Northwest Digest

Posted: Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Anchorage church pays city for services

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ANCHORAGE - The Unitarians in Anchorage don't mind paying extra.

Churches are exempt from taxes, but members of the Anchorage Unitarian Universalist Fellowship willingly pitch in to help pay for local police, fire and road maintenance.

Church members call what they're doing the "payment in lieu of taxes" program.

"When I found out it was voluntary, I thought, 'What, are these people nuts?' " said Jeanne Devon, who joined the fellowship three years ago. Now she believes.

She is part of what may be the only church in town that does it.

Devon and other members said the payment program underscores two things: Unitarians believe firmly in the separation of church and state, and they believe they should pay their fair share for city services.

After donating about $1,600 a year in recent years, church members realized that property values - and tax bills - were ballooning around them. They decided to update their payment.

Member John Blaine, a real estate agent, re-evaluated the property's value. It almost doubled the church's self-imposed payment.

The church's pledge-based budget didn't have the extra funds. Enthusiasts rallied up donors in a couple of weeks. More than 40 members helped raise another $2,500 to make a $4,100 donation, which will be presented to the Assembly in June.

"I feel wonderful about this," Blaine said. "Our congregation takes advantage of what taxes pay for to enjoy our facility."

Oil giant BP reports second pipe break

LONDON - British oil giant BP PLC said Monday that a second pipeline ruptured at its Alaska facility, a month after the company reported its largest-ever spill at an oilfield on Alaska's Northern Slope.

The break occurred on a 3-inch-wide natural gas line on April 6 near a production building at the Prudhoe Bay oilfield, BP spokesman Daren Beaudo said Monday.

The break resulted in an estimated leak of 12,000 cubic feet of natural gas, well below regulatory standards for reporting, Beaudo said.

"Someone apparently heard the rupture, so it was a fairly quick response," he said, adding that external corrosion was the likely cause of the leak.

The rupture follows a massive spill at the facility last month in a pipeline between two gathering centers. As much as 270,000 gallons (1.02 million liters) of crude spilled into the oilfield over an estimated period of five days.

The Environmental Protection Agency has launched an investigation into the spill, Beaudo said, and has subpoenaed a consulting firm that participated in the company's corrosion control efforts. A Washington-based spokesman for the EPA, Dale Kemery, would neither confirm nor deny any probe into either incident on Monday, citing agency policy.

Disagreement brewing over pipeline value

FAIRBANKS - A disagreement is brewing between oil companies and three local governments over the assessed value of the trans-Alaska pipeline system.

The problem likely will result in a formal review board looking at the pipeline's value for the second year in a row.

The state of Alaska has valued the 800-mile pipeline system at $3.64 billion. The consortium of oil companies that own the pipeline says it is worth $1 billion. The municipalities that collect property tax from the system - the Fairbanks North Star and North Slope boroughs and the city of Valdez - say the assessed value should be closer to $5.6 billion.

The difference could lead the oil companies to ask a review board to take a closer look at the state's 2006 pipeline assessment. Representatives for ConocoPhillips and BP, two of the companies with subsidiaries in the Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., which operates the pipeline, said they will decide later this month whether to appeal.

Municipalities say they are certain to ask for the review.

FAA investigates Sea-Tac tower silence

SEATAC, Wash. - For 25 minutes in the wee hours of April 11, the control tower at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport did not respond to airplane traffic.

"There were two planes affected - one trying to take off and one trying to come in," airport spokesman Bob Parker said Monday.

The unexplained silence, which started about 3 a.m. that day, ended when a Port of Seattle staff member drove to the guard shack at the base of the control tower.

"They went over to the guard shack at the tower and he (the guard) was able to raise someone," Parker said.

The matter is being investigated by the Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees air traffic control, KING-TV reported. Associated Press calls to the agency's local office after business hours Monday were not immediately returned.

Airport officials and the FAA told KING earlier Monday that a Boeing 747-400 flown by Taiwanese carrier EVA was on its final approach to Sea-Tac at around 3:15 a.m. when it radioed the control tower for permission to land.

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