NW Digest

Wire reports

Posted: Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Safety officer accused of molesting children

ANCHORAGE - A safety officer at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is accused of sexually abusing three young children of a former girlfriend, police said Monday.

James Wayne Merculief, 41, was arrested Saturday and taken to the Anchorage Jail, where he was being held on $100,000 bail. He is charged with six counts of first-degree sexual abuse of a minor and five counts of second-degree sexual abuse of a minor.

Police began their investigation two weeks ago after Merculief's former girlfriend lodged the allegations. According to police, the woman said her two sons and a daughter watched a television program discussing child molestation. The woman told police that after the show, she talked to her children and discussed the importance of telling an adult about being inappropriately touched.

The children then told their mother they were sexually assaulted between February and October 2002 while in Merculief's care, police said. At the time, the boys were 8 and 9 years old, and the girl was 10.

None of the alleged crimes occurred while Merculief was on the job. Merculief has been relieved of his duties at the airport and an internal administrative investigation is being conducted, said John Manly, spokesman for state Department of Transportation.

Two satellite oil fields slated for North Slope

ANCHORAGE - ConocoPhillips and Anadarko Petroleum Corp. have given the go-ahead for the development of two satellite oil fields on Alaska's North Slope that at peak could produce 35,000 barrels per day, ConocoPhillips said Monday.

The satellite oil fields will be on the Fiord and the Nanuq sites, both within eight miles of the companies' Alpine oil field, just outside the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

About 40 wells will be drilled, with first production scheduled for 2006 and peak production of about 35,000 barrels daily in 2008. The satellite oil fields will be developed with horizontal well technology and enhanced oil recovery.

The oil will be processed at existing Alpine facilities. The Alpine field, operated by ConocoPhillips, produces about 115,000 barrels a day.

The companies said they will continue to pursue permits for potential development of three Alpine satellites in the NPR-A.

The reserve covers about 23.5 million acres of public land west of Prudhoe Bay. Estimates of oil reserves in the NPR-A range from about 6 billion to 13 billion barrels of oil.

Kenai Peninsula roadkill rampant

KENAI - With holiday shoppers zipping up and down roads, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has a bit of advice for distracted drivers. Look beyond the edges of the road.

"Don't get tunnel vision going from point A to point B," said Jeff Selinger, area manager for Fish and Game in Soldotna.

As of late last week, 141 moose roadkills have been reported on the Kenai Peninsula. The number is running above average.

The projected figure is below the number of moose roadkills last season, in which there were more than 200 animals killed by the end of December. Nevertheless, last year was one of the highest years on record since the mid-1980s.

Selinger cited several reasons for the rise in roadkill around this time of year.

Rather than trudging through deep snow, which is demanding on moose during a time of year when they don't have calories to spare, they often prefer the ease of walking on plowed roads.

There also is a lot of good browse available along the roads where the right of way has been cleared and swaths of willow have flourished.

Winter also is when roads are icy and there's little daylight.

"We've got high volumes of people going to and from work in the dark, and the moose are dark, so they are very difficult to see at this time of year," Selinger said.

Campus system gets $3.8 million in grants

FAIRBANKS - The University of Alaska Fairbanks' rural campus system has won almost $4 million in federal grants.

UAF's Interior-Aleutians campus operates village centers located in Fort Yukon, Nenana, Tok, Galena, McGrath and Unalaska and also offers classes in other villages on demand.

The campus will get $3 million over the next five years from the U.S. Department of Education and another $800,000 over three years from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Education Department money comes through the Title III program, which awarded the funds to the campus in part because it qualifies as a federally designated Alaska Native Serving Institution. It comes on the heels of a previous five-year Title III grant for $2.5 million that ran out in September, when the current grant was awarded, and will go to further the work done with that grant.

"These are enhancements and improvements of the programs, which had originally begun under Title III," said Lou Brown, the campus' Title III program manager.

The grant money will make up a substantial portion of the campus' budget, Brown said. The I-AC has a $3 million budget this year, of which almost $1.3 million will come from the grants.

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