Alaska Digest

Posted: Tuesday, May 24, 2005

City increases taxi flag-drop rate

JUNEAU - The Juneau Assembly on Monday unanimously approved local cab companies' request to raise the taxi flag-drop fee from $2.10 to $3.

Taxi company owners said the drivers need the extra money to offset the financial effects of the constant increase of insurance premiums and fuel prices. Juneau's current average at the pump is $2.54 per gallon.

The new fee takes effect in June.

The flag-drop fee is the initial fare charged for all taxi services except for charter or battery jumps. Charges for mileage and waiting time won't increase.

Depending on the length of the trip, the cab fare will increase between 2 percent and 22 percent, said City Manager Rod Swope.

Fort Wainwright soldiers hurt in Iraq

ANCHORAGE - Five Fort Wainwright soldiers were injured when their helicopter crashed in Iraq after losing power in both engines, military officials said Monday.

None of the injuries was life-threatening, according to officials.

Army spokesman Maj. Kirk Gohlke said the CH-47 Chinook was flying at about 500 feet when it ran into trouble early Sunday morning in Iraq, which is 12 hours ahead of Alaska.

Gohlke said he didn't know the nature of the crew's mission at the time.

Officials said the pilot was forced to make an emergency landing without power south of Samarra, a former insurgent stronghold 60 miles north of Baghdad.

The helicopter sustained significant damage, according to Fort Wainwright spokeswoman Linda Douglass.

Officials said Monday afternoon they were waiting for the soldiers' consent to release their names and conditions.

Two on board the helicopter have been flown to Germany for further treatment. Another soldier was hospitalized overnight for observation and two others were treated and released.

The soldiers are assigned to Company B, 4th Battalion, 123rd Aviation Regiment at Fort Wainwright, located near Fairbanks. They began a year-long tour of Iraq at the first of the year, Gohlke said.

The crash is under investigation.

Meanwhile, a Fort Richardson soldier was injured in an explosion in Afghanistan last week, officials said.

The sergeant was not seriously injured in the explosion last week in Wech Baktu, according to officials.

The soldier, whose name has not been released, was a gunner on a recovery mission when the explosion occurred.

The soldier was deployed to Afghanistan last month with Company C, 864th Engineer Battalion, officials said.

Capital budget nears completion

JUNEAU - House and Senate leaders met behind closed doors with members of the Murkowski administration most of the afternoon Monday to craft a 2006 public works budget.

The budget bill is one of a handful of items left to finish before the Legislature adjourns from its special session.

House Finance Committee Co-Chairman Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, said the three parties have reached a tentative agreement that meets the House majority's goal of keeping the state's contribution below $650 million. The public works budget is expected to top $2 billion when federal and other funds are included.

The Senate's proposed budget would have spent roughly $850 million from the state's general fund.

Last year's capital budget approved $8.8 million in general fund spending on public works projects.

House Majority Leader John Coghill, R-North Pole, said this year's capital budget would be one of the largest in the state's history.

The $30,000-a-day special session enters its 14th day today.

Meyer said the budget proposal still in negotiations would not use money from a sub-account of the Alaska Permanent Fund that Gov. Frank Murkowski proposed tapping for a variety of road projects. Meyer said most of road projects remain intact in the budget. Members of the House, Senate and administration still are negotiating on whether to fix congestion at the intersection of Lake Otis Parkway and Tudor Road in Anchorage this year, Meyer said.

Scientists look for cause of whale death

ANCHORAGE - A gray whale that washed up near the Port of Anchorage drifted out to sea with outgoing tides Monday afternoon, federal marine wildlife officials said.

The National Marine Fisheries Service, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said gray whales found anywhere near the port are unusual.

The animal is not an endangered species, said Barbara Mahoney of NOAA Fisheries.

Wildlife officials collected samples of skin from the whale, which was spotted beyond the small boat harbor at Carin Point.

Mahoney said her agency was told the whale floated in Friday with the morning tide.

The whale has been dead for over a week and possibly longer, she said. There were no external injuries visible on the 34-foot whale.

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