Northwest Digest

Posted: Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Smoke drifts in from British Columbia

JUNEAU - The haze clouding the air in Juneau appears to be smoke from forest fires in north-central British Columbia, 100 miles east of Juneau, according to the National Weather Service.

"We do not have the details about the fire, but we are looking at the satellite imagery," meteorologist Jim Truitt said Monday.

"Aircraft visibility does not appear to be impacted," he said. "It's a low-density haze, not uncommon in the spring and summer.

The haze is not pollen, though hemlock trees have been releasing an enormous amount of the grains, covering dogs and vehicles with the yellow mist.

"There is a lot of pollen being released right now, and that happens every year," said Steve Brockmann, biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "It can irritate eyes and people that are sensitive to it can get a reaction, but I don't think that would account for (the haze) I'm seeing. It's on the ground and in the water."

Verdicts split in Greenpeace trial

KETCHIKAN - A state District Court jury delivered split verdicts Monday against Greenpeace Inc. and two others accused of failing to have the proper oil spill response paperwork when the group's contract ship entered Alaska waters for an anti-logging campaign.

"Obviously, we're pleased the jury returned the guilty verdicts that they did," said prosecutor James Fayette, an assistant state attorney general.

Greenpeace and Arctic Sunrise Capt. Arne Sorensen each was charged with four counts of misdemeanor criminal negligence - two for failing to have an oil spill prevention and contingency plan and two for failing to obtain a certificate of financial responsibility for oil spill damages.

The ship's agent, Willem Beekman, was charged with one count of failing to have an oil spill prevention plan and one count of failing to obtain the financial responsibility certification.

The six-person jury, which deliberated for two days, convicted Greenpeace on the two counts of failing to have the oil spill prevention plan and acquitted the group on the two counts of failing to obtain a certificate of financial responsibility.

Sorensen was convicted on two counts of failing to have the oil spill prevention plan and on one count of failing to obtain a certificate of financial responsibility. He was acquitted of the second financial responsibility count.

Beekman was acquitted of both charges.

"There are some inconsistencies with the verdict," said Tom Wetterer, a lawyer for Greenpeace. "We're trying to sort that out."

Man's body found along Mat-Su trail

ANCHORAGE - A man was found dead in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and Alaska State Troopers are investigating it as a homicide.

Trooper spokesman Greg Wilkinson said a camper found the body Sunday along a trail near Houston.

The body was near a four-wheeler trail about a half-mile from Mile 56 Parks Highway. Troopers received the call at 9:21 a.m. and investigators spent much of the day collecting evidence.

Wilkinson would not speculate on how the man died but said troopers believe the death occurred recently. The man's body is thought to have been on the trail since the night before, Wilkinson said.

"We haven't made positive identification on the body, but based on who we think it is, we're attempting to make notification of next of kin," Wilkinson said. "So I can't even tell you for sure who it is. But we are investigating this as a homicide."

The Alaska State Medical Examiner's office planned an autopsy on the man's body, Wilkinson said.

9th Circuit overturns part of ruling

SEATTLE - Washington state cannot favor minority-owned businesses in awarding road-building contracts because it hasn't proven that minority contractors have experienced discrimination, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday.

Western States Paving Co. of Vancouver, Wash., sued the state Department of Transportation, Clark County and the City of Vancouver after losing several road-paving contracts to minority-owned firms that had submitted higher bids.

The company argued that federal law allowing states to give preference to minority firms is unconstitutional, and that the state of Washington did not properly follow federal guidelines.

A U.S. District Court judge ruled against Western States Paving, but the three-judge appellate panel disagreed in part. The federal guidelines - part of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century - were affirmed, but the panel disputed the way the state enforces them.

Trial scheduled to begin next week

KENAI - The first-degree murder trial of a Kenai fishing guide accused in the fatal shooting of a police officer is scheduled to begin next week in Superior Court.

Officer John Watson was shot in the head with his own gun on Dec. 25, 2003, when he responded to a request from Alaska State Troopers for help on a welfare check involving David Forster.

Judge Donald Hopwood, Kenai District Attorney June Stein and defense attorney John Murtagh worked out details of courtroom procedure last week in a pretrial conference. Hopwood said he expected it could take as many as 120 potential candidates to seat an impartial panel of 12 jurors with four alternates.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin May 17. The trial is expected to last about three weeks.

Watson was killed when he went to Forster's home in a Kenai subdivision. Forster and Watson are believed to have struggled when Watson tried to arrest him, troopers said. Forster grabbed Watson's service weapon, a .45-caliber semiautomatic Glock, troopers said.

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