Alaska Briefs

Posted: Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Soldier returns home

JUNEAU - Spec. Will Rusaw, a U.S. Army tank driver, will return to Juneau from duty in Iraq this evening.

Rusaw, 22, is scheduled to arrive on Alaska Airlines Flight 67 at 7:20 p.m. The family invited friends and the public to greet Rusaw.

"If they want to welcome him home, that will be great," said his mother, Linda Rusaw.

Murkowski files written Roadless comments

JUNEAU - A Forest Service roadless rule effectively locking up portions of the Tongass and Chugach national forests from major timber development is "unlawful and unwise" and should end, Gov. Frank Murkowski said.

Murkowski called on the Forest Service to exempt Alaska from the roadless rule in a letter to its Roadless Content Analysis Teams. It's the first time since taking office last December the administration has officially weighed in on the controversial roadless rule.

The Republican governor said the Clinton-era rule violates the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the Wilderness Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Forest Management Act.

Former Democrat Gov. Tony Knowles filed a federal lawsuit in 2001 challenging the Forest Service roadless rule. More recently, a federal judge in Idaho blocked the roadless ban, saying it needed to be amended.

One of President Bill Clinton's key environmental legacies - and a bane to many development-hungry Alaskans - the roadless rule would prevent logging, road construction and other activities on about 58.5 million acres of federal forests. More than 25 percent of the public acreage affected by the rule is in Alaska.

Murkowski argues the rule dictates the Forest Service manage most of the 16.9 million acres of the Tongass in Southeast Alaska as protected wilderness area.

And nearly all of the 5.6 million-acre Chugach National Forest near Prince William Sound would have to be considered wilderness area, Murkowski said.

This is illegal since designating an area as wilderness is a power reserved for Congress, Murkowski said. In addition, ANILCA reserved 150 million acres for conservation and set out that no more could be reserved without an act of Congress.

Leman turns down cruise ship initiative

JUNEAU - A proposed ballot initiative to impose taxes and stringent regulations on cruise ships traveling in Alaska waters was rejected Tuesday by Lt. Gov. Loren Leman.

The move was expected after Attorney General Greg Renkes recommended against approving the initiative last week in a memo to Leman.

Renkes said the measure violated the so-called "single subject rule," a state prohibition against legislation on varied topics.

It could also create a conflict with federal law and a state constitutional provision against dedicated funds, Renkes said.

Sponsors of the initiative needed Leman's certification to begin gathering signatures to put the issue on the 2004 ballot.

One of the initiative sponsors, maritime union attorney Joe Geldhof, said last week the group plans to review the attorney general's recommendation, fix the flaws in the proposal and resubmit it.

The proposed ballot measure would have imposed a $50 tax for each cruise ship passenger and a 33 percent tax on shipboard gambling income.

Ketchikan borough rejects cruise ship tax

KETCHIKAN - The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly on Monday backed away from a plan to ask voters to impose a $5 head tax on cruise ship passengers.

The move came after tourism industry supporters packed the assembly's meeting to speak out against the proposal.

Ketchikan resident Len Laurance said the passenger tax appeared to be a desperate move to pay for borough expenses without regard to the loss of jobs he believes would result.

He pointed out that cruise ships in southcentral Alaska rerouted vessels from Whittier to Seward a decade ago after Whittier imposed a $1 passenger tax.

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