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AK Beat: Alaska Senate passes bill requiring bonds for court challenges

Craig MedredAlaska Dispatch

Senate passes bill requiring bond for court challenge: The state Senate approved a bill on a 14-6 vote that would raise the stakes for challenging industrial projects in court. Anchorage Republican Sen. Lesil McGuire said there is currently little risk in bringing a suit to stop a project that has been permitted. This measure would make people think twice by requiring them to post a bond, she said. It mirrors an existing court rule that is not followed, McGuire said. “Our courts will not be used for vexatious litigation,” she said, adding that the bond amount would be up to the discretion of judges. Democratic critics said the measure, House Bill 47, would deny access of low-income and middle-income Alaskans to the court system. Anchorage Sen. Hollis French said it is a “bill in search of a problem” that would create improper hurdles for Alaskans trying to protect themselves and their communities. French said he wants "to preserve the open courts that we pride ourselves on."

Walgreens coming to Fairbanks, Castle Restaurant coming down: The city of Fairbanks is getting two Walgreens this year, and one of them will be taking the place of an iconic landmark. A construction crew is currently in the early stages of demotion on the long-vacant Castle Restaurant in west Fairbanks, chipping away at the stone facade, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. One Walgreens will take its place, with another planned for the east side of town in a vacant lot between the Safeway gas station and Rock N Rodeo bar. Walgreens already has seven stores in Alaska in the communities of Anchorage, Eagle River and Wasilla.

USDA files complaint against UAF: The U.S. Department of Agriculture filed a complaint in late March against the University of Alaska Fairbanks concerning the death of 12 musk oxen in 2010 and 2011, the USDA said Wednesday. The complaint alleges that the university failed to provide adequate veterinary care to the animals and did not meet minimum feeding standards for the musk oxen, most of which died of emaciation. The complaint also alleges that the university failed in facility standards for reindeer, as an inspector observed a female reindeer whose antlers had become entangled in the wire fencing of its enclosure. In addition, the complaint states that the university failed to handle animals as carefully as possible, as a student entered a primary enclosure housing moose and was kicked in the head.

Earthquake rattles Southcentral: A 5.06 earthquake rocked Southcentral Alaska at 12:24 p.m. Wednesday, striking 40 miles north of Talkeetna and at a depth of about 47 miles, according to the Alaska Earthquake Information Center. The quake was also felt in the state's largest city of Anchorage, 116 miles south of the temblor's origin. There were no immediate reports of damage. 

Mercury levels in Alaska fish are safe, feds say: Though some fish found in four Alaska national parks had mercury levels exceeding consumption standards for children and pregnant women, federal officials said most Alaska fish tested in a newly released U.S. Geological Survey-National Park Service study were safe, with mercury levels well below thresholds for concern. The high mercury levels for Alaska fish were found in fish at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve and Lake Clark National Park and Preserve; tested fish were lake trout -- a long-lived species that tends to accumulate more toxins than other fish -- grayling, kokanee, Dolly Varden and northern pike, the USGS and National Park Service said. The highest mercury concentration in an Alaska fish was 417 parts per billion, found in trout in one lake in Wrangell-St. Elias, the study found. That compares to the state of Alaska human consumption thresholds that start at 150 parts per billion. The study analyzed mercury levels in 21 western and Alaska national parks; fish in Denali National Park and Preserve and Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve were found to have very low levels of mercury.

Parachute onto Arctic ice: Watch as more than 50 Russian soldiers parachute onto drifting Arctic ice during a first-ever training exercise near the North Pole. The exercise took place last week at 89 degrees north latitude, when they jumped from an Ilyushin-76 military transport aircraft along with airdropped supplies. The paratroopers will build a camp and train in the rescue of polar expeditions, according to Business Insider, in collaboration with the Expedition Center of the Russian Geographic Society.

Dead, frozen fish beating up on Alaska fishers: Crazy as this might sound, people working aboard factory trawlers catching and freezing pollock, cod, Pacific ocean perch and more off the Alaska coast are regularly injured by the fish they catch. Or at least that's the conclusion from a newly published study in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine. Researcher Devin Lucas from Oregon State University found that nearly half of all injuries aboard commercial freezer-trawlers and about a quarter of the injuries on freezer-longliner vessels came in the handling of frozen fish. Oregon State reported that Lucas started his work because of the deadly reputation of offshore fishing in Alaska, but he quickly found the big-boat fishery isn't as dangerous as it sometimes portrayed. "An analysis of 12 years of injury data showed that fishing on the freezer vessels was less risky than many other types of commercial fishing, which is one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States,'' he reported. "The rate of injury on freezer-trawlers was about the same as the national average for commercial fishing, while the rate aboard freezer-longliners was about half of the national average. 'The reality is that many fisheries elsewhere in the U.S., including Oregon Dungeness crabbing, are much more dangerous,''' Lucas said. But it appears there are still plenty of ways to get hurt below deck on the slime line or in the freezer of a factory trawler. Injury data, according to the report, indicated most injuries in the freezer-trawler fleet occurred in the (processing) factories and freezer holds. When it's rough at sea, beware the frozen flying cod.

PETA goes after “Wild West Alaska”: In what can only be good news for the reality show "Wild West Alaska'' in the 49th state -- though not necessarily in the rest of the country -- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is demanding the Animal Planet network cancel the program. "On the heels of Animal Planet Canada’s decision to abruptly cancel all upcoming episodes of 'Call of the Wildman' following evidence of animal abuse,'' the animals right groups said in a press release, "'Wild Wes't should be taken off the air because star Jim West is accused of violating some Alaska hunting laws." Keeping the show on the air, PETA Foundation Deputy General Counsel Delcianna Winders is quoted as saying, sends "a message that (Animal Planet) does not value or want to protect the welfare -- and very lives -- of animals." PETA said it has issued an action alert to members and is partnering with the Gun Truth Project to demand an end to Wild West. Unmentioned in the press release are the many other Alaska reality shows that involve killing animals -- including fish, which PETA also opposes killing. PETA has historically been in an ethical disagreement with most Alaska residents, a good number of whom drive motor vehicles with bumper stickers saying "PETA: People Eating Tasty Animals.''

Ukraine crisis forces "wait-and-see approach" for companies eyeing Russian oil and gas: The international crisis between Russian and Ukraine might be slowing down talk of oil and gas exploration and drilling in Russia’s Arctic, but that’s not having a big impact on western oil companies at the moment, argues a piece from U.S. News and World Report. Like other Arctic regions -- including Alaska -- drilling in Russia’s Arctic requires lots of upfront investment and a long time before profits are realized: “Exploration is going to happen in this decade and the next decade, and maybe there will be development in the ‘30s and ‘40s,” a Norwegian consultant tells the magazine. Plus, Russian oil and gas companies need those western companies and the expertise they bring as much as the western companies need their Russian partners for access to the nation’s reserves. That means that, for the time being at least, western petroleum companies who have existing partnerships in Russia or are pursuing them, can afford to wait and see how the conflict will turn out.

It's National Distracted Driving Awareness Month: Look around on the roadway: Who's on their cell phone texting? What would be the reaction of Alaska residents if on any given day, at any given intersection in the state's system of roadways, a driver waiting for a stop light could be seen chugging down a beer? Might it make them take note of National Drinking and Driving Awareness Month? Probably. But will the ubiquitous presence of an equally dangerous product in the motor vehicle -- the smart phone -- make them recognize National Distracted Driving Awareness Month? Sprint is among the cell-phone service companies that say they hope so. Accepting the addictive nature of texting on smart phones, the company says that it is even offering a free app -- Sprint Drive First -- which automatically detects when a vehicle is going faster than 10 mph and locks your phone so you can't use it even if you feel the compulsion. Some may need it. Texting while driving is already illegal in Alaska, but that doesn't seem to have slowed the growth of the habit. There are always people texting at intersections in the state's largest city -- just look around -- and a lot of them are still distracted by their phone when they roll away from the light. Texting has been tied to at least one person being run down and killed. "Focus on driving while behind the wheel,'' Sprint suggested in a press release, not texting or emailing. Or catching up on the news while speeding down an Alaska highway. The odds, unfortunately, would indicate someone is likely doing this. The National Transportation Safety Board is concerned enough that it in 2011 recommended a national ban on the use of all personal electronic devices by anyone operating a vehicle, but the suggestion has gone nowhere despite the increasing number of accidents linked to drivers distracted by staring at screens. An officer with the Anchorage Police Department went through a red light and t-boned and destroyed a pickup truck in while checking his in-car computer.