AmeriScan: May 2, 2005

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Four Die in Whale Hunting Mishap

JUNEAU, Alaska, May 2, 2005 (ENS) - After searching more than 500 square miles, the Coast Guard suspended its search Thursday for three members of a whale hunting party who were lost when their boat capsized around 2:05 am Wednesday.

Missing and presumed drowned are Jason Nowpakahok, 38, the mayor of Gambell on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea, and two children, Leonard Nowpakahok, 10, the mayor’s nephew, and Yolanda Nowpakahok, 11, the mayor’s daughter.

Rescuers recovered 20 year old James Uglowook. The Village Public Safety Officer and clinic staff performed CPR on Uglowook for about three hours before pronouncing him dead.

Two survivors were rescued - Davis Uglowook, 37, and Darin Slwooko, 25. Both were treated at the Gambell clinic and released.

The party, using a traditional walrus skin whale hunting boat, were hunting about eight miles west of St. Lawrence Island, about 700 miles northwest of Anchorage. The occupants of the boat were part of a whaling party that had just slain a young bowhead whale. The 44-foot mammal was towed to shore on Wednesday.

Bowhead whales are listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, but Alaskan native villages are alloted a quota for subsistence hunting.

According to Conrad Oozeva, 79, “We are not stopping because something happened like the other day.”

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is urging the U.S. Coast Guard to be more vigilant in protecting the lives of children from the dangers of aboriginal whaling activities.

“I’ve been to St. Lawrence Island,” said Sea Shepherd founding president Captain Paul Watson. “In fact, I had a small boat overturn in the surf near the beach near Gambell, so I can attest to just how cold that water is. It is extremely irresponsible to take children out on those waters to engage in a dangerous activity like whaling.”

“The people of St. Lawrence island may have the right under law to slaughter the endangered bowhead whale but they should not be allowed to expose minors to the risks involved in killing whales,” said Watson. “The Coast Guard should investigate this incident and should ensure that underage children be prohibited from participation in whaling activities.”

It is unknown why the skin boat capsized. Coast Guard personnel are investigating the incident.

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New U.S. Parks Police Chief to Be Sworn In

WASHINGTON, DC, May 2, 2005 (ENS) - Former Chief of the U.S. Park Police Teresa Chambers is awaiting the outcome of her legal case for reinstatement, but the National Park Service (NPS) is not waiting. The NPS replacing her with her former deputy, Dwight Pettiford, in a ceremony scheduled for Tuesday in historic Ford’s Theatre.

In December 2003, Chambers was suspended for confirming to the "Washington Post" that protection of national monuments aggravated shortages of officers available to patrol parks and parkways. Since that time, there are even fewer sworn U.S. Park Police officers, yet demands on those officers have grown.

In an April 2000 Report to Congress, the National Park Service estimated that it needed 806 officers for the United States Park Police Force. At the time of that report there were approximately 638 sworn officers. The latest figures show only 621 officers.

“Unlike the miracle of loaves and fishes, the U.S. Park Police cannot keep up with expanding demands with contracting resources,” said attorney Jeff Ruch who heads Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a national organization representing natural resources workers in all levels of government.

PEER attorneys are representing Chambers in her reinstatement lawsuit against the federal government.

“The Park Service leadership is doing a disservice to the public, policymakers and to U.S. Park Police officers by insisting that more resources are not needed," Ruch said.

Since September 11, 2001, the opening of the World War II Memorial and the re-opening of the Statute of Liberty have increased monument security responsibilities.

The number of accidents, injuries and drunk driving arrests on the five major DC area parkways has steadily grown. Low staffing levels lengthen response time and increase the danger for officers who respond to roadside emergencies without backup.

Homeland Security alerts and special events, such as the Ronald Reagan funeral, cause overtime demands on an overworked Park Police to increase.

By comparison, the U.S. Capitol Police, which is responsible for the 11 square block area surrounding the Capitol, has 1,278 sworn officers, more than double the force of the U.S. Park Police, which has foot, mounted, marine and air patrols responsible for the National Mall, the Statute of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge area, the Camp David perimeter, dozens of District of Columbia area parks and five parkways.

Dismissed for talking to a reporter, Chambers has since attracted a great deal of media attention. In San Diego last week, both FOX6 TV and KOGO News Radio 600 interviewed Chambers about her case.

Chambers appeared as a guest lecturer at the Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia, on April 22, to talk about ethics in federal government and retaliation toward whistleblowers. The following day, she was interviewed by a member of the journalism program at the University of Maryland and has other interviews scheduled in the coming weeks.

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Bayonne Benefits from $3 Million Clean Water Settlement

BAYONNE, New Jersey, May 2, 2005 (ENS) - International Matex Tank Terminals has agreed with the state of New Jersey to pay $3 million in compensation for injuries to natural resources that occurred before their acquisition of a property in Bayonne. The company also continues to clean up contamination that previous owners left behind.

Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley Campbell said Friday that the settlement will fund recreation and water quality improvement projects within the same watershed as the International Matex Tank Terminals (IMTT) site.

The site is located in a historically industrial area on the east side of Bayonne and is primarily used as a bulk liquid storage and transshipment services terminal for fuel and petrochemicals.

IMTT began its operations in 1983 at the Bayonne Industries Terminal and since then has acquired a number of other properties at this location, which make up most of the Bayonne Constable Hook area.

In addition to the Bayonne Industries Terminal operations, IMTT acquired the former Exxon Bayonne plant, Constable Terminal, Powell Duffryn Terminals, and most recently Coastal Oil.

Portions of the IMTT complex separate from the former Exxon site are contaminated with petroleum products from more than 100 years of petrochemical operations. In these areas, IMTT will conduct immediate remedial measures for areas of free and residual product, particularly in areas with migration pathways to sensitive waterways. A permanent cleanup plan will be implemented following completion of the interim measures.

IMTT agreed to fund improvements to the Bayonne Passive Waterfront Park, or North Forty Park, where wetland restoration, observation decks, bike trails and other amenities along the Newark Bay will be constructed. The North Forty Park is located adjacent to the Stephen R. Gregg Bayonne Park, a county facility.

A second project funded through the settlement involves creating public access points along the Kill Van Kull that includes an observation deck, canoe and kayak launch ramp and signage.

Additional measures to address combined sewer overflows or storm water concerns also will be funded with funds from the settlement. The design and implementation of the latter two projects will be performed under a cooperative agreement among the city of Bayonne, New York/New Jersey Baykeeper and the DEP.

"IMTT stepped forward to compensate the state for injuries that occurred before their acquisition of the property and continues to clean up at its facilities contamination stemming from prior owners," said Campbell. "It's a good day for Bayonne residents who will gain better access to Newark Bay and the Kill Van Kull and see improved water quality along its shores."

The agreement with IMTT resolves the company's natural resource damage liability in connection with ground and surface water contamination at its industrial site.

"It is very appropriate that the money is being spent in the host community, because our residents are the ones who have been impacted by the problems, and they will benefit directly from this funding, said Mayor and State Senator Joseph V. Doria, Jr. "I would like to commend Commissioner Brad Campbell and the Coleman family of IMTT for their willingness to work together to pursue a solution to this issue."

IMTT purchased the 288 acre Exxon Bayonne site in April 1993 that is now part of its overall complex. The state has a pending lawsuit against ExxonMobil for natural resource damages resulting from its operations. Under DEP oversight, ExxonMobil remains obligated to clean up contamination at its former Bayonne facility.

Campbell said the settlement does not release any other parties from natural resource damage liability associated with the site.

"IMTT recognizes the importance of collaboration with the state of New Jersey in addressing historic damages to the environment and feels the subsequent settlement will benefit both current and future generations of Bayonne residents," said James J. Coleman Jr., IMTT Chairman of the Board.

Baykeeper Andrew Willner said, "This modest but important natural resource damage settlement with IMTT will send a message that polluters, not the public, should pay to return our commonly held public trust resources to the condition they were before they were polluted, and to compensate the public - the owners and beneficiaries of the natural resources of the Kill Van Kull, Arthur Kill, and Newark Bay - for the lost use of these waterways."

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False Pricing Air Force Base Cleanup Costs Firm $2.5 Million

WASHINGTON, DC, May 2, 2005 (ENS) - Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) has agreed to pay the U.S. government $2.5 million to settle allegations that it made false claims and engaged in defective pricing with the U.S. Air Force for environmental cleanup at Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.

SAIC, a San Diego based research and engineering company, provides information technology to commercial and government customers.

The government’s complaint alleged that the corporation knowingly failed to disclose information about its costs during price negotiations with the Air Force, as required by the federal Truth in Negotiations Act.

The lawsuit alleged that SAIC, in internally developing its cost and price proposals, utilized hidden management reserves to inflate its estimates of the amount of labor hours it would require to complete the delivery orders, but never told the Air Force about the reserves or the padded hours.

The settlement resolves an action under the whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act, filed by Michael Dwight Woodlee in January 2002. The Justice Department joined the action in August 2004, and filed the government’s complaint one month later.

The False Claims Act qui tam statute allows persons who file successful actions alleging fraud against the government to receive a share of any resulting recovery. Woodlee will receive $500,000.

The settlement resulted from an investigation by the Civil Division of the Department of Justice, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas, the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, and the Defense Contract Audit Agency.

“Today’s settlement again demonstrates the United States' commitment to protecting the federal government from contractor fraud and abuse,” said Peter Keisler, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Civil Division. "The United States relies on the honesty of its contractors to provide accurate billing information.”

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Hudson River Tanker Barge Spills Gasoline

NEW YORK, New York, May 2, 2005 (ENS) - Contract divers and the U.S. Coast Guard still are keeping close watch on a tank barge carrying 75,000 barrels of unleaded gasoline that struck an unknown obstruction in the Hudson River about 70 miles north of New York City on Thursday afternoon.

Coast Guard Marine and pollution response investigators are working with local authorities and the National Response Center to determine how much gasoline was spilled and the impact of the spill to the surrounding area near New Hamburg, New York.

U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Mike Hvozda says that shortly after impact, the damaged tanker barge was towed about three miles to the dock of a private company, Dynengy Hudson River facility at Roseton, New York, so that officials could assess the situation and patch the vessel.

Divers with contractor Don Jon Marine have done temporary repairs to the barge.

Believing the vessel to be secure, incident response officials authorized the removal of the remaining gasoline from the damaged tanks. Hvozda says that transfer of fuel had begun when a sheen was detected in the vicinity, so the fuel transfer was halted.

Divers went back down, but could not locate source. They repatched the hull, and officials are now monitoring the tanks to make sure the levels are not changing, either with fuel leaking out or with water coming in.

Once the hull is determined to be stable, crews will again attempt to pipe the gas off the damaged barge to an adjacent barge.

An undetermined amount of gasoline that leaked into the Hudson River has evaporated, Hvozda said. There was a strong odor onshore, and at first there was also a gasoline sheen, but both shoreline and helicopter surveys today to one mile south south of Newburgh Beacon Bridge showed no remaining sheen.

The tugboat Bruce A. McAllister, towing the 326 foot tank barge B No. 35, owned by Bouchard Transportation Company Inc. of Melville, New York, departed New York Harbor Thursday and was traveling north on the Hudson River to Albany, when the barge hit an obstruction. None of the crew was injured during the impact.

Hvozda says officials still have not determined what the barge struck, but it was traversing a rocky area when impact occurred. Pollution response crews from the National Response Corporation have deployed protective booming in environmentally sensitive areas. No wildlife impacts have been reported.

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Texas Hill Country Habitat Protected for Migratory Songbirds

AUSTIN, Texas, May 2, 2005 (ENS) - The Trust for Public Land (TPL) has added over 433 acres to nesting habitat for two endangered songbirds - the black-capped vireo and the golden-cheeked warbler.

The land will be protected as part of the 46,000 acre Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, located 30 miles northwest of Austin.

TPL transferred the property earlier this week to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its permanent protection and management. This parcel is an important addition because it will connect 9,000 acres of protected land in the Balcones Refuge.

Both bird species have been endangered for years because of the loss of their central Texas habitat to residential and commercial development.

TPL worked with the landowner, Thomas Penn, who was eager to protect family lands that had been assembled by his great-grandfather in the early 1900s and stewarded by five generations of the family.

"Our family has a deep love for this property," said Penn. "This was simply the right thing to do for our family, our neighbors at the Balcones Refuge and others who appreciate these special pieces of the Texas Hill Country."

This project completes the second and final phase to acquire the 1,029 acre Penn family property. The first acquisition, which consisted of 596 acres, was completed in August 2004. This project marks TPL's eighth collaboration with the Fish and Wildlife Service for the Balcones Refuge, bringing the total acreage protected through this partnership to more than 2,100 acres.

"TPL is so pleased to complete this acquisition for the Refuge," said TPL project manager, Amy Wanamaker. "We've worked closely with the Fish and Wildlife Service to make the Refuge what it is today but the work isn't done. We will be at their service for as long as they need us."

The property was purchased by the Service with funds from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which were secured by U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican.

"I am pleased to have secured funding in recent years to help expand this safe haven for local endangered species and create an even better place for nature lovers to visit," said Hutchison. "Balcones is a beautiful part of the Texas Hill Country and it's important we preserve and protect this vital wildlife habitat."

"This is an extremely important addition to the refuge," said Deborah Holle, refuge manager. "Not only is this property ideal for golden-cheeked warblers, but it also connects previously protected lands, reducing the fragmentation of the Balcones Refuge."

Listed as endangered in 1990, golden-cheeked warblers are migratory birds that nest in central Texas. They require old-growth, mixed ash, juniper and deciduous woodlands along ravines and canyons. Male warblers arrive in mid-March and establish territories of three to six acres. Females arrive a few days later and quickly select their mates.

By the end of July, the warblers fly to the mountainous areas of southern Mexico and to Central America.

Male black-capped vireos arrive in Texas from Mexico from late March to mid-April and set up territories that average two to four acres. Females chose mates as soon as possible after they arrive. Together, they build a single nest and participate in the incubation of the eggs. During August and September, these songbirds migrate back to Mexico for the winter.

The Balcones Refuge was established in 1992 to conserve the nesting habitat for the endangered songbirds and other bird species that visit the area during the annual migration from breeding grounds in the United States and Canada to wintering grounds in Mexico, Central and South America.

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Bette Midler to Voice Clean Up the World Announcements

SYDNEY, Australia, May 2, 2005 (ENS) - World famous entertainer Bette Midler has pledged her support for Clean Up the World, the global outreach arm of Clean Up Australia, one of the largest international environmental campaigns.

An active environmentalist, Midler met with Ian Kiernan, chairman and founder of Clean Up the World and Clean Up Australia, to discuss ways they can work with communities internationally to create a cleaner world.

Midler founded the nonprofit New York Restoration Project in 1995 with the belief that clean and green neighborhoods are fundamental to the quality of life and that every community in New York City deserves an oasis of natural beauty.

Speaking from her Australian Tour in Sydney today, Midler said, "Clean Up the World is a truly inspirational organization. By empowering people to clean up, fix up and conserve the environment and providing communities with the tools to do this, tons of rubbish have been removed from the world's oceans, parks, forests, cities and beaches."

"I look forward to working with Mr. Kiernan and extending the New York Restoration Project's work to help reduce the amount of waste ending up in the environment," Midler said.

"Ms. Midler has agreed to feature in our Clean Up the World public service announcement which will be aired globally on National Geographic Channels International throughout the months of August and September," Kiernan said. "The support of such an international figure will help us continue to inspire communities around the world to clean up our precious environment."

Clean Up the World, established in conjuction with the United Nations Environment Programme in 1993, is a nonprofit organization which brings together businesses, community groups, schools, governments and individuals to conduct activities that positively improve local environments.

Clean Up the World Weekend will be held September 16-18, 2005. Clean Up the World activities include clean up events, recycling, educational and resource recovery projects, water reuse, conservation programs and rejuvenation activities.

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