Staewide Briefs

New ethics complaint filed against Palin

With Troopergate barely behind her, Governor Sarah Palin faces yet another abuse of power charge.

The complaint alleges that Palin used her official position as governor for personal gain, violating a statute of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act. It follows an investigative report by The Associated Press last October asserting Palin charged the state more than $21,000 for her three daughters’ commercial flights, including events where they weren’t invited, and later ordered their expense forms amended to specify official state business.

In some cases, Palin also charged the state for hotel rooms for the girls.

Alaska law allows governors to charge the state for their family’s travel if they conduct state business.

“Governor Palin intentionally secured unwarranted benefits for family members, improperly used state property to benefit her personal and financial interests, and illegally altered documents that were the subject of a Public Records request,” the complaint reads.

Earlier this month, a legislative report found Palin violated state ethics laws when she fired her public safety commissioner. The state’s Personnel Board also has hired an independent counsel for a similar investigation.

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Palin spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said the first family is generally expected to participate in community activities across Alaska and represents the state on travels.

The state already is reviewing nearly $17,000 in per diem payments to Palin for 312 nights she slept at her home in Wasilla, about an hour’s drive from her satellite office in Anchorage.

Board of Regents update

The UA Board of Regents last week approved a 2010 operating budget request that totaled nearly $80 million.

The UA operating systems request is a 9.4 percent increase over the 2009 fiscal year budget. State funds would cover $345 million while the university will generate $504 million from grants, tuition and other sources.

The board also approved a capital request of almost $541 million.

Military to help move eroding village

The village of Newtok in Western Alaska sits atop a rapidly eroding coastline. It is estimated that the village has eight years to move before the coastline is completely eroded.

U.S. Marines, Navy Seabees and soldiers from other branches will provide the manpower, engineering and heavy equipment to help the 350 residents relocate to a new village not far from the old one, officials at the Pentagon said.

The military effort is scheduled to get under way next summer when Marines establish a base camp at the new site. Later, the soldiers will turn their attention toward constructing roads, an airstrip and an evacuation shelter that will eventually serve as a community center, the officials said.

Moving the villages won’t be easy. The Corps of Engineers estimated in 2006 that efforts to build new villages will cost tens of millions of dollars, raising doubts about whether such undertakings are possible.

AK to run its own wastewater

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it has approved an application for the state to oversee its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System.

This gives Alaska’s Department of Conservation responsibility for permitting and ensuring that companies discharging pollutants into water adhere to permit conditions.

The authority gets phased in over three years, starting immediately.

This covers industries ranging from seafood processing to mining to oil and gas production.

The EPA still retains oversight of the state’s program, has the right to review any wastewater discharge permit and the right to object to permits not compliant with the Clean Water Act.

Duped by decoy

A moose decoy last month helped state wildlife officials nab two men along the Lower Kuskokwim River near the village of Lower Kalskag outside of Bethel. Both men were ticketed with taking game in a closed area. One of the men was ticketed for shooting from a moving boat, for hunting without a license and for shooting big game with a .22-caliber rifle.

A moratorium on moose hunting in the area was instated five years ago to help increase a healthy moose population for reliable hunting in the future.

The decoy placement was chosen because three illegal moose kills occurred in the same spot over the past two years.

Even though Yup’ik village leaders initiated the moratorium, the charges against the two men have angered tribal members who claim it is their right to hunt and fish for subsistence purpose, and that state and federal laws are attempting to squelch those rights.