Northwest Digest

Posted: Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Permanent fund tops $35 billion

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JUNEAU - The Alaska Permanent Fund has crossed the $35 billion mark for the first time. fund officials say.

On Friday, the permanent fund closed with an unaudited value of $35.2 billion.

International stocks continue to be the fund's strongest performers, returning nearly 37 percent since the start of the fiscal year last July 1.

The fund's domestic stock and real estate portfolios have returned 16 percent and 17 percent respectively in the fiscal year so far. The total return for the fiscal year to date is nearly 15 percent.

"The recent growth that we've seen in the permanent fund is the result of the trustees' efforts over the years to modernize the fund's asset allocation, adding stocks, real estate and exposure to international markets when it was deemed prudent," Gov. Frank Murkowski said in a prepared statement.

The fund already had broken records this year in its unaudited value. It grew to $33 billion on Jan. 6 and $34 billion on March 17.

Fast ferry's return delayed until July

JUNEAU - The Fairweather fast ferry's return to service in Southeast Alaska will be delayed at least until July 1, Alaska Marine Highway System officials said Monday.

The ferry had been expected to return to service in June.

The Fairweather has been out of service since January, when workers found damage to its four diesel engines. Further investigation identified damage to components on all four of the ferry's reduction gears.

The engine and reduction gear manufacturers have been working with the ferry's builder, Derecktor Shipyards, to determine the reason for the mechanical difficulties, ferry system officials said Monday.

The ship is scheduled to receive new parts and undergo sea trials beginning June 21.

The ferry system is looking to provide alternative service for the Fairweather in June and will make that announcement at a later date.

Malaspina helps stranded fishermen

JUNEAU - The Malaspina ferry came to the aid of four stranded fishermen Sunday night after their fishing vessel ran aground southwest of Prince Rupert, British Columbia, state ferry officials say.

The ferry responded to a mayday call from the F/V Alaska Queen shortly after 10 p.m., according to the Alaska Marine Highway System. The fishing boat, the Alaska Queen, was stranded on the northeast side of Pitt Island, southwest of Prince Rupert.

The state ferry was the first ship on the scene.

The ferry crew launched a fast rescue boat and stood by the four stranded fishermen for about 45 minutes, until the Canadian Coast Guard arrived. The Coast Guard then released the state ferry to return to its southbound route.

The Malaspina was bound from Ketchikan to Bellingham, Wash., on Sunday.

"Alaska Marine Highway System crews are highly trained to respond to these types of situations and we are very proud of the actions of the Malaspina crew in coming to the aid of this vessel in distress," said Alaska Marine Highway System General Manager Capt. John Falvey.

Chinook arrive weeks late on the Columbia

PORTLAND, Ore. - Spring chinook salmon are finally moving up the Columbia River at Bonneville Dam, making their latest run on record.

The three-week delay is a mystery to wildlife managers. And lower-than-expected numbers in the run have some fishermen thinking the fishing season will not reopen.

A spring chinook run typically peaks at mid-April, but it wasn't until last week that sustained numbers of salmon were counted as they went through the ladder at Bonneville Dam, according to the Oregon and Washington fish and wildlife departments.

The fish count for the year is 35,796 so far, almost 14,000 fewer than at the same time last year.

Fish and wildlife officials said the count is unlikely to reach the preseason forecast of 88,000. An advisory board of scientists and others met Monday to work on an official estimate for the season, which will be the primary factor in determining if the fishing season will resume.

The fishing season closed in mid-April because of low counts. If the count is too low, the season might not reopen because regulations limit the percentage of the total population that can be fished.

"There is a sense of relief that we are finally seeing the fish coming back, but opportunities for fishing are pretty much over," said Bruce Buckmaster, a board member of fishing industry group Salmon For All.

U.S. prison escapee eludes Mounties

PENTICTON, British Columbia - A convicted killer who escaped from a federal prison in Louisiana last month was stopped in a stolen car but eluded capture, Royal Canadian Mounted Police said.

Officers said Friday the car was stopped in this southcentral British Columbia resort and wine country town a week earlier. The driver fled, but an officer later recognized him as Richard Lee McNair, 47, a martial arts expert with a history of carjacking who escaped from prison April 5 in Pollock, La.

Fingerprints from the vehicle confirmed the identification, a digital camera in the car contained recent images of him and police also recovered an undisclosed amount of Canadian currency and receipts.

"There's no way of knowing - he could be in B.C., he could be even camped out in some wooded area - we don't know," Mounties Staff Sgt. Steve Berney said.

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