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The Covington students failed to act like grown-ups. So did the adults.

Alaska News - 1 hour 48 min ago

WASHINGTON -- As a young(ish) blogger, I learned, the hard way, that one should never go full-frontal jerk on the internet. Partly because one should generally eschew jerkhood. And partly because of what happens if facts later prove your initial response was mistaken.

After you've been lobbing flaming insults from the moral high ground, any subsequent climbdown is humiliating. Frequently, people are tempted to cling to their increasingly untenable position, which only extends the period during which they look utter fools.

This brings me to Nick Sandmann, a junior at Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky, who over the weekend became the national stand-in for privileged white Trump supporters everywhere.

By now you've probably seen the video: a lone Native American beating a traditional drum, surrounded by a mob of shouting white teenage boys, several wearing "Make America Great Again" hats, fresh from Friday's March for Life in Washington. Sandmann is nearly face to face with the drummer, wearing a slight smile -- or a smirk, as it was invariably described Saturday when the story burned through social media like a blowtorch on dry kindling. "Smirking" was probably the kindest thing that was said about Sandmann.

The Washington Post soon located the drummer, activist Nathan Phillips, who had been on the Mall for the Indigenous Peoples March. He said the March for Life participants had begun taunting the indigenous group as they dispersed, including shouting, "Build that wall." Phillips said he had tried to get away by climbing the steps to the Lincoln Memorial, until Sandmann blocked him as the other boys swarmed around. Phillips and Sandmann were "at an impasse. He just blocked my way and wouldn't allow me to retreat."

Denunciations were issued left and right, including from Covington Catholic and its diocese. Then a longer video emerged, which showed that none of this had, well, happened.

The incident didn’t start with white boys harassing Native Americans; it started with them being harassed with racist and homophobic epithets by a group called the Black Hebrew Israelites. Sandmann later said in a statement that the students chanted school cheers as an attempt to drown out the abuse. In the longer video, it sounds like an impromptu pep rally, not a Trump event.

Phillips walked straight into their circle, past a clear pathway up the steps, and banged his drum near their faces. In context, the boys seem more confused than threatening -- there are shouts of "Does anyone know what's going on?" as they continue cheering and jumping. Sandmann repeatedly bites his lip and looks down, as people do when they're uncomfortable and unsure of what to do.

After the longer video emerged, Phillips told a very different story to the Detroit Free Press; he had, he said, sought to defuse the confrontation between the teens and the Black Hebrew Israelites. He didn't explain why he thought banging a drum in someone's face would have a calming effect.

In the longer video, as Phillips wades in, you can hear one of the Black Hebrew Israelites shouting, "Look at the Make America Great Again hats. Look at the hats!" As the initial narrative collapsed, that cry was echoed by an emerging band of Lynch Mob Truthers.

Many people who saw the longer video quickly apologized; the Truthers held firm. Sure, you couldn’t see any of the awful alleged behavior, but we could see what they are, a large group of white males wearing those hats. At Deadspin, Laura Wagner wrote a piece called “Don’t Doubt What You Saw With Your Own Eyes,” harping on how the boys were “draped in racist, misogynist paraphernalia,” rather than what they weren’t doing: threatening Phillips.

I myself think Donald Trump engages in immoral and corrosive racist pandering; I think his supporters are at best gravely mistaken. But “Make America Great Again” hats do not emit reality distortion fields that can change plain facts. Nor do they render those facts irrelevant.

Certainly, the boys could have moved, or ignored the abuse, rather than childishly outshouting their harassers. And at least one boy seems to make a tomahawk chop, which is horribly culturally insensitive.

But then, they are children. The charges against them are now downgraded to “not knowing the proper response when a Native American activist bangs a drum in your face.” And how many teenagers can be expected to have mastered that particular point of etiquette?

Adults, however, can be expected not to yell anti-gay slurs, or bang a drum in a stranger’s face. Which means that other adults can be expected not to single out the teenagers in this episode for failing to behave like grown-ups. And they can also be expected to apologize when they’ve wronged an apparently innocent child.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Dunleavy opens his ‘war on criminals’ with push for SB 91 repeal

Alaska News - 1 hour 49 min ago

JUNEAU — Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy fired the first salvo in his self-described “war on criminals” Wednesday as he introduced four pieces of legislation that would toughen criminal sentencing guidelines and reduce the number of Alaskans who leave jail before trial.

The four bills introduced in the Senate fulfill the governor’s campaign promise to seek the repeal of the criminal justice reform legislation known as Senate Bill 91. That measure, which passed the Alaska Legislature in May 2016, has been repeatedly modified by lawmakers but remains the target of crime-weary Alaskans who believe it has contributed to a surge in crime.

“The No. 1 priority for this administration is public safety, and it’s really the No. 1 priority for all Alaskans,” Dunleavy said in a Wednesday press conference announcing the move.

Alaska has a $1.6 billion state deficit, and the governor’s proposal would increase that figure. The governor did not provide details.

“Will we need to increase the number of beds in jails? Probably yes. Will we need to increase jails? Maybe. We’ll see,” the governor said after being questioned about the cost. “We’re not going to spare the resources when it comes to turning this around. I’m serious about this.”

The governor’s words came hours after he said he was prepared to propose a constitutional amendment more strictly capping state spending, and some lawmakers noted the incongruity.

Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage and chairman of the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission, noted that with a $1.6 billion deficit, the state’s resources are not infinite.

“I don’t think there’s an unlimited amount. I think there’s real limits and we have to make tough choices,” he said.

Those tough choices were spotlighted shortly before the governor presented his proposal. David Teal, director of the nonpartisan Legislative Affairs Agency, told the Senate Finance Committee that the “competition between dividends and government services creates a huge fiscal problem for you legislators.”

The state has exhausted its readily available savings accounts, Teal said.

“I fear that many people don’t understand that deficits are now a big problem because we live in a different fiscal world. It’s a world without reserve. It’s a world in which budgets have to balance because you cannot fill them from savings anymore,” he said.

Overall, said John Skidmore, director of the Alaska Department of Law’s criminal division, about 85 percent to 90 percent of SB 91 will be reversed through the governor’s bills:

The first bill would roll back criminal sentences to what they were before Senate Bill 91 passed. That would mean longer jail and probation terms for lesser crimes, including misdemeanors and some felonies. Simple drugs possession would become a felony again. SB 91 increased jail terms for serious felonies, including murder, and those higher terms have not been rolled back in the proposal, according to the text of the legislation and an explanation provided by the governor’s office.

The second bill covers the way the state handles Alaskans who are accused of crimes but have not yet been convicted. Judges would decide bail and pretrial release instead of following a scientific matrix that includes prior offenses and the seriousness of the alleged crime. The responsibility for monitoring those released before trial would rest with the state’s probation officers instead of a separate pretrial enforcement unit within the Department of Corrections. The pretrial unit would be mostly folded into the probation department, and some positions would be eliminated, Skidmore said.

The third bill toughens probation for convicted offenders. It allows additional punishment for probation violations, ends a system that could end probation early, reduces discretionary parole, and halves good-behavior credit for probationers. The bill also eliminates the concept of good-time credit for Alaskans on electronic monitoring. Skidmore said the state’s view is that Alaskans on electronic monitoring are already receiving preferential treatment by avoiding a jail cell.

The final bill is not directly related to Senate Bill 91 but closes loopholes in the state’s sex crimes laws. It deals with the “Schneider loophole” identified in a recent case when an Anchorage man received no additional jail time for choking a woman and ejaculating on her. It criminalizes “repeatedly sending unwanted images of genitalia to another person.” Several other sex-crime loopholes also would close under the legislation. Many have also been addressed in bills introduced by legislators.

Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, believes the governor’s ideas have support.

“I think we have the votes in the Senate,” she said. “In the House, I don’t have a nose count over there.”

She said the governor’s proposal would have a better chance of passage if it is modified to include means to address rehabilitation for people leaving prison. Hughes supports an increase of in-prison rehabilitation programs and generally supports the governor’s program.

Senate Bill 91 was implemented to address the rising rate of incarceration in Alaska. That rising rate was driven by the number of people who return to prison on new crimes, and reversing the bill means returning to those old problems unless something takes its place, both she and Claman said.

“If you just pull away SB 91 and don’t do the rehabilitation piece, you’re going to be right back on that trajectory,” she said.

‘There’s a bird in my room!’ Goshawk launches itself through teen’s bedroom window in Valdez

Alaska News - 1 hour 57 min ago

Chris Watson holds the dead goshawk that flew through his son's bedroom window on Tuesday. Goshawks can grow to have a wingspan greater than 3 feet. (Photo by Jennifer Watson)

Seventeen-year-old Ike Watson had just woken up from a nap Tuesday afternoon when his bedroom window shattered.

The impact was strong enough to send glass across the room, where shards became embedded in the opposite wall, his mother said. Before the Valdez teenager had a chance to react, something smacked into the wall next to him, narrowly missing his head.

When he looked down, a large raptor was flopping weakly on his bedroom floor.

“It startled me, definitely,” he said — enough to make the still-groggy teenager jump off the bed and run into the hall, where his mom, Jennifer Watson, was coming to investigate the noise. Her first thought was that snow sloughing off the roof must have broken through her son’s window, she said.

“His face was ghost white,” she said. “He was in shock. All he could say was, ‘There’s a bird in my room!’ ”

Biologists with the Bird Treatment and Learning Center and the Alaska Raptor Center identified the bird as an adult northern goshawk, an apex predator found throughout most of Alaska. Jennifer Watson said that while robins, crows and ravens frequent the wooded area near the family’s subdivision, she’d never seen a goshawk before.

[Earlier:'Mom, Dad, there’s a bear in my room’: A broken window, a dark figure beside the bed]

Guy Runco, the executive director of the Anchorage-based Bird Treatment and Learning Center, said the raptors tend to be elusive and secretive, so even though they’re fairly prevalent throughout Alaska, they’re rarely seen.

Ike Watson's double-pane bedroom window shattered when an adult goshawk flew through the glass on Tuesday. (Photo by Jennifer Watson)

Jennifer and Ike Watson were hesitant to go back in the room, fearing that the bird might awaken and become aggressive. When they returned with Ike’s father in tow, the goshawk was dead. Chris Watson made sure of it by poking it with a ruler, his son said.

The double-pane window the bird had crashed through was destroyed, and down below it, Ike noticed something else: another, smaller bird, dead in the snow. Biologists identified the smaller bird as an adult male spruce grouse.

Ike Watson's double-pane bedroom window shattered when an adult goshawk flew through the glass. (Photo by Jennifer Watson)

What the Watsons most likely had on their hands, said Ken Marsh, a spokesman for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, was what he called a “predator-prey story.” The spruce grouse was probably fleeing from the goshawk when Ike Watson’s bedroom window brought the chase to an abrupt end.

"It looks very much like the goshawk was in pursuit of its natural prey,” he said.

What likely happened is that the spruce grouse hit the window while desperately attempting to flee its predator, only to have the singularly focused goshawk follow it at a speed great enough to break the glass, Marsh said.

Runco of the Bird Treatment and Learning Center agreed with that conclusion, “100 percent,” he said.

An adult northern goshawk that broke through 17-year-old Ike Watson's bedroom window in Valdez lies dead on a bookshelf in his home. (Photo by Jennifer Watson)
An adult male spruce grouse lies dead in the snow outside the Watsons' home. Wildlife experts think the grouse may have been fleeing from the goshawk when they both hit the window. (Photo by Jennifer Watson)
Two dead birds, a northern goshawk (back) and spruce grouse (front), lie side by side in the Watsons' home. (Photo by Jennifer Watson)

Goshawks can fly at speeds of more than 30 mph, according to various reference guides. The birds are — usually — known for their maneuverability, Runco said.

“They are incredibly adept at maneuvering through the forest,” Runco said. “They can really slide through a really small window between trees.”

In this case, the bird may have seen the house and attempted to maneuver out of the way, only to hit what it didn’t realize was a window, he said.

Ornithologists at Cornell University have called the raptors “reckless hunters” for their tendency to continue pursuing their prey at high speeds for long periods of time, even if it means going into water or crashing through brush.

The birds are now wrapped up in the Watsons' freezer until the family can decide what to do with them, Jennifer Watson said. They’re considering having the remains taxidermied and mounted. She said she’s teased her son about making the birds into a mobile to hang above his bed.

Ike wasn’t keen on the idea.

“I don’t know if I want that in my room,” he said.

Senator Hoffman's Legislative Update - The Delta Discovery

Legislative News - 2 hours 25 min ago
Senator Hoffman's Legislative Update  The Delta Discovery

On Tuesday, the 31st Alaska State Legislature convened. As a member of the Senate Majority, I have been assigned the following committees: Senate Finance, ...

Once the team’s captain, Anchorage’s Chris Kuper rejoins Denver Broncos as an assistant coach

Alaska News - 2 hours 56 min ago

A former co-captain for the Denver Broncos, Anchorage's Chris Kuper (73) will rejoin the team as an assistant coach. He's shown here stretching at a practice prior to the 2014 Super Bowl. (Mark Humphrey / Associated Press)

Anchorage’s Chris Kuper is heading back to the place where he played his entire NFL career.

Kuper, 36, has been hired as an assistant offensive line coach for the Denver Broncos, the team he played with for eight seasons from 2006-13. The Dimond High grad was Denver’s co-captain in 2010.

The job continues Kuper’s NFL coaching career, which began in 2016 with the Miami Dolphins.

Kuper was on the Broncos team that lost the 2014 Super Bowl to the Seattle Seahawks but was sidelined with an injury for the big game. He retired at the end of that season with a nagging ankle injury that had limited his playing time in his final two seasons.

An offensive guard, Kuper helped Dimond to the 2001 state football championship and went on to star for the University of North Dakota.

Denver drafted him in the fifth round of the 2006 NFL draft. He appeared in 90 games, starting in 79 of them, and after the 2009-10 season, he was rewarded with a five-year, $25.5 million contract.

Kuper spent three seasons as an assistant coach with Miami, where he worked with the offensive line. His new job comes in the aftermath of the firings of Miami head coach Andrew Gase and Denver head coach Vance Joseph. Kuper is part of a Denver staff being assembled by new head coach Vic Fangio.

JBER to hold emergency response drill Thursday

Alaska News - 3 hours 1 min ago

Stay calm, it’s only a drill.

People living near Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson are likely to see an increase in noise and emergency vehicles during an emergency response exercise Thursday.

According to a press release Wednesday, noise from the drill “may carry into the local communities adjacent to JBER.”

The increased activity will include emergency vehicle traffic, sirens, loudspeaker announcements, alerts and longer wait times at the JBER gates. The exercise will be used to evaluate security, fire, medical, explosive ordnance disposal, communications and other personnel on the joint Air Force and Army base.

“Readiness is key to our mission at JBER,” said Air Force Col. Patricia Csànk.

The base commander thanked the local community in advance for its patience during the planned exercises, which she said are crucial to the safety and security of the base.

“Our team must be ready at a moment’s notice to respond to any threat, from inside our outside our gates.”

After time in Alaska, you forget how cold the rest of the country can be

Alaska News - 3 hours 15 min ago

What I didn’t expect from Boston was how excruciatingly cold it would be.

You’d think I’d remember. I grew up back east. I’m from a suburb that, apart from maybe Levittown, would come up in the dictionary if you look up “suburb.” Framingham, Massachusettes, had the noble distinction for a long time of being the largest town in the country. This was just a fancy way of saying it’s really city-sized but with little public transportation.

When I visit, I have my routine down to get my outdoors fix. It’s not really normal back home to be outside the way that Alaskans are outside. So I’m often alone running on sidewalks, or if I’m feeling very brave, riding a bike.

Sure, I see people walking their dogs around the block. But I get overly excited when I see other runners. I think most other people are on their elliptical at the gym, or maybe on a yoga mat in front of a TV. (Yes, that’s judgmental of me. I am, after all, originally from the East Coast.)

When I’m running back home, I’m viscerally shocked by the climate no matter what time of year.

In the summer, I feel like a warm washcloth is being wrung out across the sky and I can’t stop sweating. When I get my heart rate up even a tiny bit, my face turns bright red.

The spring is about snow-melting bright freshness as snow trickles into water under a bright blue sky, and that squishy, earthy smell as the ground emerges.

I used to think I loved New England fall more than Alaska fall, and the colors on the trees are still beautiful — but New England’s crackling, sharp air contrasted with wet piles of leaves doesn’t hold a candle to Alaska’s sweeping red tundra contrasted with the glacial blue of an alpine lake.

But I digress. You know what all of the seasons in New England have in common?

My sister’s least favorite word: Moisture. Humidity. The air back there is wet almost all of the time. Sometimes it’s obviously wet, like when it rains dour-gray rain for days, and other times it’s more subtle. That seems like a fitting New England quality — where aggression fails, make it more passive. Don’t full-on rain, just ratchet up the dew point. Don’t tailgate, just turn on your brights.

There is nothing subtle about the brutal cold in Boston.

My sister and I spent a couple of nights in town as a quick sisters-only getaway before we both flew back to our respective homes. When we checked into our hotel, it was just after a snowstorm and the streets were turning to brown slush in the 35-degree evening. When we woke up the next morning, my phone said it was 3 degrees.

I looked outside. I don’t know what 3 degrees looks like in Boston anymore. In Alaska, it looks like quiet. The sun rises in that beautiful, heavy-lidded blue and deep magenta sky. Smoke columns rise thinly toward the sky when there’s no wind. Everything looks sharp.

But in Boston, cars whooshed along a highway with crumbly snow tracks, the green Fenway sign sat proud in front of an empty stadium amidst a cluster of restaurant and bar signs, and poofs of steam from buildings and vehicles billowed every which way. The sky was that normal, featureless overcast I remember from growing up. Three degrees, I thought? If it even was that cold, how bad could it be?

My sister and I geared up to go outside and face the day. I was more worried about her than me, because she lives in Nashville, which is a tad warmer on most days than Alaska. So instead of saving my mask for myself — like they advise on the airplanes — I gave my sister my smart-wool neck warmer. She refused it, but I shoved it in my bag just in case and grabbed myself a scarf.

After she’d pulled on 10 layers, we descended to the lobby and stepped outside. We paused.

“Not bad!” she said. Sure, it was chilly. But nothing we couldn’t handle.

Then we got our first gust.

This is what I forgot about: that icy, piercing, relentless wind that rushes around Boston, fresh off the Atlantic into the cavernous wind-magnifier of the city. One of those breezes picked up steam and fury as it drew toward us and slapped us right in the face, but unlike a quick actual slap it just kept on gusting. I vaguely remembered growing up with perpetual brain freeze as this kind of wind froze any exposed parts of my face. But I’d conveniently forgotten.

My sister asked for the face mask, and we started walking stiffly down the street toward the first even remotely interesting, open shop we could find.

All this time I’ve lived in Alaska, people I know back home, including my family, have gone on and on about how they don’t understand how I go outside in Alaska in such cold. Now I understand: if I still lived back east, I wouldn’t set foot outside my door in that kind of weather.

I know it’s obnoxious to talk about a “dry” cold or warmth, but it’s a real thing. Up here, I rarely ever felt cold as cold as I just felt in Boston.

Granted, I don’t live somewhere coastal like Juneau. Anchorage has its moments, along the Cook Inlet. And I’ve never visited the Aleutians (maybe this is a sign?). Alaska is enormous, and I’m sure it has its Bostonian moments and then some. But Boston cold is not something to cast aside as something quaint and East Coast. I am here to tell you, it is real, and it is brutal.

That said, those conditions are something to avoid (and now I understand why), unlike in Alaska where we get out pretty much no matter what. The best thing anyone in Boston said about the weather was it was an excuse to stay in and not go anywhere. The chill seemed to have set in with many of the people I encountered. I know it’s not fair to judge a full city by just a few people, but most of the people I talked to seemed unhappy, rude, or, well, cold.

Although I miss my family and friends back east, I was happy to brace myself against a brief, tear-inducing wind as I lugged my suitcases, full of Trader Joe’s and ready to go back to Alaska, toward the airport check-in counter. I love the colder-but-somehow-not-as-cold place I’ve chosen as home. It’s mostly about who I am in Alaska — someone able to be part of the outdoors even at its supposed worst, along with a big community of people who enjoy the same.

I’m sorry I ever doubted you, Boston. You out-colded me in what I can stand.

Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.

Zoe Hickel scores a goal but her team loses all-star hockey game

Alaska News - 3 hours 34 min ago

Anchorage’s Zoe Hickel scored a goal in a losing cause Sunday in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League all-star game in Toronto.

Hickel, a forward in the six-team professional league, furnished a third-period goal at Scotiabank Arena, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs. She was playing for Team Purple, which lost an 8-4 decision to Team Gold.

Hickel plays for the Calgary Inferno, which leads the CWHL with a 17-3 record. She’s tied for 13th place in league scoring with 18 points (5 goals, 13 assists).

Two of her Calgary teammates, Brianne Jenner and Brianna Decker, played on the winning team in the all-star game. Jenner scored a hat trick and Decker tallied two goals.

Senators hope defeat of dueling plans produces shutdown solution

Alaska News - 3 hours 40 min ago

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, speaks to the media on Capitol Hill in Washington on Oct. 5, 2018. Bloomberg photo by Andrew Harrer. (Andrew Harrer/)

WASHINGTON - The Senate plans to hold dueling votes Thursday to end the longest government shutdown in history. Like many, Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., thinks both proposals will fail.

That, in the eyes of Rounds and others, is the point.

"I think this is basically a public statement of what all of us know to already be the case," Rounds said in an interview. "But it provides an avenue."

Where that road will lead is an open question. Still, for the first time this year, the Senate is taking concrete steps to try to resolve the partial shutdown - offering a glimmer of hope for a deal to reopen shuttered agencies.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., agreed to hold initial votes on two starkly contrasting ideas that some lawmakers hope will mark a small but important step toward a solution.

The votes will test the abilities of McConnell and Schumer to unify their sides and, likely, to negotiate with each other afterward. In other dramatic fiscal showdowns over the past decade, the Senate has almost always been the chamber that found the bipartisan solution as the House hit roadblocks, from the Wall Street bailout of 2008 to reopening of government after the 2013 shutdown. But those were crises that predated President Donald Trump's mercurial presidency.

In effect, the defeat of both measures would demonstrate in the most concrete manner yet that what both sides have been pushing for is not possible in the Senate, and that some new compromise must be forged to pass the chamber.

Such a scenario might entice Trump to offer more concessions to Democrats while serving as a counter to their insistence that there is overwhelming support for their plan, according to a Senate Republican leadership aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid.

"Sometimes failure is a prelude to people looking at each other and saying, well, now we know what will fail, let's try to devise something that will succeed," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., in an interview.

First, senators will vote on Trump's latest offer to end the impasse - $5.7 billion to build a wall on the border with Mexico in exchange for temporary protections for some immigrants.

To advance, the bill will need 60 votes, under Senate rules. Republicans hold 53 seats, and Democrats are largely united against Trump's plan and his wall, giving it little chance of succeeding.

Next, the Senate will vote on the Democratic plan - open up the government without wall funding through Feb. 8, offering relief to federal workers and buying time to continue the negotiations on border security. Most Republicans oppose this idea, making 60 votes a very difficult target.

Both McConnell and Schumer have largely united rank-and-file senators in their respective parties behind their shutdown strategies. Thursday's votes, which were announced after McConnell and Schumer met privately Tuesday, will show whether that has changed or not.

After spearheading a stopgap bill to avert a shutdown last year only to be overruled by Trump, McConnell has opted to side staunchly with the president, bringing most Republican senators with him.

Schumer, in concert with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), has stood firm against border wall funding and demanded that Republicans immediately open the government. The other 46 members of the Senate Democratic Caucus are predominantly with him.

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., who is up for re-election and has faced pressure from Democrats to end the shutdown, said he plans to vote for Trump's bill but against the Democratic proposal.

"I voted yes on that before, back in December, and it didn't turn out well - we know the president's against it," Tillis said in an interview, speaking of the stopgap plan the Democrats are advocating.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a moderate also facing re-election, said she plans to vote to advance both bills. "The shutdown is so extraordinarily unfair," Collins said.

But other Republicans were more circumspect about how they would vote on the Democratic plan.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, another centrist, called both proposals "imperfect," but said she was leaning toward voting to proceed on both bills and would definitely vote to move forward with Trump's plan.

"Conventional wisdom out there is that neither one of them is going to proceed, so they will be viewed more as messaging amendments," Murkowski said. "I don't know, I think the folks that I work for back in Alaska are more than tired of messaging. They want some resolution to this."

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., said he supported Trump's bill. Asked about the Democratic plan as he prepared to depart on a subway in the Capitol, aides interjected to say, "thank you."

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a centrist who has broken ranks with his party in the past, was undecided on the Republican bill Wednesday afternoon, according to his spokesman, Jonathan Kott.

Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine who caucuses with the Democrats, said there is room for progress if both Thursday votes fail.

In a speech on the Senate floor, Schumer urged Republicans to vote for the plan he has embraced.

"To say: 'Well, one is a Democratic amendment, one's a Republican amendment' doesn't get the magnitude of this, the difference," he said. "Because one is holding 800,000 workers hostage, millions of Americans hostage, unless the amendment authors get their way. The second says: We're not demanding anything. Just open up the government and then let's discuss it."

McConnell defended the Republican plan. "The president has produced a fair compromise that pairs full-year government funding with immigration policy priorities from both sides. Enough political spite," he said in his floor speech.

Exactly where the Senate would go if the votes end in failure on Thursday was unclear. Neither McConnell's office nor Schumer's would speculate on next steps.

Until Trump's latest proposal, McConnell had taken a step back from the shutdown talks, placing the burden on Schumer, Pelosi and Trump to strike a deal.

But his decision to re-engage has opened the door to new possibilities. If he remains involved, McConnell, who helped forge bipartisan deals during Barack Obama's presidency, has the potential to alter the dynamic of the negotiations.

Yet the standoff could still be difficult to resolve. Schumer has held his caucus together in opposition to wall funding, and polls show Trump and congressional Republicans getting more blame from the public than congressional Democrats. Unless that changes, there will be little political incentive for the Democratic leader to budge.

A Democratic-controlled House increasingly at odds with Trump has made things even thornier - and put even more pressure on the Senate to help come up with a solution.

On the sidelines of Senate business, bipartisan talks have continued, in hopes of forging a deal at the rank-and-file level. So far, those discussions have produced no breakthroughs.

“We are trying to figure out how we get beyond tomorrow,” said Murkowski, exiting a small meeting of senators Wednesday.

Decade of heavy storms has helped Northwest glaciers, but don’t expect that to last, studies show

Alaska News - 3 hours 57 min ago

The summit of Mount Rainier, blanketed with cloud cover, as seen from the top of Mount St. Helens. (Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times/TNS) (Steve Ringman/)

SEATTLE — Glaciers in western North America over the past 18 years have lost some 117 gigatons of ice — enough that if it was melted and spread across the state of Washington it would come up our knees, said David Shean, co-author of a recent study cataloging glacial loss.

“It would be about 2 feet deep,” said Shean, a University of Washington professor of civil and environmental engineering. (A gigaton is 1 billion tons.)

Glaciers are flowing rivers of ice that survive summer’s heat, feed mountain streams with nearly ice-cold water for salmon, provide drinking water downstream and twirl hydropower turbines, generating electricity in the Northwest and elsewhere.

Understanding how glaciers are shrinking and the speed of that process could help predict local effects of climate change, and how these masses of ice are interacting with a warming world. This study and others suggest the melting of Northwest glaciers could intensify, as long-term weather patterns shift.

During the 18-year period of study, the glaciers that Shean and other scientists examined were responsible for nearly one-third of a millimeter of global sea level rise, according to the paper, which was published in Geophysical Research Letters earlier this month.

Shean’s team used new satellite imaging data and technology to measure the surface elevations of almost every glacier in western North America, excluding those in Alaska.

This kind of comprehensive inventory has never been done for the region before, Shean said.

Satellites took photos of glaciers from two different angles, he said. Software analyzed and combined those photos to create high-resolution topographic maps of each glacier. For many of the glaciers, scientists ended up with dozens of image sets. Some of the satellite photos were precise enough to visualize individual crevasses, Shean said, with each pixel representing a square foot of ice.

After all the data was collected, the scientists used a supercomputer to analyze changes to glacial mass over nearly two decades.

Warming temperatures have been shrinking glaciers in North America for several lifetimes. But this new data reveals the importance of variability in long-term patterns in the atmosphere during that process.

Almost every glacial region lost ice over the 18-year research period, according to the study, yet the scientists found that yearslong patterns of heavy moisture and storms can stave off glacial loss or even restore glacial ice and raise its surface height.

It all depends on winds blowing from the Pacific Ocean, the same atmospheric forces “pushing these low-pressure systems, these storms, that dump huge amounts of rain on Seattle” and into the Cascade Mountains, Shean said.

The research paper calls these high-elevation wind events “decadal scale changes in atmospheric circulation.” Shean compares them to a fire hose, launching moisture from the Pacific Ocean, that either aims toward the Pacific Northwest or further north in Canada. For glaciers, when it’s cold enough, these precipitation systems supply replenishing snowfall.

The paper split its 18 years of data into two periods: One from 2000-2009, and another 2009-2018. In general, when that stormy flow came in their direction, glaciers better maintained or — rarely — even grew their mass.

“For one decade you get the fire hose pointed at Mount Rainier and you get a lot of precipitation. And then another decade, when it’s pointed north, you get substantial losses,” Shean said.

During the early period of study, Cascade glaciers shrank substantially. Over the next nine years, heavy precipitation helped places like Mount Rainier interrupt glacial loss and in some areas make nominal gains.

In a separate study, another group of scientists, including a UW researcher, examined the phenomenon of natural variability on snowpack. They used 35 years of data from the SNOTEL network, made up of hundreds of automated snow-measurement stations high in the mountains.

That study, published recently in Geophysical Research Letters, suggests that a pattern of increasing moisture flowing from the Pacific between 1984 and 2018 has largely masked the effects of climate change on snowpack in the Pacific Northwest.

“There have been changes in the atmospheric circulation that have brought more moisture into the western U.S., and particularly the Pacific Northwest, that has offset much of the decrease of snowpack,” said Nick Siler, an assistant professor of atmospheric science at Oregon State University and the report’s lead author. “Climate models don’t simulate anything like these changes we’ve seen over the last 35 years.”

In other words, the fire hose has been aimed at the Pacific Northwest more often than expected in recent years. At some point, the researchers predict the long spell of moist offshore flow will subside or even reverse.

“We’re, at least, very unlikely to see that trend continue,” Siler said. “The climate-change signal masked over the last 35 years will become more clear.”

As temperatures warm, a long pattern of drier weather could lead to shallower snowpacks and increasing glacial melt, which could impact Northwest water supplies, threaten more fish and affect hydropower generation.

The two research papers, by separate groups of scientists analyzing different climate signals and using unrelated data — including measurements from both space and from on the ground — came to largely the same conclusion. Shean, who reviewed the research of Siler and others, said both research groups observed the same phenomenon of variability.

What happens next could reconfigure Northwest mountains.

“In the last few decades, it’s been pretty good for the glaciers in Washington and Oregon, because they got more snow. They’ve lost less mass,” Shean said. In coming decades, when precipitation moves elsewhere, “We may see our glaciers here in Washington really start to decline.”

Put people before politics

Alaska News - 4 hours 1 min ago

A man and his dog walk on the edge of the ice along Knik Arm with downtown Anchorage and the Chugach Mountains in the background on Tuesday, April 11, 2017. (Bob Hallinen / Alaska Dispatch News) (Bob Hallinen/)

During the past month, I’ve spent my nights and weekends on a listening tour throughout Midtown neighborhoods. We talk about the issues facing our communities and about my bid for the Anchorage Assembly’s Midtown seat. During these chats, I’m often asked: “What are you?” Meaning: Are you Democrat or Republican?

The question shows how deeply partisan politics have pervaded public service in our state. The Anchorage mayoral and Assembly races are deliberately nonpartisan, so the voting members of these local offices focus on providing essential public services rather than upholding a political platform. These elected officials need to cooperate, and partisan politics is not known for fostering cooperation.

So, what am I? I’m an undeclared voter, mother, foster mom, wife, friend, attorney and small-business owner, and I’m a neighbor who has chosen to live in Midtown and cares deeply about the future of our neighborhoods. I’m the kind of person who believes that more can be done with less, close neighbors build strong and safe neighborhoods, and the government should be representative of the people.

I am not concerned with political party affiliations, because I believe our local elected officials should concentrate on solving our community’s challenges and should weigh that merit of ideas based on their value to the community rather than their adherence to a party platform.

Our communities are facing many serious issues — crime, homelessness, decreased financial support from the state and affordable housing are just a few. These issues won’t be solved with Democratic or Republican solutions. They’ll be solved by listening to each other, working together, and doing what’s right for Anchorage.

As we head into the municipal election cycle full swing, please consider contacting your district’s candidates and telling them what you think. I know I want to hear from you.

Meg Zaletel is an Anchorage Assembly candidate, running for the Midtown district seat.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Swirbul finishes 26th, Wonders 43rd at U23 ski championships

Alaska News - 4 hours 10 min ago

A pair of Anchorage skiers finished well off the winning pace Wednesday at the U23 World Championships in Lahti, Finland.

Hailey Swirbul finished 26th in the women’s 10-kilometer freestyle race, and Hunter Wonders placed 43rd in the men’s 15K free. Both are members of Alaska Pacific University’s Nordic ski program.

Victories went to Russia’s Mariya Istomina in the women’s race (25 minutes, 57.3 seconds) and France’s Jules LaPierre (34:02.8). Swirbul was 2:09.5 behind Istomina, and Wonders was 3:20.8 behind LaPierre.

The race series is for skiers under 23. They are being held in conjunction with the World Junior Championships for skiers under 20. On Tuesday, Anchorage’s Gus Schumacher skied to sixth place in the World Junior 10K race, the best distance finish by an American man in World Junior history.

ASD sets February for makeup of school days missed because of earthquake

Alaska News - 4 hours 34 min ago

Anchorage School District students will make up in February some of the school days lost to the weeklong, post-earthquake closure of all schools in December.

Cleanup and repair work at Bartlett High School on Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018, as a result of the Nov. 30 7.0 earthquake. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

On Tuesday, the Anchorage School Board approved a plan to change the district calendar for the week of Feb. 18.

The week was previously scheduled to have early release Wednesday and Thursday for parent-teacher conferences and no school Friday for students while teachers participated in professional development.

Under the new plan, students will still have Monday, Feb. 18, off because it’s Presidents Day, a federal holiday. The rest of the week will be full school days for students.

Principals will work with schools to make sure parent-teacher meetings still happen -- but there won’t be time set aside for them, said district spokeswoman Catherine Esary.

“We’re not going to get comfortable not doing parent-teacher conferences," Superintendent Deena Bishop told the School Board on Tuesday night. "This is just a short-term fix for an unexpected emergency.”

The plan will allow the district to meet the minimum number of school days required by the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, said Esary.

ASD canceled school for a week in the immediate aftermath of the Nov. 30 earthquake, which damaged each of the district’s 90-plus facilities.

Students missed school Dec. 3 to 7 and returned on Dec. 10.

The plan approved by the school board Tuesday night will:

• Allow the district to declare Monday, Dec. 3, a “district emergency closure day.” The district will request that the state commissioner of education excuse the missed days between Dec. 4 and Dec. 6.

• Allow the district to make up some of the lost instructional time by extending scheduled half-days in February for parent-teacher conferences to full days.

• The district will still have an extra “emergency closure” day built into this school year -- typically used for inclement weather -- “should the need arise.”

The question of what to do about the missing days was the subject of lengthy debate at Tuesday’s board meeting.

The board and district considered other plans to make up the days, including adding days to the end of the school year, subtracting from spring break or even adding minutes to school days.

The board knows the week of Presidents Day is a popular time for families to travel, and some may already have plans, said school board chair Starr Marsett.

Principals have been told to “work with your students, work with your staff. If they have plans, don’t let students get behind,” she said.

Ultimately, the district and board thought the plan to extend the parent-teacher conference days was the least disruptive. Anchorage Education Association president Tom Klaameyer called the proposal “the least of the worst options.”

School board members Andy Holleman, Marsett, Alisha Hilde and Deena Mitchell voted for the proposal Tuesday night. Board members Mark Foster and Dave Donley voted no.

Board member Elisa Snelling was not present, according to online board documents.

4.2 aftershock ‘closer to Anchorage than most’ shakes Southcentral Alaska

Alaska News - 4 hours 38 min ago

An aftershock with a preliminary magnitude of 4.2 struck 9 miles northwest of Anchorage on Wednesday afternoon, according to the Alaska Earthquake Center.

The earthquake, which shook Southcentral Alaska at 3:16 p.m. at a depth of about 9.5 miles, came less than a day after a 4.5 aftershock jolted the region Tuesday evening.

Preliminary magnitude for the 3:16pm aftershock is 4.2. It was down on the southern end of the rupture patch, so it was closer to Anchorage than most. Felt by many. https://t.co/L1kkBvBn6J

— AK Earthquake Center (@AKearthquake) January 24, 2019

The shaker is the latest of thousands of aftershocks that have left Alaskans feeling anxious and worried in the aftermath of the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that struck Nov. 30. Seismologists expect aftershocks to continue in the region for several months.

Related stories

Why are different quake magnitudes reported, and when do these stop being aftershocks?

Officials push to keep dozens of earthquake sensors slated for removal across Alaska

Prediction of another big Anchorage quake ‘not founded in reality,' Alaska seismologists say

Revenue commissioner outlines a new direction for Alaska’s gas pipeline project - Alaska Public Radio Network

Legislative News - 4 hours 51 min ago
Revenue commissioner outlines a new direction for Alaska’s gas pipeline project  Alaska Public Radio Network

Alaska's natural gas pipeline export project is headed in a new direction.  . And that direction looks a lot like a previous version of the project: one that was led ...

At least five dead after gunman barricades himself in Florida bank, authorities say

Alaska News - 4 hours 55 min ago

Law enforcement officials take cover outside a SunTrust Bank branch, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019, in Sebring, Fla. Authorities say they've arrested a man who fired shots inside the Florida bank. (The News Sun via AP)

At least five people are dead after a gunman opened fire Wednesday afternoon at a SunTrust Bank in Sebring, Florida, authorities said.

The ordeal began about 12:30 p.m., when a man contacted emergency dispatchers to report that he had fired shots inside the bank, according to the Highlands County Sheriff's Office.

When police arrived, they surrounded the building and attempted to negotiate with the gunman from outside the bank, the Sheriff's Office said.

"After negotiations to try to get the barricaded subject to exit the bank were not successful, the HCSO SWAT team entered the bank and continued the negotiations," the Sheriff's Office said.

The suspect, later identified as 21-year-old Zephen Xaver of Sebring, eventually surrendered, authorities said.

A sheriff's department armored vehicle arrives at a SunTrust Bank branch, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019, in Sebring, Fla. Authorities say they've arrested a man who fired shots inside the Florida bank. (The News Sun via AP)

When police entered the bank, they discovered "at least five victims - people who were senselessly murdered as a result of (the gunman's) act in this bank," Sebring Police Chief Karl Hoglund said at a news conference.

Hoglund did not elaborate on whether there were others who were wounded.

"Today's been a tragic day in our community," Hoglund said. "We've suffered significant loss at the hands of a senseless criminal doing a senseless crime."

At the news conference Wednesday afternoon, Hoglund said police had not finished identifying the victims or notifying their families.

He and other officials did not take questions or give possible motives for the shooting.

"Obviously, this is an individual who needs to face very swift and exacting justice," Gov. Ron DeSantis said of the gunman.

Authorities said another news conference is planned for late Thursday morning.

The incident threw Sebring, a central Florida city about 80 miles south of Orlando, into a frenzy, closing part of U.S. Highway 29 for much of the afternoon. A nearby kindergarten and elementary school were temporarily placed on lockdown as well, WFLA News Channel 8 reported.

Throughout the day, aerial footage from the scene by a news station showed several police cars surrounding the bank, where the entrance was mangled and shattered.

Earlier Wednesday, authorities had directed co-workers and relatives of anyone who was at the bank to go to a nearby hotel.

"ONLY co-workers and family members please," the Sheriff's Office said.

Representatives for SunTrust bank did not answer questions and said they were "deeply saddened" by the shooting at their Sebring branch.

"We are working with officials and dedicating ourselves to fully addressing the needs of all the individuals and families involved," SunTrust CEO Bill Rogers said in a statement. "Our entire team mourns this terrible loss."

Mass shootings in Florida have cut down students, travelers and clubgoers in recent years.

The Sebring shooting occurred just weeks before the first anniversary of the Parkland massacre, which saw 17 students and staffers killed in a high school on Feb. 14, 2018. In January 2017, a traveler flew to the Fort Lauderdale airport and then shot and killed five people in the baggage claim area.

In June of that same year, police said a disgruntled ex-employee returned to an Orlando factory after being fired and gunned down five former colleagues. A year earlier, a gunman who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State killed 49 people in Orlando's Pulse nightclub.

- - -

The Washington Post’s Mark Berman contributed to this report.

Onsite use rules concern new pot board member

Alaska News - 5 hours 11 min ago

JUNEAU - A law enforcement officer newly appointed to the board that regulates Alaska’s legal marijuana industry said the issue of onsite consumption should be revisited, if possible.

Lt. Christopher Jaime, an Alaska Wildlife Trooper from Soldotna who also has worked as an Alaska State Trooper, acknowledged that Alaskans voted to legalize the recreational use of cannabis and told The Associated Press that respecting the wishes of the people is important but sensible regulations also are needed.

Jaime said he wants to educate himself on the issues facing the board.

"I'm not even going there with these grand plans of changing anything or everything," he said, adding that he wants to learn the direction of the board and see what direction the Department of Public Safety is going. "We already opened the door, now we need to regulate it and go slow."

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy appointed Jaime to the public safety seat on the Alaska Marijuana Control Board, replacing Sitka Police Chief Jeff Ankerfelt. Ankerfelt was appointed by former Gov. Bill Walker but had not yet been confirmed by the Legislature.

Ankerfelt was a critical vote last month to approve rules for allowing onsite use of marijuana at authorized stores. A Dunleavy spokesman has said the decision to replace him wasn't based on prior policy positions.

When it comes to onsite use, Jaime said he is concerned about impairment.

The proposed rules for allowing onsite use of marijuana at authorized stores were sent to the Department of Law for further review and must yet be finalized. Once they are, interested businesses would have to apply for a special onsite use endorsement and devise plans that would meet ventilation and other standards and pass muster with the board.

Chris Lindsey, senior legislative counsel with the Marijuana Policy Project, has said that Alaska would have the first regulatory framework for onsite use at the state level.

Cary Carrigan, executive director of the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association, said he hopes onsite use moves forward. He envisions onsite use areas akin to wine-tasting rooms. "We're not looking to have people just stand around for six hours and smoke," he said.

Carrigan understands the new members will need time to get up to speed on issues affecting the industry. Dunleavy is also replacing Brandon Emmett, one of two industry representatives on the board who was a strong advocate for rules allowing onsite use.

Carrigan said the industry has proven itself to be responsible and answerable to the public. “Every time something has come up to that needed to be addressed by the industry, we have done so,” he said.

Another Sand Point fisherman is chomped on by a sea lion

Alaska News - 5 hours 15 min ago

A sea lion lunged from the Sand Point harbor and bit a fisherman’s leg in the Aleutian Islands fishing town that’s now experienced three injurious run-ins with the massive marine mammals in two years.

A sea lion swims in a tank at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward on May 4, 2017. (Bob Hallinen / ADN archive) (Bob Hallinen/)

The attack happened around 4:30 p.m. Sunday.

“The sea lion came out of the water on the back of the fishing boat Celtic and bit a male fisherman on the right thigh,” said Sand Point police officer David Anderson.

Other crew members took the man to the clinic, where he was treated and released, Anderson said.

All three attacks in Sand Point have involved fishermen bitten on the leg by a Steller sea lion.

A similar incident happened last fall, the officer said, when a sea lion bit someone on a fishing boat. A third fisherman was bitten in the harbor in January 2017.

The city’s Department of Public Safety on Monday morning posted a warning on Facebook: “Please be careful walking around the docks in the harbor. We had another reported sea lion bite.”

Later that day, more details emerged when the city shared information from someone who apparently interviewed the boat’s captain: With the Celtic tied up in the harbor, the crewman was helping pull a pollock net off a drum when the sea lion lunged up the stern ramp and bit him. Then it tried to drag him into the water.

The crewman, who stayed on the boat as the animal yanked on him, spent six hours at the clinic getting stitched up.

The crewman couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.

A shared Facebook post includes a gory photo of several gaping wounds in the man’s thigh.

The fisherman injured by a sea lion last fall had similar-looking injuries, Anderson said.

The prior attack, in January 2017, also involved a fisherman bitten in the calf while he worked on a boat. He reported the animal tried to drag him in the water, too. Doctors in Anchorage told him the gaping wound looked like a bear bite.

It’s unclear whether the same animal was behind any of the attacks.

Nearly 600 miles from Anchorage, Sand Point is on the northwest portion of treeless Popof Island, part of the Shumagin Island group south of the Alaska Peninsula. It’s home to about 1,000 people.

Sea lions, carnivorous marine mammals that prey on salmon and other fish, live throughout Alaska. Steller sea lions in the southwestern part of the state, especially along the Aleutian Islands, are protected as endangered.

An adult female weighs about 550 pounds while males can weigh 1,200 pounds or far more.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is charged with protecting sea lions under the Endangered Species Act.

For years in coastal communities, sea lions' habit of munching lucrative fish -- not to mention spooked humans -- has set up a conflict between people wanting to eradicate aggressive animals and federal protections that govern their management.

A Cordova fishing boat captain and deckhand were convicted of killing sea lions after 15 dead Steller sea lions were found at the mouth of the Copper River at the start of the 2015 salmon fishing season.

Run-ins with aggressive sea lions generate one or two reports a year, NOAA officials have said. The agency began tracking such incidents in 2017.

No one was available to provide updated statistics this week due to the partial federal government shutdown.

Kathy Adams, who manages a Sand Point bed-and-breakfast, said she tells her husband to take a gun with him when he fishes commercially for salmon from their unprotected skiff.

“It’s scary,” Adams said.


Sea lion boards fishing boat, attacks fisherman in Sand Point

Sea lion bites man sitting on boat railing in Sitka harbor

After 3 days, ‘stressed’ sea lion that ventured into Sitka can’t find its way back to the ocean

After spending days aground in Sitka, a sea lion returns to the water – with help from humans

Gruening Middle School, Eagle River Elementary to remain closed through 2019-20 school year

Alaska News - 5 hours 15 min ago

Temporary supports prop up the walls at Eagle River Elementary School, which was severely damaged in the Nov. 30 earthquake. On Tuesday, the Anchorage School District announced both Eagle River Elementary and Gruening Middle School will be closed for the 2019-20 school year. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)

A Tuesday night announcement by the Anchorage School District sent another aftershock through an already battered Chugiak-Eagle River.

In a public letter, ASD superintendent Dr. Deena Bishop said Gruening Middle School and Eagle River Elementary School will be closed for all of the 2019-20 school year. The announcement extends closures that began Nov. 30, 2018, when a magnitude 7.0 earthquake left both buildings severely damaged.

“The District is committed to our students and staff and we understand the duress that this situation is causing students, parents, and staff affected by the earthquake,” wrote Bishop, who said ASD has made no decisions on the long-term future of either school. “This is a complex problem and future decisions will affect and influence many of the District’s schools in Eagle River and Chugiak.”

Students from the closed facilities have been attending other area schools since returning to class a week after the quake. About 600 middle-schoolers from Gruening have been moved to Chugiak High, while Eagle River Elementary’s roughly 400 students have been split between Birchwood ABC, Homestead and Ravenwood elementary schools.

Gruening students will remain at Chugiak through the 2019-20 school year, but the district has yet to make a decision about elementary programs. The transition for middle-school programs has gone relatively smoothly at Chugiak, which was already well under capacity.

“Feedback from staff and parents indicates that this arrangement appears to be working well and the District is fortunate that CHS can house the GMS program with limited and manageable impact,” she wrote.

Determining what to do with the elementary school programs won’t be as easy. Students from the school were split up by grade levels, but Bishop said ASD may opt for a different arrangement in 2019-20.

“The District will evaluate, with the school community’s stakeholders, the benefits of keeping families together in one school or dividing students by grade levels among elementary schools as is the present case,” she wrote.

Built in 1961, Eagle River Elementary in downtown Eagle River suffered cracks in its concrete walls, which are currently being propped up from the outside with temporary support beams. At Gruening, initial assessments showed major damage to a stairwell and interior concrete facade at the 35-year-old school, which is located about a mile up the Eagle River Valley from the shuttered elementary school.

A placard outside Eagle River Elementary School warns people of "wall collapse" at the school, which was severely damaged in the Nov. 30 earthquake. On Tuesday, the Anchorage School District announced both Eagle River Elementary and Gruening Middle School will be closed for the 2019-20 school year. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)

It’s unknown when — or even if — students will be able to return to either school.

“Of note, this announcement is specific to the coming academic year and does not infer pending decisions on the future status of those buildings or a projected timeline to complete any actions,” she said.

The district has previously explored closing Gruening and turning nearby Eagle River High into a middle school. In 2015, the Anchorage School Board considered the idea after board member Eric Croft called for a public discussion about the proposal.

Gruening has been dogged by structural problems since its construction in the early 1980s. The school’s planned opening date was pushed back a year after engineers discovered problems with the design and construction of the school’s roof.

More information can also be found on the district’s website, asdk12.org, or on its social media platforms. Here’s the complete letter released Tuesday by the district:

January 22, 2019


To School Board, Staff/Families of affected schools, Media, and posted online ASD District News (linked to Earthquake Hot Topics page):

Good evening staff and families (Eagle River Elementary School and Gruening Middle School, Chugiak High, Ravenwood, Homestead, and Birchwood school communities),

Before this evening’s School Board meeting, the School Board and I would like to share information with you pertaining to the continuing plans for students at Eagle River Elementary School and Gruening Middle School.

Based on structural engineer reports recently received by the Administration, the Anchorage School District has determined that Gruening Middle School (GMS) and Eagle River Elementary School (ERES) buildings, which were significantly damaged during the November 30 earthquake, will not be available for the 2019-2020 academic year. Of note, this announcement is specific to the coming academic year and does not infer pending decisions on the future status of those buildings or a projected timeline to complete any actions.

The District is committed to our students and staff and we understand the duress that this situation is causing students, parents, and staff affected by the earthquake. This is a complex problem and future decisions will affect and influence many of the District’s schools in Eagle River and Chugiak. We are committed to be transparent and to provide as much information as is available. When possible, we want to engage our community partners to inform outcomes.

The District is actively working to anticipate needs and plan for both the GMS and ERES programs to ensure we provide an outstanding education and experience for our students. We continue to learn and adapt from the measures we implemented following the earthquake.

Specific to the next academic year, the District plans to sustain the GMS program at its current location within Chugiak High School (CHS). Feedback from staff and parents indicates that this arrangement appears to be working well and the District is fortunate that CHS can house the GMS program with limited and manageable impact.

As a divided program, ERES presents a more complex problem. The District is working to assess the current program as it exists in Homestead Elementary, Birchwood ABC, and Ravenwood Elementary schools. Following the earthquake, the District chose to keep ERES students with their teachers when apportioning student populations to the gaining schools. As it was mid-year, the continuation of teacher/student relationships allowed teachers to provide their students with emotional supports needed because of the traumatic event. As summer provides for a normal and anticipated classroom transition, the District will evaluate, with the school community’s stakeholders, the benefits of keeping families together in one school or dividing students by grade levels among elementary schools as is the present case.

We appreciate the cooperation and teamwork of the entire Eagle River and Chugiak communities in providing assistance and meeting the ongoing needs of students and families.

Sincerely yours,

Dr. Deena Bishop

ASD Superintendent

Transforming Alaska’s next 60 years: The inter-continental railway

Alaska News - 5 hours 18 min ago

Tankers Atalanta T and Atlantic Frontier offload a combined 525,000 barrels of jet fuel at the Port of Alaska on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. The port has a total liquid fuel storage capacity of 3.4 million barrels, or over 140 million gallons. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes / ADN/)

This month, Alaska celebrated its 60th anniversary of statehood. Much of the economic and population growth of Alaska as a U.S. territory and as the 49th state have been tied to air, highway, shipping ports and rail transportation improvements. The completion of the Alaska Railroad in 1923 and aviation improvements throughout the 20th century resulted in successful growth for Alaska’s economy, as well as reliable access to goods and services for citizens throughout the state.

A potential bottleneck for sustaining Alaska’s future economic growth is the state’s dependency on the Port of Anchorage. More than 85 percent of the food, commercial goods, equipment and other commodities for Alaska citizens come through this single port. With an average of only three days’ supply of food on store shelves and warehouses statewide, the Nov. 30 earthquake renewed awareness of the risks to all Alaskans if the port is severely damaged in a future earthquake.

At this point in the 21st century, Alaska is poised to be transformed over its next 60 years by an innovative transportation project -- the InterContinental Railway. The project would build more than 5,000 miles of new railroad to connect North America with Russia and Asia via Alaska and a 60-mile tunnel under the Bering Strait.

The route of the InterContinental Railway will place Alaska in the geographic center of global commerce as more than 100 million gross tons of freight move annually through the Bering Strait Tunnel, providing faster shipping times between the United States, China and other destinations of global commerce on electrically powered, zero-emission trains.

For the future of Alaska, the east-west route of the ICR will create a remarkable trans-Alaska right-of-way for the transmission of electricity, natural gas, telecommunications and fresh water. The electrified rail line and branches to the North Slope, Nome and other areas in Alaska will provide transportation and power for the responsible access and development of Alaska’s natural resources. The project will also be important to create jobs and improve the cost of living and quality of life across the state.

For example, Alaska will be connected to the Lower 48 for the first time by rail. This will create incredible efficiencies and reliability in access to raw materials, equipment and components for Alaska businesses and lower the costs of shipping finished products to customers throughout the U.S. and the world. These improved supply chain economics will be a game changer for diversifying Alaska’s economy and reducing dependency on revenues from oil and gas production.

The ICR rail connection to the Lower 48 will also provide Alaska with an alternate transportation supply line for food supplies, heavy equipment and rebuilding materials should the Port of Anchorage be severely damaged by a future earthquake.

Although the InterContinental Railway will cost more than $100 billion to construct, private international construction consortiums are expected to maximize the use of private financing to reduce the need for direct government financing. The ICR price tag is also a bargain, because the Bering Strait rail tunnel and infrastructure assets will have a useful life of between 100 years and 200 years, creating economic growth and activity for generations to come in Alaska.

During recent InterContinental Railway community meetings held in Anchorage, Nome, Wales and Diomede, Native councils and tribal elders pointed out the importance of ensuring that Native communities are part of the decision-making process for the project to ensure respect of native traditions, lands and opportunities to train and hire Alaskans. They also recognized the importance of these decisions to ensure that the InterContinental Railway improves the quality of life for generations to come in a way that is in harmony with tribal traditions and in respect for the animals, plants and lands that are important for subsistence living.

The InterContinental Railway is a project that will also require developing a mutually beneficial treaty for the U.S., Canada, Russia, China and other countries to ensure international cooperation and commitment to the project. Despite recent issues in U.S.-Russia relations, the ICR is a project that will build on the current success of transportation, fishing, telecommunications and space exploration projects with Russia. It will also augment China’s status as Alaska’s biggest foreign trading partner.

Alaska’s next 60 years will include important milestones such as the centennial of the Alaska Railroad, our nation’s 250th birthday and Alaska’s statehood centennial. The InterContinental Railway is a project that will transform Alaska’s future with more jobs, responsible resource development as well as reducing the cost of living and improving the quality of life for all Alaskans statewide. The ICR will also transform the future of global commerce and international relations by building a remarkable transportation asset for the peace, progress and prosperity of all nations involved.

George Koumal and Joseph Henri are the co-founders of the InterContinental Railway. Scott Spencer is the Chief Project Advisor for the ICR. More information is available at www.InterContinentalRailway.com.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.