Northwest Digest

Posted: Thursday, November 23, 2006

Coast Guard reports details in diver's death

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SEATTLE - One of two Coast Guard divers who mysteriously perished during a training dive in the Arctic last summer plunged toward the ocean floor in an uncontrolled descent, suffocated and developed lung trauma during a rapid rise to the surface, according to an autopsy report summary obtained by The Associated Press.

And by the time the two divers from the Seattle-based icebreaker Healy had been pulled up, "one diver's (air) tank was completely empty and the other diver's tank contained 90 psi (pounds per square inch)" - the latter typically not sufficient to deliver air through the breathing regulator, the report said.

The report was provided to the AP on Tuesday by William Hill Jr., of St. Augustine, Fla., the father of Coast Guard Lt. Jessica Hill, who died along with Boatswain's Mate Steven Duque on Aug. 17, 500 miles north of Alaska.

The Coast Guard has released little information about the deaths but relieved the Healy's commander, citing a loss of confidence in his ability. A spokesman said the Coast Guard would not discuss the autopsy report pending the conclusion of its investigations, expected next year.

Hill, 31, and Duque, 22, had slipped into a patch of open water near the ship's bow and were planning to dive to a maximum depth of 20 feet, William Hill said. A support team held ropes attached to them lest they become disoriented under the ice.

The autopsy report summary, written by Armed Forces Regional Medical Examiner Stanley D. Adams, said Hill suffered "an uncontrolled descent to a possible depth of 189 feet." Her father said that if in fact she went that deep, he didn't understand how the dive support team could have failed to prevent it.

"Why in the hell did they let out that much rope?" he asked. "It was only scheduled for 20 feet."

The autopsy ruled Hill's death an accident.

Sutton residents don't want another prison

SUTTON - Sutton is not interested in building a medium-security prison in their town next to an existing correctional facility.

More than 70 people attended a public meeting Monday to discuss the proposal to put a 1,200- to 2,251-bed prison. Sixteen residents spoke at the meeting and all but one opposed plans to build more beds at the Palmer Correctional Center.

"This is a good place and we want to keep it that way so people can come and enjoy," resident George Rauscher said after the meeting.

Sutton is one of four sites the state is considering for the largest prison in Alaska. Other sites being considered are north of Houston, south of Palmer and in Point MacKenzie.

Project officials are wrapping up a round of public comments on the four proposed prison sites.

Native corp. to pay $85 million to IRS

ANCHORAGE - An Anchorage-based Native corporation has agreed to pay $85 million to settle a dispute with the Internal Revenue Service on taxes owed on land it owned on the Kenai Peninsula.

The IRS claimed last fall that Cook Inlet Region Inc. owed $174 million in back income taxes on 55,000 acres of subsurface land that it obtained through the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

After months of negotiation with the IRS, CIRI has agreed to pay slightly less than half.

"We felt the settlement was a fair one," Keith Sanders, CIRI's vice president for land and legal affairs, said Tuesday.

The settlement will allow CIRI to avoid further legal costs, he said.

The settlement hasn't been finalized yet in court, CIRI officials said Tuesday.

CIRI sold the land in 2000 after exploration failed to pinpoint oil, natural gas or coal. The Native corporation then claimed a $446 million loss on its tax returns.

The IRS audited CIRI's 2000 and 2001 tax returns and sent the company a letter last October contending CIRI's loss was considerably smaller, about $900,000. The IRS said the company owed the government $1.5 million for 2000 and $138 million for 2001, plus interest.

CIRI spokesman Jim Jager said such tax disputes are not unusual for Alaska Native corporations because of the difficulties of putting a value on land at the time it was obtained.

"Every ANCSA corporation has had some variation of this," he said.

Last year, CIRI sold some of its stock, bonds and other securities to make a $100 million deposit with the IRS, pending resolution of the tax dispute.

In theory, the IRS now owes CIRI $15 million plus interest, but CIRI officials said Tuesday that they may get less than that amount back.

That's because the IRS also has found fault with a portion of CIRI's 2003 tax return, CIRI officials said.

Company officials said their additional tax liability for 2003 could reach roughly $5 million to $7 million, Sanders said.

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