Alaska Digest

Posted: Thursday, April 19, 2007

Barge runs aground, sinks near Kenai River

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KENAI - The U.S. Coast Guard on Wednesday continued monitoring a barge that broke loose from the Kenai dock, ran aground in sand and sank.

The 100-foot by 35-foot barge, owned by Snug Harbor in Kenai, broke free Tuesday morning, assistant Kenai Fire Chief James Baisden said.

A worker at Salamatof Seafoods heard the barge break free and tried to put a rope on it, but could not stop the barge from continuing on and hitting the sand, Baisden said.

"The ice punched holes in it to where it was taking on water and started to fill up," Coast Guard Lt. Ken Phillips said.

Workers tried pumping out water but were not successful.

About six hours after it broke free, the barge was under water except for the mast, Phillips said.

Phillips on Wednesday said high tides made it difficult to approach the vessel.

"It's just unsafe to put anybody out there, and it's certainly not going anywhere," he said.

The barge can be seen at low tide, but that provides too short a window of opportunity to do anything, he said.

Offshore lease sale generates $42 million

ANCHORAGE - Oil companies on Wednesday bid more than $42 million for offshore leases in the Beaufort Sea along Alaska's northern coast.

The federal Minerals Management Service, which offered the lease sale in Anchorage, said it was pleased with the results. It was the 10th federal offshore lease sale in the Beaufort Sea.

"The oil and gas resources present in the Beaufort Sea are vital to our nation's and Alaska's economy and we hope this will boost future supplies into the trans-Alaska pipeline," John Goll, regional director for the agency, said in a statement.

Companies submitted bids totaling $42.3 million on 92 blocks covering about 502 million acres off Alaska's Arctic Coast. Shell again was the big bidder, accounting for more than $39 million in bids. Shell Gulf of Mexico bid more than $14 million to lease Flaxman Island northwest of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Not everyone was happy with the lease sale. Earlier this week, Native American and conservation groups appealed a federal government decision to approve Shell Oil's exploration plan for the Beaufort Sea. The groups want to halt Shell exploration activities off the north coast of Alaska that are scheduled to begin in June. These leases were approved in 2005.

Coast Guard responds to vessel in distress

JUNEAU - The U.S. Coast Guard responded at 2:46 p.m. Tuesday to a distress call from a vessel taking on water near Ketchikan. One person was on board, service authorities said.

No one was reported injured.

A 47-foot lifeboat and 25-foot response boat were deployed from Station Ketchikan, and an ★★-65 helicopter was deployed from Air Station Sitka to assist the captain of the Lorelie L., who had notified the Coast Guard he was trying to navigate into Hidden Bay.

The captain, his bilge pumps keeping up with incoming water, anchored the vessel near Kendrick Island to await tow.

The 25-foot response boat escorted the vessel to the Kendrick Bay Lodge where the owner/operator will attempt repairs. The cause of the flooding was unknown.

Anchorage accountant charged with thefts

ANCHORAGE - An Anchorage woman is accused of stealing almost $75,000 from two nonprofit organizations she worked for.

Tequisha Johnson, 31, first stole about $45,000 while doing accounting for the Salvation Army, then almost $30,000 from Easter Seals, according to authorities. She is charged with criminal counts related to bank fraud, and fraud-related activity involving computers.

When the FBI indicted Johnson for the Salvation Army theft in March, she had already gotten a new job at Easter Seals, the agency said.

Johnson was arrested this week.

Easter Seals Alaska has a highly secure accounting system to protect its holdings and donations, and only someone with a sophisticated accounting background could have cracked it, said Director V. Gutierrez-Osborne.

"I've been with Easter Seals almost 20 years and never have I seen anything like this," Gutierrez-Osborne said.

The organization found Johnson through a temp agency, Gutierrez-Osborne said. Johnson came across as an up-and-coming accountant and the fact that she was raising two children alone made her an appealing hire, Gutierrez-Osborne said.

The U.S. attorney may prosecute Johnson for the two thefts as separate cases or combine them, according to FBI spokesman Eric Gonzalez.

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