State briefs

Posted: Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Ferry study preliminary findings released

JUNEAU - The Southeast Conference today released preliminary findings of a pilot study on how to revitalize the Alaska Marine Highway System.

"The goal of this pilot study is to generate discussion among ferry users on what future levels of service will be needed and how to run the system in a more efficient, responsive manner," said Southeast Conference board chairman J.C. Conley of Ketchikan. "We want to provide the next Legislature and governor with a blueprint for changes to insure the long-term viability of the system."

The study examines alternate management structures, including public corporations or authorities, private corporations and private-public combinations. The pilot study is slated for completion in July, according to the conference's Transportation Committee chairman Dave Kensinge, of Petersburg.

More information is available from the Southeast Conference, a nonprofit group of regional government and business leaders, at 463-3445 or The Empire reported on the study in Thursday's Empire.

Fire danger worsens around state

ANCHORAGE - State firefighting officials say hot, dry weather means the danger of wildfires is increasing in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Kenai, Kodiak and the Fairbanks area.

"Conditions are occurring which could lead to the development of large and dangerous fires," said a Department of Natural Resources press release. "Clear skies, lack of precipitation, wind and temperatures into the 70s and 80s, coupled with the low relative humidity has prompted this warning being issued."

As officials watched for new blazes, firefighters continued to battle a 3,000-acre fire that began when burning at the Kalskag dump got out of control.

Crews were working the south end of the fire, while two aircraft dropped retardant at the northeast corner. A helicopter was dropping water on the hot spots, said Andy Williams, spokesman for the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center at Fort Wainwright.

As of Tuesday, 28 fires were burning around Alaska in what fire officials say is an early, fast start to the fire season. Fifteen new fires were reported Monday, ranging in size from one-tenth of an acre to 2 acres.

So far this year, 157 fires have burned nearly 38,000 acres, Williams said.

Copper River salmon prices drop in second opener

ANCHORAGE - Fishermen in the Copper River Delta, hard hit by competition from a huge return of hatchery fish, saw prices for the second opener of the prized Alaska sockeye drop Tuesday to $1.35 a pound and $4.50 a pound for kings.

That compared with up to $3 a pound for first run last week of Copper River reds, and up to $5.75 for the chinooks, said Dan Ashe, area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

"We just had a big glut of fish, and we're 100,000 reds above the projected harvest," Ashe said. The total king harvest stood at about 8,400 fish - about half of what Fish and Game predicted, Ashe said.

The state forecast was for a return of some 36,000 sockeye to the Main Bay hatchery operated by the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp., compared with a harvest last week of 138,000 reds.

"It's shaping up to be a good season," said Bill Webber, president of the Copper River Salmon Producers Association. "The fleet right now feels the wind is out of their sails because of the price drop, but we've got our whole season ahead of us."

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