Northwest Digest

Posted: Sunday, August 27, 2006

Money woes change public television

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ANCHORAGE - The nonprofit company that owns and operates Anchorage's public tele-vision and radio stations, as well as the Alaska Public Radio Network, is cutting 20 percent of its work force.

Alaska Public Media also is making major programming changes to fill a widening gap between its revenue and expenses.

The company announced Friday that it is laying off seven workers and not filling three vacant jobs, trimming its total payroll to 35 employees.

Paul Stankavich, Alaska Public Media's president and general manager, blamed the layoffs and programming cuts on rising expenses and a decline in state and federal funding.

Alaska Public Media's operating budget is roughly $5 million, about a quarter of which it gets from the federal and state governments. The rest comes from viewers and listeners, local businesses and other sources, Stankavich said.

Over the past two years, the state has pared its funding to the company by about $50,000, giving it a little more than $150,000 this year, Stankavich said.

At the same time, programming costs have increased by about $100,000, primarily because of a new Federal Communications Commission requirement that TV stations broadcast over the air in both analog and digital formats, instead of just in the traditional analog.

"Revenues are not keeping up with expenses, and you can't keep operating a business that way, whether it's a nonprofit or a for-profit business," Stankavich said.

Seattle firm warned BP about problems

SEATTLE - A Seattle-based engineering firm raised a red flag more than four years ago concerning BP's monitoring of its Alaska oil pipelines.

The draft report by Coffman Engineers, published in November 2001, is among documents being reviewed by a federal grand jury in Anchorage, which is investigating a March oil spill of more than 200,000 gallons from a west Prudhoe oil field pipe.

The final report, however, was significantly toned down after the company responded to the draft, the documents showed.

The grand jury is looking into possible criminal violations of the federal Clean Water Act, which carries penalties for negligent conduct that leads to an oil spill.

The company also has cited corrosion problems as the cause of small leaks and other damage that triggered a partial shutdown of BP's Prudhoe Bay operations earlier this month.

The Coffman documents were made public Friday on the Project on Government Oversight Web site by Charles Hamel, a former oil broker who is a watchdog of Alaska's oil industry.

Idaho researchers study bark beetles

BOISE, Idaho - For two years, Boise State University researcher Wyatt Williams has glued bark beetles to a slender rod on a magnetic axis and coaxed them with a soft puff to fly in circles for up to 10 hours.

The 29-year-old Williams is experimenting with the beetles, smaller than Lincoln's head on a penny, to learn the secrets of why they attack the region's conifers. Across the western United States and Canada, bark beetles similar to Williams' have killed tens of millions of forest acres, threatening not only the timber industry but boosting the incidence of massive wildfires.

The U.S. Forest Service paid Williams and Ian Robertson, a BSU biology professor, $70,000 to put their beetles on "flymills." It hopes the knowledge gained will help improve forest management, as drought and climate change make the region's trees more susceptible to insect destruction.

Douglas fir beetles usually attack trees felled by wind. Sometimes, however, they make a beeline for healthy trees, especially when the insect population rises, even though the sap in live trees can engulf and kill them.

"The question we're asking is, 'Why be the first beetle to attack a live tree?"' Robertson said. "Think about it like landing on a beach at D-Day: It's riskier to be in the first wave."

So far, Robertson and Williams say their hypothesis - that weakened beetles will be the first to start chomping on trees - isn't panning out. Beetles that flew the longest on their flymills, the ones with the most-depleted fat reserves, were actually slower than their plumper, more-rested counterparts to attack live trees.

Not all the data has been analyzed, however, so the scientists remain optimistic their search may still reveal secrets behind mass beetle attacks.

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