Alaska Digest

Posted: Monday, October 09, 2006

Man hospitalized after wrecking spree

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KENAI - A 21-year-old Nikiski man was hospitalized over the weekend after a driving spree in Kenai, where he rammed cars, knocked over light poles and left parts of his vehicle scattered for blocks, police said.

The man, whose name was not immediately released, was being treated for injuries that are not life-threatening. No one else was hurt.

Kenai Police Sgt. Randy Kornfield said police were still investigating the incident.

The demolition began in the Kenai Municipal Airport short-term parking lot Saturday afternoon when the man had parked his 1994 Ford F-350 pickup truck. Kornfield said the driver backed into a chain barrier, wrapping the chain around an axle of the truck. The driver pulled forward into two parked vehicles and might have taken out another chain barrier on the way out of the lot, according to Kornfield.

"He still had a wrap of chain on his vehicle when it came to rest," he said.

The truck turned right on a nearby street and sped toward the Kenai Spur Highway, police said. Two light poles and two other parked cars kept him from going too far.

One of the poles was at the Kenai Fire Department and used to warn motorists when fire department vehicles are dispatched. The pole was snapped and left smashed in the road.

The damage continued in the parking lot of the Willow Street Mall.

"He caused damage to two vehicles in the parking lot," Kornfield said. "He hit one and may have hit a shopping cart that hit another one."

The truck was brought to a halt by a light pole in the parking lot. The force of the collision knocked the pole down and ripped its barrel-sized cement anchor out of ground, leaving the truck high-centered on it.

Kornfield said alcohol doesn't appear to be involved, and the man wasn't reported to have been in a fight at the airport.

Mine developer offers vast dams for waste

ANCHORAGE - The proposed Pebble mine in Alaska would use huge earthen dams to hold back rock waste and water under a scenario offered to the state by the Canadian company pursuing the project.

The idea by Northern Dynasty Mines Inc. has unleashed new debate about the potential copper, gold and molybdenum deposit near Lake Iliamna.

The concept by the Vancouver, British Columbia-based company calls for five dams that would fill in some valleys and a lake with tailings, or mining rock waste. The dams also would divert some water from three streams in the Bristol Bay watershed.

"They aren't small. We've never said they are small," said Bruce Jenkins, the company's chief operating officer.

The dams would be steep, rocky embankments stretching for miles in length and holding back billions of tons of tailings and water.

"You have to envision this as a mountain you've created," Jenkins said. "You are creating a new land form. Over time, they (the tailings dams) get more and more stable."

The dams - and the Pebble project in general - are not final designs, he said. Northern Dynasty doesn't plan to submit a proposed mine development plan for until 2008.

Opponents of the project say the dams would be too dangerous. They would divert large quantities of water needed by fish and they'd sit on one of the world's most earthquake-prone areas, according to the Renewable Resources Coalition.

Geophysical Institute aurora site revamped

FAIRBANKS - The University of Alaska Fairbanks' Geophysical Institute has revamped its aurora forecast Web site, packing it with information on the northern lights and offering a more precise forecast.

A daily forecast has been offered for years, but now the site includes an hour-by-hour look at conditions.

"That means if you're sitting there watching 'Dancing with the Stars' you can have your computer on on the side and know what the aurora will be like after the program," said Charles Deehr, professor emeritus of physics with the Geophysical Institute and one of the aurora forecasters.

The Web site gets about 20,000 hits per month during the aurora-viewing season, and the changes were spurred by public input, said Jeff Pederson, the Web manager at the Geophysical Institute. The new site "draws more folks into the physics of what's going on," he said.

"It makes it more real and it gives a person more to explore and more to get interested about."

The revamped site offers solar wind graphics and data plots to help users understand how the scientists made their forecasts, as well as the one-hour, one-day and 28-day forecasts. Site visitors can choose from five maps where the aurora can be seen from Alaska to Canada to Northern Europe and even Antarctica.

UAF scientists have been forecasting the aurora for five decades, Deehr said. It's a natural extension of their work to understand the electromagnetic phenomena driven by solar winds.

"It's always an advantage when you're doing research on the aurora to be able to predict when you should be looking," Deehr said.

In 1995, Syun-Ichi Akasofu, then-institute director, decided to make the forecasts available to the public. The institute was getting a large number of calls from Japanese tourists wanting to know if they would see the aurora on their trips to Alaska, Deehr said.

The forecast Web site has an international following. Over the years, Deehr has heard from aurora enthusiasts from all over the world.

"Once you've gone out and seen the sky filled with aurora, it just sticks with you," he said.


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