in December when his father, John Binkley, resigned to run for governor, said the state is trying to gouge commercial tourism operations.

"No other commercial industry pays this kind of fee," Binkley said.

The state estimates Alaska Riverways carries 120,000 to 300,000 passengers a year. That would mean a payment of $30,000 to $75,000.

The lease is really a tax that singles out one of the largest tourism businesses in Interior Alaska, Binkley said.

"We don't touch the state river bottom," he said. "We simply float on the water and tie up to our own privately held land. This is a case of bureaucracy run amok and it's just not right."

What's at issue, said Wyn Menefee, chief of operations for the Division of Mining, Land and Water, is the location of Alaska Riverways' dock and other infrastructure, which gives the company exclusive use of the area.

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