Posted: Thursday, July 03, 2003

Mark Begich sworn in as Anchorage mayor

ANCHORAGE - Mark Begich pressed his palm against the same Bible used to swear his father into public office decades ago and took the oath to become Anchorage's sixth mayor on Tuesday.

Begich pledged commitment to community, security and prosperity in Anchorage.

"Today, here in Alaska's headquarters city, the torch of leadership also has been passed to a new generation," said Begich, 41. "As your mayor, I'll work hard to reignite the spirit of public service my parents taught me so that together we can realize Anchorage's enormous potential."

Begich's victorious mayoral campaign came on his third try. He is the first municipal mayor born and raised in Anchorage.

Comment period ends on Greens Creek draft EIS

JUNEAU - The U.S. Forest Service has received about 2,600 comments, including about 2,500 form letters, regarding the draft environmental impact statement for the Greens Creek Mining Co.'s proposed tailings facility expansion.

The public comment period on the draft EIS ended Monday.

Greens Creek, a silver, zinc, gold and lead mine on Admiralty Island, proposes to expand its tailings site from 23.2 acres to 61.3 acres. The tailings site is permitted to expand to 29 acres, and the company says that will allow them to operate for two more years. The proposed expansion could accommodate 20 to 25 years' worth of tailings.

Laurie Thorpe, the Forest Service's project manager for the Greens Creek EIS, said the service received 100 different comments at most.

"We received about a dozen or so several-page comments from agencies and interested parties," she said.

Some of the lengthier responses came from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the Center for Science and Public Participation, Friends of Admiralty Island, the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, the Greens Creek Mining Co. and the Alaska Miners' Association, Thorpe said.

Staff at engineering firm Michael Baker Jr. are putting the comments into categories to identify responses that should be addressed in the final EIS, which Thorpe said is scheduled to be issued Oct. 17.

The final EIS issuance will be followed by a 45-day appeal period, and after that the Forest Service will decide whether to approve Greens Creek's proposal or alternatives identified in the draft.

"The soonest the decision could be implemented would be Jan. 30," Thorpe said.

City rejects hazardous material team grant

JUNEAU - The Juneau Assembly has rejected a federal grant that would have created a "Level A" hazardous materials team.

Juneau was eligible for $280,000 in federal funds to purchase hazardous material equipment. However, the annual cost to the city would have been about $160,000.

City manager Rod Swope told Assembly members Monday night that the municipality's fiscal situation did not allow for that annual commitment.

Assembly member Merrill Sanford suggested that other Southeast communities could contribute to the annual cost of maintaining the team for the region.

Similar hazardous material teams are in Anchorage and Fairbanks.

Marine Park Plaza celebrates grand opening

JUNEAU - The grand opening celebration for the new Marine Park Plaza begins at 5 p.m. today and runs until the midnight display of fireworks.

Mayor Sally Smith will be master of ceremonies. The Juneau Parks and Recreation Department, along with their cruise line partners, the Downtown Business Association and Taku 105, are sponsors.

Entertainment will include Daughters of the New Moon, Alaska Glitter Girls, Mr. McFeely and Purple Panda of "Mister Rogers Neighborhood," Daaxaat Kan-adaa Dancers, Tongan Community Dancers and other acts. Food also will be on sale.

The plaza, which includes a new deck over the water between the cruise ship dock and the area where tour buses now load, will double as a tour bus parking lot. The Juneau Assembly approved the $5.87 million project last year after a similar proposal failed in 1999.

False killer whale sighted near Juneau in May

JUNEAU - Federal marine biologists are asking boat captains, passengers and residents of Inside Passage towns to keep their eyes open for a false killer whale that was sighted near Juneau recently.

The rare whale, Pseudorca crassidens, was seen trailing a 24-foot sailboat for about two and a half hours May 19 between Grand Island and Juneau, James Balsiger, administrator for the Alaska Region of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, said Wednesday.

False killer whales are small black whales that occasionally have some gray on their head and throat. They have a tapered snout and a toothed jaw and grow up to 20 feet long, weighing up to 2 tons.

Balsiger said the whale might be following boats up and down the Inside Passage.

Experts say false killer whales aren't commonly seen so far north, preferring tropical and warm temperate waters, and that they usually travel in large groups. They also say it's possible the whale is the same solitary whale seen following boats off Vancouver, British Columbia, since 1990.

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