Feed aggregator

US citizen in Thailand charged with murdering his pregnant Thai wife

Alaska News - 1 hour 11 min ago

In this Thursday, May 6, 2021, photo released by the Thai Provincial Police Region 5, police arrest and interrogate American citizen Jason Matthew Balzer, center, in Chiang Mai province northern Thailand before charging him for intentionally murdering his pregnant wife in Nan province. (Thai Provincial Police Region 5 via AP)

BANGKOK — Police in Thailand said Friday they have charged a U.S. citizen from the state of Colorado with murdering his pregnant Thai wife.

Jason Matthew Balzer, 32, was interrogated Friday in the northern city of Nan where he had lived with Pitchaporn Kidchob, said police Lt. Col. Somkiat Ruam-ngern. The murder charge carries a maximum penalty of death.

Balzer was arrested Thursday in the northern city of Chiang Mai and confessed to killing his 32-year-old wife, said Maj. Gen. Weerachon Boontawee, chief of Provincial Police Region 5′s Detective Department. It was unclear if Balzer had a lawyer representing him. Balzer’s last known residence in the U.S. was in Longmont, Colorado.

According to Weerachon, Balzer said Pitchaporn had “given him hope,” so he married her and bought her a house in Nan, her home province. Balzer said he became enraged when she tried to chase him out, so he stabbed her with a knife, the police officer said.

He said Balzer put her body in a rubbish bin that he sealed and buried in the woods about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from their home. Balzer then drove on a motorbike to Chiang Mai, where he was arrested, Weerachon said.

Police had been alerted to a possible crime when Pitchaporn’s mother, who was unable to reach her daughter by phone, went to the couple’s house and found bloodstains.

Balzer, a programmer, met Pitchaporn in Thailand in 2017 and they were married in the U.S., after which Balzer quit his job, sold all his property and moved to Nan, the newspaper Thai Rath reported, citing Provincial Police Region 5 commander Prachuab Wongsuk.

Balzer said he did not know his wife was three months’ pregnant, Prachuab said.

According to media reports from Colorado, Balzer has been in previous legal trouble.

The Boulder Daily Camera reported that Balzer in December 2019 pleaded guilty to one count of third-degree assault in Boulder District Court and was sentenced to two years of probation. It said he had originally been charged with attempted murder and six related charges, but his victim would not testify in court.

The Greeley Tribune reported that Balzer and a second man were stopped by police on Dec. 30 last year in the town of Mead for a possible traffic violation, and were found to be transporting 72 guns.

Balzer was arrested for 74 violations of a protection order, two felony counts of possession of an illegal weapon and two counts of possession of a dangerous weapon, the report said. He was released from custody after posting bail, it said.

Sherpa guide scales Mount Everest for record 25th time

Alaska News - 1 hour 46 min ago

FILE - In this May 20, 2018, file photo, Nepalese veteran Sherpa guide, Kami Rita waves as he arrives in Kathmandu, Nepal. Rita, 51, an ace Sherpa guide scaled Mount Everest Friday for the 25th time breaking his own record for the most successful ascents of the world’s highest peak. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha, File) (Niranjan Shrestha/)

KATHMANDU, Nepal — A Sherpa guide scaled Mount Everest for the 25th time on Friday, breaking his own record for the most ascents of the world’s highest peak.

Kami Rita and 11 other Sherpa guides reached the summit at about 6 p.m., Department of Tourism official Mira Acharya said.

They are the first group of climbers to reach the summit this year and were fixing the ropes on the icy route so that hundreds of other climbers can scale the peak later this month.

Everest was closed to climbing last year on its southern side, which is in Nepal, because of the coronavirus pandemic. Climbing permits were issued this year to 408 foreign climbers.

Rita, 51, first scaled Everest in 1994 and has been making the trip nearly every year since then. He is one of many Sherpa guides whose expertise and skills are vital to the safety and success of the hundreds of climbers who head to Nepal each year seeking to stand on top of the 8,849-meter (29,032-foot) mountain.

His father was among the first Sherpa guides, and Rita followed in his footsteps and then some. In addition to his 25 times to the top of Everest, Rita has scaled several other peaks that are among the world’s highest, including K-2, Cho-Oyu, Manaslu and Lhotse.

He was at Everest’s base camp in 2015 when an avalanche swept through, killing 19 people. After that tragedy, he came under intense family pressure to quit mountaineering, but in the end decided against it.

Forty-three teams have been permitted to scale Everest during this year’s spring climbing season and will be assisted by about 400 Nepalese guides.

Each May, there are usually only a few windows of good weather at the summit during which climbers can attempt to scale the peak.

Four former Minneapolis officers charged with federal civil rights violations in death of George Floyd

Alaska News - 1 hour 51 min ago

From left, Minneapolis officers Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao. (Hennepin County Sheriff's Office via AP, File)

MINNEAPOLIS — A federal grand jury has indicted the four former Minneapolis police officers involved in George Floyd’s arrest and death, accusing them of willfully violating the Black man’s constitutional rights as he was restrained face-down on the pavement and gasping for air.

A three-count indictment unsealed Friday names Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao.

Specifically, Chauvin is charged with violating Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure and unreasonable force by a police officer. Thao and Kueng are also charged with violating Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure, alleging they did not intervene to stop Chauvin as he knelt on Floyd’s neck. All four officers are charged for their failure to provide Floyd with medical care.

Floyd’s arrest and death, which a bystander captured on cellphone video, sparked protests nationwide and widespread calls for an end to police brutality and racial inequities.

Chauvin was also charged in a second indictment, stemming from the arrest and neck restraint of a 14-year-old boy in 2017.

Lane, Thao and Kueng made their initial court appearances Friday via videoconference in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis. Chauvin was not part of the court appearance.

Chauvin was convicted last month on state charges of murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death and is in Minnesota’s only maximum-security prison as he awaits sentencing. The other three former officers face a state trial in August, and they are free on bond. They were allowed to remain free after Friday’s federal court appearance.

Floyd, 46, died May 25 after Chauvin pinned him to the ground with a knee on his neck, even as Floyd, who was handcuffed, repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe. Kueng and Lane also helped restrain Floyd — state prosecutors have said Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back and Lane held down Floyd’s legs. State prosecutors say Thao held back bystanders and kept them from intervening during the 9 1/2-minute restraint.

Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, argued during his murder trial that Chauvin acted reasonably in the situation and that Floyd died because of underlying health issues and drug use. He has filed a request for a new trial, citing many issues including the judge’s refusal to move the trial due to publicity.

Nelson had no comment on the federal charges Friday. Messages left with attorneys for two of the other officers were not immediately returned, and an attorney for the fourth officer was getting in an elevator and disconnected when reached by The Associated Press.

To bring federal charges in deaths involving police, prosecutors must believe that an officer acted under the “color of law,” or government authority, and willfully deprived someone of their constitutional rights, including the right to be free from unreasonable seizures or the use of unreasonable force. That’s a high legal standard; an accident, bad judgment or simple negligence on the officer’s part isn’t enough to support federal charges.

Roy Austin, who prosecuted such cases as a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, said prosecutors have to prove that the officers knew what they were doing was wrong in that moment but did it anyway.

Conviction on a federal civil rights charge is punishable by up to life in prison or even the death penalty, but those stiff sentences are extremely rare and federal sentencing guidelines rely on complicated formulas that indicate the officers would get much less if convicted.

In Chauvin’s case, if the federal court uses second-degree murder as his underlying offense, he could face anywhere from 14 years to slightly more than 24 years, depending on whether he takes responsibility, said Mark Osler, a former federal prosecutor and professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law.

Osler said the guidelines clearly state that any federal sentence would be served at the same time as a state sentence — the sentences wouldn’t stack. Chauvin is due to be sentenced on the state charges June 25.


Balsamo reported from Washington.

US job growth slows sharply in sign of employers struggling to hire workers

Alaska News - 2 hours 36 min ago

A man walks out of a store in Mayfield Heights, Ohio. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File) (Tony Dejak/)

WASHINGTON — America’s employers added just 266,000 jobs last month, sharply lower than in March and a sign that some businesses are struggling to find enough workers as the economic recovery strengthens.

With viral cases declining and states and localities easing restrictions, businesses have added jobs for four straight months, the Labor Department said Friday. Still, the unemployment rate ticked up to 6.1% from 6% in March.

At the same time, optimism about the economic recovery is growing. Many Americans are flush with cash after having received $1,400 federal relief checks, along with savings they have built up after cutting back on travel, entertainment and dining out over the past year. Millions of consumers have begun spending their extra cash on restaurant meals, airline tickets, road trips and new cars and homes.

Among industries, the sharpest loss last month was in temporary work, which shed 111,000 jobs. Construction companies added no jobs in April after having added 97,000 in March. Manufacturing lost 18,000 positions after hiring 54,000 the previous month. And transportation and warehousing cut 74,000 jobs after months of solid gains.

By contrast, restaurants, hotels, and entertainment venues — businesses that have complained the loudest about a shortage of workers — added 331,000 jobs in April, even more than their 206,000 increase in March.

In its monthly report Friday, the government also sharply lowered its estimate of March’s job gain to 770,000 from its earlier estimate of 916,000.

Most economists expect job growth to strengthen as more vaccinations are administered and trillions in government aid spreads through the economy. Even if another uptick in COVID-19 cases were to occur, analysts don’t expect most states and cities to reimpose tough business restrictions. Oxford Economics, a consulting firm, predicts that a total of 8 million jobs will be added this year, reducing the unemployment rate to a low 4.3% by year’s end.

Still, the economic rebound has been so fast that many businesses, particularly in the hard-hit hospitality sector — which includes restaurants, bars and hotels — have been caught flat-footed and unable to fill all their job openings. Some unemployed people have also been reluctant to look for work because they fear catching the virus.

Others have entered new occupations rather than return to their old jobs. And many women, especially working mothers, have had to leave the workforce to care for children.

Most of the hiring so far represents a bounce-back after tens of millions of positions were lost when the pandemic flattened the economy 14 months ago. The economy remains more than 8 million jobs short of its pre-pandemic level.

The Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion rescue package, approved in early March, has helped maintain Americans’ incomes and purchasing power, much more so than in previous recessions. The economy expanded at a vigorous 6.4% annual rate in the first three months of the year. That pace could accelerate to as high as 13% in the April-June quarter, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

One government report last week showed that wages and benefits rose at a solid pace in the first quarter, suggesting that some companies are having to pay more to attract and keep employees. In fact, the number of open jobs is now significantly above pre-pandemic levels, though the size of the labor force — the number of Americans either working or looking for work — is still smaller by about 4 million people.

In addition, the recovery remains sharply uneven: Most college-educated and white collar employees have been able to work from home over the past year. Many have not only built up savings but have also expanded their wealth as a result of rising home values and a record-setting stock market.

By contrast, job cuts have fallen heavily on low-wage workers, racial minorities and people without college educations. In addition, many women, especially working mothers, have had to leave the workforce to care for children.

Biden’s relief package also added $300 to weekly unemployment benefits. Meyer calculated that for people who earned under $32,000 a year at their previous job, current unemployment aid pays more than their former job did — a reality that could keep up to 1 million people out of the workforce. In addition, higher stock prices and home values might have led up to 1.2 million older Americans to retire earlier than they otherwise would have.

Still, some economists say employers will have to offer higher pay to draw more people back into the job market.

After a year off, Turnagain Arm Trail Run returns with a fast course and no bear scares

Alaska News - 4 hours 38 min ago

Rachel Topf leads a group of 8-mile racers down a hill with tree roots during the Turnagain Arm Trail Run on Thursday. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

The Turnagain Arm Trail Run returned Thursday night after taking last year off because of the pandemic, a sign we may be on our way to at least a partial return to normal this summer.

Normal in this case was Lars Arneson crossing the finish line ahead of everyone else. Arneson, 31, is one of Alaska’s premier mountain runners -- 2019 Alaska Mountain Runner Grand Prix champion, 12-Peaks Challenge speedster, 2021 USA Triathlon winter triathlon national champion, 2021 Crazy Lazy record-breaker, etc., etc., etc.

Perhaps not as standard were some of the other sights at the Potter and McHugh Creek trailheads.

A college basketball player straining through a sprint finish. A longshoreman packing feminine wipes to clean muddy legs. A world-class skier on bear patrol.

Well, maybe that last one isn’t so unusual. The race is an annual fundraiser for the UAA ski team, and because it’s held on a Chugach State Park trail that doubles as a bear corridor, UAA skiers are sometimes tasked with keeping bears at bay.

That was the case Thursday, when runners followed a course altered earlier in the week to avoid a stretch of trail where bears have been eating -- and defending -- a moose carcass.

Heidi Conway carries bear spray during the start of the 4-mile race at McHugh Creek. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

Usually the race covers the eight miles between Potter and Rainbow, with a midpoint at McHugh Creek. Earlier in the week park officials closed the trail between McHugh and Rainbow because of potential bear danger, so the race became a round trip from Potter to McHugh and back. Runners in the four-mile race went from McHugh to Potter.

Shortly before the start of four-mile race at McHugh Creek, a group of UAA skiers spotted a black bear on the trail.

One of them was JC Schoonmaker, who was just named to the U.S. Ski Team’s A team following a cross country season with three top-20 World Cup sprint finishes and the seventh-fastest qualifying sprint time at the World Championships. Astrid Stav, a freshman All-American with two top-five finishes at the NCAA championships last March, was also helping. She blew an air horn to chase away the bear.

Runners in the 4-mile race begin their run to the Potter trailhead. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Klaire Rhodes, the women’s winner, said she was about 500 feet from the finish line when she saw a black bear, but it was far from the trail.

Also a good distance away were Rhodes’ pursuers. She won the race in 48 minutes, 45 seconds, more than four minutes ahead of runnerup Taylor Ostrander. She was 16th overall in a field of 138 runners.

Rhodes, 22, said she had no idea if any other women were close behind.

“I just went and didn’t look back,” she said. “I didn’t know what to expect.”

She was glad the race happened on the trail between Potter and McHugh Creek instead of the part between McHugh Creek and Rainbow. The trail gets narrower and trickier on the southern end; the north end has its share of rocks, roots and other challenges but is wider and easier to negotiate.

“I’m a little more nervous when it gets technical,” Rhodes said.

Kendra Paskvan and Gino Graziano pass through the turnaround at the McHugh Creek parking lot midway through the 8-mile race. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Third-place Chad Trammell said he missed running the point-to-point course.

“I like the mix. It’s nice to have a fast half and a technical half,” he said. “But I’m just glad they made it happen.”

Arneson defended his 2019 title padded his resume by winning in 42:05, Tracen Knopp finished second in 42:26 and Trammell was next in 43:26.

In the four-mile race from McHugh to Potter, victories went to 13-year-old Logan Cuddy and 35-year-old Jessica Vetsch.

Cuddy finished in 24:15 and Vetsch was second overall in 24:29, finishing more than a minute ahead of the second-place man.

“There was one girl behind me and I realized as soon as I finished (she) was closer than I thought,” said Cuddy, an 8th grader at Romig Middle School.

The race dates back to 1999, and because Thursday’s followed a new eight-mile route, Arneson and Rhodes set course records. Their times were much faster than the point-to-point records -- Arneson’s by more than seven minutes and Rhodes’ by more than 10.

Lars Arneson passes through McHugh Creek turnaround en route to his victory. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

Without the southern half of the trail, “It’s smoother and wider and there’s no steep climb,” Arneson said.

The round-trip aspect proved painful for Trammell. He finished with long red scratches on both arms after getting caught by the same tree branch twice, once on the way out and again on the way back.

“You’d think I’d learn a lesson,” he said.

Most runners looked muddy, not bloody. The trail is one of the earliest to dry each spring because of its southern exposure but muddy spots remain, including a couple that couldn’t be skirted or jumped over.

Arneson said it was ankle-deep in one spot. Everyone finished with mud-streaked backs and muddy legs.

Krista Inscho, who placed eighth among women, came prepared. As she gathered with friends in the Potter parking lot for post-race beverages and conversation, she reached into the back of a truck for a small cloth and quickly wiped her legs clean of all mud.

“Those were feminine wipes,” she confessed.

Runners pass McHugh Creek. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Inscho, 36, is a longshoreman and the mother of two, ages 9 and 6. She said she entered the race because she’s been running a lot in recent months.

“Maybe it’s because I’m home-schooling my kids and I had to do something,” she said.

Tobin Karlberg was a race rookie who entered to support his school. He’s a smooth-shooting, all-conference guard for the UAA men’s basketball team, but he looked like he was racing for a conference track title as he battled Rowan Robinson for 31st place.

Karlberg, 21, won the sprint finish in 52:04.3; Robinson, 15, clocked 52:04.4.

“This is the first time I’ve done a race like this,” Karlberg said. “I was nervous because it’s not something I’m comfortable with.”

Tanya Pasternack and Anne Fleetwood climb a hill. (Bill Roth / ADN)

But he did it to show support for the UAA ski team, one of three teams at UAA put on the chopping block last year because of deep budget cuts. The ski team was able to raise enough money to earn reinstatement; the hockey team and gymnastics team are still trying to meet their fundraising goals to stave off elimination.

“I’m just sad about what’s happening with hockey and gymnastics and skiing,” Karlberg said. “The least I could do is show a lot of support.”

The race raises $4,000 to $5,000 for the ski team, head coach Sparky Anderson said, and every dollar counts for a program that had to raise $628,000 last year to preserve its alpine team.

The Board of Regents decided to spare the cross country team but eliminate the alpine team, something Anderson used a rallying point during fundraising efforts. The Seawolves are one team, not two, he said.

As Anderson sat on the tailgate of a truck in the Potter parking lot Thursday night, waiting for runners to finish, proof of his claim sat next to him -- the fourth-place trophy from this year’s NCAA Championships. Without any alpine skiers, there would be no trophy.

Coach Sparky Anderson sits next to the fourth-place team trophy the Seawolves claimed at this year's NCAA Championships. (Beth Bragg / ADN)

Women’s 8 mile

1) Rhodes, Klaire 48:45, 2) Ostrander, Taylor 52:59, 3) Paskvan, Kendra 53:51; 4) Fritz, Lauren  53:54; 5) Templin, Molly 54:53; 6) Lies, Hannah 55:10; 7) Anglen, Lisa 55:51; 8) Inscho, Krista 57:51; 9) Bronga, Jaime 58:04; 10) McAnly, April 58:46; 11) Barnwell, Mackenzie 59:20; 12) Farmer, Sabrina 59:29; 13) Topf, Rachel 59:31; 14) Spinelli, Lauren 59:45; 15) Hegna, Amanda 1:00:07; 16) Loran, Alyse 1:00:07; 17) Clare, Mamie 1:00:10; 18) Brewer, Kira 1:01:53; 19) Garber, Gloria 1:02:05; 20) Riggs, Kimberly 1:02:46; 21)  Swenson, Katie 1:03:08; 22) Matthews, Elizabeth 1:03:19; 23) Graham, Mariah 1:03:54; 24) Fink, Karol 1:03:55; 25)  McDonough, Amber 1:04:41;  26)  Fellman, Jillian 1:05:18;  27)  Fleetwood, Anne 1:05:36;  28) Shea, Clare 1:05:45; 29)  White, Haley 1:06:07;  30)  Nelson, Tahra 1:06:56;  31)  Venzke, Carly1:08:03;  32)  Dougherty, Emily 1:08:21;  33)  Pasternack, Tanya 1:10:06;  34)  Anderson, Andrea 1:10:49;  35)  Bowler, Ivy 1:11:23;  36)   Ryznar, Susan 1:12:19;  37)  Kramer, Cyndi 1:12:42;  38)  Smith, Jennifer 1:13:17;  39) O’Neil, Aimee 1:15:35;  40)  Resari-Salao, Trina  1:15:45;  41)  Barnack, Linda 1:17:52;  42)  Bushatz, Amy 1:18:57;  43)  Beach, Miranda  1:21:05;  44)  Novobilski, Jen 1:21:58;  45)  Huett, Jessie 1:23:02; 46)  Jungreis, Laura 1:23:50;  47)  Barker, Meghan 1:24:40;  48)  Hickox, Molly 1:24:47;  49)  Bickers, Natalie 1:25:03;  50)  Smith, Mikki 1:25:12;  51)  Schweers, Andrea 1:27:38;  52)  Day, Amanda 1:32:35;  53)  Lee, Destiny 1:32:35;  54)  Debonis, Abby 1:32:36;  55)   Davis, Kristi 1:32:37,

Men’s 8 mile

1)  Arneson, Lars 42:05;  2)  Knopp, Tracen 42:26;  3)  Trammell, Chad 43:26;  4)  Priest, Cody 45:12;  5) Jahn, Corbyn 45:31;  6) Dixon, Pyper 45:44;  7) Genn, Marshall 45:44;  8) Fracolli, Paul 46:04;  9)  Johnson, Erik 46:14;  10)  Kirchner, Brian 46:23;  11)  Spangler, Allan 46:43;  12) Beckett, Ryan 47:00;  13) Hecht, Galen 47:17;  14)  Deal, Conor  47:45;  15)  Conway, Patrick 48:38;  16) Boyer, Blaise 49:04;  17)  Regan, Kenneth 49:30;  18) Maus, Christopher  49:40;  19) Zitta, Duane 49:44;  20)  Iverson, Mark 49:53;  21)  Miller, James 50:00;  22)  Landecker, Isaac 50:23;  23)  Lewis, Patrick 50:35;  24)  Zemke, Keith  51:17;  25) Taylor, Craig 51:32;  26)  Davis, Joe 51:33;  27)  Yang, Alex 51:44;  28) Atkinson, Collin 51:49;  29)  Witter, Rob 51:49;  30)  Henry, Todd 51:56;  31) Karlberg, Tobin 52:04;  32)  Robinson, Rowan 52:04;  33)  McKee, Garrett 52:13;  34) Eski, Ethan 52:20;  35)  Martin, Aaron 53:01;  36)  Graziano, Gino 53:08; 37) McDonough, Jim 53:15;  38)  Fleetwood, Matthew  53:51;  39) Nottingham, Derek 54:11;  40)  Davidson, Chaven 54:26;  41)  Haviland, Brian 54:36;  42) Nenahlo, Thomas 54:39;  43)  Shayer, Max 55:18;  44)  Myers, Dan 55:52;  45) Peltier, Travis 56:03;  46)  Engel, Joe 56:14;  47)  Ritchie, Thomas 56:18;  48) Larson, Troy 56:38;  49) Robertson, Chris 56:47;  50)  Pekar, Brian 57:01;  51)  Onskulis, Martins 57:02;  52) Vispo, Daryll 57:22;  53)  Hoagland, Jeremy 57:24;  54)  Pessetto, Scott 57:47;  55)  Case, Jacob 58:04;  56)  Lauwers, Dylan 58:52;  57)  Libby, Justin 59:19;  58)  Walker, Christopher 59:26;  59)  Soden, Lucas 59:29;  60) Kastar, Jon 59:46;  61) Wesselhoft, Justin 59:59;  62)  Gardner, Ari 1:01:47;  63)  Claggett, Steven 1:02:19;  64)  Henry, Scott 1:02:55;  65)  Rebman, Randy 1:03:45;  66)  Besl, J  1:03:47;  67)  Crumpacker, Daniel 1:04:02;  68)  Dykstra, Jon 1:05:14;  69)  McGargill, Tim 1:05:43;  70)  Priest, Connor 1:07:31;  71)  Lee, David 1:07:37;  72)  Samuelson, Timothy 1:09:34;  73)  Bower, Matthew 1:10:30;  74)  Galindo, Mario 1:11:35;  75)  Kelley, Kyle 1:11:52;  76)  Braga, Emmanuel 1:15:58;  77)  McAnally, Patrick 1:18:11;  78)  Lee, Steve 1:19:13;  79)  Tunseth, Matthew 1:20:34;  80)  Sherwood, Todd 1:21:16;  81)  Kern, Jared 1:24:34;  82)  Skeen, Gary 1:30:36;  83)  Skeen, Geremy 1:30:36.

Women’s 4 mile

1)  Vetsch, Jessica 24:29;  2) Conway, Rosie 24:41;  3)  Haines, Kaleen 24:43;  4)  Cosgrave, Sarah 28:22;  5)   Bergwall, Hallie 29:39;  6)   Comer, Teresa 31:22;  7)  Edmondson, Charlotte 31:44;  8)  Conway, Heidi 31:48;  9) Cutler, Inessa 31:54;  10)  Hamilton, Erin 42 0:32:09;  11)  Masters, Tara 32:09;  12)  Thompson, Amanda 32:25;  13) Wollgast, Nicole 33:37;  14)  Kain, Virginia 33:42;  15)  Grande, Mary Grace 33:47;  16)  Basinger, Hope 33:55;  17)  Foldager, Patti 34:07;  18)  Collins, Abigail 34:27;  19)  Weyhrauch, Maria 34:28;  20)  Chauvot, Aimee 34:36;  21) Burtzel, Andrea 34:50;  22) Hardy, Dyann 35:50;  23)  Swenarton, Marykate35:59;  24)  Dindinger, Savannah 37:03;  25)  Shipman, Emily 40:16.

Men’s 4 mile

1) Cuddy, Logan 24:15;  2)  Rehberg, Nathan 25:37;  3) Rehberg, Noah 25:55;  4)  Wollgast, Roy 28:02;  5)  Hardy, Chace 28:59;  6)  Foldager, Flip 32:19;  7)  Cuddy, Liam 32:59;  8) Steinhauser, Evan R 39:01;  9)  Smith, Dacia  40:16.

Police calls for Friday, May 7, 2021

Juneau News - 6 hours 10 min ago

Juneau Empire
Juneau Empire - The Voice of Alaska's Capital Since 1912

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Police calls for Friday, May 7, 2021
Wire Service

Red meat politics: GOP turns culture war into a food fight

Alaska News - Thu, 2021-05-06 21:40

FILE - In this Jan. 18, 2010 file photo, steaks and other beef products are displayed for sale at a grocery store in McLean, Va. Republicans are increasingly using food — especially beef — as a cudgel in the culture war. In statements, tweets and fundraising emails, prominent GOP governors and senators have accused climate-minded Democrats of trying to push Americans to eat less red meat. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) (J. Scott Applewhite/)

DES MOINES, Iowa — Conservatives last week gobbled up a false news story claiming President Joe Biden planned to ration red meat. Colorado Rep. Rep. Lauren Boebert suggested Biden “stay out of my kitchen.” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted out a headline warning Biden was getting “Up in your grill.”

The news was wrong — Biden is planning no such thing — but it was hardly the first time the right has recognized the political power of a juicy steak. Republican politicians in recent months have increasingly used food — especially beef — as a cudgel in a culture war, accusing climate-minded Democrats of trying to change Americans’ diets and, therefore, their lives.

“That is a direct attack on our way of life here in Nebraska,” Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican, said recently.

The pitched rhetoric is likely a sign of the future. As more Americans acknowledge the link between food production and climate change, food choices are likely to become increasingly political. Already, in farm states, meat eating has joined abortion, gun control and transgender rights as an issue that quickly sends partisans to their corners.

“On the right, they are just going for the easiest applause line, which is accusing the left of declaring war on meat. And it’s a pretty good applause line,” said Mike Murphy, a Republican consultant. “It’s politically effective, if intellectually dishonest.”

Ricketts was among the first to seize on the issue in recent months. In March, the governor — whose state generated $12 billion from livestock and meat products last year — slammed his Colorado counterpart, Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, for suggesting Coloradans lay off the red meat one day as a way of cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions.

Republican Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds followed Ricketts’ comments quickly, claiming in a campaign fundraising email, “Democrats and liberal special interest groups are trying to cancel our meat industry.”

In her weekly column a few weeks later, Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa blasted “everyone from out-of-touch politicians to Hollywood elites” as leading the left’s “war on meat.”

But the issue blew up last week after a Daily Mail news story — debunked within 24 hours — suggested the Biden administration could ration how much red meat Americans can consume as part of its goal to slash greenhouse gas pollution.

During the story’s short life, conservative figures pilloried Biden’s apparent invasion into America’s dining room.

While the story was false, there’s little doubt the livestock industry is a contributor to climate change.

A 2019 Environmental Protection Agency report noted agriculture was responsible for 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions, a quarter of which is emitted by livestock before they are butchered.

There are signs that Americans may be adjusting their diets out of concern for climate change. About a quarter of Americans reported eating less meat than they had a year earlier, according to a 2019 Gallup poll, chiefly for health reasons but also out of environmental concerns. About 30% of Democrats polled said they were eating less meat, compared to 12% of Republicans.

For some, it’s hard to imagine Americans abandoning beef and easy to see its power as a political symbol, said Chad Hart, an Iowa State University agriculture economist.

Americans don’t get overly sentimental about barns crammed with chickens or thousands of hogs, but few images are as quintessentially American as cattle grazing over rolling hills.

“When you think about American food, beef is what is in the center of that plate,” Hart said. “And that’s likely to remain a national identity when it comes to what an American food plate looks like.”

To be sure, food isn’t new to culture war politics.

First lady Michelle Obama was attacked as intrusive by conservatives for championing higher nutritional standards in school lunches.

As a presidential candidate in 2007, Barack Obama was accused of food elitism when he asked a group of Iowa farmers whether they had seen the price of arugula at Whole Foods, an upscale grocery chain that had not yet made it to Iowa. Obama still won the state’s caucuses.

Even more famously, Michael Dukakis was pilloried by Republicans as far out of touch with rural America in the midst of the 1980s farm crisis when he suggested Iowa farmers consider diversifying crops by planting Belgian endive.

That prompted then-Vice President Dan Quayle to hold up a head of endive, a green used in salads, to show a crowd in Omaha ″just how the man from Massachusetts thinks he can rebuild the farm economy.”

In the past, food was a way of painting Democrats as out of touch with rural America. Today, the message is about climate and the economy.

There is a growing movement to discourage meat-eating and a massive market for meat replacement foods. The Green New Deal, a sweeping environmental outline championed by liberal New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, calls for a sharp reduction in livestock production.

Biden has called the plan an “important framework,” but has not endorsed it.

As these policies remain only plans for now, Republicans complaining about them have offered little substance with their claims of a war on meat.

Still, Republicans have looked for ways to signal which side they’re on. In April, Ernst introduced a bill that would bar federal agencies from setting policies that ban serving meat to employees.

Ricketts declared “Meat on the Menu Day” in March and came back Wednesday to name all of May “Beef Month.”

These efforts do little to address the beef industry’s substantial problems, including a backlog in slaughterhouses stemming from the pandemic, drought and the high cost of feed.

And a spokesperson for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association kept her distance from the food fight.

“When emotions and rhetoric run high on either side of the political aisle, NCBA remains focused on achieving lasting results,” said spokesperson Sigrid Johannes.

Top-seeded Dimond comes from behind for double-overtime hockey victory over Eagle River

Alaska News - Thu, 2021-05-06 21:17

Teague Porter scored in double overtime to lift the top-seeded Dimond Lynx past Eagle River 3-2 in Thursday night’s Cook Inlet Conference semifinal game at Ben Boeke Ice Arena.

Porter’s goal gave Dimond its first lead of the game.

Eagle River led 2-0 after one period on goals from Joseph Radiff and Dylan Bender, but the fourth-seeded Wolves couldn’t hold onto their advantage.

Dimond tied the game 2-2 with second-period goals from Tyler Christiansen and Jack Dolan.

Goalie Olin Kelliher kept Eagle River in the game with 40 saves. Gage Guay finished with 13 for Dimond.

The victory puts the Lynx in Saturday’s championship game against the second-seeded South Wolverines. Dimond is 12-1 and South is 10-2.

Eagle River, which dropped to 7-7, will play third-seeded Service (7-6) in Friday’s third-place game.

It was the second time this week Eagle River played an overtime game. On Tuesday, the Wolves skated to a 2-1 first-round victory over West.

Saturday’s title game will mark the seventh time since 2005 that Dimond and South have met for the championship, with South owning a 4-3 edge. The Wolverines have won six CIC titles since the school opened back in 2005, including back-to-back crowns in 2018-19.

In that same span, Dimond has claimed five championships, the most recent one coming in 2014.

CIC Tournament

Tuesday’s results

Service 7, Chugiak 4

Eagle River 2, West 1 OT

Wednesday’s result

South 8, Service 2

Thursday’s result

Dimond vs. Eagle River

Friday’s game

6:30 p.m. — Service vs. Eagle River, 3rd place

Saturday’s game

6:30 p.m. — South vs. Dimond, championship

All games at Ben Boeke Ice Arena

Study: Residents left big metros during pandemic for family

Alaska News - Thu, 2021-05-06 20:59

FILE - Rows of homes, in suburban Salt Lake City, on April 13, 2019. Utah is one of two Western states known for rugged landscapes and wide-open spaces that are bucking the trend of sluggish U.S. population growth. The boom there and in Idaho are accompanied by healthy economic expansion, but also concern about strain on infrastructure and soaring housing prices. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File) (Rick Bowmer/)

Cece Linder was living in a 770-square-foot apartment outside Washington, D.C., last spring when the area went into lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In May 2020, after a few months of both living and working in the small space, Linder decided to leave the capital area and move into the 2,000-square-foot beachside home she jointly owns with her parents in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Now she gets to see the sunrise over the water each morning before work.

“If I’m teleworking anyway, why not move to this other place that is more visually attractive, it’s beachside, and someone can occasionally cook for me?” Linder said. “Though that didn’t exactly work out. My mom has me cooking for them.”

Linder was not alone in her thinking. According to a new study and data from the U.S. Census Bureau, she was one of thousands of people who migrated out of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas and into smaller ones during the pandemic.

The study found that, like Linder, many of the migrants weren’t driven by new jobs or weather — or even a fear of the virus — but a desire to be closer to family and a freedom to make it happen because of remote working. Although the pattern of people moving from larger to smaller cities has been going on for several years, the pandemic exacerbated that trend, said Peter Haslag of Vanderbilt University, who conducted the study on migrant motivations with Daniel Weagley of Georgia Tech. Their paper has not yet been published.

The data adds to understanding of how the pandemic has changed where and how Americans live. The moves were most common among those with higher incomes and more job flexibility. If the trends continue, it could have long-term implications for real estate markets, tax bases and the wealth inequality in cities, according to researchers.

“For us, the question is, is this a temporary blip or is it going to continue?” Haslag said. “If work-from-home really is going to be a factor in job and company decisions, and by allowing work and location to be separate decisions, people are going to be able to optimize their locations, if they have the right jobs.”

The Census Bureau data shows that the New York metro area — which was hit early by the new coronavirus — declined by about 108,000 residents, or 0.5%. Roughly 216,000 residents moved out of the metropolitan area, but the natural increase from births and gains in international migration offset the departures. The New York metro area has experienced decelerated growth over the past several years, but last year’s decline was a bigger bite of the Big Apple than in 2019, when it lost 60,000 residents.

The nation’s next largest metro areas — Los Angeles and Chicago — also experienced greater population declines last year compared to the previous year: around 0.5% last year compared to 0.3% in 2019 for both metros. San Francisco also had a drop of around 0.5% last year compared to a 0.1% gain in 2019.

“I think some core urban counties like Manhattan, San Francisco and others may have taken a bigger brunt of pandemic-related out-movement, as well as lower immigration,” said William Frey, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution. “Overall, it was a year of slow growth with selective movement out of some urban centers.”

Smaller metros in the Sun Belt and West, several with large communities of vacation homes, saw the biggest population gains last year, mostly driven by migration. Led by the Florida retirement community The Villages, the metros seeing population increases between 3% and 4% included St. George, Utah; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Austin, Texas; and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

Sun Belt megalopolises, such as Dallas, Houston and Phoenix, also grew last year, though not as much as their smaller cousins.

The Census Bureau data captured changes in states, metros and counties between July 1, 2019, and July 1, 2020. The last third of that time-frame overlapped with the first three months of the spread of the virus in the U.S. Population-change estimates are different from the 2020 census, a head count of every U.S. resident that determines how many congressional seats each state gets. Those numbers were released last week. Population changes are estimated using data on births, deaths and migration.

Haslag and Weagley estimate that 10% to 20% of the 300,000 interstate moves they studied between April 2020 and February 2021 were influenced by the pandemic. Their study used four years of long-distance moving data obtained from UniGroup, the parent company of United Van Lines and Mayflower Transit.

Job-related reasons for moving dropped from 46.6% of responses before the pandemic to 34.5% after the start of the pandemic in the U.S. in March 2020, while the desire to be closer to family jumped from 24.7% to 29.9%. The researchers theorized the jump for family reasons was due to people wanting to create social “bubbles” with family members, and the drop in job-related reasons was due to remote working and the decoupling of jobs from offices.

“It’s not really about the infection rate when it comes to moving. It’s about all the other things that came with the pandemic, whether it was to be closer to family or work from home,” Haslag said. “That was really surprising to us.”

Higher-income households moved less because of job loss or to take a new job than for other reasons such as lifestyle or the ability to work remotely. In fact, 75% of those who cited the ability to work remotely had annual households earnings of $100,000 or more. Lower-income households were more likely to move for financial reasons such as job loss or to move to a place with a lower cost of living, the researchers said.

David Mann and his wife, Lauren, had been wanting to move to the U.S. southeast from Dallas to be closer to family and friends for some time, but it was the pandemic that made it possible. Knowing they could work from home in their jobs in supply-chain consulting and merchandise planning, they made the leap and moved to Atlanta last summer.

“Working from home gave us the opportunity to move without having to look for new jobs,” Mann said.

11 Alaska skiers — many of them former high school Skimeisters — named to U.S. cross-country ski team

Alaska News - Thu, 2021-05-06 19:07

Zanden McMullen won the men's 10K freestyle race during the AMH Anchorage Cup at Kincaid Park on Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

For 19-year-old Zanden McMullen of Anchorage, becoming a member of the U.S. Ski Team is over-the-moon exciting, even though there’s a hint of “Welcome to the new team. Same as the old team.”

McMullen doesn’t need many introductions. He’s one of 11 Alaskans on the 21-member team, and most of his new teammates are guys he has spent much of his life skiing with.

“I’m just cool being part of this group, especially this group of boys that I’ve been growing up with in Alaska and have raced with ever since middle school,” he said. “I’ve always been kind of right behind them and this year I was right up with them, so it’s nice getting the recognition and being part of this team.

“Growing up in Alaska, we’ve always had a strong nordic skiing (scene). So yeah, it’s bizarre — I’m a part of this new team, but I train with most of them in the summer.”

McMullen is one of five former Alaska Skimeisters to make the team, along with Gus Schumacher, Scott Patterson, Logan Hanneman and Kendall Kramer.

Two others on the national team, Luke Jager and Hunter Wonders, are former Cook Inlet Conference Skimeisters.

Alaska has a presence on the team from top to bottom.

Rosie Brennan, center, celebrates her victory in a World Cup race in Switzerland last December. (Gian Ehrenzeller)/Keystone via AP) (Gian Ehrenzeller/)

Four of the five skiers who earned spots on the A team — the skiers who compete at the World Cup level and are the frontrunners for making the 2022 Winter Olympics team — are from Anchorage. And half of the 10 skiers on the development team are from Alaska.

Earning spots on the A team are Schumacher, Rosie Brennan, Hailey Swirbul and JC Schoonmaker. The only non-Alaskan on the A team is reigning World Cup overall women’s champion Jessie Diggins of Minnesota.

Two of the six B team skiers are Alaskan — Patterson and Hanneman.

The development team includes McMullen, Jager and Wonders on the men’s side and Kramer and Hannah Halvorsen on the women’s side.

Luke Jager hoists Gus Schumacher on his shoulders after Schumacher won a gold medal at the 2020 World Junior Championships in Germany. (Photo by Steve Fuller / flyingpointroad.com)

McMullen, a South High graduate who just finished his sophomore season at Montana State, is the only newcomer to the team among the Alaskans.

“I’m stoked,” he said. “This is definitely something I’ve been working for for awhile. I’ve been right on the edge for a couple of years now.”

[Anchorage skier Zanden McMullen caps 4 days of success with his first NCAA podium appearance]

McMullen met both of the objective criteria for team selection, which considers both FIS points and results in major international competitions. He met the latter of those qualifying standards in February by posting a top-10 result at the World Junior Championships in Finland, where he grabbed fifth place in the 10-kilometer freestyle race.

Though the fifth-place finish more than solidified his spot on the national team, McMullen said it was a bit of a letdown.

“I keep track of the points so I knew I was going to qualify by FIS points by the end of the year so when I finished I wanted more. I wanted a podium,” he said, referring to a top-three finish that puts skiers on the victory podium with medals around their necks. “It was definitely one of the things I thought about right away — ‘I made the team’ — but not getting a podium quickly overtook that thought.”

As a member of the development team, McMullen will receive invitations to U.S. Ski Team training camps and other opportunities to supplement his on-going training with the Alaska Pacific University nordic program. D team members don’t get direct funding for things like World Cup races in Europe.

He’ll continue to race at the college level with Montana State, where he enjoyed strong NCAA results last season. World Cup racing will come in due time, he hopes. And he’s well aware that the Winter Olympics are less than a year away.

“It’s definitely been on my radar,” he said of the 2022 Beijing Games, “but I’m still really young, and it’s not something I’ll beat myself up over if I don’t make the team.”

2021-22 U.S. Ski Team

Women’s A team

Rosie Brennan, Anchorage (APU) 12/21/88)

Jessie Diggins, Afton, Minn.

Hailey Swirbul, Anchorage (APU)

Men’s A team

Gus Schumacher, Anchorage (Alaska Winter Stars) ; 7/25/00)

JC Schoonmaker, Anchorage (UAA) 8-12-00

Women’s B team

Julia Kern, Waltham, Mass.

Katharine Ogden, Landgrove, Vt.

Sydney Palmer-Leger, Park City, Utah

Men’s B team

Kevin Bolger, Minocqua, Wis.

Scott Patterson, Anchorage (APU) 1/28/92)

Logan Hanneman, Anchorage (APU) 6/2/93)

Women’s development team

Hannah Halvorsen, Anchorage (APU)

Novie McCabe, Winthrop, Wash.

Kendall Kramer, Fairbanks (Alaska Winter Stars) 6/25/02)

Sophia Laukli, Yarmouth, Maine

Men’s development team

Johnny Hagenbuch, Ketchum, Idaho

Luke Jager, Anchorage (APU) 1/17/00)

Noel Keeffe, Steamboat Springs, Colo.

Zanden McMullen, Anchorage (APU) 5/31/2001)

Ben Ogden, Landgrove, Vt.

Hunter Wonders, Anchorage (APU) 8/7/98)

Outbreak tied to Ketchikan wrestling tournament involves over 20 cases across 5 Southeast communities

Alaska News - Thu, 2021-05-06 18:20

A COVID-19 outbreak associated with a high school regional wrestling tournament held in Ketchikan in late April has now been linked to more than 20 coronavirus cases in five Southeast communities, health officials said this week.

The tournament, which attracted athletes from seven schools around Southeast Alaska, was hosted by Ketchikan High School. Officials from Region 5, which represents Alaska School Activities Association schools in the area, issued a warning to Ketchikan High School for allegedly failing to test wrestlers or enforce mask wearing at the event — both of which are required under the region’s mitigation policies.

District officials say they are investigating what happened.

Ketchikan is seeing a slight increase in COVID-19 cases. The Ketchikan Gateway Borough emergency operations center reported 11 new cases on Thursday — a notable increase for a community of Ketchikan’s size, according to a spokesperson — for a total of 53 active cases in the region.

By Thursday, at least 11 students and two staff members from Ketchikan High School tested positive for COVID-19, along with five other residents, as part of the high school outbreak.

Another five cases have been identified in four other communities — Sitka, Craig, Klawock and Wrangell — that participated in the tournament. That brings the total number of cases that could be traced back to the wrestling tournament to 23, said Kacie Paxton, spokesperson for the Ketchikan Emergency Operations Center.

More Ketchikan cases were reported Thursday, but health officials are still investigating whether they’re connected to the tournament, Paxton said. Local public health officials have asked for help from the state with contact tracing efforts.

The Bill Weiss Tournament is an annual event that brings together wrestlers and their families from around the Southeast region.

Ketchikan High School, which hosted the event, last week received a formal warning from Region 5 for reportedly neglecting to test athletes before they participated in the tournament or enforce masking during the event, according to a letter that was sent to the school and acquired by KRBD.

“It is clearly stated in the Region 5 Mitigation Plan that COVID-19 testing is required for all Region 5 wrestling events,” said the letter, which was signed by Region 5 president Jaime Cabral. At meetings that Ketchikan representatives attended, “it was repeatedly stated that all wrestlers must be tested prior to attending any wrestling event that takes place within Region 5 schools,” the letter said.

“The undue stress on all communities and participating schools could have and should have been avoided,” the letter added.

Future violations could result in the school being banned from participating in interscholastic sports for the upcoming school year.

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough School District is looking into exactly what happened because the letter doesn’t identify details, officials there say. The district has 30 days to respond to the Region 5 letter but intends to provide information sooner because of the high level of public interest, said Katie Parrott, acting superintendent.

“We really want to do a thorough review,” Parrott said Thursday. “We genuinely want to and care about our community and the communities in Southeast.”

The district prides itself on the “100% evidence-based” coronavirus mitigation plans in effect since the start of the pandemic, she said. “Honestly, our review will likely extend outside of what’s mentioned in the letter just because we want to be reviewing our practices and making sure our protocols are matching best practices, we’re being consistent in our application of them.”

Contact tracing determined that at least five people had COVID-19 when they attended the wrestling tournament, Paxton said.

Ketchikan High School remains closed through the week to allow additional quarantining and testing to occur, and is scheduled to reopen partially to in-person learning beginning Monday.

Drive-thru testing at the school will be available from 8 a.m. to noon Friday and is open to all district students, staff and family or household members.

Daily News reporter Zaz Hollander contributed reporting.

Can snow dampen shockwaves from bomb blasts? Yes, Eielson airmen conclude after explosive experiment

Alaska News - Thu, 2021-05-06 18:19

U.S. Air Force airmen from the 354th Civil Engineer Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) flight, the Iceman Spark Innovation team, Air Force Research Laboratory's innovation team and other partners set off an explosion from afar for the EOD snow mitigation test March 18, 2021 at Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks. The experiment tested the use of snow to mitigate the damaging effects of explosions in an arctic environment. (U.S. photo by Senior Airman Danielle Sukhlall) (Senior Airman Danielle Sukhlall/)

Frosty’s made of it, kids play in it and Christmas carolers sing about it. And now we know bomb blasts can be hushed with it.

That’s what a team of innovative airmen in Alaska confirmed recently during a four-day experiment into how effective snow is at dampening dangerous shockwaves from ordnance blasts. Ordnance teams normally use sand or water barriers for that job.

The tests revealed that charges surrounded by bags filled with snow significantly reduced pressure waves emanating from the blast.

That knowledge may provide an option to commanders looking for the best blast protection for their people and installations once snow barriers become available, said Air Force Master Sgt. Chance Rupp, an explosive ordnance disposal flight chief at Eielson Air Force Base. His idea kindled the experiment.

Rupp said he envisions development of a snow reference scale: “With this much charge, use this much snow.”

Shrapnel and other projectiles are an obvious and visual danger from a detonation, but shockwaves from an explosion, known as overpressure, can also wreak havoc on bodies, buildings and equipment.

“Basically, anything that is full of air inside your body is going to be at risk of rupturing or having damage when you’re exposed to overpressures — ears, lungs,” Rupp said during a phone interview on April 26 with Stars and Stripes.

“Glass is also a pretty big weakness because when broken it becomes a hazard itself,” he said.

[Paratroopers face dozens of physical and skill tests on JBER with hopes of being pinned an ‘expert’]

Blast mitigation of this type is typically done using bags filled with sand or containers holding water, but the Arctic cold makes their use a challenge during many months of the year, Rupp said.

“Whenever we’re trying to mitigate a blast, it takes a significant amount of material around that explosive device to achieve a desired effect,” he said. “When it comes to using sand or sandbags or soil, it’s difficult here because the ground is frozen. You have to use mechanized equipment (to dig it up), and even if you use that you’re probably going to get big chunks of ice that you have to break down.”

And with temperatures often well below zero, water freezes quickly.

Rupp said he and fellow EOD specialists had “kicked around” the idea of somehow using snow as blast mitigation.

“One of the things we try to do up here at Eielson is figure out the best way to adapt our techniques and tactics to winters up here,” he said. “There are a lot of things that fit the mold for the Lower 48, the lower latitudes, but it’s different up here in the wintertime.”

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Tyler Kochlany, 354th Civil Engineer Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal flight training NCOIC, left, and Staff Sgt. Kyle Brown, 354th Civil Engineer Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal flight equipment NCOIC, fill bags with snow in preparation for a snow mitigation experiment March 18, 2021 at Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks. (U.S. photo by Senior Airman Danielle Sukhlall) (Senior Airman Danielle Sukhlall/)

In its Arctic strategy released last summer, the Air Force called the development of cold-weather materials “foundational to future operations.”

During a monthly demolition qualification event in the winter, however, Rupp and a few others conducted an impromptu test of the concept.

They buried about 10 feet of detonation cord under a foot of snow and in another location laid the same length on the surface.

The difference in sound was significant, and soon after Rupp wrote an experimental design paper for a class he was enrolled in.

Rupp submitted the concept to Iceman Spark, a loose collaboration of airmen at Eielson who foster innovations from within the ranks to support the 354th Fighter Wing.

Iceman Spark’s director of innovation, Tech Sgt. Nicholas Cavanaugh, sent it on to Force Warfighter Operations in the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. The scientists and engineers at the directorate test and field all types of material for the Air Force.

High-tech instruments exist for measuring blast overpressure, but the extreme cold made it impractical to use them for the rest, said 1st Lt. Tyler Despard, who is assigned to the directorate and oversaw the proof-of-concept testing in Alaska in March.

Instead, they used a simple and inexpensive device called a “bikini gauge,” which consists of two aluminum plates with matching holes of various sizes, he said. A thin sheet of aluminum foil is squeezed between them.

Larger exposures of foil tear most easily, while smaller foil holes rip with increasingly stronger overpressure.

U.S. Air Force Airmen from 354th Civil Engineer Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Flight inspect a gauge stand after a snow mitigation test March 18, 2021 at Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks. The foil held in the gauge stands is used to measure the blast overpressure caused by the explosion. (U.S. photo by Senior Airman Danielle Sukhlall) (Senior Airman Danielle Sukhlall/)

For the testing, charges of C-4 explosives were placed in an open range and enclosed with up to 18 snow-filled bags.

“We would set off similar charges with and without mitigation,” he said.

In comparing the tears to the aluminum foil between the two, “we saw a dramatic reduction in the damage done to those gauges,” Despard said.

The findings of the experiment have been turned over to the Naval Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division, the entity charged with creating and updating EOD standards across the Defense Department.

“They are working through the process of looking at our data, determining if any additional testing or design work is needed,” Despard said. “Our hope is that will become standard Arctic operating procedure.”

As director of Iceman Spark, Cavanaugh sees the larger context for the innovation.

“One of the big things out of this is that we’re trying to find new ways to operate in this newest contested domain, that being the Arctic environment,” Cavanaugh said.

“(This) is the kind of stuff we’re trying to get after in order to ensure that we’re more effective and actually upholding the Arctic strategy,” he said.

Anchorage is at a turning point with homelessness. Mayor candidates Bronson and Dunbar differ on what to do next.

Alaska News - Thu, 2021-05-06 18:06

Anchorage Police Department officer Jesus Rivera helps Parks and Recreation employee AJ Correra remove belongings from a dugout at Davis Park on Wednesday. A woman had been forced to move from her camp in a nearby forested area after a recent zone abatement, and spent a few nights in the dugout before being told to move again. Officer Rivera is part of APD's Community Action Policing team, which enforces illegal campsite abatement, coordinates cleanup with the Parks and Recreation department, and connects people experiencing homelessness with community resources. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

Anchorage is at a turning point in the way it addresses homelessness, and what comes next may be largely influenced by the next mayor.

The visions of the two candidates, Forrest Dunbar and Dave Bronson, diverge. Dunbar, an Assembly member from East Anchorage, favors an expansion of programs already in place to house individuals in hotel rooms, apartments and other supportive housing.

Bronson, a retired military and commercial pilot, has said he will focus on cleaning up homeless camps and putting a subset of the homeless population he refers to as “vagrants” in jail for petty crimes. He also favors turning the Northway Mall or another location into a large emergency shelter.

The Anchorage Daily News analyzed what each candidate has said about his plan for addressing homelessness, and spoke with service providers, the Anchorage Police Department and other experts in the field about how realistic the plans are.

The old way is gone

People who work in homeless services agree that Anchorage is poised for major change in how it addresses the chronic and stubborn problem of homelessness.

The pandemic brought an abrupt end to the old paradigm, which rested on a single, crowded shelter and soup kitchen clustered in the industrial heart of the city, near downtown.

In its place, a large but temporary shelter at the Sullivan Arena — built for hockey, concerts and trade shows — has been sheltering up to 300 people per night recently, while up to 400 more sleep in city-provided hotel rooms and other “scattered sites” around town. The new method is working, city and homeless services leaders assert, but it is paid for by by federal emergency funds set to expire later this year.

[Watch: Mayoral candidates Dave Bronson and Forrest Dunbar answer questions about Anchorage’s future]

So far, the city has spent over $10.65 million for just the costs of the Sullivan shelter, not including hotel rooms, according to Heather Aronno, spokeswoman for the city’s Emergency Operations Center. The costs are 100% reimbursed through FEMA, but only until Sept. 30, according to Jason Bockenstedt, chief of staff for the acting mayor.

The Mass Emergency Shelter operated by Beans's Cafe in the Sullivan Arena, photographed in April. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

In March, the Anchorage Assembly passed a resolution requesting that the acting mayor’s administration come up with a transition plan to stand down the shelter.

What will be built in its place hasn’t yet been decided. In June, the Anchorage Assembly will consider a pair of proposed ordinances that would alter language in the city’s zoning code, paving the way for shelters in new parts of town and creating a licensing structure for shelters.

[Proposed change to Anchorage land use code becomes focus of debate over future of homeless shelters]

In the past, the mayor and the municipality didn’t take a leading role in working on homelessness, said Jasmine Boyle, head of the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness. That changed in 2018, when the city announced an ambitious plan and began to play a bigger role.

“We have to have government partners as part of a core team in addressing homelessness,” said Boyle. “We don’t have control as homeless service nonprofits over mechanisms required to really get to a solution.”

Bronson’s ideas

Bronson did not respond to questions for this story.

In previous public comments, he has said he categorizes homeless individuals differently, based on their behaviors.

He has said he sees the majority of the homeless population as people who just need some help getting back on their feet, like a single mother who has lost her job. A small subset of the homeless population he describes “vagrants” who are “living problematically on the street.”

“The visible homeless problem facing our city is — it’s like a cancer metastasizing in every aspect of our city,” Bronson said during a televised discussion last week hosted by Alaska’s News Source. He sees the issue as one of Anchorage’s biggest hurdles.

[From 2020: As Anchorage struggles with homelessness, outdoor deaths occur regularly — but with little public notice]

Visible homelessness is driving residents from the city, keeping businesses from thriving and making areas such as downtown difficult to visit, he said. Bronson said he wants to take a stronger approach to cleaning up Anchorage’s streets and homeless camps, including arresting people living on the streets for low-level crimes.

A person enters a homeless camp located on the bluff overlooking the Ship Creek area off Eagle Street on Wednesday. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

“Homelessness is not a crime and it never should be, but breaking the law while you’re on the street — that’s breaking the law, and you should be prosecuted for that,” Bronson said. “So if you’re drinking, doing things on the street that are supposed to be kept behind bathroom and bedroom doors, those are crimes, and we need to prosecute them.”

When police witness a crime, they will act, Acting Police Chief Ken McCoy said in a statement, but said other services are needed to fully address the issue.

“Law enforcement cannot solely solve the issue of people experiencing homelessness. It requires building partnerships with other agencies and service providers to address the problem in a coordinated, comprehensive manner,” McCoy wrote.

The criminal justice system is also among the most costly ways to address homelessness, said Lisa Sauder, the executive director of Bean’s Cafe.

“The two most expensive interventions you can have are the emergency department and jail.”

Jailing individuals for crimes related to living unsheltered or related to an untreated mental health issue when there aren’t enough resources available to help is problematic, said Assembly member Meg Zaletel, who chairs the Assembly’s Committee on Housing and Homelessness.

“At that point you’re penalizing someone for not only being houseless but also maybe not being able to get services that they really need,” she said.

Using money from the sale of Municipal Light and Power, the city recently purchased the former Best Western Golden Lion Hotel in Midtown, which it plans to use for drug and alcohol treatment services.

[Anchorage mayoral candidate Bronson says he would look at ‘cutting just about everything’ except APD, while Dunbar wants to maintain city spending]

Bronson this week at a debate hosted by Alaska Public Media said he intends to sell that building on “Day One.”

He has said that addiction and psychiatric problems are significant root causes of homelessness. Bronson did not respond to questions about how he would address those issues.

“We’ve got to get this fixed, and quite frankly law enforcement for this small group of people has to be involved because these people are freezing to death on our streets, they’re getting hit by cars on our street, and the compassionate thing to do is to use whatever means we can to get them off the streets, get them into treatment facilities and keep them alive,” Bronson said during the Alaska’s News Source discussion.

Still, “the notion that I’m going to throw people in jail for being homeless — that’s antithetical to what I am,” he said. “I’m throwing people in jail because they keep breaking the law.”

Alice Smith visits with Morris Hammons who stopped by to check on friends in a homeless camp in Muldoon on Wednesday. "It's hard to be homeless," said Smith. "This is a hard life to live." (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

A new large shelter?

Bronson said he is against proposed changes to Anchorage’s code that would allow new homeless shelters in areas zoned as B-3 business districts. Currently, shelters are relegated to “public lands and institutions” zoning districts, of which there are few in the city.

Still, Bronson last week said he supports the idea of building one to three large shelters in the city, similar to the current Sullivan Arena emergency shelter, which he said has been successful.

“We actually learned that a large facility works very well, as long as we’re not packing people in,” he said.

Bronson proposed three possible sites where the city could build or renovate buildings for shelter: the Northway Mall, the former site of the Alaska Native Cultural Charter School at 550 Bragaw St., or build a facility in a 15-acre parcel of land north of Third and Ingra in Fairview.

Larger shelters capture “economies of scale,” costing less than multiple smaller shelters, he said.

“We have to almost treat it like a business because it costs too much if we don’t,” he said.

[2021 Anchorage mayoral runoff election guide: How to vote, Q&A with candidates and more resources]

Bronson said he was opposed to the idea of facilities distributed throughout the city.

“Vagrants in just about any city, they will wander about in a radius of about 10 blocks from where they sleep. So if you spread these homes out around the city — and it seems intuitive that we would want to do that — all you’re doing is increasing that footprint, and we’re making matters worse,” Bronson said.

Social service providers say smaller shelters with less impact on neighborhoods are the preferred approach, but question the logistics of creating them in Anchorage.

The community must decide what it wants, Sauder said.

Some residents, concerned that petty crime, disturbances and trespassing might increase in their neighborhoods, are pushing back on the proposed Title 21 changes that would expand where shelters could be located.

Bronson has also said it’s important that shelters don’t turn people out onto the streets during the daytime.

That’s a point where Sauder agrees.

One of the biggest learning experiences of the pandemic has been the success of a 24-hour shelter, where people can get to their cot and their belongings all day and night, rather than being asked to leave the facility for the daytime, she said.

Dunbar, too, agrees on this point.

“The fact is, there is no place for many of them to legally go during the day,” Dunbar said. “The Sullivan is open during the day, and so that helps reduce the number of folks that are out on the street.”

Dunbar’s ideas

Dunbar said he doesn’t want to create another big shelter like the Sullivan Arena. Instead, he wants to create more of what providers call “non-congregate” housing options in Anchorage.

That means working to rapidly move people out of congregate shelters, such as the Brother Francis Shelter, and into places such as a hotel room, apartment, or a supportive housing situation where individuals can stabilize.

“My strong preference is to try to move people quickly out of shelter and into non-congregate housing, whether it’s permanent supportive housing or something a little bit less, with fewer wraparound services, but where they still have case management,” he said during an interview Wednesday.

Currently, the city is housing about 265 people in hotel rooms, according to municipal shelter data. Hundreds more are housed through voucher programs in apartments around the city, such as through the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Vouchers and at the Clare House, Dunbar said.

Those programs are working, Dunbar said, and he wants to house even more people this way, working with private landlords and hotels to help find more permanent solutions for the 350-400 people who’ve been sheltering at the Sullivan Arena.

[U.S. Sen. Sullivan endorses Bronson and former Gov. Knowles endorses Dunbar in Anchorage mayor’s race]

Also, more beds at existing privately run shelters will open as the pandemic subsides, he said.

Still, Zaletel said it’s not clear just how many beds the established shelters will recover, but it will be far fewer than pre-pandemic. It’s a lingering unknown, and the city must identify what the gap will be. And during cold months, the city will need more shelter beds — usually an additional 120 in winter, she said.

Dunbar said he’s still undecided on the proposed changes to Title 21, but that if he does support expanding where shelters can be located, the changes would have to include “strict guidelines” and possibly licensing requirements for shelters.

“We cannot continue to centralize all of our facilities down at Third and Karluk or in that downtown core — it’s not sustainable,” he said.

[Anchorage mayoral candidate Bronson said the pandemic was ‘over last summer’ and he will not necessarily follow the CDC’s advice]

Still, he said, the city may also need to create a new housing facility. But that should be a facility offering case management to help people find employment, get treatment for addiction or mental health issues and to eventually find permanent housing, he said.

“Intensive case management is something else that is important to highlight. It’s something that we plan to fund probably with a portion of the Rescue Plan Act funds, and it’s going to be an important part of how we stand down the Sullivan mass care facility,” he said.

Now, the city is receiving between $7 million and $8 million federal Department of Housing and Urban Development funds and has more money for treatment and housing through the new alcohol tax, he said.

“I’m optimistic that after COVID, with these additional funds, we can make a real positive impact,” he said.

It also has help from private partners such as the Rasmuson Foundation, which, along with Weidner Apartment Homes, recently purchased properties adjacent to Brother Francis Shelter in order to build a new “resource hub” to serve the homeless.

The city should also consider creating a day shelter where individuals can legally be during the daytime — a place possibly with storage, showers and meals, Dunbar said.

He also supports using the former Golden Lion as a treatment center.

Alcohol tax funds are also going toward year-round camp abatement —but it is only legal to clear homeless camps when the city can offer the individuals a place to go, he said.

Municipality of Anchorage Parks and Recreation employee Nicole Limberg cleans up a homeless camp in the Chester Creek Greenbelt on Wednesday. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

“You have to provide additional housing, and simultaneously you have to abate the camps in the woods,” Dunbar said. “And I do think we have the resources to do that — to do both — if we have better coordination between the municipality, the state and our many private partners.”

“The mayor will certainly set a tone”

Last summer, Dunbar supported a controversial plan from then-Mayor Ethan Berkowitz to purchase four buildings for homeless and treatment services, using federal COVID-19 relief money funds for three.

The plan elicited public outcry and even protests outside the Assembly chambers, as many residents, including Bronson, called it an inappropriate use of the funds. At the time, businesses across the city were operating under various capacity restrictions and at some points had been fully shut down by the city’s COVID-19 mandates.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Inspector General eventually intervened to review the use of the funds.

The Treasury Department later gave the Assembly two options, one of which the city took: It spent the federal money on first responder payroll instead, and set aside the money that would have gone to that payroll from the city’s general fund for the building purchases.

Of the three buildings the city considered buying, only the Golden Lion has been purchased so far, and with entirely different funds, from the ML&P sale.

Dunbar has since said the city made some mistakes in the process. Although he said the public process was followed, the administration’s rollout of that plan was perceived by the public to be rushed and poorly communicated and it damaged trust in city government.

Still, Dunbar has defended his vote to approve the use of $12.5 million in federal relief for the buildings. About 8% of those first federal relief funds were designated for the purchases, and the majority went directly to supporting individuals, businesses and organizations impacted by the pandemic, he said.

The city was trying to provide services “to some of our most vulnerable people,” he said during the Alaska Public Media debate.

Both candidates have targeted the other over their approach to homelessness.

“You can drive around town and see it’s not working, and he just wants to do more of the same,” Bronson said during the discussion on Alaska’s News Source.

Dunbar said Bronson’s plan to remove homeless people from the street by cracking down on crime would lead to a lawsuit against the municipality.

“It’s unconstitutional. It’s also horrifically expensive,” he said.

The new mayor will inherit a pressing homelessness crisis and the looming decommissioning of the mass shelter at Sullivan Arena.

Whatever they do, they won’t be operating alone.

“I think the mayor will certainly set a tone and a direction,” Sauder said. “But depending on how it’s executed, a lot of it is going to go to the Assembly for a vote. There’s going to have to be cooperation on all sides. "

COVID at a glance for Thursday, May 6, 2021

Juneau Hot Topics - Thu, 2021-05-06 16:56
Vaccination information: 321,917 people statewide have received their first dose, and 279, 593 are fully vaccinated. — Juneau Empire ...