Large Alaska oil discoveries announced in the last two years are creating a buzz in the oil and gas industry, but it's uncertain when or if they will bring the state the new production it's seeking, a state petroleum geologist told state lawmakers last week.
Still, a number of smaller projects already in the works could increase production by more than 100,000 barrels before 2021, though some of those projects are currently postponed amid the oil price slump, according to the presentation to the Senate Finance Committee by Paul Decker of the Alaska Division of Oil and Gas.
"There's a lot to be optimistic about," said Decker, the division's resource evaluation manager and a ConocoPhillips employee before joining the state in 2004.
Meanwhile, the large Alaska discoveries that have made headlines worldwide aren't expected to start production until at least 2022, if at all.
The numbers were presented by Decker to the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday.
They're closely watched by lawmakers and others as the deficit-plagued Alaska state government tries to boost revenues by increasing the crude flowing through the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline. Oil taxes and royalties have made up the large bulk of state revenues over the years.
Since mid-2015, oil explorers have announced three large discoveries on the North Slope that together, if peak estimates are correct, could add 420,000 barrels of oil daily to the pipeline, according to company estimates.
But the projects are not expected to be developed for at least five years, and perhaps will never be developed, according to Decker. They face the same challenges that have stymied some Slope projects for decades, including big costs, short working seasons and regulatory hurdles.
Oil production so far this year is averaging about 560,000 barrels daily, about one-fourth the throughput in the late 1980s.
The new discoveries have generated interest in the United States and internationally, said Decker, including at a recent conference in Houston, Texas, hosted by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.
"Our booth was literally humming. There was an audible buzz," Decker said.
Referring to the big discoveries, Decker said the division feels "pretty solid" about the production estimates at Pikka, a project involving Armstrong Oil and Gas of Denver and Spanish oil company Repsol.
The state has worked closely with the companies and reviewed their well data. Peak production has been estimated at up to 120,000 barrels of oil daily.
As for Caelus Energy Alaska's discovery in shallow waters at Smith Bay, the state still has a lot left to learn, Decker said. The company estimated last fall its discovery could produce up to 200,000 barrels daily.
But Decker said the project is remote and would need a pipeline more than 100 miles long, adding expense. The rate at which the oil might flow from wells hasn't been tested yet. And the company has said the reservoir quality looks challenging for production, although hydraulic-fracture stimulation, also known as fracking, could help, said Decker.
Caelus hoped to conduct further exploration drilling in 2018. Multiple wells will be required to prove up the field, Decker said.
In January, ConocoPhillips heralded its Willow discovery in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, saying the field could produce up to 100,000 barrels daily.
In addition to those and other long-term prospects, Decker also highlighted about 10 prospects with shorter timelines to production. Those projects could begin producing oil within four years, although some are currently on hold as company profits suffer during the oil-price rout.
Two projects that haven't been postponed, with first production estimated between 2018 and 2021, are Greater Mooses Tooth 1 and 2 on federal land. The two ConocoPhillips prospects could yield between 55,000 and 60,000 barrels of crude daily.
Hilcorp Alaska's Moose Pad project in the Milne Point unit is expected to add 10,000 barrels daily during that period.
Other projects that made Decker's list for near-term production, but were labeled as postponed include:
- Brooks Range Petroleum’s Mustang project, with peak production estimated between 12,000 and 15,000 barrels of oil daily.
- Caelus’ Nuna project, with peak production estimated at 20,000 to 25,000 barrels daily.
- ConocoPhillips’ 1H News project, with peak production estimated at 8,000 barrels.
Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, suggested production by 2021 could be at least 105,000 additional barrels of oil, according to the list. He said even if Slope production remained flat — as oil production at some fields declined and new ones came on line — the state would benefit, he said.
Decker cautioned some projects may not be developed.
He said the state had hoped some of those would have been in production by now. He said postponed projects could still be completed in a relatively short period of time after they are restarted.
Decker said while some of the prospects are on federal land and not subject to Alaska royalties, the state will still benefit. New production will help sustain the life of the TAPS system, which includes the Valdez Marine Terminal.
"Any oil is good oil in our opinion," he said.
But Alaska's large discoveries have come amid increasing concern that a lack of global oil discoveries will eventually hurt oil supply.
New discoveries worldwide reached record lows in 2016, creating concerns about future energy supplies, the International Energy Agency in Paris said on Thursday.
The decline has come as producers continue to invest in shale oil in fields such as the Permian Basin in Texas. But oil companies are reducing exploration activity elsewhere, said the agency, which observes global energy trends for 29 member countries, including the U.S.
That could cause oil stocks to eventually tighten.
"The key question for the future of the oil market is for how long can a surge in U.S. shale supplies make up for the slow pace of growth elsewhere in the oil sector," said Fatih Birol, IEA executive director.
Kari Hancock is no dummy. She knows why she got a chance to join the equestrian team at Texas Christian University as a freshman four years ago.
"I was an academic trophy," she said.
Hancock realized as much during her senior year at South High, when she traveled to Fort Worth to interview for TCU's coveted Chancellor's Scholarship — free tuition for four years. While she was there, she met with equestrian coach Logan Florentino.
"I told her, 'You get that scholarship and you're on the team,' '' Florentino said.
Hancock got the scholarship. And she got a spot on the team, knowing she owed it as much to her GPA and test scores as to her command and composure in the saddle. Sure, the coaches saw video of Hancock winning awards at Alaska horse shows. But she was a complete unknown outside Alaska.
"I came there as a nobody," Hancock said, and with modest expectations. "… I hoped I would compete once as a senior."
When Hancock, 21, graduates in May with a degree in biochemistry, she will do so as one of TCU's top students — and one of its top athletes.
Earlier this month Hancock helped TCU to the national championship semifinals and became the school's first two-time All-American in hunt seat equitation.
This summer she and her horse Nick — who traveled with Hancock from Anchorage to Texas — will head to California. Armed with an NCAA postgraduate scholarship and an array of other academic awards, Hancock is headed to the UC-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
‘Grew up riding moose’
During her freshman year at TCU, teammates were surprised to learn Hancock was from Alaska. "What did you ride on?" they would ask in amazement. "Yeah, I grew up riding moose," Hancock would tell them.
Hancock's first horse was actually a vault. The youngest of Anne and James Hancock's two daughters, she started gymnastics as a toddler, following the lead of sister Brittany.
Things were great until Hancock hit Level 6 at age 9, which is when she said she fell out of love with gymnastics.
"Level 6 is where you have to flip backward on the beam," she said. "I didn't like the idea of going backward without seeing my hands."
So she asked her mom about riding lessons. All it took was one for Hancock to fall in love with a new sport.
Sure, sometimes she got tossed in the air by a horse — but she was never flipped backward. She felt at home on a horse, where the balance and body control she learned in gymnastics helped make her a natural rider.
She was 10 years old when she got Nick, a bay thoroughbred with a black mane and tail. Together they learned how to succeed in Alaska show rings.
Making the grade
Florentino ticked off the qualities that make Hancock a star in the classroom — focus, drive, work ethic, discipline — and said she brought the same qualities to the barn every day of every season.
She also brought a willingness to listen and be coached.
"I knew I was low man on the totem pole and it was really up to me to decide what my future would look like," Hancock said. "So I was really dedicated to listening to my coach and doing everything she asked. The coach knew I would listen, she knew I would make corrections, she knew I would think critically about how I would ride."
Florentino, who spent three years coaching at the University of Georgia before becoming a TCU coach six years ago, said she's never seen anyone like Hancock.
"If I asked her to stand on her head, she would do it," she said. "It was always, 'Yes ma'am,' and she went right to it."
Other women on the team took notice, she said. They saw how Hancock accepted feedback and how she applied it — not just once, but again and again. "She really became a leader," Florentino said.
Soon the team's academic trophy became a prized equestrian.
An outstanding debut
Hancock spent the first semester of her freshman year practicing. It wasn't until the second semester that she got a chance to compete — well ahead of her initial goal to get in one meet before her college career was over.
In her debut, she was named the meet's Most Outstanding Performer.
"From then on, there was no looking back," Florentino said. "She competed for us in every meet from that day on."
She earned her first All-America honor as a sophomore and set a national record as a junior.
Hancock's event is hunt seat equitation on the flat, which requires a rider to maneuver her horse in nine set patterns using a variety of gaits. Each pattern is worth a maximum of 10 points and another 10 points are available for the rider's appearance and effectiveness. A perfect score is 100 points.
During her junior year, Hancock rode a Texas Christian horse named Carmeline to a score of 98 points to set a National Collegiate Equestrian Association regular-season record, a Big 12 record and a TCU record.
As a junior and senior, Hancock helped the Horned Frogs to their best seasons on record. In her junior year, they were the national runner-up; this year, they lost to eventual champion Texas A&M; in the semifinals.
For Hancock, the success all started with that debut victory her freshman year.
"I didn't see it coming, and my coach didn't see it coming," she said. "Usually you don't walk into your first match as an underdog and win MOP.
"It gave me a lot of drive to push through a lot of hard times — the early morning workouts that make everyone want to puke, getting yelled at to the point where you feel like you don't know how to ride.
"It made me trust the process."
Long, pain-filled days
Part of the process is powering through endless days and constant aches and pains.
Hancock's typical school day began at 6 a.m. and ended at 10 p.m., with practice consuming four to five hours each day.
TCU's barn is a 45-minute drive from campus, and once there, riders spend 30 to 45 minutes getting their horses ready. Then comes an hour of practice, followed by another 30 to 45 minutes to cool down their horses, followed by the 45-minute drive back to campus.
On her way back to campus, Hancock often stopped at the barn where she keeps Nick to practice by herself for another hour, always applying the feedback Florentino gave her during practice.
She dealt with an injury every year at TCU, including two in the last 12 months.
As a freshman, she had back pain that trainers traced to her legs, which are different lengths. As a sophomore, she dealt with a torn labrum (shoulder). As a junior, it was plantar fasciitis (inflammation across the bottom of the foot) — "A horse tried to murder me," she said.
The summer before her senior year she had a tibia fracture, and currently doctors are trying to discover the source of the tingling and numbness in her left leg.
"Pain is basically background noise to me," Hancock said. "It's tough on your body. You fall off a lot. You're working with a 1,200-pound animal and they step on your feet all the time – I've had a permanent bruise on my foot for eight years.
"I've been kicked in the gut and dumped in the dirt more times than I can count. There's a lot of wear and tear on the body trying to move a horse around."
More school, more goals
Soon she will get a chance to recover. Hancock's equestrian days are winding down, at least for the next several years.
Hancock will take Nick to California, but the horse is 17 now, has bad knees and is retired from the show ring. Besides, Hancock doesn't expect to have much free time once she begins veterinary school.
Her plan is to earn a DVM in equine orthopedic surgery and a phD in biomedical chemistry. She wants to research cartilage regeneration so someday she can help injured horses, and Florentino, for one, has no doubt Hancock will make it all happen.
"One thing about Kari," she said. "If she has a goal she will not just meet it, she will crush it."
With a pair of tweezers and unflinching focus, art conservator Nicole Peters picks cotton fibers from the sticky, frayed cord of Anchorage's most iconic clock.
During the 1964 earthquake, the timepiece broke when it dropped from the Anchorage Post Office wall. The hands are still at 5:36.
"The clock is really well-beloved in this city," said Anchorage Museum director of collections and chief conservator Monica Shah on a recent Friday at the museum. "It's really important that it never gets plugged in again."
Even though getting the clock tick-tocking is forbidden, Shah said an intact cord is still vital to the whole object's survival.
"It's degrading so badly that if we don't do something, it's going to start losing pieces," Shah said. "Nicole is trying to stabilize it before it goes on exhibition."
The clock, which is being prepared for the remodeled Alaska Exhibition, is one of hundreds of objects being evaluated, documented and repaired for both that exhibition and the $24 million museum expansion. The new Alaska Exhibition is replacing the old Alaska Gallery, and is a separate project from the expansion. Both will open in September.
As Peters, a Skagway-based private conservator on contract, performed the meticulous work in the Anchorage Museum's temporary first-floor conservation lab, she was also on display.
Since last August, museum guests have been able to observe conservators at work through the window for an hour each Friday. The lab will close this August to make room for another new exhibit.
"People don't realize how much work happens. This is part of the process for the new wing, because whenever you take an exhibition down you have to take care of it," Shah said. "It's all part of the picture. Once (the objects) go back into storage, they won't get a chance to be documented and cleaned again until they're on exhibit again."
Some items are headed to storage, others will be placed in the new wing, and the rest will find a home in the redone Alaska Exhibition.
The exhaustive project is overseen by Shah and Anchorage Museum conservator Sarah Owens. It's far too much work for them to handle themselves, so they summoned about eight private contract conservators to help.
Through the conservation lab windows, observers can also see the wealth of objects stored inside. It's a mini-museum with northern treasures of all shapes and sizes, including a giant iron blubber-melting pot; a small, intricate ivory net gauge; squirrel fur blankets; and the most delicate and vulnerable of feathered robes.
Shah said many of the objects are so sensitive that a rogue swoosh of air or a speck of dust could damage them.
The conservator has the complicated job of sprucing up the items without disturbing them or compromising their authenticity.
"Our background as conservators is chemistry and art. We're material scientists," Shah said. "When we approach a treatment, we think of how the material is degrading and how can we stop it or slow it down. We really think hard about how much we're presenting our work versus the artist's original work or the user's work."
A little ditty
Most often, pieces don't require major intervention, Shah said. There are a few objects, like a torn sea lion gut cape and a kayak with holes, that need special attention.
Otherwise, the hands-on conservation work involves a lot of surface cleaning with soft animal hair brushes, mixing chemical solutions and making minuscule yet essential repairs.
Peters said one of the objects most in need of extra care is a little baleen ditty box with a wooden lid from the 1800s that will be featured in the new Alaska Exhibition.
Ditty boxes were used by whalers, sailors and fishermen to store food and other miscellaneous items.
Peters said the lid was putting too much strain on the rest of the box and had been poorly repaired by a previous conservator. To stabilize the container, Peters made a small insert piece that holds the lid just a little above the box "so for the next 20 years, it's not putting pressure on it," she said.
"Some whaler made it and it had its life, probably on the East Coast, and it ended up here," Peters said. "It was in really poor condition. The lid was all damaged. A lot of it is insect damage. Wool is exactly the same material as baleen and insects that like to eat wool would eat baleen. It could have also been a rodent gnawing at the edge because there'd been food in there."
In living color
Rodents, insects, obsolete preservation methods, incompetent conservators, dust, time and tobacco …
All are nemeses of the museum artifact.
Traces of the most pungent of these enemies is detectable on a hand-rolled swab that Philadelphia-based private conservator Gwen Manthey used to clean a Eustace Ziegler painting.
"You'll smell tobacco smoke," Manthey said, presenting the swab. "I've already surface cleaned to remove dust and tobacco smoke by creating a solution that pulls the grime. None of this will dissolve the actual painting."
The painting conservators work their restorative magic in a room apart from the conservation lab. The painting Manthey is repairing was previously in storage and is headed to the new wing.
"We have a bunch of Ziegler's work going into the new wing," Shah said. "The painting conservators are the best chemists. They mix up solvents to take off a varnish that doesn't disturb the paint underneath. They make a solution specific to each painting. They just do amazing things."
The painting Manthey is repairing depicts Alaska Native women in brilliantly colored parkas by the seashore.
"It looks like they're collecting fish. It's a portrait of these women at work," she said. "We tend to be a little more intensive with treatment, because it's meant to be beautiful, and as the painting gets older, as the varnish degrades and discolors, that shifts the entire tonality of the composition and you're not appreciating the depth of field or how bright these blues are."
Right across the table from Manthey, Denver-based private conservator Camilla Van Vooren turned yellowing clouds white again as she removed varnish from a Sydney Laurence painting of sky, beach and a boat frame.
"This is what the artist intended," Van Vooren said.
Change of a headdress
An ornate Haida headdress combining painted carved wood, inlaid abalone shells, down feathers, a baleen frame and ermine skins has left conservator Sarah Owens all giddy.
"I've seen a few of these now and they're all slightly different," she said. "I always get excited about these."
The headdress, which will be placed in the Alaska Exhibition, is in surprisingly good condition, according to Owens.
"It's all secure," she said while checking to see if anything was about to detach. "It's really well-bound to the wood."
But it still needs tending to.
"I have to almost deconstruct it," Owens said. "The different materials will all have their own condition issues … ermine have very thin skins that tend to dry and tear easily."
It's not only time, insects and the usual suspects that may have caused damage. The headdress's use in ceremonial dances could have also contributed to wear and tear.
"The motion of the dance is quite aggressive," Owens said.
She added that dancers often place down feathers inside the headdress to toss out after the performance. There are marks and particles inside the headdress's crown that could be mold or remnants of those feathers. Owens won't know until she runs some tests.
If they turn out to be fragments of feathers, she will most likely leave them be.
"Sometimes," Owens said, "there are deposits on objects we want to keep, because they're part of their story."
Just when spring has me cooking up fresh vegetable-forward fare — peas and favas with mint, fresh garbanzos and braised artichokes, roasted radishes — I happen upon the first-of-the-season Alaska spot prawns.
These are hard to resist — big, juicy, sweet and delicate creatures from the pristine waters of Prince William Sound. I've done everything with them, from curing in soy sauce to tossing with semolina and rice flour for a light fritto misto. But when the ingredient is this fresh and delicious, it's good to remember that less is more.
Here, just plump garlic cloves, a hint of chili, and olive oil and citrus make for a quick and delicious meal. You can peel them before cooking or leave the shrimp with shells on; if you leave the shell on, they might need to cook an extra minute or two. Serve with crusty bread for dipping in the sauce or a simple green salad; stir into a risotto or toss with pasta.
Lemon garlic spot prawns
Serves 2 to 3
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 pound spot prawns or other large shrimp, peeled and cleaned, as needed
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes or 1 small fresh green (jalapeño) or red
Chili (Fresno), thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Juice of 1/2 lemon or lime; other half thinly sliced
1 green onion, thinly sliced or chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Place a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. Pour in the olive oil, add the garlic and chilies and let the oil heat and infuse with the garlic and chili, about 3 minutes. Pat the peeled prawns dry with a paper towel to remove excess moisture.
Increase heat to medium-high and add the prawns. Let cook, gently shaking the pan as needed, about 3 minutes and until prawns start to turn pink. Shake pan and toss shrimp; let cook another minute or until just done; be careful not to overcook. Add lemon juice and lemon slices. Garnish with green onion or parsley, a little salt and pepper and another drizzle of good olive oil.
Kim Sunée is the bestselling author of "Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love, and the Search for Home" and "A Mouthful of Stars." For more food and travel, visit kimsunee.com and instagram/kimsunee.
This time of year isn't the prettiest in Anchorage. The season can be summed up in just a couple of adjectives — brown and dusty. Everyone is itching for warmth and color.
Recently, event planner Erin Velander of Blomma Designs — a local event company that incorporates handmade elements and Alaska materials into their designs — asked if I would bring my floral skills to her studio and teach her how to bring some color and life into the drabness that is Anchorage spring. Velander wanted me to teach her an inexpensive project that was not only elegant, but also was something a beginner could accomplish.
Wreaths are a traditional way to show off flowers and greenery but I wanted to make something more minimal (i.e., affordable). Unusual floral hangings are all the rage in the wedding world these days. After a little craft-store research I decided to teach Velander how to make a hanging floral hoop.
Rather than using a typical wire wreath base I opted for a large, wooden quilter's hoop, which is much like a gigantic embroidery hoop. Typically, the base for a wreath is unattractive and must be covered entirely with greenery or flowers. The hoop, however, has its own aesthetic and I wanted it to be a part of the design. Not only does it create a beautiful asymmetry in the finished product, it also means less foliage and less money to create — perfect for anyone looking to add a little cheer to their springtime décor.
This tutorial will teach you the basics of arranging greenery and flowers on a wreath form and how to wire flowers, a technique that's invaluable to florists. Select long-lasting flowers for your hoop. Carnations, chrysanthemums, daisies, asters and spray roses are all great examples. When in doubt, head to your local grocery store flower department. The types of flowers usually sold at grocery stores are long-lasting varieties.
Your wreath should stay fresh for several days but it also looks lovely once dried, especially with flowers that are bright pink and white. As for greenery, eucalyptus and ferns are both great. Grocery stores usually sell a bundle of mixed greens — those would do well, too. If you're looking to kick it up a notch, head over to Alaska Wholesale Flower Market or Cedars Wholesale Floral Imports. They both sell to nonflorists (Cedars only takes cash), and they have lots of variety. They can also advise you on what flowers do best out of water.
This tutorial calls for a large quilting hoop, which is actually made of two hoops. The materials listed are enough to make two wreaths.
• One 23-inch quilting hoop (these are available online. This tutorial would also work with a smaller hoop)
• Green floral wire (available at crafts stores or Wal-Mart)
• Green floral tape (available at crafts stores)
• wire cutters
• floral snips (regular scissors will work too)
• 1 bunch plumosa fern
• 1 bunch minipittosporum
• 1 bunch white wax flower (baby's breath is a good substitute)
• 1 bunch scarlet minicarnations
• 1 bunch lavender button mums
• monofilament or fishing line
Step 1: Remove the outer part of the quilting hoop and set aside for a second hoop, if you'd like.
Step 2: Start with wiring on the plumosa fern. Determine where you want your arrangement to lie on the hoop. The plumosa will set the parameters of that shape. Snip a piece of fern and hold it to the hoop with one hand while tightly wrapping the wire around the hoop with the other hand. You can either cut a length of wire and wrap it or keep the wire on the paddle. I prefer the latter because I can pull the wire tightly around the greens when the paddle is attached.
Wire the plumosa with stems pointing toward the top and then pointing toward the bottom of the hoop. Fill the space in between with more fern. There is no hard or fast rule to arranging the fern. It kind of has a mind of its own so let it do its thing — just look out for hidden thorns!
Step 3: Start wiring in bits of minipittosporum. Cut a spray of this greenery, leaving a 3-inch stem. Nestle the sprig in the plumosa so the stems are hidden. Arrange in the same direction as the plumosa.
Step 4: Start wiring in the wax flower. Create little clusters of wax flower so the blooms face outward instead up only upward. Secure with a little florist tape. Wire in place as you did the greens, tucking the stems between the greenery so they are hidden.
Now it's important to hold up the hoop to see that the wax flower isn't running too parallel to the hoop. The flowers should be facing outward toward you. If they are looking too flat then just wire more clusters of wax flower in so they face more outward.
Step 5: Now to wire the minicarnations: Cut a carnation leaving a 2-inch stem.
Take a 4-inch length of wire and fold it in half to create a kink in the center. Poke one end of the wire through the base of the carnation where it looks like there are little green petals. Push the wire through until you reach the kink in the middle. Lay the wire on both sides of the stem and wrap tightly with floral tape. Now your carnation can bend to your will. If the wire you have is too light of a gauge, then poke another wire through the stem perpendicular to the first and wrap again.
To wire the button mums, just fold a piece of wire in half, hold it up against the stem of the flower and tightly wrap with floral tape starting from the base of the stem to the bottom of the stem.
Wire about 10 or so flowers. You can create a larger-looking carnation by putting three or four carnations together and binding them with floral tape. This can then be used as a focal point for your hoop.
Step 6: Determine where you want the focal point of your hoop to be. This is where you should wire in your biggest bloom. Secure your bloom in place as you did the greenery. Since the blooms are wired you can turn the bloom to face outward once you've wired it to the hoop.
Step 7: Once your focal flower is in place begin wiring in other blooms from the outside in toward the focal point, tucking in stems beneath what's already wired to the hoop.
Step 8: Take another look at your hoop held out in front of you and determine whether there are any gaps that need to be filled. At this point you can start tucking in bits of plumosa, wax flower and pittosporum without needing to wire them. They can be poked through the wire that's already on the hoop.
Step 9: Now it's time to hang your hoop. Cut two lengths of monofilament and tie them to two points at the top of the hoop. Since the hoop is weighted it probably won't hang correctly if you only tie one string to the middle. With two pieces of string you can find the best balance when hanging it.
Step 10: Hang your hoop and admire your beautiful work for many days. These flowers dry nicely so the hoop should look wonderful for a long time.
If you want to wrap your entire hoop with foliage, start wiring clusters at the top making sure the foliage points upward as you wire them in. Cover the ends of each cluster with a new cluster of greenery and work your way down and around to the other side of the hoop.
Natasha Price is a florist and blogger in Anchorage. View more of her tutorials at alaskaknitnat.com.
MOSCOW — They are small as physician assistants go, about 2 inches long, and slithery. They wiggle about for a bit on Elena A. Kalinicheva's back before getting down to what they do best: sucking blood.
Leeches — yes, leeches — are still widely prescribed in Russian medicine, about 10 million of them every year, in many cases as a low-cost substitute for blood thinners like warfarin.
"When you do it the first time, you think, 'My God, leeches!'" Kalinicheva said. "But after you go through it, you understand there is nothing to worry about."
In Russia, a medicinal leech costs less than $1, and a typical application requires three to seven of the ravenous little creatures. Leech treatments, available throughout the country, take 30 to 40 minutes, though the resulting wounds ooze blood for an additional six hours or so until the natural anticoagulant in leech venom wears off.
Though Russia under President Vladimir Putin is muscling its way back onto the world stage militarily, economic development has lagged woefully, and that includes the medical system.
In developed countries, leech applications are often, and perhaps unfairly, associated with quackery, like the once popular practice of bleeding patients.
In fact, leeches are creeping back into Western medicine — as many as 6,000 are used annually in the United States, the BioTherapeutics, Education and Research Foundation estimates — but not for the same purposes as in Russia.
The Food and Drug Administration in the United States cleared the sale of leeches as medical devices in 2004 — along with maggots — while European pharmaceutical companies have focused on isolating therapeutic, blood-thinning chemicals in the venom and delivering it in a less creepy manner.
The FDA has approved leeches for draining blood, for example using them to remove excess blood from severed body parts that have been reattached.
In the Russian tradition, the therapeutic benefits are seen in the venom, a natural anticoagulant prescribed as a preventive treatment for stroke and heart disease, at a fraction of the cost of pharmaceutical blood thinners.
Russians are in theory covered for most doctor care and drugs under a socialized medical system written into the post-Soviet Constitution in 1993. Modernizing this state health care was a priority that Putin enshrined in decrees early in his third term as president. They set ambitious targets for medicine: Doctors' salaries would double by 2018, the end of Putin's term; life expectancy would rise by four years.
But the oil price collapse, sanctions and military spending intervened. Russia remains a poor country, albeit one with geopolitical ambitions. The average income in Russia is $642 a month, compared with $3,584 in the United States, according to government statistics in both countries.
"We need investment, and in medicine new technology requires state investment," Yevgeny Gontmakher, an economist and authority on the Russian health care system, said in a telephone interview.
In rural areas, doctors are often too scarce to find in a timely manner. Russian life expectancy for men and women, at 70.3 years, has hardly budged since Putin issued his decrees and is still 10 years lower than the European Union average of 80 years.
Similarly, while government-approved "vitally necessary" drugs are theoretically covered, in practice they are as likely as not to be out of stock at the state-run pharmacies that distribute them free. Left to pay out of pocket at clinics or commercial drugstores, patients gravitate toward cheaper options, like leeches.
Kalinicheva, a secretary in a Moscow office, said she had suffered from intolerable lower back pain before trying leeches, applied weekly at a walk-in medical center, the Hirudotherapy Clinic.
She said she had chosen leeches for cost savings and to avoid taking painkillers. "I wanted something natural, to minimize the chemicals," Kalinicheva said.
At the clinic, Dr. Irina A. Pankova applies leeches to treat glaucoma, prostatitis, hypertension and many more ailments. She encourages patients to use them in conjunction with standard drug treatments. As they engorge themselves with blood, the leeches bulge to six to seven times their original size before dropping off. They are used only once, to avoid spreading disease.
On a recent day, a steady stream of patients traipsed through the door, took seats and flipped through magazines, awaiting their turn.
Medicinal leeches cost 90 cents each in Russia, compared with $15.50 for leeches sold by Leeches USA, a medicinal leech supplier based in Westbury, New York.
They are raised in leech farms where, in Russia, women in white laboratory coats follow a procedure little changed over the decades.
They set out glass jars teeming with medical leeches, or Hirudo medicinalis; a colander with a fine, porous surface; a bolt of cheesecloth; and a jug of fresh cow's blood.
"The leeches are hungry," Natasha Bogdanova, an employee of the International Center for Medicinal Leeches, observed as she ladled warm blood into the cloth-lined colander.
It is not a job for the squeamish. At feeding time, the "leech raisers," as they are called, plunge their hands into the glass bottles of leeches, retrieve the little bloodsuckers and put them in the blood-filled colanders.
"I'm not afraid," Bogdanova said with a shrug. "I'm used to it. It's my job. A job is a job." One leech slithered up her wrist as she spoke.
In Europe, pharmaceutical giants Sanofi and AstraZeneca have marketed medicines based on leech venom, delivering the benefits without the actual creatures. In 2016, Sanofi sold 29,300 units of its leech-derived topical ointment, Exhirud Heparin, according to the company.
Like researchers in richer countries, scientists in the Soviet Union were trying to transform live leech therapy into pharmaceutical products in the late 1980s, said Gennady I. Nikonov, director of the leech farm, who got his start in a laboratory at Moscow State University trying to isolate medicinal compounds from leeches.
The effort unraveled with the Soviet breakup and is still foundering for lack of money. Nikonov has continued the work, and his company has prospective pharmaceutical products but, like so many other areas of Russian industry, lacks investment to bring them to market. That would require expensive clinical trials.
And so for now the leeches are sold, squirming and hungry, in glass canning jars, waiting for their patients. It works, as it has for centuries. "Why give up the experience of past years?" Nikonov said, shrugging.
Nikonov estimated that Russian leech farms produce 10 million specimens a year; his farm alone accounts for about 2 million. The FDA does not keep statistics on U.S. leech use, a spokeswoman, Stephanie Caccomo, said, but the numbers are small.
Most U.S. patients "would prefer a pill or something else without the yuck factor," said Dr. Ronald Sherman, a former professor of medicine at the University of California, Irvine, and director of the BioTherapeutics, Education and Research Foundation.
Some Russians prefer to apply leeches at home. At a store run by the leech farm, Nadezhda K. Loba, 64, turned up with a plastic water jug and an order for 100 leeches. She applies them at home, on her temples, to treat conjunctivitis.
For an added measure of frugality, Loba noted, "you can use them repeatedly for yourself," by departing from clinic practice and saving them after an application.
"If you take care of them, change their water, they can be used for a long time," she said. "Think about it: Leeches don't run out."
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has presided over an extraordinary first 100 days in office marked by the aggressive use of executive power and a freewheeling leadership style, shattering the norms of the presidency and the traditions of Washington. While his attention-grabbing statements and actions have produced very few of the concrete policy changes he had promised as a candidate, there is little doubt that Trump has moved to set the nation on a radically different course. Here is a look at his record to date.
Jobs and the economy
— Released a proposal for deep tax cuts, including slashing the rate for large and small companies to 15 percent and collapsing the seven individual income tax brackets into three: 10, 25 and 35 percent.
— Approved construction of the Dakota Access pipeline and reversed the Obama administration's blocking of the Keystone XL pipeline.
— Issued executive orders to chisel away at Obama-era financial regulations, including a rule intended to protect consumers from bad investment advice.
— Signed 13 bills to wipe out Obama-era regulations using the Congressional Review Act and ordered agency reviews of regulations across the government.
The regulatory reversals may have been Trump's most concrete economic steps so far. He has offered few details on the tax package, which is at least months away from being drafted into legislative form. The pipelines will take years to build. The financial regulations targeted by executive orders will remain in place during a lengthy review process.
Trump has taken credit for job announcements by companies, including a plan by Carrier to retain 1,110 jobs in Indiana, but critics say that they were in the works long before he took office, and that the economic trends that send jobs abroad remain in place. Trump has done nothing to press the $1 trillion infrastructure spending package he promised during the campaign. Still, the stock markets have reacted positively to his push to cut regulations and taxes.
— Signed an executive order to scale back as many parts of the Affordable Care Act as possible.
— Announced rule changes to cut the annual open enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act.
— Made a late pitch for passage of legislation to repeal and replace the health law.
Trump has made little progress on his promise to quickly repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a system that Republicans say would provide greater access to care and more affordable coverage. Divisions among the party scuttled one bill, and a vote on a revised version has been put off. Trump has failed to offer his own plan.
The president has made few changes to the Affordable Care Act, despite the executive order. He has yet to follow through on a threat to withhold subsidies paid to insurance companies so they can reduce costs for low-income consumers — a bargaining tactic to force Democrats to work with him on an overhaul.
— Signed executive orders directing the Environmental Protection Agency to begin the legal process of repealing President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan.
— Signed an executive order directing the EPA to begin limiting the scope of the Waters of the United States rule, an Obama-era regulation intended to protect rivers, streams and wetlands.
— Signed directives that aim to open parts of some national monuments to drilling, mining and logging, and to roll back Obama's bans on future offshore drilling in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans.
— Signed legislation to lift an Interior Department regulation completed in the last days of the Obama administration to block coal companies from dumping mining debris into streams.
Trump has taken several actions, mostly in the form of executive orders, aimed at reversing his predecessor's environmental legacy and restoring jobs in coal mining and oil drilling. But efforts to dismantle most of Obama's climate change and clean water rules could take several years. And economists note that the decline in coal jobs and offshore oil drilling has been driven more by market forces than regulations.
The president's proposal to slash the EPA's budget by 31 percent, more than any other agency, has been met with resistance even by some Republicans in Congress.
— Signed an executive order to ban travel from six predominantly Muslim countries that are considered "terror prone" and to temporarily halt refugee resettlement.
— Signed an order calling for the construction of a wall on the southern border and the addition of thousands of border agents. Threatened to revoke federal funding from jurisdictions that decline to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
— Increased arrests of unauthorized immigrants, detaining 22,000 from January through mid-March, a 38 percent increase over the same period in 2016. Doubled the number of noncriminal immigrants arrested.
Trump has yet to accomplish any of the most ambitious goals he laid out on illegal immigration, including beginning construction of a border wall paid for by Mexico and defunding "sanctuary cities," and he has not overhauled the refugee admission process. A revised travel ban and the sanctuary city order are tied up in the courts.
But amid the uptick in immigration arrests, especially of people who have not committed serious crimes, the number of unauthorized immigrants caught
along the Southwest border has fallen precipitously since the president took office.
— Moved to reset the American approach to China, initially threatening to upend the decades-old "One China" policy. Tied the trade relationship with China to cooperation on North Korea.
— Withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and signed orders aimed at combating foreign trade abuses. Began inquiries into whether steel and aluminum imports were hurting U.S. producers.
— Imposed tariffs on Canadian lumber and criticized Canada's high tariffs on dairy products, while threatening to withdraw from NAFTA if it could not be sufficiently renegotiated.
The White House has argued that Trump has strengthened the standing of the United States in the world, renewing relationships that Obama had allowed to languish and reasserting American power. He has questioned long-held precepts of foreign policy, including the One China policy, a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the usefulness of NATO, and the importance of multilateral trade agreements.
But Trump has not yet made big changes in most of those areas. He reversed himself on NATO and dropped his re-evaluation of the One China policy. A new strategy on the Middle East has yet to emerge. Trump has taken a more personal approach to diplomacy with leaders like Shinzo Abe of Japan and Xi Jinping of China, but it is not yet clear whether the charm offensive will yield strong relationships or diplomatic gains.
Military and intelligence
— Fired 59 cruise missiles into Syria after the regime's use of chemical weapons and imposed sanctions on 271 Syrian officials.
— Approved a raid against Qaida militants in Yemen during which a U.S. commando was killed.
— Delegated more authority to his combatant commanders to carry out military operations.
— Dropped the "mother of all bombs," the most powerful conventional weapon in the U.S. arsenal, on an Islamic State cave in Afghanistan.
— Imposed financial sanctions on 25 Iranians and companies that officials said had assisted in Tehran's ballistic missile program and supported terrorist groups.
Trump in some ways has made good on his promise to be tougher than his predecessor, firing missiles into Syria when Obama had not, and empowering the military to act quickly abroad. But his budget request for a $54 billion increase in military spending is likely to go nowhere. And while he has used bombastic language toward Iran and North Korea, he has done almost nothing to shift the United States' military posture toward those nations.
Social issues and the courts
— Nominated and won confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
— Reinstated the "global gag rule," which bars U.S. aid for family planning organizations around the world that counsel patients on abortion.
— Signed legislation to allow states to deny funding to Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health organizations that offer abortion services.
— Rescinded an Obama administration policy that said transgender students in public schools had to be allowed to use the bathroom of their choice.
Trump prioritized the swift selection and confirmation of Gorsuch, in line with his campaign promise to name a conservative who opposed abortion rights. Though he once called himself "pro-choice," Trump has moved aggressively to clamp down on access to abortions. Still, he has not followed through on threats to roll back workplace protections for gay men and lesbians.
— Nominated 71 individuals to fill the top ranks of his administration. By the same date, Obama had named 190.
— Promised a radical restructuring of the government, leaving positions in key agencies, including 200 at the State Department, unfilled or occupied by holdovers from the Obama administration.
— Hired family members and people with no government experience to serve in several top roles.
Trump's chaotic transition left him extraordinarily far behind in the process of staffing his administration. Of 556 crucial positions that require Senate confirmation, Trump has filled only 465, according to the Center for Presidential Transition at the Partnership for Public Service. The result has been a lack of direction at crucial agencies and fewer officials to help execute Trump's agenda.
Norms of the presidency
— Upended the way a president communicates with the public, using Twitter to talk directly to Americans.
— Refused to release his tax returns and declined to divest from his multibillion-dollar real estate empire.
— Imposed a five-year ban on lobbying by administration officials, but shut down disclosure of White House visitor logs.
— Used his exclusive Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, as his "winter White House" and played golf frequently at clubs he owns.
Trump has shattered the protocols and customs of the presidency, with his unvarnished commentary on Twitter, his seat-of-the-pants approach to policy moves and statements, and his penchant for mixing the official with the commercial. He has called the news media "the enemy of the people."
But Trump has also made himself much more accessible than his predecessors, routinely popping his head into the press cabin on Air Force One for brief on-the-record chats and granting interviews with a wide range of reporters. He has made the White House, once a bastion of stiff decorum, into a more freewheeling place, where surprises are common and abrupt changes are the norm.
Coral Davenport and Ron Nixon contributed reporting.
MIAMI — Thousands of immigrants who joined the U.S. military with promises of a fast track to citizenship are stuck in limbo as new screening measures have taken far longer than expected, leaving some military members around the nation unable to become citizens or even go to basic training.
In the Army alone, about 4,300 people are awaiting the completion of their background checks, said Hank Minitrez, a spokesman for the Army. Until they are cleared, they cannot enter basic training or deploy overseas, leaving them stuck on bases if they are on active duty.
Immigrants must be in the United States legally in order to enlist. But the new vetting measures, begun in the waning months of the Obama administration, have taken so long that by November, the legal status of up to 1,500 people who enlisted in active duty or the Reserve had expired while they waited for clearance, the Army said.
They cannot legally drive or find work, a problem for reservists, who do not draw a full-time military paycheck. Although the Army is granting some extensions, they could eventually be subject to deportation, the Army said.
Some enlistees who were at the doorstep of citizenship have had the door slammed shut at the last minute.
One Army reservist in South Florida who had been scheduled for her citizenship oath Thursday was turned away. A trauma surgeon in Springfield, Illinois, who signed up for the Army Reserve was scheduled to become a citizen on May 5, then learned that his case was delayed.
Anbazhagan Chinnappillai, who came to the United States from India in 2013 on a student visa, lost the visa when the university where he was studying discovered he had enlisted. His original ship-out date has been postponed indefinitely.
"I thought joining the military was going to help me have a better life, like an American dream," he said.
Chinnappillai had signed up for Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest, known as MAVNI, an immigrant recruiting program created by the George W. Bush administration to bring more foreign-language speakers and trained doctors into the armed forces. Some 10,000 people, most of them in the Army, have joined with the promise of a quick path to citizenship, which many have received.
Dreamers, immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children and have been granted a reprieve from deportation, are eligible, as are immigrants with valid visas at the time they sign up. Legal permanent residents, or green-card holders, have been able to enlist and win speedy citizenship for years under a separate program.
President Donald Trump has voiced support for letting noncitizens serve in the military, but some — including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, when he was a senator — have expressed security concerns. So did officials in the Obama administration, who added additional screening beginning last fall.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services referred calls to the Pentagon. The Defense Department acknowledged that the new screening methods had caused "some delays."
The scrutiny is extensive. According to a lawsuit filed by seven MAVNI members who said the Defense Department was improperly stalling them, the investigation covers at least 10 years of finances, education and professional activities, on top of credit and criminal background checks. The individual must complete an exhaustive questionnaire and is interviewed by an investigator, often for several hours. Close relatives, references, employers, neighbors and colleagues are also interviewed.
The process involves various agencies, including the Defense and Justice Departments, and the sheer volume of applications has resulted in delays, said Minitrez, the Army spokesman.
"These background checks are quite extensive and time consuming," he said in an email, "but are absolutely necessary."
Naomi Verdugo, a retired senior recruiting official in the Army who helped create MAVNI, said one soldier she knew had an MBA and spoke Ukrainian and Russian, but was sitting around his base with little to do because the military had not completed his background check.
"He is sitting there, painting rocks," she said.
Margaret D. Stock, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve who also was involved in creating MAVNI, said she believed the government was violating a segment of the law that says Army reservists are eligible for citizenship as soon as they begin serving.
Stock, a lawyer who represents some MAVNI members and is the author of "Immigration Law and the Military," said, "This looks to me like mindless bigotry and anti-immigrant feeling at the Pentagon: 'We don't think you deserve the citizenship Congress gave you.'"
Sagar Dubey, 31, a computer consultant in Minneapolis who runs a Facebook page for MAVNI recruits, said hundreds of reservists had posted desperate messages about running out of money or being unable to leave the country to attend a parent's funeral because they were no longer in the United States legally and might not be allowed to re-enter. Dubey, who is from India, joined the Reserve a year ago but still has not been allowed to attend basic training.
The Army reservist who was turned away from a citizenship ceremony Thursday had learned just hours earlier that her case was stalled.
"To come this far and not be able to do it?" said the woman, a 29-year-old Brazilian who did not want her name published because she feared it would hurt her citizenship application. "We have contracts we signed. We are honoring our part. Are they honoring theirs?"
Nicholas Kulish contributed reporting from New York.
Like Alexis de Tocqueville nearly 200 years ago, I believe American society thrives when people act out of an enlightened regard for themselves that constantly prompts them to assist each other. I remain optimistic that our nation can unify around policies that promote a system of mutual benefit for people from all walks of life.
As President Donald Trump nears 100 days in office, we are moving closer to that ideal in some respects, but not in others. But no president can — or should — be expected to solve every problem alone. To be successful, leaders in any field must listen to everyone, even those with whom they disagree.
On the plus side, the president has taken a thoughtful approach to regulatory reform. He has appointed a strong team capable of acting on the best ideas to remove unnecessary regulations that undermine innovation, competition and opportunities for those who need them most. I also applaud the president's selection of Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. With a career of prioritizing the Constitution over political gamesmanship, the new justice will be a critical voice of properly applied constitutional law.
At the same time, I view some actions of this administration as counterproductive. These include broad travel bans, discouraging free trade and a tendency toward rhetoric that too easily divides Americans instead of uniting them.
But rather than spending too much time looking back — even if only for 100 days — we need to look forward. The president and lawmakers have an excellent opportunity to take bold steps here and now to reverse the United States' trajectory toward a two-tiered system: one that benefits the wealthy and well-connected (including big businesses such as Koch Industries) at the expense of everyone else.
In addressing the United States' challenges, I encourage the president to evaluate every policy on its potential to help people improve their lives. No piece of legislation will ever be perfect, and allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good only further accentuates our country's divisions. Good policy moves us closer to this ideal, even if by small steps.
With this principle in mind, here are a few policy changes I believe are vital — and genuinely achievable, by this president, at this moment — to improving well-being and opportunity for all Americans:
Comprehensive tax reform is long overdue. Americans deserve much, much better. The president's newly offered plan to reduce rates and simplify the code is a step in the right direction. I am also encouraged by the absence of Congress' proposed border adjustment tax (or any tax) that would increase the profits of industrial companies such as Koch by raising the price on goods that Americans rely on every day.
This administration should instead make room for tax cuts by encouraging Congress to rein in wasteful spending and reduce corporate welfare provisions that benefit big business at the expense of families. A tax code that champions Main Street is vital for economic growth and innovation. On these issues, the president is well-positioned to lead.
The health care debate has been a mess, but I'm hopeful the president can get it on track. Let's start by laying the foundation for innovation; this will reduce costs and improve quality for everyone. This can't happen without new legislation, but there are actions the administration can take in the meantime, such as reforming the Food and Drug Administration and granting discretion to states to innovate within the constructs of Obamacare and Medicaid. While not perfect, such actions can move us closer to a system where all individuals can choose the affordable care that is best for them.
As a candidate, the president spoke passionately about the need to reduce crime rates and improve safety, particularly in urban areas. I agree. When criminal sentences are just and fit the offense, and when those who have committed nonviolent crimes learn from their mistakes and get a second chance, we all benefit. Instead, what we have today is an epidemic of over-incarceration that breeds distrust and increases violence between the police and the communities they serve. The president can break this cycle by working with lawmakers who stand ready to reform our criminal-justice system.
I do not see eye to eye with the president (or anyone) on all issues; however, as with all administrations, I stand ready to help him do right, wherever I can.
I believe Trump has a tremendous opportunity to pave the way — in the next 100 days and beyond — for long-term economic success and greater prosperity for all. I wish him the best and look forward to collaborating with him and anyone — regardless of political party or ideology — who is passionate about advancing a free, open and flourishing society.
Charles Koch is chairman and chief executive of Koch Industries.
The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to email@example.com.
Through the window of his office on the eighth floor of Anchorage City Hall, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz said, he sees a dispiriting expanse of street-level parking lots.
But in the empty space, Berkowitz said he also sees "blank canvas."
"What I really see is the potential for us to do something that transforms downtown," Berkowitz said in a recent interview at City Hall.
His view, if not literally, is shared by a lot of other people in city government and business. Downtown should be the heart of Anchorage, Berkowitz said.
Yet, compared with some parts of the city, the 113 blocks of downtown Anchorage's central business district have largely languished, with little to no new development in years and no housing in more than a decade. The most recent big project, the Legislature's Anchorage home, was abandoned when lawmakers moved to Spenard.
Some blame a pattern of sprawl that is siphoning money and energy to Midtown, where land is cheaper. Downtown also suffers from high construction costs, slow permit approvals and fragmented land ownership, city planners and developers say. State highways run through the heart of downtown and along the eastern edge.
The mayor and others say the downtown stagnation affects Anchorage's efforts to weather a state fiscal crisis and brand itself as one of America's up-and-coming cities.
Berkowitz, who took office in July 2015, campaigned on invigorating downtown. He doesn't shy away from outside advice, and about a year ago, two consultants from Smart Growth America, a national nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., flew to Anchorage to run a workshop on business development.
The report that came out of the workshop, dated almost 12 months ago, observed the obvious strengths of downtown: the gorgeous backdrop of the Chugach Mountains, the headquarters of major Alaska Native and private corporations, art galleries and a well-regarded museum. An extensive trail network and upscale residential neighborhoods lie immediately to the south.
But the consultants, Chris Zimmerman and Alex Hutchinson, saw the ugly parts as well — surface parking lots, harsh building frontages and loading docks.
The findings led to nearly two dozen recommendations that touched on outdoor tables, safety problems and local control over state roads.
One idea particularly stuck with Anchorage city planners and real estate managers.
"Start by getting a few really good blocks," Zimmerman and Hutchinson wrote. "One rule of thumb is to achieve a minimum 2- to 4-block sequence that is continuously engaging people walking along the sidewalk."
Like the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle or the East Village in New York City, the consultants suggested homing in on a small target area that now has parking lots. Anchorage could start with its own land to gauge developer interest, Zimmerman and Hutchinson said. The city, under that theory, would have more control over its own land.
"Make sure to fill in the space in the small area, leave no empty 'missing teeth,' " they advised.
Ever since, the Berkowitz administration has been hunting for a few good blocks. At least three sites in the southwest part of downtown have emerged as contenders.
City planners and real estate managers imagine what's now a rare sight: apartments and condos on top of parking structures, mixed in with shops and eateries.
Housing is seen as especially key, with seniors and millennials the most likely to become coveted year-round residents. The theory goes: If people live downtown, they'll work and shop there, too.
Empty space and parking lots
In an interview last year, Zimmerman, Smart Growth America's vice president for economic development, said it isn't unusual for American cities to have large swaths of empty space covered in cars during the workday.
"But the places people think of as great cities don't look like that," Zimmerman said.
In the United States, cities have expanded outward and focused heavily on car access, creating vast areas of surface parking downtown, Zimmerman said. His report with Hutchinson said the positive parts of Anchorage's downtown could be tied together by replacing surface lots with buildings, both publicly and privately owned.
One person with a mission and vision for downtown is Larry Cash. In 1977, Cash came to Anchorage to take a job as an architect. He moved into a bungalow at Seventh Avenue and H Street. Downtown was crude then, he said, but comfortable: The now-shuttered 4th Avenue Theatre was still in business, and the mix of shops included a drugstore with a soda fountain and a bar called the Monkey Wharf, which entertained patrons with a pen of live monkeys.
Cash moved into a duplex south of downtown after two years. But: "I just fell in love with this place, with downtown in particular," said Cash, who is now the chief executive of Rim Architects, headquartered next to City Hall.
Cash was part of a group that founded the Anchorage Downtown Partnership, which charges downtown business owners for "ambassadors" to clean the sidewalks, help tourists and keep an eye on things. He helped design a number of downtown buildings, including the ConocoPhillips building, the Atwood Center when it was still the Hunt Building, an office building at Fifth Avenue and L Street, the new Covenant House and the Dena'ina Center.
For all his efforts to make downtown more aesthetically pleasing, Cash looks around and still sees too many surface parking lots, too much empty space.
"We've come a long way," Cash said. "And we have a long way to go." He added: "Downtown deserves people who care about participating and making it better."
His first home, the bungalow on Seventh Avenue, was torn down long ago. Now it's a surface parking lot.
The few good blocks
In the past, city real estate managers have waited until a developer came asking about a city-owned property. But lately, none have been asking.
In 2016, the Berkowitz administration tried a new tactic. The city real estate department sent out bid documents inviting developers to look at the land under the city health department building at Eighth Avenue and L Street. The idea was not a sale, but a trade, for land elsewhere in the city where the health department could be moved.
Nothing has yet come of the health department idea, but officials repeated the process for a city-owned property at Seventh Avenue and I Street, released only a few years earlier from federal restrictions.
There's one restriction for these proposals.
"It has to have a housing component," said Robin Ward, a longtime manager in the real estate department who was recently appointed the city's first chief housing officer through a grant from the Rasmuson Foundation.
Major corporations, like Walgreens, have declined invitations to move retail operations into downtown because not enough people live there, Ward said.
The Anchorage Downtown Partnership, which Cash helped found decades ago, has formally recognized the business need for downtown housing. The organization's board set a goal of helping build 500 new units of housing by 2020, said executive director Jamie Boring. Boring said his organization hopes to position itself as a liaison between developers and the city.
In her career in public real estate, Ward is known for striking creative deals with public properties. Berkowitz has asked her to examine why there isn't more housing being built, and what to do about it.
That task will also involve surveying the Anchorage Bowl for property. Ward expects to interview people who own land that's empty or prime for redevelopment.
At this point, most of that land is downtown, though the ownership isn't easy to navigate. On a single block, there might be five different owners. To find "a few good blocks," Ward and other officials turned first to the easier pickings — land that is publicly owned.
Three spots have become contenders. They are:
* Between Eighth and Ninth avenues and L and K streets. City-owned land is adjacent to property owned by the Anchorage Community Development Authority, which is currently vacant and occupied by food trucks. Next to the health department building, there's a surface parking lot.
* The corner of Seventh Avenue and I Street. In February, officials announced that the nonprofit housing developer Cook Inlet Housing Authority had won the city bid for the land with its proposal for a five-story apartment building with shops at sidewalk level. It's currently a surface parking lot.
* Between Eighth and Ninth avenues and between D and E streets, known as "Block 102." It is now a surface parking lot owned by the state of Alaska.
For Block 102, across from the Delaney Park Strip, the city is acting as an agent for the state. Berkowitz's deputies came up with that idea as a compromise, with the state reluctant to sell or turn over the property directly, said city development director Chris Schutte. Proposals for that property are due Monday.
Roads run through it
National highways typically funnel traffic into major U.S. cities while bypassing downtown areas.
In Anchorage, the national highway system cuts through the heart of downtown.
The major three-lane roads, Fifth and Sixth avenues, border shops, restaurants, a convention center, a town square, a museum and a performing arts building. The roads also serve as the connectors for the Seward Highway, the Glenn Highway and Minnesota Drive.
Long thought to have been state-owned, a records search for the roads found that the Municipality of Anchorage may actually be the owner, said Shannon McCarthy, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation.
The city and the state now plan to formally place ownership and maintenance of the roads in the state's hands. McCarthy said the state wants to retain control because the roads are an important link in the state highway system.
But what if the state highway system didn't cut through downtown, and instead bypassed it? That's a recommendation in the Smart Growth America report. Zimmerman and Hutchinson suggested that the city acquire state-controlled roadways in downtown and Fairview for redevelopment.
The Anchorage Downtown Partnership drew up renderings of Fifth Avenue as an urban two-lane street, with bike racks and a pedestrian median.
"A 5th Avenue upgrade and new housing would contribute to a more walkable, desirable downtown," Kristine Bunnell, a senior long-range planner for the city, wrote in a November update to Zimmerman.
McCarthy stressed that state ownership of Fifth Avenue would not bar a design overhaul in the future. She said the state tries to work with local communities on such projects.
Still, tensions have simmered to the east over Gambell and Ingra streets in Fairview. Neighborhood activists have advocated for changes to Gambell Street for years, but say they've been blocked by a decades-away state proposal to link the Seward and Glenn highways. Such a link would make it possible to drive from one end of Anchorage to the other without pausing at a stoplight, and could involve tunneling under the Fairview neighborhood.
In her update to consultant Zimmerman, Bunnell noted that in summer 2016, a city-state transportation committee directed federal money to be spent on a study that takes a big-picture look at road projects, including the Glenn-Seward connection, with an eye toward accommodating downtown or people who want a pedestrian-friendly Fairview. Former Assemblyman Patrick Flynn, who proposed the study, cited unknowns about the future of construction or road projects in and around downtown and no plan for blending them.
But that's a long way away. The study won't happen for at least a couple of years, said Craig Lyon, the committee's coordinator.
In the meantime, city officials say, the focus will be more on building up the space between the roads, block by block.
As a brand new doctor, Devery Mitchell was frustrated by her patients' struggles in Alaska's irrational health care system, so she set out to document their stories on recordings. We sat down together to listen to Richard Keith, who recently lost his right foot.
Keith is a Vietnam veteran who worked on jets, service that first brought him to Alaska in 1970.
"I came up here with the Phantoms. Way back," he said
He met his wife, Taka, while serving in Japan. They were married 51 years, until she died two years ago. Her Buddhist shrine still occupies a room in the trailer they bought new in 1977.
That was where we met, in Manoog's Isle Mobile Home Park in East Anchorage, where Mitchell had come for a house call to check on the other foot, which was swelling.
Keith's health went downhill after Taka died. His diabetes caused kidney failure and he went on dialysis. Circulation failed to his right foot and it became infected. He went into the hospital in February to have the infected part removed, but too much tissue had died and he lost the whole foot.
"I can't remember it. I can't remember what happened," he said.
"Well, I was there with you," Mitchell said.
"I woke up, and they said it was four days. And I reached down and said, 'What happened to my leg?' " he recalled.
Keith has no complaints about his medical care — on the contrary, Providence Alaska Medical Center served him well — but he was frustrated that he couldn't get out of the hospital.
Roughly the last two weeks of his 37-day stay in Providence was unnecessary, hospital records show. Mitchell said it was closer to a month.
That's common, I later learned.
"Every day there are patients in the hospital who don't need a hospital level of care and are waiting for a placement and can't get out," said Dr. Harold Johnston, head of the Providence Medical Group and a founder of Mitchell's residency program.
On Thursday, there were 28 patients in that category at Providence, representing an accumulated 592 days of unnecessary hospitalization. The average cost of those stays is about $2,000 a day, according to Providence's Kirsten Schultz.
The hospital absorbs the cost for indigent patients, who can be stuck for months with nowhere to go, driving up prices for everyone else. In Keith's case, military benefits paid the bill, but he was just as stuck.
"I went stir-crazy up there," he said. "I got a little mad at the doctors. I shouldn't have done it. But I just said, 'Let me go home.' "
In his new wheelchair, Keith wouldn't be able to get up to the door of his trailer, Mitchell said. But if going home wasn't safe, the best alternative, a skilled nursing facility, was also unavailable. No room.
The irrational way that medical services are reimbursed in Alaska makes skilled nursing facilities difficult to run profitably. That causes a lack of nursing beds, which traps patients in the hospital, which costs the system much more.
In addition, Providence often lacks nurses to staff all of its skilled nursing care beds, Johnston said. Since nurses make higher wages in the hospital, the nursing shortage hits the nursing homes first.
The occupancy rate at Providence Extended Care is 99 percent. At Providence Transitional Care Center, for rehabilitation after surgery, the rate is 85 percent, but beds often can't be used due to staff shortages, Schultz said. (And about five patients are usually stuck there, as at the hospital.)
Keith finally got home with help from his neighbors in the trailer park.
Some big guys carried him through the door. A neighbor handy with tools built a plywood ramp for the wheelchair. A woman agreed to drive him to dialysis and to the grocery store. A teenager cleared the snow from his roof. A fisherman brought him chowder for his dinner.
"I even got friends who can give me weed if I want it," Keith laughed. He said they were disappointed he refused. "Are you sure you don't want any?"
Mitchell prescribed antibiotics for the other foot, which a home health aide had flagged as worrisome. She hoped to keep it healthy until the next available appointment with an orthopedic specialist, two weeks away.
House calls are part of the Alaska Family Medical Residency program at Providence, where Mitchell is learning to be the kind of all-around rural doctor who can handle almost anything.
Mitchell grew up in Napa, California. The rural residency program brought her here from UCLA Medical School. After a year, she never wants to leave. Her goal is to work in a small Alaska community.
"She is extremely passionate. She is a person who is going to be a doctor who is going to do a lot of good in her life," Johnston said.
Seeing how her low-income patients feared losing their medical coverage after the November election, Mitchell became an advocate. She won a fellowship to document their stories of frustration. She caught my interest with her recordings.
What I learned from her, and from Richard Keith and Harold Johnston, is that Alaska has plenty of caring people who want the best for patients. But that's not how we spend our money.
Everything Keith wanted would have saved money for the government — to get out of the hospital and into rehabilitative care, to get home, to take care of himself with a little help. Good people finally made that happen.
Why can't we have a medical payment system as smart as that?
Now Keith just wants to save the other foot. And to keep Mitchell at his side.
"I appreciate you," he told her. "What's going to happen when you graduate from that place? That's going to hurt."
"It's going to hurt," Mitchell agreed. "But I'm not going far."
The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to submit via any web browser.
Alaska lawmakers approve $3.5 million project for public access, air system at their Anchorage offices
JUNEAU — A committee of Alaska legislative leaders Thursday unanimously approved spending $3.5 million to renovate their new Anchorage office building in Spenard.
The project includes replacements of heating and cooling equipment and upgrades to make the first floor accessible to people with disabilities.
It will result in an "adequate" legislative information office — the space for visitors and people giving public testimony — but none of the work is for "comfort for the legislators in the other floors of the building," said Senate Majority Leader Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna.
"We've taken it down to what's necessary for serving our constituents," Micciche said.
Micciche said the project had been pared back from a previous proposal to spend $8 million on the building.
Micciche is one of 14 members of the Legislative Council, the bipartisan House-Senate committee that approved the project Thursday and that's charged with handling the Legislature's own budget and internal business.
The unanimous decision came after a 10-minute, closed-door "executive session" and a subsequent 10-minute discussion in public.
At the meeting, the committee offered no documentation of how the $3.5 million would be spent, though when a reporter asked, an aide to Juneau Democratic Rep. Sam Kito III, the chairman, provided a breakdown.
It includes $2.5 million for construction on the building's core and shell, as well as on the first floor, the location of a legislative information office; $250,000 for "minor construction" on the second and fourth floors, where legislators and staff will work; and $300,000 for audio and visual equipment.
Lawmakers bought their new building from Wells Fargo last year for $11.85 million. That was after Gov. Bill Walker threatened to veto the Legislature's purchase, for $32.5 million, of a different renovated building lawmakers were renting downtown.
The Legislature has rejected a $37 million damages claim from the downtown building's developers, which has been appealed to superior court.
WASHINGTON – Protesters marched in Washington on a second consecutive Saturday to challenge President Donald Trump's stance on the environment and call on him to stand by policies to stop climate change championed by his predecessor.
Thousands of people gathered for the afternoon march from the lawn of the U.S. Capitol to the White House, an event that coincides with the completion of Trump's first 100 days in office and the end of the traditional "honeymoon" period for a new president.
The Peoples Climate March, which drew about 15,000 people, according to an estimate by a Reuters reporter, rivaled last weekend's March for Science in size. Protesters sounded many of the same themes at both events.
Carrying signs emblazoned with slogans such as "Imagine a world free a climate change," and "Planet over profits," demonstrators on Saturday said they were angered by the prospect of Trump carrying through on his vow to roll back protections put in place by his predecessors.
"We're going to rise up and let them know that we're sick and tired of seeing our children die of asthma," said Rev. Leo Woodberry of Florence, S.C., who spoke during a press conference before the march. "We're sick and tired of seeing people with cancer because of coal ash ponds. We're sick and tired of seeing sea-level rise."
Trump's administration is considering withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, which more than 190 countries including the United States signed in hopes of curbing global warming. Trump has also proposed deep cuts for the Environmental Protection Agency.
In his campaign, Trump called climate change a hoax. Last month he kept a promise to the coal industry by undoing climate-change rules put in place by his predecessor, Democrat Barack Obama.
Tom McGettrick, 57, an electrical engineer who drove up from the Florida Keys to attend the march, said his main concern is the weakening of the EPA.
"Forty years of environmental protection has done wonders for the environment, especially in the Midwest," said McGettrick, who spent most of his life in Michigan.
"When I was a teenager and went to Lake Erie, it was one of the most polluted bodies of water in the country," he said. "Now when you go to Lake Erie it's really beautiful."
The Washington event, which coincided with Trump's 100-day milestone, follows an exclusive interview with Reuters in which the president reflected wistfully at his life as a billionaire real estate developer that he left behind after his Jan. 20 inauguration.
"This is more work than in my previous life," Trump told Reuters. "I thought it would be easier."
Saturday's march was part of an effort to build support for candidates with strong environmental records in the run-up to next year's midterm elections and the 2020 presidential race, organizers said.
"We're using this as a tactic to advance the strategy of building enough power to win on climate over the course of the long haul," said Paul Getsos, national coordinator for the Peoples Climate Movement. Sponsors of Saturday's events include labor unions, the Sierra Club and civil rights groups.
As a side theme, marchers will protest Trump's crackdown on illegal immigrants and other issues championed by the maverick Republican billionaire.
Since Trump's inauguration on Jan. 20, there have been national protests focused on issues ranging from abortion rights to immigration and science policy.
Myron Ebell, a climate change skeptic at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank, said the march would have little impact on the administration.
"The real decisions are made in this country in elections, and we have now a president and a House and a Senate that are determined to pursue a pro-energy agenda," he said by telephone.
Environmental activists believe public opinion is on their side. A Gallup poll this month showed 59 percent of Americans agreed environmental protection should take priority over increased U.S. energy production.
Trump representatives had no immediate comment on the protest.
Dozens of "sister" marches are planned for other North America locales, from Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, to Dutch Harbor in Alaska's Aleutian Islands. Overseas, about three dozen events range from a protest in Vienna to a tree-planting event in Zambia.
WASHINGTON — In his first 100 days in power, President Donald Trump has transformed the nation's highest office in ways both profound and mundane, pushing traditional boundaries, ignoring long-standing protocol and discarding historical precedents as he reshapes the White House in his own image.
But just as Trump has changed the presidency, advisers and analysts say it has also changed him. Still a mercurial and easily offended provocateur capable of head-spinning gyrations in policy and politics, Trump nonetheless at times has adapted his approach to both the job and the momentous challenges it entails.
As Washington pauses to evaluate the opening phase of the Trump presidency, the one thing everyone seems to agree on is that, for better or worse, the capital has headed deep into uncharted territory. On almost every one of these first 100 days, Trump has done or said something that caused presidential historians and seasoned professionals inside the Beltway to use the phrase "never before."
He has assumed even more power for the presidency, expanding President Barack Obama's use of executive orders to offset the inability to pass major legislation and making it more independent of the Washington establishment. He has been more aggressive than any other president in using his authority to undo his predecessor's legacy, particularly on trade, business regulation and the environment. And he has dominated the national conversation perhaps more thoroughly than any president in a generation.
At the same time, he has cast off conventions that constrained others in his office. He has retained his business interests, which he implicitly cultivates with regular visits to his properties. He has been both more and less transparent than other presidents, shielding his tax returns and White House visitor logs from public scrutiny while appearing to leave few thoughts unexpressed, no matter how incendiary or inaccurate. And he has turned the White House into a family-run enterprise featuring reality-show-style, "who will be thrown off the island?" intrigue.
"His first 100 days is a reflection of how much the presidency has changed," said Janet Mullins Grissom, a top official in President George Bush's White House and State Department. "The biggest difference between President Trump and his predecessors is that he is the first president in my political lifetime who comes to the office unbeholden to any special interest for his electoral success, thus immune to typical political pressures."
In effect, she said, that compensates for a victory he secured in the Electoral College without winning the popular vote.
"That gives him as much leverage as someone who won with landslide numbers — and the freedom to govern his way," she said. "And his voters love him for it."
Where Washington veterans fret about deviations from past norms, Trump's supporters see a president willing to shake things up. Where Washington cares about decorum and process, they want a president fighting for them against entrenched powers.
Yet the crockery-breaking leader has shown signs of evolving. The president operating on Day 100 is not the same as the one who took office in January, when he was determined to make nice with Russia, make trouble for China and make war on elites.
By his own account, Trump has discovered how much more complicated issues like health care and North Korea are than he realized, and he has cast off some of his most radical campaign promises after learning more about the issues.
"I'm more inclined to say the presidency has changed Trump rather than Trump changed the presidency," said H.W. Brands, a University of Texas professor who has written biographies of multiple presidents, including Ronald Reagan and both Roosevelts. "He has moderated or reversed himself on most of the positions he took as a candidate. Reality has set in, as it does with every new president."
All the more so for the first president in American history who had never spent a day in government or the military, and surrounded himself with top advisers who had not either. Although Trump assumed that his experience in business and entertainment would translate to the White House, he has found out otherwise.
"I never realized how big it was," he said of the presidency in an interview with The Associated Press. "Every decision," he added, "is much harder than you'd normally make."
In a separate interview with Reuters, he said: "This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier."
Trump arrived at the White House unimpressed by conventions that governed the presidency. At first, he blew off the idea of receiving intelligence briefings every day because he was "a smart person" and did not need to hear "the same thing every day." He telephoned foreign leaders during the transition without consulting or even informing government experts on those countries.
He badgered specific companies on Twitter about moving jobs overseas and called in the chief executive of Lockheed Martin to complain about the cost of the F-35 fighter jet, never mind that presidents typically do not involve themselves in the affairs of individual companies or directly negotiate federal contracts.
Trump likewise has gleefully taken credit on days that stocks have risen and publicly commented on the strength of the dollar, which presidents generally do not do either, both because it might
be viewed as unseemly interference in the markets and because it invites blame when they have a bad day.
His boastfulness knows few bounds. "I truly believe that the first 100 days of my administration has been just about the most successful in our country's history," he said in his weekly address Friday.
His Twitter account, of course, has been the vehicle for all sorts of outbursts that defy tradition, often fueled by the latest segment on Fox News. Presidents rarely taunt reality-show hosts about poor ratings, complain about late-night television comedy skits, berate judges or members of their own party who defy them, trash talk Hollywood stars and Sweden, declare the "fake news" media to be "the enemy of the American people" or accuse the last president of illegally wiretapping them without any proof.
David Gergen, a White House aide to four presidents, including Reagan, noted that Franklin D. Roosevelt talked about the "moral leadership" of the presidency.
"Unfortunately, we have lost sight of that vision in recent years, and it has almost disappeared during the first 100 days of the Trump administration," Gergen said.
Another change to the presidency involves Trump's refusal to release his tax returns — a practice of presidents for 40 years — and his continued ownership of a vast business empire that includes properties both overseas and blocks from the White House.
"He has overstepped the ethics limits that have bound all other presidents for decades," said Norman L. Eisen, a chief White House ethics adviser under Obama.
Beyond that, Trump has been slow to create a structure like those in past administrations. Orders and memos have not always been reviewed by all relevant officials. Meetings are not always attended by key aides who are leery of leaving the president's side.
"The notion of a chain of command is gone," said David F. Gordon, the State Department director of policy planning under President George W. Bush.
But if the presidency had grown somewhat stale under the old norms as its occupants increasingly stuck to carefully crafted talking points and avoided spontaneity, Trump has brought back a certain authenticity and willingness to engage. His frequent news conferences and interviews can be bracingly candid, uninhibited, even raw. He leaves little mystery about what is on his mind.
"The 2016 election wasn't a delicate request to challenge existing traditions; it was a demand that our next president do things different," said Jason Miller, a top adviser to Trump during the campaign. "And while the professional political class struggles to understand what has happened to their hold on power, supporters of President Trump — the forgotten men and women he referenced in his Inaugural Address — love the change they're seeing."
Presumably Trump will remain impulsive and even impetuous, but he has also been open to advice. He was talked out of lifting sanctions on Russia, moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, abandoning the "one China" policy, tearing up the Iran nuclear agreement, reversing the diplomatic opening to Cuba, closing the Export-Import Bank, declaring China a currency manipulator and, in recent days, terminating the North American Free Trade Agreement. He may still do some or all of these, but by waiting, he has the opportunity to lay the groundwork rather than act precipitously.
He now receives his intelligence briefings most days. And aides said they had noticed signs of growth in office, pointing to his decision to strike Syria after it used chemical weapons on civilians and his private efforts to persuade Egypt to release an imprisoned American aid worker. Both cases showed that Trump "has absorbed the responsibilities of the office and the impact of the decisions he makes," said a White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the boss.
Even if Trump adapts, though, the larger question is whether the institution will ever be the same. Future presidents may feel freer to make unfounded statements, withhold tax returns or keep private business interests without fear of political penalty. Taboos once broken no longer seem inviolable.
Still, Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, a senior adviser to President Bill Clinton and chief of staff for Obama, said there might be a backlash once Trump leaves office.
"After Trump, there will be a collective desire to return to tradition," he predicted. "Whoever comes next will be the anti-Trump in style and character. That's how it works."
Karl Rove, the senior adviser to the younger Bush, agreed. "President Trump will make it difficult for future presidents to step back from the use of social media," he said, "but it's very likely the next administration will be more restrained and less personal." The next president, he added, will probably deploy social media as a premeditated strategy. "It will be part of a plan, not a method of catharsis."
Meena Bose, director of the Peter S. Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency at Hofstra University, said Trump's presidency so far seemed unlike almost any other, except perhaps Andrew Jackson's. She noted that Jackson was seen as erratic at the time but was later evaluated by historians as a near-great president.
"Might the Trump presidency be viewed similarly someday?" she asked. "Difficult to see at the 100-day mark, but that is an artificial measurement, with so much of the presidency still to come."
Watching politics is a hoot, not unlike settling in with popcorn to watch a rerun of "Dallas." The world's second-oldest profession has everything: ego, corruption, silliness, stupidity and, far too often, enough avarice to make a bank robber blush.
Early on, it came to me that government is simply a vast trough filled with somebody else's cash, and politics is a nifty, even legal, way to divvy it up. Some for my friend, none for you, bucko. Other than the news media, politics mostly benefits insiders and pals of insiders. You will notice few politicians retire broke.
Given the public's abject view of politicians, you might think lawmakers would avoid even the vaguest appearance of impropriety, eschewing behavior that might spook the public into catching on that the game is rigged. In most cases, you would be right. Then, there is Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux.
Last July, LeDoux, a Republican representing District 15, cobbled together and registered with the Alaska Public Offices Commission her very own conventional political action committee — Gabby's Tuesday PAC. Its purpose? To "raise money for common sense conservative candidates," she said in state documents. In short, she set up a political action committee to take money from lobbyists who do not live in her district, when, by law, she cannot accept such money in her campaign.
She quickly socked away thousands of dollars in her PAC — more than $26,000 from lobbyists, lawyers, unions and others — tapping a "Who's Who" list of fat wallets, and she passed on some of the money to political candidates.
The Alaska Democratic Party cried foul, as it should have, but APOC commissioners sided with LeDoux, saying they were concerned by what appears to be a " 'loophole' to circumvent the campaign contribution limits in existing law." They suggested the Legislature take a peek.
Anchorage Sen. Kevin Meyer did just that; he offered Senate Bill 5, "An Act prohibiting groups controlled by a legislator from soliciting and accepting contributions or from making certain contributions and expenditures during a regular or special legislative session; and prohibiting some lobbyists from making campaign contributions to certain groups."
Meyer's measure, which would pull the plug on LeDoux's very, very bad idea, sailed through the Senate 20-0 — and this bunch never votes 20-0 on anything. The measure was hustled over to the House on April 10, where it was referred first to the Community and Regional Affairs Committee, where its future is dim.
The kicker? LeDoux heads the House Rules Committee. She was handed that powerful post when she and Republican Reps. Paul Seaton, of Homer, and Louise Stutes, of Kodiak, in November joined the Democrat-led coalition in taking over the then-GOP-led House. House Rules controls which measures reach the floor for a vote.
So, LeDoux not only controls a PAC that can take lobbyists' dough and farm it out to friends and favored candidates, as a bonus, she gets to control the movement of House legislation. What possibly could go wrong? It does not take a genius or cynic to see the possible conflicts.
Since LeDoux joined the Democrats, their shameful silence about Gabby's Tuesday PAC is deafening. Too bad. They had it right.
Lobbyists, after all, define the term "political insiders." They too often are much too close to politicians in Juneau, schmoozing, working to protect special interests or advance their agenda, often to the detriment of everyday Alaskans. They try, as Ayn Rand put it, "to influence legislation by influencing the legislators."
In Alaska, as elsewhere, they are deeply embedded in the process, writing legislation, creating bills with this exemption or that to favor or protect their clients. Their influence is magnified here by the Legislature's size and the remote location of the state Capitol, putting them at a distinct advantage over a populace that cannot spend months stalking the hallways in Juneau.
It is important and only fair to note lobbyists, kept at arm's length, can be invaluable, providing lawmakers and others with an education on issues and helping put them into perspective. They can provide information, answer questions, ease the load.
All that said, there is ample reason to tightly control them; ample reason to bar their contributions to lawmakers in certain circumstances to avoid government by special interests.
That LeDoux seeks to benefit from a loophole in a law aimed at protecting Alaskans so she can take and hand out money from lobbyists — giving them another back door into the political process — is mind-boggling. That she would exploit the loophole, rather than try to close it, is outrageous. That she would do all that while heading up a powerful House committee that controls the flow of legislation should give everybody pause. Worse, now that she has pulled it off, others surely will line up to do the same.
Welcome to the trough.
Paul Jenkins is editor of the AnchorageDailyPlanet.com, a division of Porcaro Communications.
The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email email@example.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Twenty years ago, I was 34 when I walked away from a chain-link fence near Port Valdez and headed east. Those were the first steps on a summer-long trip across Alaska.
In a few days, I will begin to retrace those steps. This summer, I will try to again walk from Valdez to Prudhoe Bay along the gravel path that parallels the trans-Alaska pipeline.
The first journey, with my chocolate Labrador retriever Jane, occupied my whole summer of 1997, from early May until the end of August. With Jane, I ascended and descended the Chugach, Alaska and Brooks mountain ranges. We drank from creeks and rivers, fed a million mosquitoes and slept in a new place every night. We shared miles of trail with friends and family and did not set any speed records.
We walked for 120 days, from the time the geese were touching down until they left in big Vs. I wrote about that summer in a series of newspaper columns and a book, "Walking my Dog Jane; from Valdez to Prudhoe Bay along the trans-Alaska Pipeline."
I'll again be traveling with a dog, but my life is not as wrapped up in Cora as it was in Jane. This time I'll also share some trail with my wife, Kristen, and daughter Anna.
Why do it again? A few years ago, former UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers suggested I hike the trail at the 20-year anniversary. I had not thought of repeating the experience. For the most part, I agree with Talkeetna adventurer Dave Johnston's philosophy: It's a big world. Why do anything twice?
But I like returning to places, the nostalgia of remembered smells and sounds and images. Being outside is always appealing. I'm blessed with good health at 54. And, in 2017, my daughter is 10, just like my dog Jane was 10 during the last hike. Even if she's not sure what to make of sometimes joining Dad's summer plan, Anna comes alive when she's outside and moving.
Like last time, I will try to send columns out every week. I haven't yet figured out how I'll do that. My current plan is to bring an iPad Mini and find a Wi-Fi signal when I can.
To again walk the trans-Alaska pipeline right-of-way over 800 miles of Alaska, I registered under what Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. calls a Right-Of-Way Use Guideline. It's a piece of paper that allows me to access the right-of-way at my own risk, while requiring permission from private landowners the path crosses.
The loose plan is to cover about 8 miles a day, an increase from the 6 I averaged in 1997. I'll hike with Cora, a peanut 3-year-old Lab-heeler mix. I'll share miles with my girls and a few friends, some of whom covered the same ground with me in 1997.
What was it like in 1997? The Montreal Expos still existed. Bill Clinton had just started term No. 2. The internet was a hatchling; answers came from a library rather than a touch screen. Spruce trees along the route were 20 feet shorter than they are today.
I'm maybe a little shorter now. Every cell in me has replaced itself since then. The biggest change from then to now is me as daddy and husband, both for more than a decade now.
And Alaska? I've been writing about the oversized peninsula for 20-plus years. I'm excited and anxious to get out and see the country pass at 2 miles per hour. Next week I'll report from the tent, somewhere north of Valdez.
WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday evening that its website would be "undergoing changes" to better represent the new direction the agency is taking, triggering the removal of several agency websites containing detailed climate data and scientific information.
One of the websites that appeared to be gone had been cited to challenge statements made by the EPA's new administrator, Scott Pruitt. Another provided detailed information on the previous administration's Clean Power Plan, including fact sheets about greenhouse gas emissions on the state and local levels and how different demographic groups were affected by such emissions.
The changes came less than 24 hours before thousands of protesters were to march in Washington and around the country in support of political action to push back against the Trump administration's rollbacks of former president Barack Obama's climate policies.
"As EPA renews its commitment to human health and clean air, land, and water, our website needs to reflect the views of the leadership of the agency," J.P. Freire, the agency's associate administrator for public affairs, said in a statement. "We want to eliminate confusion by removing outdated language first and making room to discuss how we're protecting the environment and human health by partnering with states and working within the law."
The agency also said it would carefully archive pages from the past administration.
The change was approved by Pruitt, according to an individual familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, to avoid a conflict between the site's content and the policies the administration is now pursuing.
The staffer described the process of reviewing the site as "a work in progress, but we can't have information which contradicts the actions we have taken in the last two months," adding that Pruitt's aides had "found a number of instances of that so far" while surveying the site.
Yet the website overhaul appears to include not only policy-related changes but also scrutiny of a scientific Web page that has existed for nearly two decades, and that explained what climate change is and how it worked.
The EPA's extensive climate change website now redirects to a page that says "this page is being updated" and that "we are currently updating our website to reflect EPA's priorities under the leadership of President Trump and Administrator Pruitt." It also links to a full archive of how the page used to look on Jan. 19, before Trump's inauguration.
The EPA's Friday press statement did not explicitly refer to changes affecting this site, but it did say that "content related to climate and regulation is also under review."
The archived EPA climate page notes, in a key section under the "causes of climate change," that
Recent climate changes, however, cannot be explained by natural causes alone. Research indicates that natural causes do not explain most observed warming, especially warming since the mid-20th century. Rather, it is extremely likely that human activities have been the dominant cause of that warming.
It is this language, when the site was still up, that directly contradicted Pruitt. Pruitt had argued on CNBC last month that "measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there's tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it's a primary contributor to the global warming that we see."
The EPA's climate change website stated otherwise, and did so by citing findings of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
There had been reports early in the Trump administration that the EPA climate change website was set to be taken down, but in the end it did not happen immediately.
The page contains scientific explanations of climate change and its causes and consequences, and has existed in one form or another since at least 1997. At that time it was called the agency's Global Warming site.
"If you are looking for information on "climate change," "the greenhouse effect," or "global warming, " you've come to the right place," it declared in August 1997. "At this web site you will find information pertaining to the science of global warming; current and projected impacts of global warming; international and U.S. Government policies and programs; opportunities for individuals and corporations to help stop global warming (and in many cases, save money, too!); state and local actions that help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions; and, easy ways to obtain more information by fax, email and electronic order form."
The site has long served an informational role and sought to provide a comprehensive review of basic climate science, the effects of climate change, and how it is affecting the United States. In addition it contained information about the agency's approach to climate change and how people could take steps to lower their own contributions to climate change.
However, the site has run into political headwinds before. Under President George W. Bush, updates to the site were frozen and then required to undergo White House review. However, this process did not lead to substantive changes in scientific content.
"The EPA's climate site includes important summaries of climate science and indicators that clearly and unmistakably explain and document the impacts we are having on our planet," said Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University, in response to the website change.
"It's hard to understand why facts require revision," she continued.
In its press statement, the EPA said that when it comes to website changes, "the first page to be updated is a page reflecting President Trump's Executive Order on Energy Independence, which calls for a review of the so-called Clean Power Plan."
That site, www.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan, now redirects to https://www.epa.gov/Energy-Independence, which features an image of President Trump signing an executive order aimed at dismantling the power plant rule and other Obama-era climate regulations.
In the press statement, the EPA said that "language associated with the Clean Power Plan, written by the last administration, is out-of-date."
A group that has been closely monitoring government environmental and science websites for changes in the Trump years, the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative, had a cautious reaction to the changes.
"The clear communication by the EPA notifying of the impending website overhaul is good transparency practice, but it remains to be seen how information and information access will change as the EPA site is updated," said Toly Rinberg, a member of the group's website tracking committee.
Several career EPA employees, who asked for anonymity out of fear of retribution, said they were not briefed in advance about the decision to alter the agency's site.
"People are obviously unhappy," one employee said. "It is, in my opinion, the best climate education website out there."
David Doniger, director of the climate and clean air program for the advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council, tweeted Friday, "Cleansing has begun. EPA website scrubbed of pages on "so-called" Clean Power Plan. Now only alternative facts."
Another EPA website, documenting climate change "indicators" across the United States, remained up on Friday.
The Washington Post's Brady Dennis contributed to this report.
Bering Sea tribal groups slam Alaska delegation for ‘standing by’ as Trump struck order giving them voice
Alaska Native elders from Bering Sea coastal communities on Friday blasted Alaska's congressional delegation for not doing more to prevent President Donald Trump from striking an Obama-era executive order that gave them a voice on federal management decisions in the region.
An attorney for the Bering Sea Elders Group, representing 40 coastal tribes in Western Alaska, said in a statement that Trump's actions Friday to open the door for drilling in the U.S. Arctic Ocean should have stuck only to leasing withdrawals made by his predecessor, Barack Obama.
Trump said Friday that his executive order reversed Obama's "Arctic leasing ban." It directed the Interior Department to reconsider actions by Obama that put large swaths of the Arctic Ocean off limits to oil drilling. The tribes say the Obama order was prompted to address the effects of climate change and increased shipping.
Though Trump on Friday modified actions taken by Obama in 2015 and 2016, he revoked outright only one Obama executive order, "Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience," signed Dec. 9.
That Obama order withdrew waters in Norton Sound and around St. Lawrence Island from leasing. But the Obama order also called for the creation of a tribal advisory council to work with federal managers on decisions across a much broader area encompassing 112,000 square miles, in the northern Bering Sea and in waters around the Seward Peninsula. The council would have consisted of up to 11 members from coastal communities in the area, which included a small chunk of the southern Chukchi Sea.
"Now that's totally gone," said Natalie Landreth, an attorney with the Native American Rights Fund, the legal representative for the elders group.
One idea behind the advisory council was providing local input to federal managers to prevent conflicts between subsistence hunting and ship traffic in the area. The council, for instance, could have let federal agencies know when ships transiting the region should be re-routed temporarily to avoid walruses and Alaska Native hunters, Landreth said.
The order also required agencies to consider traditional knowledge in decisions affecting the area.
"Now there is no seat at the table for Alaskans or our local knowledge," said a statement from the group, emailed to reporters Friday by NARF. "Alaska's own congressional delegation stood by as local Alaskan voices were removed from decisions that affect our lives, and now we are at the mercy of federal decision-makers only."
"We have depended upon our legislators for help and they did not do their job," said Harry Lincoln from Tununak, the elders group chair. "I feel like they are retaliating against us for getting this order through the previous administration."
Rep. Don Young and Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan were present with Trump in the White House as he signed the executive order. The delegation issued a statement lauding Trump's order for lifting Obama's leasing withdrawals in the Arctic, in the Beaufort and Chukchi Sea leasing areas.
The delegation's statement made no mention of the Bering Sea.
Members of the delegation could not immediately be reached for comment late Friday. Trump has been blasted for mangling communication with lawmakers in his aggressive effort to rewrite Obama's policies within his first 100 days, a period that ends Saturday. It was unclear on Friday whether the delegation knew that Trump planned to revoke the Bering Sea order, or when he might do so.
The elders group was formed about seven years ago, said Landreth. It was created to protect traditional Native practices and the ocean-dependent ecosystem in the Yukon-Kuskokwim and Bering Strait region in Western Alaska. The group's website lists more than 35 people on its elders board.
Landreth said the group had advocated for the order from Obama for two years. The Association of Village Council Presidents and Kawerak, regional nonprofit corporations representing dozens of villages in Western Alaska, also pressed for the order, the group's website says.
In its statement, the elders group said that in January it met with the Alaska delegation to let them know that villagers from the communities had written the terms in the order. The Native group said the delegation had agreed to notify communities in the area if revocation of Obama's order was even being considered.
"We were never contacted," the group's statement said.
"Everything we have worked for has pretty much gone out the window," said Frank Oxereok, from Wales and an elder from the group, in the statement. "Indigenous people rely on resources in areas that we live."
Oxereok singled out Murkowski, chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, for particular criticism.
"This may destroy our way of life and I'm really disappointed in Lisa Murkowski, who was standing next to the president when he signed this order," he said.
"Senator Murkowski would never stifle anyone's input into any decision-making process," Murkowski press aide Karina Petersen said late Friday.
Two friends who had been caring for a 73-year-old man attacked with a hammer during a September home invasion in Mountain View said he died Friday.
Donald Nelson died around 2 p.m. at Alaska Regional Hospital, according to Mickie Karr and David Robinson. The couple had been acting as legal guardians for Nelson, Karr said.
Nelson was a former audio engineer for Anchorage public radio station KSKA who had no immediate family members living in Alaska. Friends previously told Alaska Dispatch News that Nelson lived alone in his cabin-like home filled with audio testing equipment.
Ieti Miracle Lelilio, 18, was charged in November with first-degree robbery and assault, about two months after he and three other men showed up at Nelson's home on the night of Sept. 16, 2016, just before 11 p.m., according to police.
The group started kicking the front door of the house and throwing rocks at the windows. They forced themselves inside. Nelson, who was on the phone with police, was beaten in the head and left with a skull fracture, police said.
After the break-in, Nelson stayed at the hospital for about five months, Karr said. In March, his friends were able to get him into an assisted living home in Anchorage, but he never fully recovered from his injuries, Karr said.
Nelson lost his memory, Karr said. She and Robinson had known Nelson for two decades, but in the time since he was attacked, Nelson only knew the two of them as his caretakers, she said.
"He was only just starting to walk," Karr said. Robinson said Nelson had to be fed and cared for daily.
On Tuesday, Nelson was undergoing physical therapy when he collapsed and was taken to the hospital, Karr said.
"I think he just lost the will to live," she said.
The Anchorage District Attorney's Office did not respond to questions Friday about whether Nelson's alleged attacker could face additional, more serious charges due to the death.
Online court records show no new charges had been added to Lelilio's case as of Friday night.
In her four seasons of UAA volleyball, setter Morgan Hooe served as both instigator and inspiration.
She orchestrated the offense — she is the Seawolves' all-time assists leader.
She elevated emotion — her fist-pumping fury ignited teammates.
And she helped the Seawolves win — a lot. UAA went 103-22 (.824 winning percentage) in her career and a staggering 61-6 (.910) during her last two seasons as the Seawolves won two straight Great Northwest Athletic Conference crowns and in December finished national runners-up in NCAA Division II.
Little wonder Hooe on Friday night was named UAA's Bill MacKay Athlete of the Year at the Seawolves' all-sports banquet.
Hooe became the third volleyball player to win Athlete of the Year, and first since setter Kalli Scott earned the honor in 2010. Hooe won in balloting by UAA staff, local media and members of the Benton Bay Athletic Lions Club, who made their pick from a field of 13 athletes, one from each Seawolves sport.
It was a pretty good couple of nights for Hooe. She collected the UAA honor the night after being honored with a Pride of Alaska Award at the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame's annual induction ceremony.
At Friday's UAA awards ceremony, she was also revealed as the volleyball team's Most Valuable Player and, for the third straight season, its Most Inspirational Player.
Hooe this past season sparked the Seawolves to a program-best 34-3 record. She was the GNAC and West Region Player of the Year and earned her second All-America award. And she and teammate Erin Braun became the first UAA volleyball players to compete in four consecutive NCAA tournaments.
Volleyball is the family business of sorts in the Hooe clan. Morgan grew up under the tutelage of father Virgil Hooe, a legendary Alaska high school and club coach who in his daughter's senior season served as the Seawolves' volunteer coach.
Morgan Hooe's grit and talent was never more obvious than in the West Region championship match in December at UAA's Alaska Airlines Center. Hooe early in the first set crumpled to the floor, felled by a knee injury, and was taken to the training room as a school-record crowd of 2,710 turned silent. The Seawolves lost that opening set to GNAC-rival Western Washington.
But Hooe returned to the floor, her knee taped and fitted in a brace, early in the second set. The crowd roared. And so did the Seawolves — with their instigator and inspiration back in the fold, they won the match in four sets.
UAA Bill MacKay Athletes of the Year
2016 — Morgan Hooe, Volleyball
2015 — Cody Thomas, Outdoor and Indoor Track and Field
2014 — Micah Chelimo, Cross-Country running, Outdoor and Indoor Track and Field
2013 — Micah Chelimo, Cross-Country running, Outdoor and Indoor Track and Field
2012 — Taylor Rohde, Basketball
2011 — Ruth Keino, Cross-Country running, Track and Field
2010 — Calli Scott, Volleyball
2009 — David Registe, Track and Field
2008 — Luke Cooper, Basketball
2007 — Rebecca Kielpinski, Basketball
2006 — Kemmy Burgess Basketball
2005 — Mandy Kaempf, Skiing, Cross-Country Running
2004 — Peter Bullock, Basketball
2003 — Tobias Schwoerer, Skiing, Cross-Country Running
2002 — Tobias Schwoerer, Skiing, Cross-Country Running
2001 — Ed Kirk, Basketball
2000 — Edda Mutter, Skiing
1999 — Jim Hajdukovich, Basketball
1998 — Zuzana Razusova, Skiing
1997 — Frode Lillefjell Skiing, Cross-Country Running
tie Elena Tkacheva, Gymnastics
1996 — Allegra Stoetzel, Basketball
1995 — Jason Kaiser, Basketball
tie Karen Hoey, Gymnastics
1994 — Kerry Robitaille, Gymnastics
1993 — Jennie Szczerbinski, Volleyball
1992 — Jon Pauole, Swimming
1991 — Paul Krake, Hockey
1990 — Teri Frankie, Gymnastics
1989 — Michael Johnson, Basketball
1988 — Robin Graul, Basketball
1987 — Hansi Gnad, Basketball
1986 — Teri Frankie, Gymnastics
1985 — Tiina Kantola Skiing, Cross-Country Running
UAA Team Awards
Most Inspirational — Alysha Devine
Most Improved — Tara Thompson
Captain's Award — Sierra Ofoa, Alysha Devine, Kiki Robertson.
Co-MVPs — Kiki Robertson, Autumnn Williams
Best Defensive Player — Connor Devine
Most Inspirational — Jackson McTier
Most Improved — Brian Pearson
Jim Hajdukovich Iron Man Award — Spencer Svejcar
Bob Zundel Rebounders Award — Diante Mitchell
MVP — Suki Wiggs
Most Supportive — Sofie Riley
Most Inspirational — Sophie Riley, Kenda Daniels
Hardest Worker — Tere Alonso
MVP — Madeleine Arbuckle
Leon Thompson Fan Favorite — Olivier Mantha
Pete McEnaney-Brian Kraft Most Inspirational — Matt Anholt
Mike Peluso Most Improved — Alex Jackstadt
Dean Larson Rookie of Year — Nolan Nicholas
Justin Johnson Corner Man — Mason Mitchell
Jeff Batters Defensive Player of Year — Jarrett Brown
Jack Peterson Student-Athlete Achievement — Dylan Hubbs
Humanitarian — Brad Duwe
Coaches' Award — Nils Rygaard
Craig Homan MVP — Olivier Mantha
Women's MVP — Charley Field
Men's MVP — Tony Naciuk
Most Improved Alpine — Tony Naciuk
Most Improved Nordic — Casey Wright
Most Inspirational — Hailey Swirbel
Best Defensive Player — Taylor Noga
Most Inspirational — Morgan Hooe
Most Improved — Chrisalyn Johnson
Coaches' Award — Erin Braun
MVP — Morgan Hooe