Statewide Briefs 10/20/2009

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High demand for swine flu vaccine in Alaska

Alaska’s demand for flu vaccines — swine and seasonal — is outstripping supply.

The immunization program manager for the state Public Health Division, Laurel Wood, told The Anchorage Daily News more vaccine is on the way, and it’s not a crisis situation.

The first 4,200 doses of swine flu vaccine that arrived in Alaska the week of Oct. 4 were earmarked for a group at high risk of being hospitalized, children ages 2 to 4.

Whether there will be enough seasonal flu vaccine remains to be seen, she said. It’s hard to predict how much will be needed, she said.

Since the beginning of May, 103 Alaskans have been hospitalized with influenza and five have died — four from Fairbanks and one from Seward, according to an Oct. 9 report from the state Department of Health and Social Services.

Many more people have fallen ill but don’t need hospital care.

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So far, almost all of the cases are swine flu, state epidemiologist Joe McLaughlin said.

“It will definitely keep going up. We know that our peak incidence for influenza infection occurs in the winter months,” said McLaughlin.

As long as swine flu vaccine supplies remain tight, the state will continue to target its allocation to priority groups.

Electric association seeks bids for power plant

The Matanuska Electric Association is soliciting bids for a gas-fired power plant at Eklutna.

The Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman said the bid has two options. A company can either build the plant for the association or it can build a plant and sell power exclusively to the association.

The plant is to produce 180 megawatts of power.

The land consists of 70 acres rezoned for power plant usage earlier this year.

The MEA won’t award the bid until next spring.

Bethel planning for reduced liquor restrictions

Although voters in Bethel voted to lift the 32-year ban on liquor sales, many resident are trying to block anyone from opening bars or liquor stores.

The city council convened at a special meeting to consider zoning rules that could limit where liquor could be sold. And, Mayor Joe Klejka wants a one-year moratorium on liquor license applications.

One of the petitioners who put the issue on the ballot, Tom Hawkins, said about 20 people have joined a citizens coalition opposed to anyone opening a bar or liquor store in Bethel.

The Anchorage Daily News reported that many people who voted to cast off liquor restrictions were just fed up with state oversight of alcohol they ordered from Anchorage or Fairbanks.

Fishing vessel sinks

A fishing vessel caught fire and sank off Admiralty Island in southeast Alaska.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said the Alaskan Pride had about 400 gallons of diesel fuel and an unknown amount of lube and engine oil on it when a fire broke out Oct. 13.

Two crew members were unable to control the fire and sent a mayday at 10:40 p.m.

They used a raft to abandon the boat. The crew members were picked up by a state ferry.

The Coast Guard flew over the vessel Oct. 14 and reported that the 55-foot Alaskan Pride was still on fire. The vessel then sank in several hundred feet of water in Square Cove.

A DEC spokeswoman said most of the petroleum products likely burned off in the fire.

Anchorage officials mum on animal hoarder case

Anchorage officials have yet to say what they are going to do with dozens of animals found at the home of a woman accused of animal cruelty.

Deputy Municipal Attorney Rhonda Westover said the city is grateful that so many people are offering to adopt cats, but at this point they are evidence. She said any talk about them could jeopardize Deborah Ann Allen’s opportunity for a fair trial.

Allen disputes the allegations, telling the Anchorage Daily News that the conditions described in a police affidavit are inaccurate.
Denali State Park gets $1 million grant

A visitor center complex at Denali State Park is closer to reality after having received a $1 million federal grant for a visitor station.

Wayne Biessel, area superintendent for Alaska State Parks, says the station is a smaller version of the main visitor center and will be located near the southern entrance to the park.

Biessel says the 3,000-square-foot building will be staffed year-round. It will include general information about the park and interpretive information about the natural surroundings.

The contact center will be where people will wait for the bus to take them up to the main center and act as the trail head for those looking to do a 4-mile climb on foot.
Juneau addressing problem of unruly bus passengers

The city of Juneau is looking into the problem of unruly bus passengers.

The Juneau Assembly is considering several ideas, including placing security personnel on city buses. Another idea is to install on-board security cameras. That has been tried in some cities in the Lower 48.

John Kern, superintendent of Capital Transit, said most full-time bus drivers will probably have 300 to 500 separate interactions with the public on any given day. And, he says, there is always a group of problem individuals drivers have to deal with.

The Juneau bus system put in place a code of conduct about six years ago to address behavioral problems on the city buses. The code calls for no swearing, eating, drinking, tobacco use and playing music loudly, and requires people to maintain an appropriate level of hygiene.

The code of conduct has helped, but there are still going to be incidents, Kern said.

Bus drivers will remove the riders that get too unruly and ban them for a month to a year or more, he said. Earlier this month, the banned list had three people on it.

Capital Transit also works with the Juneau Police Department, which issues criminal trespassing citations to enforce the bans, he said.
Police at UAA shoot ‘agitated’ bull moose

University of Alaska Anchorage police killed a bull moose after it started wandering on campus in a “very agitated state.”

Police shot the animal on Oct. 15 after the moose was found with it’s antlers tangled in fencing material used to support young trees.

According to a police statement, officers blocked off the area. Once it got free, the moose began moving toward the Fine Arts Building. Told that Alaska Department of Fish and Game officials couldn’t get to the scene for about 90 minutes, police decided to shoot the moose before it neared people and became an “imminent threat,” UPD Chief Dale Pittman said.

Moose are a common sight on campus. The meat from the animal killed Thursday was given to charity.

Sitka police officer rescued after hunting fall

An off-duty Sitka police officer had to be rescued after falling 200 yards down a cliff while out hunting.

Kyle Ferguson, 31, was rescued early Oct. 16 after falling near Alpine Lake, about 10 miles north of Sitka. The U.S. Coast Guard, medics and members of the Sitka Mountain Rescue, responded to the scene.

Ferguson’s fall was reported about 8:40 p.m. Oct. 15. A Jayhawk helicopter was launched from Air Station Sitka. Ferguson was found on an “extreme slope” and extra rescuers were summoned to help hand-lower Ferguson on a litter down the mountain using ropes.

Rescuers eventually reached a flat spot where a helicopter could get Ferguson out safely. He was transported to Sitka Hospital.
Alaska loses jobs for fifth straight month

The Alaska job market continues to struggle, as the state suffered its fifth straight month of job losses in September and the unemployment rate rose to 8.4 percent.

The seasonally adjusted jobless rate rose from 8.1 percent in August and from 6.7 percent in September last year, the Alaska Department of Labor reported Friday.

Employers had approximately 335,000 jobs on their payroll in September, the Labor Department said. That’s about 2,000 fewer jobs than in September 2008.

Payroll jobs are often considered the best indicator of how Alaska’s economy is doing. The number has tumbled every month since May, but compared to many of the losses in the Lower 48, the 0.6 percent decline in Alaska is just a blip.

Tourism jobs have lagged due to fewer visitors to the state during the summer.

The oil industry has yet to see any big hits. Preliminary numbers for September show this industry lost about 300 jobs, or about 2 percent, in the past year.

Only one private-sector industry saw job gains in September compared with a year earlier: health care. The number of jobs in the health industry increased by about 1,000 jobs, or 4 percent. Alaska’s largest employer, government, also had an increase of about 700 jobs.

The unemployment rate in Anchorage was 7 percent in September, compared with 6.4 percent in August and 5.3 percent a year ago, the Labor Department said. About 14,000 jobless people in Anchorage were looking for work last month.

The Mat-Su region was up to 8.8 percent unemployment, and 9.7 percent of the workers in the Kenai Peninsula Borough were without jobs in September, up from 7.2 percent a year earlier.
Tent burned at illegal Anchorage campsite

Anchorage police arrested three men accused of setting fire to a tent at an illegal campsite on Oct. 16.

According to police, witnesses reported seeing two men pour gasoline on the tent and a third light a match and toss it.

Lt. Dave Parker says no one was hurt, but the fire burned the tent and the items inside.

Charged with arson and other crimes were 57-year-old Sidney Blunt, 57-year-old Julius Raphael and 50-year-old Swande Norback Jr.

Parker says the tent belonged to a man who had been assaulted and hospitalized the night before.

One fire witness told police the blaze had been orchestrated to destroy the assault crime scene.

– The Associated Press

– Compiled by Kam Walters

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