Northwest Digest

Posted: Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Report spurs police, Coast Guard search

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JUNEAU - Juneau Police and U.S. Coast Guard officials searched the downtown waterfront for several hours Tuesday evening after receiving a report that someone was calling for help in the water or under a dock near Marine Park.

Police ultimately determined it was probably not a valid report, but the search was executed as a precautionary measure, according to police Sgt. Steve Hernandez.

After receiving a call at about 5:45 p.m., police found four "highly intoxicated" people, including one man who said his friend sleeps under the library. None of the people had seen or heard splashing or a person in the water.

The Coast Guard deployed a boat and a helicopter, searching under the dock and down the Gastineau Channel, according to Coast Guard Lt. Herbert Law. No person was found as of about 9 p.m.

Governor's press secretary to depart

JUNEAU - Meghan Stapleton, Gov. Sarah Palin's communications director and press secretary, is leaving the governor's staff, Sharon Leighow, deputy press secretary, said on Tuesday.

Stapleton, a former television reporter and director of communications for Alaska Communications System, has been Palin's chief spokesperson since early in her term as governor.

Palin has not appointed a replacement yet, Leighow said.

"No one's been named," she said. "A search is underway to find Meg's replacement."

Stapleton, who had a baby in June, wants to devote time to her family, Leighow said.

Remaining in Palin's communications team are Leighow in Anchorage and Beth Leschper, deputy communications director, in Juneau.

Basin Road trestle closed for repairs

JUNEAU - The city announced Tuesday that the Basin Road trestle would be closed for several days to allow routine maintenance and repairs.

The city expects to fully reopen the heavily used roadway by Friday.

The Alaska Department of Transportation will inspect the structural deck while the city replaces damaged and worn planks on the trestle.

Street Superintendent Michael Scott said he expects the trestle to be open evenings during the short repair schedule.

Ex-Iditarod director dies in balloon fall

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - A California woman who once served as executive director of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race fell at least 70 feet to her death and three other women were hospitalized, two with broken legs, after a morning joyride on a hot air balloon turned tragic, casting a pall over the city's annual balloon fiesta.

"Our balloon community is a close-knit family and a time like this is difficult for all of us," said Gary Bennett, president of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

The balloon - named "Heavenly Ride" - snagged a utility line at 7:45 a.m. Monday. The pilot threw down a tether to a pickup truck on the ground in an apparent attempt to reel the balloon down and free it, a state police spokesman said.

But the tether broke and the balloon bounced back up, causing its gondola to tip. The woman fell more than 70 feet.

Paramedics tried to revive the woman, Rosemary Wooley Phillips, 60, of Oceanside, Calif., in a dirt field where she fell. She was pronounced dead a short time later at University of New Mexico Hospital.

Before moving to California, Phillips had lived in Alaska, where she was executive director of the famed Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in 1989. She was a member of the Nome City Council from 1978 to 1982.

"It is a sad day for the Iditarod family," said Chas St. George, spokesman for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. "She was full of adventure."

She and her late husband, C.J. Phillips, owned a liquor store in Nome and were involved in other enterprises as well, including the reindeer business, longtime Nome city controller Cussy Kauer told the newspaper.

Neighbor June Garrett, 84, said Phillips and Diaz, who shared a home, mentioned they were going to a balloon festival in Albuquerque, but didn't mention going up in a balloon.

Fairbanks officials question prison plan

FAIRBANKS - Fairbanks officials offered only lukewarm support for the state's plan to expand prison space using community-issued bonds.

Following a work session Monday, a handful of Fairbanks City Council members worried about overcrowding but questioned the state's plan to use city bonds for a state project. The plan was included in a bill approved by the Alaska Legislature in 2004.

"I don't know if (this) is the tool that gets us there," Councilman Chad Roberts said.

Council members Lloyd Hilling and Vivian Stiver said they want to hear more about the financing proposal before they offer firm opinions.

The project would add an 80-bed wing to the overcrowded, state-owned Fairbanks Correctional Center - built to house 200 inmates but now regularly holding 300 - and add prison space elsewhere, including a new jail in the Matanuska Valley, through the use of local bonds.

Agency endorses plan for fish recovery

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Federal authorities have released a final plan for restoring populations of chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout on the Upper Columbia River.

The 352-page recovery plan endorsed Tuesday by the National Marine Fisheries Service covers the chinook and steelhead, which are both listed as endangered, as well as bull trout, which is currently listed as threatened.

The plan suggests analyzing the impacts of habitat degradation, hydropower operations, fishing and hatchery management on the populations. The report says that if proper action is taken, the three species could be removed from the endangered and threatened lists within 10 to 30 years. The estimated cost is at least $296 million over the first 10-year period.

"Clearly habitat degradation is one of the themes that all recovery boards, and all of our scientists, have found is a common one in population losses," said Brian Gorman, a spokesman for the fisheries service. "Habitat restoration is one of the keys to improvement."

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