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AK Beat: Officials investigating Chukchi Sea oil sheen

Alaska Dispatch

Chukchi oil sheen spotted near Shishmaref: The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and U.S. Coast Guard are investigating a mysterious oily sheen that was found on the Chukchi Sea ice pack near the Inupiat village of Shishmaref on the northern coast of Sarichef Island, officials said Thursday. The sheen, which has a gasoline-like odor, was first reported to DEC on Wednesday by a village public safety officer. The product spilled, volume and cause were unknown as of Thursday, DEC said. A unified command has been set up to respond to the situation, and representatives from DEC and the Coast Guard were expected to arrive at Sarichef Island on Friday to examine the site, DEC said in a situation report issued on Thursday.

New pro-Begich SuperPAC plans $1 million effort with mailers and door knocking: A new super PAC backed by an environmental group intends to spend $1.1 million in a bid to help Democratic Sen. Mark Begich win re-election. Alaska SalmonPAC aims to get “nearly every likely Begich supporter who voted in the 2012 presidential election, but did not vote last midterm election, to vote by mail or in person” this fall,” it said in a statement this week. It’s the second super PAC created specifically to boost Begich’s chances. Similar campaign groups also have been created to help the Republicans fighting for the chance to oust him in November. Super PACs can collect unlimited donations including from corporations and unions, unlike candidates’ own campaign committees. They are barred from coordinating with candidates. SalmonPAC registered with the Federal Elections Commission May 30. It was created in partnership with Alaska Conservation Voters, a lobbying and political organization that supports pro-conservation candidates. The group called Begich “a salmon champion.” The political action committee’s work for Begich will be grass roots and will include more than 30 staff members and hundreds of volunteers. The group intends to mail political flyers to more than 100,000 households multiple times. Its operation also will involve knocking on an estimated 231,000 doors.

Anchorage man charged with child sex abuse: Anchorage police arrested a 59-year-old man on a sex abuse charge Tuesday and fear there may be other underage victims, according to Anchorage Police Department spokeswoman Jennifer Castro. Shortly after 10 a.m., police went to a retail store on the 1200 block of E. Dimond Blvd. in response to a report of a suspicious circumstance. A young girl told her mother that an older man inside of the store “had touched her genitalia,” said an email statement from Castro. By the time police arrived at the store, the man, later identified as Carl Teeluk, was gone. Teeluk returned a couple hours later and a store employee called police. Police followed Teeluk on foot to the intersection of Abbott Road and Erin Drive where he was arrested, Castro said. Teeluk faces one count of sexual abuse of a minor, a felony. He is being held at the Anchorage Correctional Complex.Police believe there may be other victims and are asking anyone with information to call 786-8900.

Seatbelt compliance targeted in Anchorage campaign: Anchorage police say they wrote more than 800 tickets during a recent “Click it or Ticket” campaign, which ran from May 19 to June 1. Police issued 212 of those citations to drivers not wearing seatbelts or not using a proper child restraint. Under municipal code, drivers who fail to buckle up are subject to a $60 fine. If a minor younger than 16 isn't wearing a seatbelt, the cost for the driver soars to $200. In all, police worked 257 hours, pulling over motorists to enforce Alaska’s seatbelt law. In addition to the seatbelt citations, Anchorage officers made 43 arrests during the two-week detail including arrests for drunk driving, warrants, suspended licenses and no insurance. The Anchorage Police Department’s traffic unit is now focusing its efforts on the Glenn Highway during the morning commute. Police are patrolling the highway for speeders and reckless drivers, as well as commuters ignoring the “Move Over Law,” which applies to drivers who fail to vacate the closest lane when passing stationary emergency response vehicles, including police vehicles. According to the law, if a driver is unable to move over, they must “slow down to a reasonable speed,” according to a department press release. Police are encouraging drivers to buckle up and are continuing the ongoing REDDI (Report Every Dangerous Driver Immediately) campaign by calling 911. 

Teenager killed in North Pole collision: Alaska State Troopers say Elizabeth Schack, 18, of Fairbanks, died in a two-vehicle accident Wednesday afternoon near North Pole. The accident at the intersection of Badger and Bradway roads also left a passenger in the car driven by Schack, another teenage girl, with life-threatening injuries. Schack, driving a 2008 Toyota Corolla, pulled onto Badger Road and was struck on the driver’s side door by a 1999 Ford F350 pickup driven by Jeffrey Butler, 51, of Fairbanks, Troopers said. Butler was later released with minor injuries.

Buddhism second-most practiced faith in Alaska: Christianity is by far the largest religion in the United States, and that’s true for each individual state as well. But a degree of variety emerges at the state level when it comes to the second-largest faith, as a new map from the Washington Post illustrates. The Post map found broad regional patterns in those faiths, with Judaism dominating the Northeast (as well as a few outlying states), while Islam was the second-most-adhered-to faith in the South and much of the Midwest. In the West, Buddhism is the faith most followed after Christianity, with the exception of Arizona (the sole state where Hinduism ranks second). Alaska (like Hawaii) stuck with Western states, with Buddhism as their top non-Christian faith. The Post map also broke down the data at the county level, and while Anchorage and Fairbanks North Star Borough followed the statewide trend, Baha’i --not Buddhism -- was the second-most-followed religion in the Matanuska-Susitna and Kenai Peninsula Boroughs. In Southeast Alaska, the trend was reversed, with only Haines registering Buddhism as the number two faith and all other boroughs reported as Baha’i.

Anti-Begich ad faulted by campaign watchdog group: FactCheck.org, an independent organization that acts as a watchdog for claims made in political campaigns, is dinging Crossroads GPS, a conservative SuperPAC, for statements in an attack ad on Alaska Sen. Mark Begich which it says are misleading. The group “misuses a quote from Sen. Mark Begich and conflates two separate management problems at the Veterans Administration to insinuate in a TV ad that Begich doesn’t take the current VA scandal seriously,” FactCheck.org wrote. The claims come in an ad that began airing in Alaska late last month. As FactCheck points out, the ad highlights an inspector general report in which the Anchorage VA office failed all but one of 14 areas, claiming Begich should’ve known about the problems earlier. “But that inspector general report had nothing to do with wait lists for care or veterans dying while waiting for appointments,” the group points out. Likewise the ad brings up a persistent backlog of disability claims, which are also a separate issue from the VA scandal, which has rocked the Obama administration, leading to the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.