Northwest Digest

Posted: Monday, July 30, 2007

Hawaii's Sen. Akaka cancels Alaska visit

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HONOLULU - U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka won't fulfill a campaign pledge to visit Alaska this summer to reconsider his support for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Akaka, a Hawaii Democrat, had earned an endorsement from the Sierra Club's Hawaii chapter before last year's elections based in part on his commitment to review his position on drilling, which he has voted for in the U.S. Senate because he believed the indigenous people wanted it to improve their quality of life.

Alaska natives asked Akaka to postpone his trip, originally planned for a weekend earlier this month, because key leaders couldn't attend on short notice, according to the senator's staff.

The visit is unlikely to be rescheduled this year and may not take place until next summer because of Akaka's busy schedule, his staff said.

"I am disappointed that after extensive planning by staff from the Energy Committee and my office, that my visit to Alaska was canceled at the last minute due to requests of postponement from those on both sides of the ANWR issue, based on scheduling conflicts," Akaka said in a statement Friday.

"I look forward to working with those concerned to set up another date for this visit to occur," he said.

U.S. Coast Guard has ears on static world

KODIAK - A Coast Guardsman sits behind a sliding glass door in a soundproof office space about 8 feet wide and 8 feet deep. The room is packed with a raft of electronics and the Coast Guardsman wears no headphones, but listens to several channels of static at once.

He or she is standing watch, or "guarding the frequencies" at Communications Station Kodiak in Bear Valley, a squatty bunker-like building surrounded in every direction by red and white radio towers, most more than 100 feet tall.

The person in the booth will listen for about four hours in the hope that no mariner's mayday, or any plea for help shouted into a radio, will go unheard and unanswered. The listening stations in Kodiak that allow the Coast Guard to answer pleas over the radio have operated almost nonstop for the past 50 years.

"You have quietly stood the watch, for the most part, out of the limelight," Lt. Cmdr. Michael Nasitka said.

When a rescue helicopter lands at Air Station Kodiak and is greeted by eager photographers and overjoyed family members of the survivors, the COMMSTA watch keepers are often still at their post, Nasitka said.

"You still sit quietly behind the locked doors of the operations deck, knowing you were the individual who received that faint cry for help jumping out of the static," he said.

James Tyner, a retired Coast Guardsman who lives in Juneau and was the first chief radioman at COMMSTA's predecessor, Radio Station Kodiak, said the anniversary reunion and tours showed him how far technology has moved ahead. It gave him a renewed appreciation for the seat-of-the-pants engineering work the station went through in its early years.

"Everything used to be one message at a time. Now it's gigabytes," Tyner said.

The Coast Guard's commander for Alaska and the North Pacific, Rear Adm. Arthur Brooks gave a speech July 20, saying he heard voices from Kodiak on the radio while serving as a deck watch officer in waters around the Northern Mariana Islands.

Brooks addressed the assembled COMMSTA crew directly to thank them "for ensuring the safety of those people who use Alaska's beautiful waters. Thank you for that. Thank you, for standing the watch."

Alaska stores sell cans despite recall

WASHINGTON - Stores nationwide are continuing to sell recalled canned chili, stew, hash and other foods potentially contaminated with poisonous bacteria even after repeated warnings the products could kill.

Thousands of cans are being removed from store shelves as quickly as investigators find them, more than a week after Castleberry's Food Co. began recalling more than 90 potentially contaminated products over fears of botulism contamination.

The recall now covers two years' production at the company's Augusta, Ga., plant _ a tally that spirals into the tens of millions of cans.

Spot checks by the Food and Drug Administration and state officials continue to turn up recalled products for sale in convenience stores, gas stations and family run groceries, from Florida to Alaska. The FDA alone has found them in roughly 250 of the more than 3,700 stores visited in nationwide checks, according to figures the agency provided to The Associated Press. Spot checks in Alaska, Florida, Kentucky, Montana, New York, Indiana have found them on shelves.

People who have any of the recalled products at home should double-bag and throw them away, the FDA recommends.

Critics: Study may dodge disease issue

JACKSON, Wyo. - Conservationists are voicing concern that a planned federal study on permitting state-run elk feed grounds on national forest will sidestep public worries about wildlife disease.

"They're stubbornly ignoring the elephant in the middle of the living room," said Tim Preso, an Earthjustice attorney, who represents conservationists battling the Bridger-Teton National Forest and the state over elk feeding. "The whole reason people care about the feed grounds is the wildlife disease consequence."

The Forest Service this past week published a "notice of intent" to study a request from the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission for a 20-year permit to run elk winter feeding operations at seven sites on the forest. The notice triggered a 45-day public comment period, which began last Monday.

Bridger-Teton spokeswoman Mary Cernicek said that the Forest Service is still defining what the study will include.

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