Alaska Digest

Posted: Sunday, April 24, 2005

No arrests yet in Petersburg homicide

PETERSBURG - Police have not made any arrests in the death of former Juneau resident Michael Gerber, who died in the early hours of April 1.

Petersburg Police Chief Dale Stone said the investigation is continuing, and a significant amount of evidence has been collected from the Sing Lee Alley scene of what his department determined to be a homicide.

Release of information has been limited so that it doesn't interfere with the investigation. "It would be inappropriate for me to discuss a motive at this time," he added.

Police have released that they know Gerber was seen with other people at area bars and liquor stores on the night of March 31, before he went to an apartment on Sing Lee Alley where he was drinking with others.

In the early hours of April 1, Gerber was severely beaten and thrown from a second-story window to the ground, where he was stabbed and had his throat cut. An autopsy indicated he died from blood loss.

Stone said all of the people who were with Gerber in the apartment have been identified. Many of the people Gerber met earlier in the evening also have been identified, he added.

Cleanup crews head to Unalaska

ANCHORAGE - Crews have been mobilized to resume beach cleanup on Unalaska Island where last December a freighter grounded offshore and broke apart, spilling soybeans and tens of thousands of gallons of fuel oil.

About 110 people aboard seven vessels were headed Saturday to Skan and Makushin bays, considered high-priority areas for the cleanup.

An advance team has already marked sites that will be tackled first.

The cleanup is expected to continue through the summer, said Leslie Pearson, the on-scene coordinator with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. The winter cleanup was suspended Feb. 10 because of weather.

The Malaysian-flagged Selendang Ayu was en route from Tacoma, Wash., to China with a load of soybeans when it grounded and broke apart Dec. 8. The vessel was carrying an estimated 442,000 gallons of fuel oil and some diesel.

Roughly 144,000 gallons was removed in January and February. While the amount of oil still remaining aboard the ship is unknown, most of it is believed lost.

"What we're finding is a lot of area where there is heavy to moderate oiling," Pearson said.

Bill could impact Native contracts

FAIRBANKS - The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill with a paragraph inserted that would hamper Alaska Native corporations' success in obtaining sole-source contracts with the federal Department of Energy.

Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens described the action as the "tip of the iceberg" if discontent over such contracts isn't quelled.

The paragraph was inserted by New Mexico Republican Sen. Pete Domenici in a supplemental spending bill passed Thursday for the Iraq war.

The bill now must be merged with a separate House version, which does not have the contracting language.

The language in the bill doesn't mention Alaska Native corporations. It merely directs the Energy Department to count minority-owned subcontractors, instead of just the larger prime contractors owned by minorities, when calculating whether it has met its hiring quota for such businesses.

However, the effect could be to reduce incentives within the agency to give large contracts to Alaska Native corporations, which are exempt from caps on the size of contracts they can receive through no-bid, sole-source arrangements with federal agencies.

Stevens, speaking with Alaska reporters in Washington Friday, said Domenici's amendment is the sign of things to come if Alaska Native corporations don't effectively address complaints about their preferences.

Alaska Native corporations have secured contracts worth billions of dollars in recent years using the preferences, often in partnership with other companies that have longer histories in the work.

Retirement system change protested

JUNEAU - Future Alaska police and firefighters would lose their death and disability benefits under proposed changes to the state's retirement systems, officers from across the state told lawmakers Saturday.

The families of officers killed or seriously injured in the line of duty would be the ones to suffer, they told the House Finance Committee.

"You are taking away a lifeline," said Deborah Seely Kornchuk, the widow of Dan Seely, an Anchorage police officer shot and killed in 1996 while responding to a domestic violence call.

Kornchuk was three weeks pregnant when her husband was killed, and she said the money, about $2,000 a month, helped ease the financial worries she had to deal with on top of her grief.

On Saturday, she said she was speaking for those who would follow her "into that horrible club of spouses killed in the line of duty."

Dynamic Interior breakup forecast

FAIRBANKS - The National Weather Service is warning that conditions are right this spring for a dynamic breakup in Alaska's Interior.

Computers are telling meteorologists and hydrologists that breakup this year could involve flooding, ice jams and significant erosion in fire-ravaged areas.

Record-setting snow depths and water-content measurements have hydrologists warning of the potential for spring floods along several major Interior rivers.

"They should be getting prepared," said Scott Lindsey, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service's Alaska-Pacific River Forecast Center. "There is a potential for what the villages call 'spring flooding,' when the snowmelt ends up causing flooding after the actual breakup."

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