The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

News Briefs


Photo courtesy UAFHAARP

An aerial view of the HAARP facility, located in Gakona.

Ice climbing

Get out your axes and gear and climb the ice.

That is word from Levitation 49, the group sponsoring this week's Ice Climbing Festival.

Registration for the events is slated to begin Friday evening at the Civic Center - which will open at 6 p.m. and feature a beer garden and a mountaineering films.

The weekend encourages a weekend of open climbing on the area's ice - especially in Keystone Canyon - and has large number of clinics and workshops for both the novice and advanced climbers that run through Monday.

For more information, see the schedule and get contact information in the advertisement page 12.

Mystery beacon

An untraceable beacon call sent Alaska troopers and members of the Valdez search and rescue squad from the fire department into action last week.

The mystery began Saturday morning according to Allie Ferko of the city's public information office. Ferko reported that AST requested assistance from Valdez rescuers after troopers received a signal from a locator beacon.

"The signal placed the beacon's location approximately five miles northwest of mile marker 32 of the Richardson Highway," Ferko said.

An extensive search of the area - including volunteer efforts by snowmachiners nearby and an aerial search by Vertical Solutions - failed to show signs of people in that area of the backcountry.

Ferko said the signal was from a British maker but had not been registered to its owner, so it is unknown who actually activated the locator beacon.

Anyone with information on possible persons in need of aid should contact Alaska State Troopers.

HAARP project

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute says it is planning its first research campaign at the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program facility in Gakona, also known as HAARP

The institute says "scientists will use the HAARP research instrument to conduct multiple experiments, including a study of atmospheric effects on satellite-to-ground communications, optical measurements of artificial airglow and over-the-horizon radar experiments."

The experiments, which will begin sometime in late February, can be followed by the public in real time according to the institute.

Chris Fallen, assistant research professor in space physics, will be conducting National Science Foundation-funded research to create an "artificial aurora" that can be photographed with a sensitive camera, the group said in a press release last week.

"Observers throughout Alaska will have an opportunity to photograph the phenomenon, which is sometimes created over HAARP during certain types of transmissions," the institute said. "Under the right conditions, people can also listen to HAARP radio transmissions from virtually anywhere in the world using an inexpensive shortwave radio. Exact frequencies of the transmission will not be known until shortly before the experiment begins."

Stud tax

(AP) A lawmaker wants to spike Alaska's studded tire tax from $5 to $75.

KTVA-TV reports Sen. Cathy Giessel's bill is aimed at raising money to repair rutted roads damaged by studded tires.

Giessel called the tax hike a "public safety user fee."

She says some northern states ban these tires outright.

The higher tax would add $300 to the cost of four studded tires compared to the current $20.

Giessel sent the bill to two committees and says she plans to do more research before requesting a hearing.

Dan Williams of American Tire and Auto says $300 plus the cost of tires will be a tough sell to customers.

He said winter tires without studs are almost as effective.

Digital wills

(AP) In estate planning, people take stock of their possessions: houses, money, heirlooms. But what about their email accounts, social media pages and family pictures on their smartphones?

Bills are pending in more than a dozen states, including Alaska, aimed at modernizing that area of law, using legislation proposed by the national Uniform Law Commission.

Ben Orzeske is chief counsel with the commission, a nonpartisan organization that works on uniformity of state laws.

He says work on the digital bill began after people started having trouble accessing online bills and bank statements for those whose affairs they were managing.

He says technology firms preferred a federal resolution initially and fought the effort but have since supported a uniform law across the states. So far, more than 20 states have enacted laws.

COI standards

(AP) Alaska lawmakers are considering a pair of measures that would tighten conflict of interest rules within the Legislature.

The proposals were brought by Independent Rep. Jason Grenn of Anchorage, who says Alaska has some of the nation's weakest rules regarding conflicts of interest, The Juneau Empire reported.

"I know we don't like to do things like other states most of the time, but I think this is one of those times when we say, we can do it better," Grenn said.

Under the measures, a legislator found to have a conflict of interest would need a majority vote of the House or Senate to be able to vote on a piece of legislation.

Current Legislature rules only require one legislator to speak up before someone with a conflict of interest can vote.

If Grenn's measures become law, two Senate lawmakers currently employed by oil and gas producers would be required to declare conflicts on related matter.

"I really do believe that most people agree that the intent of something like this is good," Grenn said.

Grenn's bill and accompanying resolution passed the House Judiciary Committee last week and will go before the House State Affairs Committee on Thursday.

Photo courtesy Brandee Martel

The Buccaneer basketball teams hosted the Elks Tournament last week in preparation for hosting the girls and boys teams from Eielson.

Training police

(AP) Alaska lawmakers have passed a bill aimed at improving interactions between law enforcement and people with disabilities.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that the House passed the legislation in a unanimous vote on Wednesday. It now goes to the Senate.

Fairbanks Republican Rep. Steve Thompson drafted the bill with help from disability advocacy groups.

Under the legislation, law enforcement officers would be required to receive training to help them better identify people with disabilities such as post-traumatic stress disorder and how to respond appropriately.

People with disabilities would also be allowed to get special decals on their driver's licenses to notify officers.


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