Alaska Digest

Posted: Thursday, September 23, 2004

Glacier Visitor Center to begin winter hours

JUNEAU - The Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center will begin its winter schedule Saturday. The center will be open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

No fee will be charged during the winter hours because of reduced staffing and hours of operation.

The center will be open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 27 to accommodate the last cruise ship of the season.

Kids days programs will resume Oct. 9. Programs will start at 11 a.m. and last one hour. They will meet inside the visitor's center. Children ages 4 to 7 are invited to attend. It is requested that a parent or guardian accompany the child.

For further information, contact the center at 789-0097.

Five aboard missing plane identified

SITKA - Searchers on Wednesday traced the possible flight paths of a missing floatplane that carried five people, including a Washington state labor leader and his twin brother.

Coast Guard officials identified the five as Jim Murphy, his twin Joe Murphy, Jerry Balmer, Dick Conig and pilot Eric Johnson.

Joe Murphy, from Bremerton, Wash., is the senior vice president of the Washington State Labor Council. Jim Murphy is from Sequim, Wash., and Johnson is from Sitka. Coast Guard officials on Wednesday did not know the hometowns of Balmer or Conig.

The five were flying in a Harris Air Beaver floatplane, which took off Monday morning from Sitka bound for Baranof Warm Springs, a small community to the east.

A Federal Aviation Administration official reported the plane overdue that afternoon, and an intensive search was begun.

Coast Guard helicopters, the Civil Air Patrol aircraft and private pilots had searched 1,200 miles of shoreline by Tuesday night, according to Coast Guard officials. The search continued into the night Tuesday using night vision equipment, but turned up no sign of the party.

Initiative sponsors take issue with language

ANCHORAGE - The sponsors of a ballot initiative on how the state fills its U.S. Senate vacancies want the state Division of Elections to change a summary of the measure on its Web site.

The initiative is to repeal the governor's ability to make a temporary Senate appointment. It will appear as one of four ballot measures in the November general election.

Democratic Rep. Eric Croft, one of the sponsors, takes issue with the language of the summary.

Croft said in a statement: "Our initiative intends to make sure that no one appoints Alaska's U.S. senators, and the ballot summary language misstates this purpose, misstates the amount of time, and illegally editorializes."

The summary says, in part: "Under this measure a vacated seat would remain vacant for three to five months, leaving Alaska without full representation in the Senate."

The Alaska Supreme Court ordered the measure on the ballot after Lt. Gov. Loren Leman twice took it off, first contending it was unconstitutional and then because the state Legislature passed a measure dealing with Senate vacancies.

UAA receives grant for Alaska teacher training

ANCHORAGE - The University of Alaska Anchorage has received a $9.3 million grant to assist teachers in developing the skills to help students in kindergarten through 12th grade meet or exceed educational standards.

The grant to UAA's College of Education from the U.S. Department of Education is the largest ever received by the university, the school said Wednesday.

The money will be used to create the Alaska Educational Innovations Network (AEIN), a 15-member consortium of UAA's College of Arts and Sciences; UAA's community campuses in Kenai, Kodiak and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough; eight school districts in Anchorage, Mat-Su, Kashunamiut, Lower Kuskokwim, Kodiak Island Borough, Yupiit, Lake and Pen, and Pribilof; the National Education Association-Alaska; Follow the Leaders, a national education collaborative; and telecommunications provider GCI.

The consortium's eight school districts include 185 schools that serve 71,912 students - more than half of Alaska's total student population.

"The purpose of this exciting initiative is directly in line with the larger goals of this administration and of the state of Alaska," said UAA Chancellor Elaine Maimon. "Student success, at all levels, is a top priority for us."

Rescuers call off search for missing crewman

KODIAK - Rescue crews have halted the search for a crewman dragged from a fishing boat when his rain gear became tangled in a line, according to the Coast Guard.

The 24-year-old man has not been identified.

He was swept overboard 70 miles south of Kodiak Tuesday morning. Another crew member in rescue survival gear jumped in the water but was unable to free him, according to Coast Guard officials.

The Coast Guard sent a helicopter to assist in the search on Tuesday, but found no sign of the man. The search was called off late that afternoon.

Anchorage Assembly boosts tobacco taxes

ANCHORAGE - The Anchorage Assembly has voted unanimously to raise the local cigarette tax by $1.

Starting Oct. 1, the city's tobacco tax will increase from 30 cents to $1.30 per pack.

The tax is part of Mayor Mark Begich's tax-reform package, but many who testified said public health will be improved and deaths prevented if higher taxes cut down on smoking.

Tax hike opponents testified the tax is an unfair burden on a single group that will hurt small businesses that sell tobacco.

Taxes on other tobacco products will jump from 15 percent of their wholesale price to 45 percent of their wholesale price.

The city expects to earn about $8.9 million next year in new tobacco-tax income. That will offset property taxes, dollar for dollar, as a part of Begich's tax-relief plan.

The change will mean about $81 in yearly savings on a $200,000 home.

Assembly members Debbie Ossiander and Brian Whittle said it was important to diversify the city's heavy reliance on property taxes and the tobacco tax was a step in that direction.

But Assemblyman Dan Sullivan said the tax is a slippery slope, because other health concerns, such as obesity, could draw taxes on items containing fat or sugar.

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