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AK Beat: Priest stopped on Parks Highway, arrested for DUI, drugs, guns

Craig MedredAlaska Dispatch
Father Sean P. Thomson, 52, was stopped Monday on the Parks Highway near McKinley Village after he was allegedly observed speeding and weaving. Loren Holmes photo

Fairbanks priest arrested for DUI, guns, drugs: A University of Alaska Fairbanks parish priest has been arrested on charges of driving under the influence, as well as misdemeanor drug and gun offenses, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported. Father Sean P. Thomson, 52, was stopped Monday on the Parks Highway near McKinley Village after he was allegedly observed speeding and weaving, crossing the road’s centerline. Thomson allegedly seemed disoriented and gave a receipt when asked for his vehicle registration. Asked if he had any weapons, Thomson mentioned a firearm in his back seat but didn’t mention a 9mm pistol in his back pocket. According to the News-Miner, the preacher also possessed a bag with a small quantity of marijuana in the pocket of his hoodie sweatshirt. Thomson reportedly blew around three times the legal limit for breath alcohol content. 

$49 million from feds for fish, wildlife, conservation: Anglers and hunters visiting Alaska from the Lower 48 are often reviled as being from, well, Outside. But the 49th state is due to get its annual shipment of cash courtesy of those anglers and hunters, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced on Wednesday that the 49th state will get nearly $49 million out of the $1.1 billion in federal revenue sharing being distributed to the states. Funding comes from excise taxes on fishing, hunting and boating gear. The only state that sees a bigger payday is Texas, which will get more than $51 million. Texas is a state less than half the size of Alaska, but it's home to more than 30 times as many people. The money comes to the states courtesy of the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration fund and the Dingell-Johnson Fisheries Restoration fund is earmarked for conservation and fish and wildlife management. In Alaska, these revenues finance most of the budgets of the divisions of Wildlife Conservation and Sport Fisheries in the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Police nab one Anchorage robber, seek another: Anchorage police say they’re searching for one of two alleged East Anchorage robbers. Around noon, police got a call about an armed robbery at a residence in the Mayflower Trailer Court. “It was reported to police that two male suspects were seen fleeing the residence on foot,” an Anchorage Police Department press release says. Police responded and reportedly nabbed a suspect, but the other alleged robber got away, and they are “still searching for another possible suspect.” Two victims were identified at the scene of the crime, one of whom was treated by medics for non-life- threatening injuries, the release says. APD offered no additional details. 

Tongass roadless rule exemption upheld: The on-and-off roadless rule for the Tongass National Forest appears to be off again. A federal appeals court on Wednesday upheld the Forest Service’s 2003 exemption of the Tongass from its national rule barring construction of new logging roads in areas that do not already have roads. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a 2011 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge John Sedwick that reinstated the roadless rule for the Tongass. But while Sedwick found the exemption to be arbitrary and capricious, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, found that the Forest Service’s “reasons for the exemption are entirely rational” and that it should be upheld. The roadless rule was originally enacted in 2001, at the end of the Clinton administration, for all U.S. national forests. Alaska’s national forests were exempted from the rule two years later. Though the initial 2001 rule and the subsequent 2003 exemption applied to both the Tongass and the Chugach national forests, the controversy has focused on the Tongass.

Woman-owned businesses lag in Alaska: Alaska ranks a pathetic 51st in the growth of woman-owned firms over the past 17 years, according to American Express's fourth Women-Owned Business report. Nationally, women entrepreneurs have been engaging almost everywhere. The report notes a 68 percent increase with about 9.1 million women now heading businesses. Alaska, however, hasn't kept up. Woman-owned businesses in the 49th state have increased only about 11 percent since '97, growing from 16,633 to 18,500. The good news is that the state's existing woman-owned businesses appear to be doing well. Revenue has increased almost 80 percent over the years, putting the state 23rd in revenue growth.

Sitka, Kodiak named Alaska's healthiest towns: The Southeast Alaska town of Sitka and the city of Kodiak, on Kodiak Island, have been named the healthiest towns in Alaska by the annual County Health Rankings report, which is released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The report ranks the health of counties in every U.S. state. The ranks break the state down into 14 boroughs, 10 census areas and the Municipality of Anchorage. From there, researchers determine an area's health by considering various factors, including the number of smokers, high school graduates and access to healthy foods. Western Alaska communities were named the least healthy, while Anchorage sat in 13th place.

Traffic stop leads to arrest on weapons, drugs charges: What began as a traffic stop Sunday afternoon ended in the arrest of two Anchorage men on multiple drug and weapons charges, say Alaska State Troopers. Troopers reported that shortly before 3 p.m. officers stopped a white Hyundai near mile 104 of the Seward Highway for an equipment violation. But when troopers stopped the vehicle, they discovered what they described only as “marijuana cultivation equipment.” Further investigation revealed that both men -- 27-year-old Christopher L. Lorentsen, the driver, and 24-year-old Zachary M. Bourbannais, the passenger -- were in possession of handguns, troopers said, and one of the handguns was identified as a gun that had been stolen in Anchorage. Anchorage Police Department officers responded to interview Bourbannais about the stolen handgun, troopers said, while an area narcotics team arrived and secured the vehicle. A subsequent search, executed once a warrant had been obtained, found what troopers described as “a significant marijuana seizure.” Lorentsen and Bourbannais were both charged with two counts each of second- and fifth-degree misconduct involving a weapon, fourth- and sixth-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance. Bourbannais was additionally charged with a count of second-degree theft. Both were taken to the Anchorage Correctional Complex.

Trucking salmon to the sea: Drought conditions in California left king salmon smolt in some of that state’s hatcheries high and dry. After a prolonged drought, there’s too little water left in the rivers for the juvenile fish to make the journey to the Pacific Ocean. So state and federal fisheries managers have decided to get those fish to the ocean a different way, reports NPR: by truck. This isn’t the first time hatchery salmon have been trucked in California, the report notes, and the method isn’t foolproof; researchers worry it’ll affect the fishes’ ability to imprint on their home streams, helping them navigate when they return to spawn. Still, that’s a risk worth taking, one California Department of Fish and Wildlife official told NPR.

When “hello” is more than just a greeting: What makes someone the person they are? That’s the question that a video piece in The Atlantic finds underlies the regional variations in the questions with which people in the U.S. commonly greet one another. Schools, churches, neighborhoods, tribal affiliations, ethnic background -- these are all means for sussing out a stranger’s identity in different parts of the country, as the video suggests. That first question often has an Alaska-specific twist in the 49th state, as one of the voices in the video suggests: “In my experience it’s been common to ask somebody where they’re from, because so few people in Alaska are actually from here.” An accompanying article spins out that twist a little more: “From Alaska (where, we heard when there, some people have histories they are reluctant to divulge): The Alaska variant is, ‘How long have you lived here?’ Bonus points if you've lived ‘off the road-system.’”