Northwest Digest

Posted: Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Leaders named for resources department

JUNEAU - Natural Resources Commissioner Mike Menge Tuesday named an acting deputy commissioner and three acting division directors.

The appointments, effective immediately, fill the vacuum created last week when Menge's predecessor, Tom Irwin, was removed by the Murkowski administration and his deputies resigned. They will help maintain the continuity of operations in the Department of Natural Resources, Menge said.

"I appreciate their willingness to step up and take on these additional duties for the good of the state," Menge said.

Gov. Murkowski appointed Menge, his energy adviser, to the top DNR post late last week.

Legislators and some industry officials have said they worry about how the loss of top DNR officials will affect the natural gas pipeline negotiations and other regulatory activities in Alaska.

Ed Fogels, a project manager with the Office of Project Management and Permitting, will serve as acting deputy commissioner of the department, responsible for all departmental operations other than oil and gas and pipeline issues.

Fogels has been coordinating the permit activities for large mine projects statewide, including the Pogo, Kensington and True North mines.

William Van Dyke, acting deputy director of the Division of Oil and Gas, will serve as acting director of his division. Van Dyke has been a state petroleum manager with the department since 1981.

Randy Bates, deputy director of the Office of Project Management and Permitting, will serve as acting director of that office. Since 2003, He has been responsible for overseeing coastal management and office revisions.

Dick Mylius, deputy director of the Division of Mining, Land and Water, will serve as acting director of his division. He has been deputy director of the Division of Mining, Land and Water since 2003.

Groups seek speedy mine deliberation

JUNEAU - Three environmental groups suing to block a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit for the Kensington gold mine asked a U.S. district judge to expedite the major complaint in the lawsuit on Tuesday.

A quick briefing schedule for the lawsuit's main complaint - disposal of mine tailings in Lower Slate Lake - could eliminate the need for the groups to file a preliminary injunction to halt mine construction, according to the environmental groups.

If handled under routine scheduling, court briefings in the Kensington lawsuit would not be completed until mid-February.

If District Judge James Singleton agrees to expedite the briefing schedule, the briefing process could be finished in mid-December, said Kat Hall, a mining coordinator for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.

Luke Russell, director of environmental affairs for Coeur d'Alene Mines, the parent company of the Kensington Mine, said he wasn't aware of the environmentalists' request to Singleton but would support an expedited hearing.

Attorneys for the environmental groups, which include SEACC, the Sierra Club and Haines-based Lynn Canal Conservation, said in their motion that if the judge rejects their proposed schedule, they would like him to hold a status conference to establish a schedule that is more acceptable.

A Justice Department spokeswoman recently confirmed that the federal government has a Nov. 14 deadline to submit its response to the lawsuit in court.

Woman pleads no contest in theft

KODIAK - A woman will spend three days in jail for stealing flowers and lawn ornaments from area homes and gardens.

Lan Chicas pleaded no contest to three counts of theft and one charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

"I've learned my lesson," Chicas told the court.

She also was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine, complete 100 hours of community service and write apology letters to victims.

The charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor stems from a case where witnesses on Woody Way Loop Road said they saw a young girl exit Chicas' van and "tear some flowers from a retaining wall," the police report said.

Unlike some crimes where the thief needs food or money, Chicas did not need the flowers, Magistrate Steve Cole said during Monday's sentencing.

"It probably looked good in your yard, but still, this isn't food, this wasn't something you needed," Cole said.

"People really feel bad that this sort of thing has gone on," Assistant District Attorney Joe Slusser said. "People like to think that their yard angel or concrete bunny isn't going to be taken."

"This situation was quite out of character for Mrs. Chicas. She is a hardworking, conscientious person," said her attorney, Moshe Zorea.

Zoila Aguilar faces eight charges in the case, and is still awaiting trial.

Avian flu found in wild birds in B.C.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia - A form of H5 avian flu virus has been found in wild birds in British Columbia, the province's chief veterinarian said Tuesday, a day after nearly three dozen birds were reported to have the virus in Quebec and Manitoba.

Veterinarian Ron Lewis said the result doesn't raise the risk to commercial poultry farmers; rather it serves as a reminder of the threats carried by wild birds.

Farmers should focus their efforts on maintaining strict biosecurity to keep their chickens from being exposed to wild birds, he said.

Lewis held a conference call in Victoria to announce that officials found strongly positive samples of the H5 virus in 14 ducks in the central Interior of British Columbia.

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