Alaska Digest

Posted: Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Mobilized search for hikers called off

JUNEAU - A search mobilized for two overdue hikers was called off Monday morning when the hikers let people know they were on their way home.

The 28-year-old man and 24-year-old woman hiked up Heintzleman Ridge Saturday for an overnight camping trip and were scheduled to return the next day via Nugget Creek, said Bruce Bowler of SEADOGS, Southeast Alaska Dogs Organized for Ground Searches. They still hadn't returned Monday morning.

SEADOGS and Juneau Mountain Rescue were preparing to search for them and a helicopter had been contracted, when the man's boss, Alaska Supreme Court Justice Walter Carpeneti, called to say he had heard from the hikers and they were fine, Bowler said.

State to buy jet for $2.7 million

Juneau - The state plans to spend $2.7 million on a jet for use by the governor and the Department of Public Safety, a department official said Monday.

The department released a notice of intent to buy a 1984 Westwind II from Aircraft Marketing Ltd., a firm in Las Vegas. The state expects to take delivery in October, said Dan Spencer, the department's director of administrative services.

The jet, like the two propeller planes the department now owns, will be used by the governor when not in use by the department. Gov. Frank Murkowski uses the planes about 40 percent of the total time they are in the air, although he used one of them three-quarters of the time it was in flight last year.

The money to pay for the plane will come from existing appropriations and the sale of one of the department's turboprops, Spencer said.

Murkowski has pushed hard to acquire a jet. He was first denied last year by federal Homeland Security officials and then this year by state legislators who removed a $1.4 million line item from the budget.

"Gov. Murkowski has made it very clear throughout this process that this is the right decision for the state and he will be following through. (A jet) flies higher and faster and makes it more safe," said spokeswoman Becky Hultberg.

Detractors accuse Murkowski of wanting a jet for comfort and speed, and say he has persisted out of arrogance. The turboprops are more practical for shorter, unpaved Alaskan runways, they say.

"I think he's flying really high. Maybe there's oxygen deprivation going on," said House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage, who has announced his own plans to run for governor in 2006.

Murder trial for Kasilof woman delayed

KENAI - The trial of a Kasilof woman charged in the shooting death of her boyfriend has been postponed.

The trial for Betsy M. Hester, 52, was scheduled to begin this week. Kenai Superior Court Judge Charles T. Huguelet rescheduled it for January.

Hester is charged with one count of second-degree murder for allegedly killing John E. Clark, 49, of Kasilof, on Oct. 4, 2003.

During a 2003 bail hearing, former Kenai District Attorney Dwayne McConnell said that on Oct. 3, Clark and Hester had been drinking and arguing at the Decanter Inn in Kasilof. They went to the home they shared for seven years, where the argument continued.

Clark reportedly slapped Hester numerous times in the face and struck her with his fist.

He then went to the kitchen, and as he returned, continuing to threaten bodily harm, she allegedly shot him twice with a 9mm pistol. Three other shots missed.

Hester then went to police to report she had shot her boyfriend.

Sea otters get federal protection

ANCHORAGE - Sea otters in a wide swath of Alaska where populations have declined dramatically will receive protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The Southwest population extends from the west side of Cook Inlet to the Alaska Peninsula and Kodiak Island, west to the Aleutian Islands and beyond to the Russia-United States maritime border.

The approximately 40,000 sea otters in that area will be listed as "threatened," requiring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to come up with a recovery plan. The notice was to be published Tuesday in the Federal Register - the same day the agency faced a court-ordered deadline to explain its lack of action on sea otters.

Douglas Burn, leader of the Fish and Wildlife Service's sea otter program, said while there's hope for sea otters, there is no quick fix. The reasons for the sharp declines are unclear, he said.

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