Alaska Digest

staff and Wire reports

Posted: Friday, June 23, 2006

AMHS, unions agree on 15 for ferry crew

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JUNEAU - State negotiators and members representing three unions have reached an agreement on the number of crew members who will man the state ferry LeConte.

No deal has been signed yet, but the two sides have verbally agreed on 15 employees, said Mary Siroky, special assistant to the Alaska Marine Highway System.

"We've talked for two months to get to (that number)," she said.

In March, the U.S. Coast Guard directed AMHS to operate the LeConte in a manner that assures that crew members get enough rest. The state decided to address the directive by running the ship as a "day boat."

The LeConte has been serving Haines, Hoonah and Angoon since June 9, with the boat not running overnight.

Prior to the Coast Guard's order, the LeConte was assigned the northern Panhandle run from Juneau to Petersburg with stops in Angoon, Hoonah, Kake, Pelican Sitka and Tenakee Springs. It ran 24 hours a day with a crew of 24.

The temporary staff was allowed to continue through June 29 while the state continues negotiations with the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association, Masters Mates and Pilots and the Inland Boatman's Union. If no agreement is reached by June 30, the LeConte will have to be tied up, according to the AMHS.

Siroky said technical issues remain in the labor contract, but she said she feels confident a deal will be signed before June 30.

The state has been negotiating with the unions because changes in ship operations that affect crew staffing levels require modifying existing contracts.

Critics try to block power plant proposal

ANCHORAGE - An Anchorage developer wants to build a coal-fired power plant in Seward but critics say emissions could foul air and water in the community near Kenai Fjords National Park.

Marc Marlow, who is redeveloping the 1950s-era MacKay Building in Anchorage, has proposed that the city buy power from the plant. He also wants to lease 5 acres from the Alaska Railroad Corp. for the 20-megawatt plant.

"We're going to build the cleanest coal-fired plant to date in Alaska," Marlow said.

Seward currently gets its power from Chugach Electric Association, an Anchorage utility.

Avalanches have taken out the system at times. City council members have discussed pursuing alternative-energy projects such as hydropower and tidal action. The council also recently formed a committee to negotiate with Marlow.

Critics say a coal-fired power plant would blacken skies and generate acid rain, a byproduct of coal combustion that can be deadly to fish, plants and wildlife.

"The public is not behind it," said Russ Maddox, board member of Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance.

Coal-fired power plants are the biggest source of mercury emissions in the United States, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The plants create smog, soot and other forms of air pollution.

Marlow said he can build a plant equipped to burn more cleanly than natural gas. It would use low-sulfur coal from Usibelli Coal Mine in Healy.

He is still seeking financing to build the plant, he said.

Directors of the state-owned Alaska Railroad this week voted to table Marlow's lease application until September.

Owner probably won't be charged for fire

FAIRBANKS - Fairbanks District Attorney Jeff O'Bryant does not expect to file criminal charges against the homeowner who started the Parks Highway Fire south of Nenana, he said.

Information so far indicates the 83,500-acre forest fire was not ignited recklessly, O'Bryant said. The homeowner may have been careless, he said, but the law says a person must act recklessly to be prosecuted.

"There are insufficient facts to prove that he acted recklessly beyond a reasonable doubt," he said.

His decision could change if an investigation shows different circumstances, he said.

"Should additional information be received, through continued investigative efforts, that warrants charges being filed, they will be," O'Bryant said.

Also, the homeowner could face civil liability.

Two houses and 14 outbuildings have burned since the blaze ignited from ash dumped near the forest June 7.

The state has spent $7.5 million on the firefighting effort, said information officer Allison Jackson.

Fire containment Wednesday night remained at 45 percent. Wilderness areas east of the Parks Highway saw the most burning. Remote cabins near the mouth of the Wood River could be in the fire's path as it continues to grow on its northeastern flank, Jackson said.

The fire started at a home at Mile 290.8 Mile Parks Highway when the homeowner dumped ash from a burn barrel used the day before.

Police ID victim in Anchorage shootout

ANCHORAGE - A 21-year-old man who died in an exchange of gunfire between two vehicles in east Anchorage had just left a family gathering.

Police on Wednesday identified the shooting victim as Antonius Garvin of Anchorage.

He died Tuesday night after at least one bullet struck him while he drove a Ford Explorer on Reka Drive approaching Bragaw Street. Garvin's vehicle rolled through the intersection and came to rest on the sidewalk along Bragaw.

Police have made no arrests.

On Tuesday, police said the shooting could have been connected to gangs. They have not verified that possibility.

"At this point, we don't have evidence this is gang-related or motivated," said Lt. Gardner Cobb. "It could end up that way, but right now, we are not seeing it."

At least four detectives and several officers from the special assignment unit were working on the crime, he said.

Garvin was in one of two vehicles involved in the shooting on the street near East High School around 8:20 p.m. The second vehicle sped away while Garvin's car came to a stop with three wheels on the sidewalk.

A witness said a second man jumped from Garvin's car and fled.

Reka Drive is a high-density housing area with apartment complexes, condominium units and town houses mixed with single-family homes.

Tim Sullivan, director of Weed and Seed East Anchorage, a federally funded neighborhood revitalization effort, said Reka Drive has a high number of crimes such as vandalism, juvenile crime and traffic violations.

Garvin is the eighth homicide victim in Anchorage this year. Four homicides remain unsolved.

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