AmeriScan: April 11, 2006

* * *

Hawaii Governor Says Six Weeks of Rain Will Cost $50 Million

HONOLULU, Hawaii, April 11, 2006 (ENS) – Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle estimates that total costs to recover from six weeks of record heavy rains from mid-February through April 2 will exceed $50 million dollars.

In a letter to President George W. Bush dated April 11 the governor asked that the President declare a major disaster for the state of Hawaii as a result of heavy rains and flooding. In that letter she said the $50 million estimate includes the cost of addressing landslides and erosion caused by the continuous storms.

A Presidential disaster declaration would make available to the state additional funding, loans, services and programs to assist affected residents.

The governor’s letter points out that many communities in Hawaii sustained repeated flooding; that mud, rock and debris have rendered some public and private property virtually useless until they can be cleaned up; and that seven lives were lost as a result of the Kaloko Dam breach on Kauai.

“This disaster, which unfolded day after day, week after week, has been particularly difficult on residents who have continually battled flood waters and mudslides, and on state and county workers and volunteers who have responded during the past month and a half,” said Governor Lingle.

The month of March was the wettest on record in Hawaii since 1951.

On April 3, the governor announced plans to provide tax relief for families and businesses everywhere in the state who sustained damage from the record rains.

The Hawaii Tax Department estimates the costs for extending the proposed tax credits would be approximately $9.5 million over the next three years.

“Having personally visited the flood-impacted areas and having seen the devastation, it is clear that any legislation providing flood victims with relief must be available in a fair and comprehensive fashion,” said Governor Lingle.

“It is not just Manoa and Windward Oahu that have suffered losses from floods and mudslides," she said. "We should extend tax credits to all those who have lost property or suffered property damage statewide.”

On March 2, the governor signed an Emergency Proclamation that activated state programs to make personal and commercial loans available to people whose homes or businesses sustained damage caused by the rains.

Extended four times as the rains continued to pound the state, the Proclamation activated the state’s Major Disaster Fund to speed relief and recovery, and authorized the use of National Guard troops to assist civilian authorities in disaster relief, avert imminent public danger, and to assist in debris removal.

* * *

Honolulu Man Dies After Submersion in Contaminated Harbor Water

HONOLULU, Hawaii, April 11, 2006 (ENS) - A man died Thursday of a severe bacterial infection after falling or being thrown into the contaminated waters of the Ala Wai Boat Harbor last month.

The harbor was full of raw sewage after Honolulu officials decided to pump 48 million gallons of untreated wastewatwer into the Ala Wai Canal after a force main broke March 24. The canal flows through Waikiki and out into the ocean beside the small boat harbor.

A memorial service for Oliver Brandt Johnson, 34, was held today at another Oahu beach. He was remembered as a surfer by his many friends.

The mortgage loan officer died of multisystem organ failure caused by an infection of the blood due to septic shock brought on by a Vibrio vulnificus bacterial infection, the Honolulu Medical Examiner's Office said.

He also suffered from chronic alcoholic liver disease, which contributed to the flesh-eating infection's ability to take hold, said the medical examiner's office.

Honolulu police are investigating the case and how Johnson entered the water.

The family's attorney, Jim Leavitt, said an independent pathologist has been hired to review findings by the Medical Examiner's Office about the cause and manner of Johnson's death.

At a news conference Monday, Leavitt said a wallet used by Johnson the night he landed in the water that might contain the same bacteria that killed him will be sent to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for analysis.

A state health official has said it is not clear whether the sewage pumped into the canal contributed to Johnson's medical condition. But University of Hawaii scientists have said the sewage could have been responsible for his death.

* * *

Florida Wins $1 Million in Environmental Civil Lawsuit

TAMPA, Florida, April 11, 2006 (ENS) - A Pinellas County Circuit Court judge has ordered Abray Construction, Inc. to pay $1 million in civil penalties for knowingly operating a solid waste processing facility without the required permits.

Abray Construction and its President Robert Michael Damoth were named in the suit brought by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

No one representing the company ever responded to the lawsuit, and the court issued the final judgment by default Thursday after the defendants again failed to appear in court.

Based in the Tampa area city of Oldsmar, Florida, the company conducted activities that included those of a solid waste processing facility, such as bringing construction debris to the facility, sending debris to a landfill, and reusing dirt on job sites.

When properly permitted, a solid waste processing facility requires stormwater and leachate control and plans to protect the surrounding environment and community.

“DEP takes its enforcement responsibilities seriously,” said the agency's Southwest District Director Deborah Getzoff. “Firm, consistent enforcement of state and federal environmental laws is the first step to providing long term protection for Florida’s natural resources.”

* * *

Lesions in East Coast Fish Not Caused by Pfiesteria

BEAUFORT, North Carolina, April 11, 2006 (ENS) - A water mold known as Aphanomyces invadans is now thought to be the pathogen responsible for seasonal outbreaks of skin ulcers and lesions observed in menhaden and other estuarine fish along the U.S. east coast.

Large fish lesion events in the 1990s were initially linked to the dinoflagellate Pfiesteria piscicida. The unsightly lesions appearing on the bodies of fish caused widespread concern over the safety of seafood and recreational waters and caused many people to avoid the coast and to avoid eating seafood.

An independent study published in 2003 in the journal "Ocean and Coastal Management" estimated that lost revenues for the tourism, restaurant, and seafood industries exceeded $100 million.

Now a new study conducted by scientists from five research institutions provides evidence that the water mold rather than Pfiesteria is to blame.

Scientists from NOAA’s Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research in Beaufort, led the research along with experts from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the North Carolina Division of Water Quality, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at The College of William and Mary, and North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Their results are reported in the current issue of the peer-reviewed journal "Applied and Environmental Microbiology,"

The scientists developed two specific tests, or assays, to detect the A. invadans water mold - one using sensitive polymerase chain reaction procedures and the other using fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH).

They first validated these tests in the laboratory before applying them to Atlantic menhaden taken from the Pamlico and Neuse River estuaries in North Carolina.

The results of both tests were the same - all menhaden with lesions tested positive for A.invidans.

“The FISH assay is the first molecular assay to provide unambiguous visual confirmation that water mold from the ulcerated lesions were exclusively A.invidans,” said Mark Vandersea of NOAA, corresponding author of the study.

Until this study, scientists had been unable to positively identify A.invadans as the only species of water mold responsible for causing the lesions in the wild fish.

The new study supports a growing body of research evidence, including recently collected data by researchers in southern Asia and Australia, indicating that A.invidans, rather than Pfiesteria, is the major cause of ulcers and lesions in fish.

A.invidans, however, should not be considered the sole cause for ulcerative lesions. Stress, poor nutrition, and certain parasite, bacterial, and viral infections are all capable of producing similar lesions. Further studies will be needed to determine how natural A.invidans infections are caused, but the new tests will make it possible to screen the large numbers of environmental samples needed to identify alternative hosts and sources of A.invidans infections.

* * *

Pennsylvania Offers Small Wind Power Systems Free of Charge

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, April 11, 2006 (ENS) - The Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority (PEDA) is looking for a 15 municipalities, public authorities or school districts to generate a buzz about alternative energy.

Recussitated by Governor Edward Rendell after years of inactivity, PEDA has awarded a $193,000 grant to Southwest Windpower to place 15 small, advanced technology wind turbines in highly visible locations across the state.

Each of the turbines will generate enough electricity to power a typical residence and the governor hopes they will get people thinking about adopting alternative energy sources in their homes and businesses.

“The price of imported fuel is too high in terms of dollars and security,” Governor Rendell said. “To become energy independent ourselves, Pennsylvania is blazing a new trail by making strategic investments to build a base of alternative energy supplies and infrastructure that can meet the clean energy needs of our residents and our economy.

PEDA and Southwest Windpower, the world’s largest producer of small wind turbines, are inviting Pennsylvania municipalities, public authorities and school districts to apply to participate in the PEDA Small-Scale Community Wind Project.

“By placing these windmills in where many people can see them, Pennsylvanians will be able to learn about and experience alternative energy as part of their daily lives,” said the governor.

Successful applicants will receive one of the Southwest Windpower small-scale wind systems and basic installation at no charge. Recipients must pay the fee to connect to the grid, as well as any cost above basic installation, if, for instance, special ground work is needed to prepare the site. The recipients also will provide public outreach and education about their new systems and about wind power generally.

The wind energy systems will be mounted in the ground on 35 foot towers and generate 1.8 kilowatts of electricity each, enough to meet the needs of a typical home. The units are valued at $10,000 each. SunLion Solar Inc. of Leacock Township, Lancaster County, will install some of the systems.

Applications must be submitted to PEDA no later than May 12. PEDA and Southwest Windpower will review the applications and decide where to place the 15 wind turbines.

“Pennsylvania already is a wind energy leader on the East Coast for its utility-scale production, and its growth potential is significant,” said Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen McGinty. “PEDA’s Small-Scale Community Wind Project is an outstanding opportunity to bring energy diversity off the mountaintops and into our daily lives.”

A key part of Governor Rendell’s alternative energy strategy is to position Pennsylvania as a leading manufacturing center of advanced energy technologies. The state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS) will create the demand for more than 3,000 megawatts of wind energy over the next 15 years, the governor estimates.

The Pennsylvania AEPS, enacted on November 30, 2004, requires all load-serving energy companies in Pennsylvania to provide 18 percent of their electricity using alternative sources by the year 2020.

Governor Rendell also personally led the campaign to attract the Spanish wind energy company Gamesa Corp., the second largest wind energy company in the world, beating out many other competing states.

With its U.S. headquarters in Philadelphia and manufacturing facilities in Bucks and Cambria counties, Gamesa represents an $84 million investment in the state that will create as many as 1,000 jobs over five years.

“Energy will be one of the defining challenges of our generation, but we can make this challenge an opportunity to reduce our dependence on imported energy and create significant economic benefits for our local and regional economies,” Governor Rendell said. “Instead of spending our energy dollars overseas, we will invest at home and put Pennsylvanians to work.”

For more information on PEDA or to download an application for the Small-Scale Community Wind Project, visit DEP’s website at www.depweb.state.pa.us

* * *

Endangered Trumpeter Swans Thrive in Wisconsin

MADISON, Wisconsin, April 11, 2006 (ENS) - Efforts to re-establish endangered trumpeter swans in Wisconsin have resulted in a flock that this summer is expected to number more than 500 swans, according to the state's Department of Natural Resources Bureau of Endangered Resources.

Trumpeter swans, Cygnus buccinator, named for their resonant, trumpeting call, are the largest waterfowl species in North America.

“We had 92 nesting pairs last year and we expect that number to increase this summer as more birds reach sexual maturity,” says Sumner Matteson, an avian ecologist with the bureau.

“Most of the established pairs nest in the northwestern part of the state, but as suitable nesting habitat in that region is occupied, we’re seeing an increase in nesting in the central part of the state and last summer we even had a pair successfully nest as far south as Jefferson County,” she said.

Trumpeter swans were found in Wisconsin until the 1880s, when market hunting and feather collecting nearly drove the species to extinction.

The state initiated its recovery program in 1987. Beginning in 1989, Wisconsin biologists flew to Alaska for nine consecutive years to collect surplus trumpeter swan eggs that were then hatched in incubators at the Milwaukee County Zoo. After they hatched, the young swans were either placed in a captive rearing program or a decoy rearing program until they were released to the wild.

Trumpeter swans can nest for the first time as early as age three, but most don't nest until they are four to six years old, Matteson says. Swans mate for life and may live for 20 to 30 years.

As with other waterfowl species, swan pairs generally return to their former nesting territory if the pair was previously successful at raising young on that territory.

A pair typically arrives on the breeding grounds soon after the ice melts in early spring. Nesting territories range from six to 150 acres in size. Large, shallow wetlands with a diverse mix of emergent vegetation and open water offer ideal habitat. The swans are territorial and will defend their nesting territories from incursion by other swans.

An ongoing threat to native trumpeter swans expanding their range in the state is the expansion of a separate population of non-native mute swans, Cygnus olor. The mute swan is a Eurasian bird first introduced by immigrants, but their population is increasing from escaped or accidentally released captive birds.

“Mute swans are an undesirable exotic species that are more aggressive than native trumpeter swans and can out-compete them for nesting habitat,” says Pat Manthey, a DNR avian ecologist at La Crosse. “Mute swans can also be very destructive to wetlands and to other waterfowl species because they uproot large quantities of aquatic vegetation.”

The number of mute swans in Wisconsin is also estimated at about 500, with most located in the southeastern part of the state, but their population is also now expanding into the central and northern part of the state, Manthey says.

In order to reduce the population of the invasive swans, biologists will continue a program this summer to remove mute swans from all wetlands where they are found in the state. This fall, biologists plan to conduct a statewide survey of mute swans to better define their population and to gauge the success of the removal program.

* * *

Manhattan's Randall's Island Waterfront Pathway Funded

NEW YORK, New York, April 11, 2006 (ENS) - New York Governor George Pataki has awarded two Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) grants totaling $850,000 to further construction of a waterfront bicycle and pedestrian pathway at Randall’s Island Park in Manhattan.

The multi-phase Pathway project will turn inaccessible parkland into facilities for walking, jogging and cycling. The pathway will traverse Randall’s Island Park under the Hell Gate Bridge railroad trestle from Bronx Kill at the north to Hell Gate on the island’s southeastern shore.

On Friday, the City and Randall’s Island Sports Foundation held a ribbon-cutting event to mark the completion of the first phase of the project.

“The continuing development of the Randall’s Island pedestrian pathway will allow families and outdoor enthusiasts to take leisurely bike rides, go jogging or simply enjoy the spectacular riverside setting and New York’s magnificent skyline views,” Governor Pataki said.

“Our earlier commitment of EPF funding was integral to completion of the initial phase of the Pathway project, and we are proud to make these additional investments to further improve this unique urban recreational resource.”

Adrian Benepe, NYC Parks and Recreation Commissioner, said, “Randall’s Island has the unique geographical potential to provide sports and recreation, a sprawling natural habitat and place of mental sanctuary for residents that come to visit it from not only Manhattan, but from all across this great city. We are so grateful for Governor Pataki's allocation, as it allows us to further develop our island-wide waterfront pathway, and bring us one step closer to Mayor Bloomberg's goal of continuous waterfront access throughout the five boroughs.”

The New York State Department of State is providing a $650,000 EPF Local Waterfront Revitalization Program grant and the State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation is providing a $200,000 EPF grant for the second phase of the project.

These two awards build upon the $3.5 million previously committed by State Parks and DOS to earlier stages of this waterfront initiative.

The work being funded includes site preparation, construction, landscaping and signage for the new segment of the pathway that extends along the Island-side of the East River and will be accessible to picnic facilities and a planned water park feature.

The entire project includes restored shoreline, salt marsh and wetlands, additional athletic fields, a tennis center, a water park, a visitors and nature center, and Icahn Stadium. When completed, the entire pathway will run nearly the entire five-mile shoreline of Randall’s Island Park.

* * *