Northwest Digest

Posted: Thursday, September 02, 2004

Knowles wins labor endorsement

ANCHORAGE - U.S. Senate candidate Tony Knowles on Wednesday received the endorsement of the AFL-CIO, Alaska's largest labor organization with 60,000 members.

Appearing with about a dozen labor representatives, Knowles, a Democrat, outlined his three-point plan for growing jobs in America.

Knowles said he would create jobs and hire Americans for them, provide tax cuts for the middle class and small businesses and embrace a tax policy that rewards hiring American workers.

"We need to build America," Knowles said during the news conference at the Sheet Metal Workers Local 23 training facility in Anchorage.

Mike Bozine, president of the Building & Construction Trades Council, said it was unrealistic to think all AFL-CIO members would vote Democratic. But he said the labor organization would work to get out the vote for Knowles.

"Basically, whatever he needs done we will chip in and do it," Bozine said.

Knowles, 61, touted job growth at Prudhoe Bay, along with increases in mining jobs and air cargo business as accomplishments of his tenure as governor from 1996-2002

"I believe the best social program is a job," Knowles said. "My campaign is about jobs for Alaskans, jobs for America."

The AFL-CIO endorsement won't make incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski work any less for Alaska's working men and woman, said spokeswoman Kristin Pugh. She said Murkowski broke with fellow Republicans and the Bush administration on votes to extend unemployment benefits and overtime pay regulations.

Creditors take bankrupt logging company to court

Anchorage - Creditors are trying to recover about $2 million from a bankrupt logging company that operated on Afognak Island and Icy Bay for 16 years.

Twenty of Ben A. Thomas Inc.'s largest creditors took the Washington state company to U.S. Bankruptcy Court in July to try to recoup the money they say is owed them. Those with claims against the logging company include tug and barge owners, welders, fuel suppliers and the Alaska Forest Association.

The total debt could be larger than $2 million and will be revealed when the company files its schedule of assets and liabilities and other financial documents, which is expected to happen this week.

Ben Thomas loggers harvested trees in Alaska before shutting down last winter. They cut for the University of Alaska, the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority and Afognak Native Corp.

When timber prices crashed in 1998, the company's orders fell and the company began to fall behind on its bills, including pension, insurance and forest association payments.

Owen Graham, executive director of the forest association, said federal law governing employee-benefit plans requires that he battle one of his members.

"It's a mess and it's awkward. I'm not happy to be in this position. But there's a fiduciary responsibility," Graham said.

If he had to do it over again, owner Ben "Tommy" Thomas said, he would have pulled out of Alaska right after the markets turned sour.

"I made a huge mistake not quitting at the end of 1997," Thomas said.

Alaska murrelets figure in bird's Lower 48 status

GRANTS PASS, Ore. - Going against a recommendation from its own scientists, the Bush administration took another step toward removing the marbled murrelet from the threatened species list, which could ultimately increase logging in old growth forests.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided Wednesday that marbled murrelets in Washington, Oregon and California, though they continue to decline in population, should not be considered for protection apart from their more abundant cousins in Canada and Alaska.

The marbled murrelet is a robin-sized seabird that spends most of its life at sea, but flies as much as 50 miles inland to lay a single egg in a mossy depression on a large branch of an old-growth conifer. The habitat needs of the murrelet, combined with the northern spotted owl and salmon, resulted in sharp declines in Northwest logging in the past 10 years, particularly on national forests that provide 90 percent of the murrelet's habitat.

Endangered Species Act protection remains in place for the bird on the West Coast, but Fish and Wildlife will review its status across its entire range in the lower 48, British Columbia and Alaska - a process that could take a year. Depending on what the review finds, Fish and Wildlife could recommend the murrelet be taken off the threatened species list, a process that would take another year.

The decision came from the office of Assistant Secretary of Interior Craig Manson, the Bush administration's point man on the Endangered Species Act. It went against the recommendation from the Northwest regional office of Fish and Wildlife in Portland, which felt the birds in Washington, Oregon and Northern California constitute a distinct population worthy of protection.

The action was prompted by a lawsuit brought by the timber industry.

Woman shot after firing handgun at Alaska State Troopers

ANCHORAGE - A woman threatening suicide near Fairbanks fired a handgun at Alaska State Troopers and was shot in the nose.

Margaret Mary Patrisso, 40, was shot once Tuesday with a bullet that severed the tip of her nose, said trooper spokesman Greg Wilkinson.

The shooting occurred after seven hours of negotiations. The woman fired the handgun at least once in the direction of troopers and three officers returned fire.

Wilkinson said the circumstances had the potential for far more injury.

"It was a gift of God that this woman is alive and still walking and talking and no troopers were hit," he said.

Patrisso was transported and admitted to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital for treatment, Wilkinson said. The nursing supervisor at the hospital would release no information on Patrisso's condition or whether she had been admitted.

The three troopers who fired their weapons turned them in as part of the investigation and were issued others as is department policy when lethal force is used, Wilkinson said. The three troopers were placed on administrative leave.

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