Alaska Digest

Posted: Friday, November 28, 2003

Heavy snow forecast today for Juneau, northern Panhandle

JUNEAU - The recent stretch of wintry weather will continue into the weekend as up to a half-foot of snow is forecast to fall today and tonight across the Juneau area.

As of Thursday evening, the National Weather Service had posted winter storm watches for Juneau, Hoonah, Gustavus and Pelican. In addition to the heavy snow, wind gusts to near 35 miles per hour were expected.

A blizzard watch was issued for Haines and Skagway, where higher winds could create whiteout conditions, especially along the Haines and Klondike Highways.

The weekend forecast for Juneau calls for a mix of rain and snow each day as temperatures hover just above the freezing mark during the day, and in the upper 20s at night.

Murkowski moves to block attorney fees to Bristol Bay lawyers

JUNEAU - The Murkowski administration has asked a court to allow the state to argue against giving more than $12 million in fees to lawyers representing Bristol Bay fishermen in an unsuccessful lawsuit.

The administration is concerned that too much money is going to lawyers rather than Bristol Bay fishermen hurt by a downturn in the salmon industry, it said in papers filed Wednesday.

An Anchorage Superior Court jury ruled against the fishermen in a $1 billion class-action lawsuit that alleged U.S. and Japanese seafood companies conspired for years to fix prices low.

But some seafood companies settled with the fishermen's lawyers for $40 million before the verdict came down in May. After attorney fees are paid, the 4,500 fishermen could divide about $9.7 million of that settlement fund.

"Every dollar that goes to the attorneys is less money available to help fishermen and their families," Attorney General Gregg Renkes said in a statement.

The state didn't propose how to divide the settlement money, but Renkes is asking to be allowed to argue on behalf of the fishermen during a Dec. 4 hearing.

Committee dismisses ethics complaint against Stevens

FAIRBANKS - A Senate committee has dismissed an ethics complaint filed against Sen. Ted Stevens for his role in advocating a military lease of Boeing refueling jets, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

The dismissal came just a day before Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he wanted a review of his department's handling of the leasing proposal.

The Senate Ethics Committee on Monday rejected the complaint against Stevens. The committee's director said he didn't conduct a detailed investigation because the complaint provided no evidence of misconduct by Stevens.

"The committee has previously concluded that mere allegations, with no evidence or information to support their substantive merit, are insufficient to extend the committee's investigative processes," wrote Robert Walker in a letter to the group that filed the complaint.

Alaska Territory first lady dead at 81

FAIRBANKS - Matilda Stepovich, who served as Alaska's first lady from 1957-58 when the state was still a territory, has died. She was 81.

Stepovich died Tuesday in Medford, Ore.

Her husband, Mike Stepovich, was the last of Alaska's territorial governors.

Matilda Stepovich was born in Oregon and moved to Fairbanks in 1947 with her husband. They had 13 children.

"Matilda Stepovich was witness to a wonderful time in Alaska's history," Gov. Frank Murkowski said Wednesday.

Services were scheduled for Tuesday at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Fairbanks.

Red Cross names Southeast director

JUNEAU - Michael Patterson has been hired as executive director of the Southeast Alaska district Red Cross office, the state Red Cross board announced Wednesday.

Patterson graduated from the University of California, Davis, before joining the Marine Corps. He spent 17 years as a Marine and Coast Guard helicopter pilot.

He also spent three years as a contingency planner, developing exercises to respond to disasters. And he served as deputy director of the Coast Guard's Homeland Security Branch in Alaska.

The Southeast office will hold an open house for Patterson from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 4, at its office at 3200 Hospital Drive, Suite 203.

Defense spending in Alaska triples

ANCHORAGE - Defense spending in Alaska tripled over the last three years with military projects such as the missile defense system at Fort Greely and facilities for the new Stryker brigade at Fort Richardson and Fort Wainwright.

Defense construction spending in Alaska typically runs around $200 million a year. Over the past three fiscal years, that number has tripled, said Col. Tim Gallagher of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

That trend is expected to continue. The U.S. Senate earlier this month approved next year's military construction appropriation, which will fund several of the planned Alaska projects.

Highlights from the bill include $74.7 million for a training range complex, a pallet-processing facility and a facility for military operations in urban terrain at Fort Wainwright to support the Stryker brigade.

Also listed was $71.6 million for the fifth phase of the Bassett Army replacement hospital at Fort Wainwright and a joint security forces complex at Eielson Air Force Base for $15.8 million.

Other branches of the military have projects scheduled.

They include a large frame aircraft hangar costing $25 million to $100 million at Elmendorf Air Force Base and hangar work at the Coast Guard station in Kodiak.

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