Dec. 20: Stevens and FBI nearly tie one on

Today's news for the Last Frontier

January 2, 2008 

Stevens, FBI nearly tie one on. The Sleuth, a Washington Post blog that aims to air behind-the-scenes stuff in Washington, D.C., reports that Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens and the FBI came close to sharing a few brews at a holiday bash last week. The two, who are unlikely co-partiers (the agency was involved in the raid of Stevens’ Girdwood home last summer) almost linked up when Stevens replied that, yes, he would be attending the FBI director’s holiday party last week.

“In the end, the embattled senator must have got cold feet: He was a no-show at the packed party, where — you guessed it — handcuffs and holsters abounded,” The Sleuth says.

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“Wild” leads award nominees. “Into the Wild,” the Sean Penn-directed movie about young Chris McCandless, who abandoned a comfortable life to venture into Alaska’s wilds, received four Screen Actors Guild Awards nominations today, more than any other film. The SAGA web site lists as among the nominations one for Emile Hirsch, who played McCandless.

McCandless, who was the subject of a book by Jon Krakauer, died in Alaska, and his tale has become the subject of considerable debate in the state. Among the stories that have come out of the movie this fall were this column by ADN outdoors editor Craig Medred, which itself stirred comment.

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“I just started hammering as hard as I could.” Alaska’s Kikkan Randall, in an interview with APRN, said she made the decision to go all out, despite what her competitors were doing, in the late part of the sprint that made her the first American woman to win a World Cup race. Randall won the race in Russia last weekend. (Click here to read the ADN story on her victory.)

What’s been the reaction to her win? Randall told APRN: “It’s been more than I could have ever imagined. I mean, I’ve heard from so many people in Alaska, from across the country, people that had never tuned into cross-country skiing before. So it’s really cool to know that a simple goal of mine really is meaning so much to so many people.”

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Tax challenge goes before judge. A lawsuit challenging the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s pending sales tax increase is due back in court on Friday, with oral arguments scheduled before a Superior Court judge, according to a Peninsula Clarion story today. The Alliance of Concerned Taxpayers claims the borough can’t boost the current 2 percent sales tax without a public vote.

The story notes that Ken Jacobus, who is representing ACT in the suit, won’t appear in person but will link up by telephone from Anchorage. Jacobus recently broke his leg and a full cast makes air travel problematic, according to the story.

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Meet Miss Alaska. Photos of the new Miss Alaska USA, Courtney Carroll of Fairbanks, have apparently been difficult to come by. (ADN published a small one after her ascension to the crown last weekend; click here for The Associated Press story on her win.)

But Kodiak Konfidential blog this week came up with a collection of photographs, which are posted on the web site. The blog’s author, who calls himself Ishmael Melville, writes that the pictures were taken from the new Miss Alaska’s Myspace page. Commentators have been weighing in on the pictures since they went up on Ishmael’s web site.

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Late-night quake shook residents. A KIAL story from Unalaska airs a bit of the reaction to the strong earthquake that rattled the Aleutians this week. The temblor measured 7.2 in magnitude, knocked items off store shelves, was centered 124 miles west of Adak and resulted in a tsunami warning that was canceled after a few hours.

“It was a good shaker,” Violet Pearl of Adak told the station. “I was reading and I was lying on my back and I thought it was going to roll me off the bed, so it was like ‘Do I move, or do I just stay and enjoy the ride?’ ”

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12 years later, Ponzi case may wrap up. Remember that Ponzi scheme that hit Fairbanks back in the 1990s involving World Plus and Raejean Bonham? A couple of columns from the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner’s Dermot Cole this week — one is here, the other is here — say the financial complexities of the case are close to being sorted out.

“Bankruptcy trustee Larry Compton of Anchorage recently submitted his final report in the case and is awaiting Internal Revenue Service approval to distribute payments totaling $1.2 million to about 900 people who lost money in the scheme,” Cole writes.

Cole notes that $7 million has gone to administrative and legal expenses over the years. He also notes that Bonham spent years in prison but is now out.

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Army unit headed to Alaska. A tidbit of military news showed up buried in an Associated Press story about U.S. Army growth in coming years. It’s this: Fort Richardson is due to get another group of soldiers. The story reports that a support unit currently in Fort Irwin, Calif., will shift to Fort Rich.

The total plan will affect 304 Army installations across the country, according to the story. The Army expects to grow by 74,000 soldiers by 2010.

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Tax bill makes final leap. Stories from APRN and KTUU Channel 2 note that Gov. Sarah Palin has signed into law what she christened Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share measure. ACES puts into place a new oil production tax that replaces the Petroleum Profits Tax, known as PPT.

ACES could mean billions more for the state treasury. Palin welcomed the measure as a “new beginning” in the relationship with the oil industry. But critics have warned the measure could deter new oil industry investment in the state.

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Smoking ordinance blows away, for now. A story in The Nome Nugget notes that the Nome Common Council has backed off a no-smoking-in-public-places ordinance in part because of questions whether the proposal applied to bars. About 20 people showed up to air their views in a public hearing, with many of the opinions coming in strong on one side or the other.

The council plans to take up the ordinance again in January.

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Alaska suit could blaze new trail. Alaska’s $1.8 billion lawsuit against Mercer, which claims the consulting firm’s mistakes contributed to the state’s $8.4 billion shortfall, could set the stage for “a showdown between U.S. government retirement funds and private service providers,” a Reuters story says.

“I think we are going to see more of these suits and they are going to be with even bigger pension plans than Alaska's,” said Steven Howard, a partner at law firm Thacher Proffitt & Wood LLP. “It puts the servicing businesses for pension plans on notice that they have to be very, very careful that the day in which they would never even think of being sued by the pension plans is over.”

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Construction could dip in 2008. An Alaska Journal of Commerce analysis of construction spending in 2007 and predictions for 2008 sees good times behind us and slower times ahead. The story declares 2007 “a banner year,” with construction spending in the state totaling an estimated $7 billion.

The construction industry is looking ahead with great eagerness to a proposed natural gas pipeline, according to the story. Dick Cattanach, executive director of the Associated General Contractors of Alaska, is quoted saying: “Once they've laid out a timetable, we'll experience the whole boom psychology that comes with it. Gas might not start flowing for 10 years, but you'll see businesses saying ‘I need a new store or hotel’ or ‘I need this or that’ almost immediately.”

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