Staff and Wire reports

Posted: Thursday, November 10, 2005

David J. Sheakley / The Associated Press

  New jet: The State of Alaska's new jet sits by the Alaska Army National Guard hangar in Juneau, shortly after it arrived Tuesday night. The jet, a 1984 Westwind II, is to be put to immediate use by Gov. Frank Murkowski for state trips and to move prisoners to Arizona, where the state leases jail space.

State's new jet put to work immediately

ANCHORAGE - The state's new jet was put to work immediately.

The Department of Public Safety's $2.6 million Westwind II arrived in Anchorage from Juneau late Wednesday morning, and got its first orders shortly after.

The jet was serviced and then departed with its first load of prisoners for Arizona, where the state of Alaska leases jail space.

The jet will return to Anchorage with prisoners from Arizona later this week. Additional prisoner transport trips are being scheduled for the upcoming weeks, spokeswoman Greg Wilkinson said.

Gov. Frank Murkowski and the department will split use of the jet. Murkowski accounted for about 40 percent of the total time the department's two propeller planes were in the air.

The Department of Public Safety announced plans this summer to buy the jet from a Las Vegas aircraft broker. The total cost of the aircraft plus training for four pilots is nearly $2.7 million.

The plane will be paid for through a line of credit the state has with Key Bank, so the purchase did not require legislative approval.

Earlier this year, a state House of Representatives committee removed a $1.4 million budget line item to lease a jet. Murkowski last year was denied a request to buy a jet with federal Homeland Security money.

The department plans to sell one of its two King Air propeller planes, either through an aircraft broker or through an Internet auction site.

Hurricane-stricken family in Juneau

JUNEAU - A Texas family left homeless by Hurricane Rita has found a new home in Juneau due to the cooperative efforts of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development staff in the nation's two largest states.

John and Linda Savant, along with their 2-year-old son, arrived in Juneau Monday night after residing in a Texas motel following the hurricane.

"Rita pretty much took everything we had," Linda Savant said in a written statement released by the department.

The Beaumont, Texas family came to Alaska to be near Linda's brother and was provided assistance to move into a two-bedroom apartment. Transportation was arranged through the Federal Emergency Management Agency because the family had been accepted for housing placement.

USDA Rural Development has helped house more than 9,500 evacuees in more than 42 states.

Key senators oppose split of 9th Circuit

WASHINGTON - The Republican chairman and the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee announced their opposition Wednesday to a House GOP move to fast-track a breakup of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

House Republicans are including a split of the San Francisco-based court, which covers nine Western states, in a budget-reduction bill that could win House approval as soon as Thursday. The 9th circuit measure was not in the Senate's version of the budget bill, and opposition from key senators could keep it out of the final version of the bill that will be crafted by House and Senate negotiators.

The House measure would create a 9th Circuit covering California, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands, and a new 12th Circuit covering Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Nevada and Arizona.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and ranking Democrat Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., declared their opposition to the House move in a letter released by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a staunch opponent to breaking up the court.

"The reorganization of appellate circuits is a major policy initiative and would impact the system of justice for millions of Americans. The issue is squarely under the jurisdiction of the Judiciary Committee and any budgetary issues are merely incidental," Specter and Leahy wrote to the leaders of the Senate Budget Committee.

Supporters say the nation's largest appeals court has gotten too big to be effective. The court is also the frequent source of rulings that irritate conservatives, such as the 2002 opinion that declared the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional when recited in public schools.

Seattle voters derail mass-transit monorail

SEATTLE - The city's fifth vote on building a mass-transit monorail may have ended the long-held dream.

On Wednesday, one day after voters shot down a last-ditch bid to save the embattled project, the agency that's spent $180 million toward an elevated train system reluctantly began taking its first steps toward folding.

"This was a viable mass-transit project, and it's not now. It's going away," John Haley, the Seattle Monorail Project's interim executive director, said at a news conference at agency headquarters downtown.

Haley joined the project in August after his predecessor stepped down amid public outrage over an $11.4 billion financing plan that included $9 billion in interest on low-grade bonds - more than four times the monorail's estimated price tag.

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