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Alaska to get more than $10M from feds to fight opioid addiction

Alaska News - 1 hour 5 min ago

Officials say Alaska is receiving more than $10 million to help fight its opioid problem.

The $10.4 million announced Wednesday is among more than $1 billion distributed to states by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

For Alaska, about $4 million will go toward medication-based treatments. Nearly $6.4 million will go toward community health centers, rural organizations and academic institutions for increased access to services.

In Alaska, overdose deaths involving the synthetic opioid fentanyl and related synthetic opioids more than quadrupled last year – from eight deaths in 2016 to 37 in 2017.

Authorities say that given the state's small population – estimated at just under 740,000 last year – Alaska also has had one of the nation's highest per-capita death rates for prescription opioid overdoses since 2012.

Southcentral Alaska stakeholders seek solutions for imminent threats from waterfront erosion

Alaska News - 1 hour 28 min ago

Buildings on stilts hover over an eroded bank on the Homer Spit on Sept. 11. Federal officials made stops around Southcentral Alaska to educate stakeholders on best practices for battling erosion either on the coasts or river banks. (Photo/Elizabeth Earl/For the Journal)

HOMER — For most communities with waterfront, erosion is not a future problem. It's a daily issue for planners, businesses and residents with approaches differing by community.

In Homer, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities has used riprap barriers on the seaward side of the Homer Spit near town to prevent the road from washing out.

However, the riprap doesn't go all the way down, and recent high tides and strong winds have eaten away at the coast beneath a number of buildings, threatening to tip them into the water.

The riprap is an engineered solution to a natural problem, or what coastal management experts call "grey infrastructure." To save expense, look toward sustainability and preserve communities, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is conducting training on the effectiveness of green infrastructure.

It can also be called natural infrastructure, based on what a community is comfortable with, said Lauren Long with NOAA's Office of Coastal Management.

"Natural, nature-based solutions … it doesn't really matter which term to use, just use the terms that resonate most with your stakeholders," she told a group of residents, nonprofit workers and municipal, state and federal agency workers at a workshop in Homer on Sept. 11.

The office recently hosted a round of workshops on using green infrastructure to reduce coastal erosion in Alaska, with stops in Homer, Soldotna and Anchorage. Beyond the basic instruction, the course brought together local planners and experts to talk about ongoing projects.

As a broad definition, green infrastructure includes structures based on natural systems like wetlands and forestry to provide services such as flood control and heat abatement.

They can include a wide variety of project sizes, from landscape level to individual sites, and don't necessarily entirely exclude grey infrastructure, Long said.

"Both approaches are about bringing the natural and built environments together," she said. "…Green infrastructure isn't going to be the end-all-be-all. It's going to be a combination of green and grey."

Many parts of Alaska are less built up along the coasts than on the East Coast, where millions of people live in areas potentially subject to ocean storm surge submersion.

Attention to coastal infrastructure mounted in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which struck the entire eastern seaboard in 2012, leaving behind $70 billion in damage and leading to the deaths of an estimated 233 people.

However, a study published in August 2017 on the damaged communities and their infrastructure later showed that areas with intact coastal wetlands were spared about $625 million in damage because the marshes helped with flood control.

John Rozum with the NOAA Office of Coastal Management, who conducted the workshop in Homer with Long, cited the flood mitigation wetlands as example of an ecosystem service. They're specific to certain areas, and what may work in Massachusetts may not work in Anchorage.

"You have to be able to look at these practices … (and say) if this area was undeveloped, what would happen?" Rozum said.

He pointed to cities that have installed areas of permeable pavement, which allows water to seep through and be absorbed by the ground beneath rather than concentrate into runoff and cause flooding issues, or the addition of trees on buildings or streets to help offset city heat island effects.

Alaska's communities already have more natural areas along their coasts than many areas of the country, he said, and preserving some of those structures — like dunes and coastal wetlands — will help buffer communities from damage and erosion.

Some communities in the state have tackled green infrastructure practices already, impacting erosion in areas inland as well as on the coasts. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game guides landowners who want to restore riverbanks toward practices using rootwad, spruce saplings and other natural vegetation as opposed to seawalls or riprap, in part to protect fish habitat.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation awards grants for projects designed to clean up bodies of water, and some of the funded projects have included green infrastructure projects, said Jeanne Swartz, a water quality specialist with DEC in Anchorage, at the workshop in Homer.

With largely clean waterways, much of the water pollution in Alaska is called non-point-source, such as road runoff.

At the same time, some areas may erode whether land owners and managers try to mitigate it or not. On the Arctic coast and in Western Alaska, some Alaska Native villages are looking at relocating entire communities because their coasts and rivers have eroded enough to leave buildings tumbling into the water.

On the Kenai Peninsula, retreating bluffs in Homer and Kenai have left cities with the puzzle of how to react, with residents and millions of dollars of property value getting closer and closer to the cliff edge every year.

Rozum said in response to a question that bluffs are a type of landscape that's hard to use green infrastructure to help.

"That's the hard part of living on the shore — (bluffs) were designed to erode," he said.

The Matanuska River is another creeping landscape that has left some neighbors with few options other than to simply move. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough has obtained federal funding to buy out some Matanuska River property owners who opt in to the program, with the recognition that the geography of the braided river system makes it likely to move.

The borough began asking property owners about a buyout and applying for federal funds in 2014, officially receiving notice of the funds in March 2018. About 75 percent of it will come from the federal government and 25 percent from the state.

The borough started with 15 properties, but one house became ineligible when it fell into the river in 2017, said Mat-Su Borough Floodplain Administrator Taunnie Boothby. The funds are scheduled to expire in September 2019, giving the borough about a year to reach agreements.

"This is a 100 percent voluntary project," she said. "There is no condemnation (for properties) or eminent domain."

The borough is not actively approaching landowners about the future danger to properties along the Matanuska River, but Boothby said she discusses possibilities with landowners on a case-by-case basis and is watching the success of several river bank revetment projects elsewhere in the borough.

There aren't any such projects on the Matanuska River at present, but landowners could undertake demonstration projects in the future and Fish and Game is actively recruiting for riverbank revetment grantees in the Mat-Su Valley, she said.

Some people ask why the borough isn't looking at solving the erosion problem on the river, but that's beyond the borough's power in both expense and authority, she said. The borough does have two flood service areas in which residents tax themselves for flood service and protection.

"The challenge with that is what they're taxing themselves is not sufficient for maintenance of the dikes," Boothby said. "We have a whole Matanuska River management plan that outlines what activities are acceptable and reasonable … but (fixing the river erosion problem) is not necessarily something the borough wants to tackle."

Elizabeth Earl can be reached at elizabethearl@gmail.com.

License delays and enforcement issues irritate Alaska marijuana entrepreneurs

Alaska News - 1 hour 34 min ago

KENAI — Two years after the state's first cannabis entrepreneurs received their licenses, business owners are still wrestling with hangups in the regulatory system.

Long waits for licenses, complex enforcement questions and expensive requirements are common in Alaska's cannabis business, frustrating some entrepreneurs. For some, it boils down to what they consider unreasonable obstacles to commerce, and wasn't what they pictured when Proposition 2 passed in 2014 to legalize recreational cannabis.

As of Aug. 15, about 80 would-be licensees were waiting on review through the state Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office. Though state statutes says they should be granted in about 90 days, most of them will likely be waiting for three to five months to even be reviewed, according to a director's report from AMCO Director Erika McConnell to the Marijuana Control Board for its upcoming Oct. 16 meeting.

For Dollynda Phelps of Nikiski, who co-owns limited cultivation business Peace Frog Botanicals, that time is money.

She's been waiting on a standard cultivation license for six months now, and every one of those months, she has been paying rent on a facility for the standard cultivation business, which she's required to prove she has as part of a complete application.

"I put in my application in March and I'm still waiting, and the whole time I'm paying rent and insurance on a building I'm not using," she said. "There are hundreds of us now, waiting."

The license wait is unacceptable, she said. After the first round of licenses were approved in June 2016, the wait time has steadily increased, occasionally topping a year.

Some of that comes down to manpower. Both McConnell and her predecessor, former AMCO director Cynthia Franklin, have cited heavy workloads on a limited staff contributing to wait times. AMCO agrees that the wait is too long.

In her director's report, McConnell wrote that license examiners are spending "an inordinate amount of time" going back and forth with licensees to hammer out pieces of applications that are missing or incomplete.

"This can mean that an examiner and an applicant go back and forth on their application documents multiple times," she wrote. "Sometimes an applicant is resistant to the advice from the examiner, although the examiner is only trying to help the applicant be successful, as the examiners pay attention to what the board comments on in applications."

Staffing has been an issue since the very beginning for the marijuana licensing office, which was born out of the office and staff that previously only managed alcohol licenses and enforcement.

A separate board was created, but the director and the staff remained the same with promises of future staff additions. Those staff members haven't yet materialized, leaving the existing staff with double the work they had before, said Cary Carrigan, the executive director of the industry group the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association.

Securing more staff for the office has been one of the association's goals for a while, he said. Though the industry is raking in money and the program is supposed to cover the office and board's expenses, the approximately $12.8 million in tax revenue collected from cultivators by the state goes to the general fund and has to be appropriated by the Legislature to the individual departments, so it doesn't go specifically to AMCO for administering the marijuana program.

So frustration mounts on both sides, with unreasonable workloads for the staff and compounding expenses for businesses still waiting on licenses, he said.

"It's my opinion and the opinion of the AMIA board that the (licensing wait time) is an undue burden," he said. "But what's the fix?"

Licensing isn't the only thing keeping AMCO busy, though. With the proliferation of businesses and activity, the enforcement side — which covers both alcohol and marijuana licensees — has been busy, too.

At an industry meeting among Kenai Peninsula cannabis business owners and employees, many commented that current regulations are unclear, and enforcement agents award notices of violation for items the owners or employees may not have known were against the rules. Obtaining too many violations can result in penalty actions from the board or issues with renewing licenses in the future.

The majority of inspections don't result in a notice of violation, according to a report from AMCO Enforcement Supervisor James Hoelscher to the Marijuana Control Board for the Oct. 16 meeting.

The number of them is declining as more business owners learn the rules and the board process, but the amount is still concerning, Carrigan said — if the federal government looks at those numbers and considers them a sign of an unruly cannabis industry, it could jeopardize the state's control, he said.

Cannabis has only been legal for recreational use in the state for a little less than four years, so public opinions are still changing, industry participants are still learning to trust regulators and enforcement officers after being illegal operators for decades, and regulators are still feeling out the best practices for monitoring the industry, Carrigan said.

"(The industry members) just need to be sure we're being heard with one voice," he said. "A dozen people yelling form the rafters is just a cacophony … We're trying to move incrementally forward."

The Kenai Peninsula operators have a small laundry list of other issues as well, including increased retention time for security footage, enforcement opposing the exchange of seeds — which cultivators want to use to expand their grow operations and diversify their strains — and plan to request a review of the board's recently passed requirement for testing on all cannabis trim.

The change increases costs for operators by requiring an additional testing fee. Most trim is reprocessed into another product that will also be tested for quality and safety, so the operators feel it's unnecessary.

Phelps said the burden will affect limited cultivation operations significantly, as they don't have the economy of scale to absorb the cost. And when they can't swallow the cost, they go under or pass the cost to consumers, which pushes prices up and may encourage them to go back toward the black market for cannabis, where it is not tested or tracked.

The Marijuana Control Board will meet Oct. 16-17 in Kenai at 145 Main St. Loop.

Elizabeth Earl can be reached at elizabethearl@gmail.com.

Siemens-led consortium plans to test old Houston well for gas to be sent to Fairbanks

Alaska News - 1 hour 59 min ago

A Siemens “LNGo” liquefaction unit. (Photo/File/AJOC)

A pair of Alaska Native organizations and a multinational industrial technology firm believe they can find the missing link to the natural gas supply chain for Fairbanks in an old exploration well near Houston.

Knikahtnu Inc., an Alaska Native village corporation, in a partnership with Siemens Government Technologies and the Knik Tribe, has applied to lease about 6,200 acres north of Big Lake from the Alaska Mental Health Trust Land Office on the prospect that the tract holds commercial quantities of natural gas.

The consortium presented a competing plan to the Alaska Industrial Development Authority's Interior Energy Project to supply LNG to the Fairbanks area via rail to the Interior Gas Utility Board of Directors in late August.

Siemens representatives told the IGU board they are in talks with multiple Cook Inlet gas producers and believe they can secure feedstock gas for $5 per thousand cubic feet, or mcf, of gas, which would be significantly cheaper than the gas price Southcentral gas and electric utilities have been able to secure on much larger volume contracts.

However, contracting for gas on favorable terms for the Interior could also be challenging because it is for a relatively small demand, likely starting at a little more than 1 billion cubic feet per year range and growing as Interior residents and businesses sign up for gas.

As a result, the partners are also looking to source their own gas — giving them control over the feedstock cost — which could cut the cost of the biggest variable in the supply chain in half, they contend.

AIDEA and IGU currently have a three-year supply contract with Hilcorp for $7.72 per mcf, while the Knik-Siemens proposal before the IGU board lists a "conservative" feedstock price of $4 per mcf for their own gas supply.

Getting additional natural gas supplies to the Interior has long been seen as a way to reduce at times crippling home heating costs, but supply chain and conversion expenses, combined with a relatively small gas market, have challenged the economics of making it happen.

The gas could also go a long way towards improving the air quality that often reaches unhealthy levels during winter in the Fairbanks area if it is cheap enough to get residents who currently burn wood or heating oil to convert their home systems.

Knikahtnu owns roughly 3,000 acres near Houston and the Alaska Railroad tracks that would be the site of a Siemens modular LNG plant, and, Knikahtnu leaders hope, eventually an industrial park fed by the gas.

The Knik Tribe is part of the plan on the premise that the Tribe is eligible for federal funding streams that could help improve the economics of the project.

Knikahtnu CEO Tom Harris said in an interview that the Mental Health Trust parcel and surrounding area has been explored for oil for nearly 50 years, but drillers kept finding gas.

"If you look at the drill history there's been a significant amount of gas there," Harris said.

There are coal seams in the area that are gradually being pushed downward in a geologic action called subduction with every one of the frequent, often unnoticed earthquakes that occur in Southcentral, Harris described. The subduction leads to "natural fracking" and coal bed methane production, he said, and that led the group to believe it is worth investigating further.

That's where the Mental Health Trust land comes in. Harris estimated it would cost $3 million to $5 million for each new well in the area, but the parcel the consortium wants to lease for 10 years — at $10 per acre per year — already holds the Northern Dancer-1 well.

Trust Land Office Executive Director Wyn Menefee said the Northern Dancer well drilled by now bankrupt Storm Cat Energy in 2006 was cased but never tested.

"It's basically closed, but it's not plugged and abandoned so it can be reopened and tested," Menefee said.

Prior investigations into coal bed methane in the Big Lake-Houston area were met with resistance by residents who didn't want industrial activity in and around neighborhoods, Menefee said, so it never materialized. In this case, however, the trust parcel is far enough away from populated areas that the "urban interface problem" shouldn't arise again, he said.

Menefee added that there's no telling whether the group will be successful, given the fickle nature of oil and gas exploration, but the lease application says the partners must either bring the well into production or finally plug and abandon it.

"There was enough interest to drill the well the first time; sure the finances for the company didn't work out. Right now, with Knikahtnu considering it, (if) certain things come together — the location, the potential resource, proximity to transportation infrastructure — all of those things start working well together," he said.

Harris commented that if the state Legislature had fully funded the Mat-Su Borough's half-finished and now stalled rail spur to Port MacKenzie, the whole Knik-Siemens proposal would be moot because the rail would go right past the existing LNG plant now owned by IGU.

———

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at elwood.brehmer@alaskajournal.com.

Alaska gas line agency chooses route for Kenai Spur Highway around proposed LNG plant - Anchorage Daily News

Legislative News - 2 hours 15 min ago

Anchorage Daily News

Alaska gas line agency chooses route for Kenai Spur Highway around proposed LNG plant
Anchorage Daily News
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is writing the environmental impact statement for Alaska LNG, does not have direct say over the highway work, but because it is a "non-jurisdictional connected action," actual highway construction cannot ...

Alaska gas line agency chooses route for Kenai Spur Highway around proposed LNG plant

Alaska News - 2 hours 22 min ago

State gas line officials have picked their plan to route a highway around the site for the massive LNG plant they hope to construct, but now they need to pay for it.

In June, Alaska Gasline Development Corp. leaders selected the shortest and least expensive route to bend the Kenai Spur Highway around the roughly 800-acre LNG plant site in Nikiski.

They are currently working to determine what it will cost to secure the right-of-way for the 3.4 miles of new road before further work can begin, said Frank Richards, AGDC vice president and Alaska LNG Project manager.

The "West LNG" route was picked from six alternative paths for the Kenai Spur Highway, in part because of its cost, but also because it will impact the fewest Nikiski residents, according to Richards.

The $20 million highway project will require AGDC to purchase seven residential properties and portions of two commercial parcels along the route, which, as its name implies, would curve the highway around the western edge of the LNG plant property.

The highway currently parallels the Cook Inlet shoreline and bisects the plant site.

"Really, what we saw (in public meetings) is people wanted the least impact to the community, the least impact to neighborhoods and wanted the shortest distance to be able to do that," Richards said in an interview.

The other options considered would have meant building between five and 12 miles of new road for $33 million to $85 million.


The “West LNG” route was picked from six alternative paths for the Kenai Spur Highway, in part because of its cost but also because it will impact the fewest Nikiski residents. (Map via Alaska Gasline Development Corp.)

A reroute option suggested by a group of residents would have required AGDC to purchase just five full properties, but the nearly 10-mile corridor would have affected 57 parcels in some way and cost $72 million to construct, according to AGDC estimates.

The resident-suggested route would have also impacted 126 acres of wetlands, which likely would have necessitated a substantial additional environmental review of the road construction. The West LNG alternative does not cross any wetlands, Richards noted.

ExxonMobil purchased most of the approximately 800 acres needed for the plant, LNG storage tanks and marine terminal in 2014 and 2015 when the company was leading the project in a partnership with BP, ConocoPhillips and the state.

Richards acknowledged that the Legislature gave AGDC the authority to invoke eminent domain to secure land for the $43 billion Alaska LNG Project, but said there are no plans to use it.

He added that he personally contacted the landowners who will be most directly impacted by the new road before AGDC made its selection public.

"Our process is going to be, we go through a negotiation and discussion with the private landowners; we're going to do an appraisal process to determine fair market value and negotiate a sales agreement with them," Richards said. "We want to be good neighbors in terms of the property acquisition."

The state-owned corporation has hired an engineering and surveying firm to delineate the exact right-of-way for the new stretch of highway. That is likely to continue through the rest of the year before more detailed design work and property acquisition can begin.

As someone who has had a highway routed through a parcel of family property, Richards said he understands this situation some Nikiski residents are being put in, but money will be available for those with properties in the path of the highway and not individuals on the edges of the work.

"We are concerned about the impacts to people's lives and how they're being impacted by this but we aren't in a position to be able to provide any monetary relief to folks that aren't directly impacted by the right-of-way necessary for the project," he said.

"That being said, we want to hear how folks are being impacted, specifically if their lands are directly adjacent to it.

Once the right-of-way is settled, AGDC plans to advance the road design to about 30 percent complete, at which point a design-build proposal will be put out to bid for a guaranteed not-to-exceed contract amount, according to Richards.

The corporation is consulting with the state Department of Transportation as well to make sure the highway it builds will meet federal standards, thus continuing its eligibility for federal maintenance funding, Richards said.

DOT Commissioner Marc Luiken serves on the AGDC board of directors.

He added that geotechnical and soil surveys done at the plant site indicate the nearby road work should be relatively straightforward process without any significant engineering hurdles.

AGDC is also working to determine just how much it will cost to purchase the parcels it needs for the highway, which will be in addition to the $20 million construction cost, he said.

Those costs are all rolled into the $43 billion price tag for the Alaska LNG Project.

However, AGDC needs to find a way to pay for it all before the properties can be purchased and the work can be put out to bid.

"The next phase will be contingent on us have the money to be able to ultimately go forward with construction," Richards said.

AGDC has contracted with the Bank of China and Goldman Sachs to help it solicit investments for the LNG project, but last session the Legislature opted not to give the agency the authority to accept outside funding, at least for now.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is writing the environmental impact statement for Alaska LNG, does not have direct say over the highway work, but because it is a "non-jurisdictional connected action," actual highway construction cannot be done until FERC approves the overall project, according to Richards.

FERC expects to issue its decision on the project by February 2020.

At that point, road work will start in earnest as AGDC wants to be able to needs to be able to shift traffic onto the new road before most of the foundational work can begin on the plant, Richards said.

——-

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at elwood.brehmer@alaskajournal.com.

Nome city manager to resign

Alaska News - 2 hours 38 min ago

Then-City Clerk Tom Moran presiding over Nome’s October 2014 election. (Matthew F. Smith, KNOM)

NOME — City Manager Tom Moran announced his resignation Monday night after a three-hour closed executive session of the city council.

"I think that we have made mistakes as an organization, and it is probably time for a change in leadership," Moran told the council. "So effective tonight, when I go upstairs after this meeting, I will send you in writing, each of you, a copy of my resignation letter. (It is) effective 30 days from today."

All members of the council were present and accepted Moran's resignation, with Councilman Adam Martinson attending via telephone.

Moran has been public about his desire to move on from his post. His previous contract ended Sept. 15, but he signed a six-month extension.

During the City Council meeting on Aug. 27, he said he thought it best to stay on until the new chief of police was trained. Robert Estes was sworn in as the new Nome police chief on Sept. 15.

At this time, there is no candidate lined up to fill the city manager position. Councilman Gerald Brown explained the temporary solution Monday night:

"The intent is to identify a temporary city manager, either locally or through the 'M-L,' and that person will run things until we find a permanent (hire)."

The "M-L" is the Alaska Municipal League, a nonprofit network of municipalities. Cities may use the league to find contacts for individuals who can specifically serve as interim city managers.

The search for a new city manager was underway before Moran's resignation announcement, with the position having been posted Sept. 11 to the job boards at the Alaska Municipal League and the International City Council Management Association. John Handeland, a former mayor of Nome, had previously been assigned the responsibility for the search and continues to hold that responsibility.

Editor's note: Tom Moran is a member of the KNOM Radio Mission Board of Directors.

Note: This article was originally published at KNOM.org and is republished here with permission.

We should revitalize the Alaska Independence Party. Here’s why.

Alaska News - 3 hours 56 min ago

A rare 49-star flag is displayed at the Willow Historical and Wildlife Museum on Tuesday, July 4, 2017, in Willow. Alaska, the 49th state, was admitted to the Union in January of 1959, and Hawaii followed shortly after in August of 1959. (Erik Hill / Alaska Dispatch News)

The Alaskan Independence Party was founded in 1984, and since its establishment, the party has grown to be the largest third party in the state. The AIP even held the governorship briefly, when Walter J. Hickel identified himself with the AIP from 1990-1994. Despite this, they lack an updated Facebook page, and their website has not been updated since 2010. Their website claims the AIP is "the largest of any third parties in the 50 states," yet their political inactivity breeds apathy amongst their considerable pool of voters.

I am registered with the AIP. I did not vote in the primaries, as the party I am registered with had not posted election information. And when I emailed the party's point of contact to solicit information, I did not receive a response. Nevertheless, in this age of disillusionment with bipartisan politics, I strongly agree with the platform of the AIP. This piece is a rallying cry to Alaskans, to rejuvenate the Alaskan Independence Party, to validate its platform.

From its official website, the party's members "advocate a range of solutions to the conflicts between federal and local authority; from advocacy for state's rights, through a return to territorial status, all the way to complete independence and nationhood status for Alaska." The AKIP's founder, Joe Vogler, was explicitly a secessionist, saying "I'm an Alaskan, not an American. I've got no use for America or her damned institutions." Many Alaskans may feel the same in the Trump era.

Alaska's path towards statehood was determined in a 1946 plebiscite (a non-binding popular vote). The results were 3:2 in favor of statehood. The AIP objects to the results of that plebiscite, citing the historic disenfranchisement of Alaska Natives, who comprised a larger percentage of the population then than today.

Also, the plebiscite only provided voters with two options for the fate of Alaska: remain a territory or become a state. From their website: "The Alaskan Independence Party's goal is the vote we were entitled to in 1958, one choice from among the following four alternatives:
– Remain a Territory.
– Become a separate and Independent Nation.
– Accept Commonwealth status.
– Become a State."

Secession was ruled to be unconstitutional, in the 2006 Kolhaas v. State court case. The appellant, Scott Kohlhaas, had drafted a ballot initiative "requiring the state of Alaska to vote on obtaining Alaskan independence, if legally possible, or to seek changes in existing law and constitutional provisions to authorize, and then obtain, independence." His initiative was denied on grounds of unconstitutionality.

From the court: "The states can exercise no powers whatsoever, which exclusively spring out of the existence of the national government … No state can say that it has reserved what it never possessed. 24 Like representation in Congress, secession from the Union springs from joinder to the Union. No state possessed a right to secede before admission, and so no state would retain such a right under the Tenth Amendment… we Alaskans committed ourselves to that indestructible Union, for good or ill, in perpetuity."

I call to challenge that court decision. I will refrain from rehashing the debate about the legality of secession; Americans have discoursed endlessly on that topic, ever since the United States' inception. Instead, I will quote James Madison, the Father of the Constitution: "But this dodges the blow by confounding the claim to secede at will, with the right of seceding from intolerable oppression. The former answers itself, being a violation, without cause, of a faith solemnly pledged. The latter is another name only for revolution, about which there is no theoretic controversy."

As a Founding Father of the Union, James Madison opposed arbitrary secession. Secession from intolerable oppression is permissible by the Founding Fathers, revolutionaries themselves. It is my view and the view of my compatriots that Alaskans are being oppressed by the federal government. I will make the case for the secessionist faction within the AIP.

More than 60 percent of land in Alaska is administered by the federal government. As a result, management of Alaska's natural resources is dictated by unelected bureaucrats. Is that not tyranny? No matter your position on development and the environment, many will agree that Alaskan land belongs in Alaskan hands.

As the U.S. engages in trade wars, an independent Alaska would make international trade agreements on our own terms. Our geographic position at the top of the Pacific grants us access to Asian and North American markets, and as Arctic shipping lanes open in the decades to come, European markets. Currently, we are relegated to the position of a dejected American outpost, yet almost all air cargo being transported between the United States and Asia flows through Ted Stevens Intl. Airport. Alaska's economic potential is much greater than what the U.S. allows.

Inarguably, federal money has been a lifeline for Alaskans. Yet the Trump administration has proposed severe cuts to several federal programs, particularly ones that support Alaska Native communities and their public safety and development. The justification? "The rationale for a unique and additional Federal subsidy to Alaska is difficult to justify given that the State of Alaska's oil revenues allow it to pay an annual dividend to each resident."

We are receiving fewer favors from the federal government, and I firmly believe an independent Alaskan government would manage a better budget that would provide for all. As civil welfare programs are cut, the federal defense budget has been fluffed. We are being exploited by a government thousands of miles away for military purposes.

The notion of secession begs the question: what would be the fate of American military bases in Alaska? The U.S. has maintained a military base in Cuba despite the longstanding conflict between the two nations. In the instance of secession, I am certain that a deal can be arranged between the U.S. and Alaska concerning American military bases, but I will leave such negotiations to experts. I do not want to imply that I want conflict between the U.S. and Alaska. A clean breakaway, without violence, would be preferred by all.

In national political conversations, Alaskans' voices are not heard because of our small population in comparison to the Lower 48. At the same time, we are being exploited for our land, our geography and our natural resources. The dignity of autonomy is not granted to more than 700,000 people. Secession would grant Alaskans the freedom to determine their own destiny without federal oversight. I encourage my fellow Alaskans to discuss the endless possibilities and consider the Alaskan Independence Party.

Marie Francis is a writer and educator. She lives in Southcentral Alaska.

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.

Woman dies in rollover crash northwest of Fairbanks

Alaska News - 4 hours 32 min ago

FAIRBANKS – A 26-year-old Fairbanks woman died when her pickup rolled northwest of the city.

Alaska State Troopers said Darla Thompson died in the crash on Murphy Dome Road in the Goldstream Valley.

Troopers took a call on the crash shortly before 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Thompson was behind the wheel of the pickup when it left the roadway and rolled several times. Emergency responders pronounced her dead at the scene.

The state medical examiner will conduct an autopsy.

2 South Carolina ‘detainees’ drown as sheriff’s department van is swept into floodwaters

Alaska News - 4 hours 36 min ago

Floodwaters surround tennis courts after Hurricane Florence struck the Carolinas Monday, Sept. 17, 2018, in Conway, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford) (Sean Rayford/)

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Two women who were being transported to a mental health facility drowned when a sheriff’s department van was swept away in rising South Carolina floodwaters, according to authorities.

Horry County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Brooke Holden said a sheriff's office van was carrying two "detainees" and two deputies to Darlington on Tuesday night when it was overtaken by floodwaters. Officials said the van was near the Little Pee Dee River, one of the bodies of water state officials were watching following the heavy rains of Florence.

In a statement emailed to reporters, Horry County Sheriff Phillip Thompson identified the women as Windy Newton, 45, and Nicolette Green, 43. Earlier Wednesday, Marion County Coroner Jerry Richardson had identified Newton with a different last name.

"They're still under the water," Richardson told The Associated Press early Wednesday. "It's come up 2 feet since just last night."

[Florence death toll climbs to 37 as Trump visits North Carolina]

Richardson said the van came across rising water and was carried off the road.

"They were trying to negotiate through fast-running water, and it just didn't work out," he told AP.

Holden said that deputies tried to get the victims out but couldn't. Rescue teams plucked the deputies from the top of the van.

Horry County Deputy Tom Fox told WPDE-TV the victims were mental health patients being transported from one facility to another. Holden wouldn't give further details on the victims' status, citing an ongoing state police investigation.

Neither woman has an arrest record in South Carolina, according to documents obtained from the State Law Enforcement Division. Their names also yielded no records in the Horry County jail and court index systems.

State police spokesman Thom Berry told the AP on Wednesday that agents were on the scene aiding in the recovery effort. Thompsons said his office would cooperate with the probe.

"Tonight's incident is a tragedy," he said. "Just like you, we have questions we want answered."

Thompson planned to address reporters later Wednesday. He said the two deputies involved had been placed on administrative leave and he had launched an internal investigation.

Justin Bamberg, a state lawmaker and lawyer who has represented the families of several people injured or killed by law enforcement officers, said Wednesday he's perplexed by the decision to transport anyone in such uncertain weather conditions.

“If that road is in an area where it is a flood risk, and waters were rising, why were they driving on that road anyway?” he said. “People need to know exactly how it happened. It makes it seem like someone took a very unnecessary risk in creating the problem in the first place.”

Florence death toll climbs to 37 as Trump visits North Carolina

Alaska News - 4 hours 37 min ago

Augustin Dieudomme looks out at the flooded entrance to his apartment complex near the Cape Fear River as it continues to rise in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in Fayetteville, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/David Goldman) (David Goldman/)

WILMINGTON, N.C. — The death toll from Hurricane Florence climbed to at least 37, including two mental health patients who drowned when a sheriff’s van was swept away by floodwaters, and North Carolina’s governor pleaded with thousands of evacuees not to return home just yet.

President Donald Trump, meanwhile, arrived in storm-ravaged North Carolina on Wednesday and helped volunteers at a church in the hard-hit coastal town of New Bern.

"How's the house?" Trump was heard asking one person as distributed plastic foam containers of food, including hot dogs, chips and fruit. "You take care of yourself."

Wilmington, population 120,000, was still mostly an island surrounded by floodwaters, and people waited for hours Tuesday for handouts of food, water and tarps. Thousands of others around the state waited in shelters for the all-clear.

"I know it was hard to leave home, and it is even harder to wait and wonder whether you even have a home to go back to," Gov. Roy Cooper said.

After submerging North Carolina with nearly 3 feet (1 meter) of rain, the storm dumped more than 6.5 inches (16.5 centimeters) of rain in the Northeast, where it caused flash flooding.

Cooper warned that the flooding is far from over and will get worse in places.


President Donald Trump visits the Temple Baptist Church, where food and other supplies are being distributed during Hurricane Florence recovery efforts, Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018, in New Bern, N.C. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Evan Vucci/)

“I know for many people this feels like a nightmare that just won’t end,” he said.

Addressing roughly 10,000 people who remain in shelters and "countless more" staying elsewhere, Cooper urged them to stay put for now, particularly those from the hardest-hit coastal counties that include Wilmington, near where Florence blew ashore on Friday.

Roads remain treacherous, he said, and some are still being closed for the first time as rivers swelled by torrential rains inland drain toward the Atlantic.

At least 27 of the deaths happened in North Carolina.

In South Carolina, two women died on Tuesday evening after a van taking the mental health patients from one facility to another was overtaken by rising floodwaters near the Little Pee Dee River, authorities said.

The risk of environmental damage mounted, as human and animal waste was washed into the swirling floodwaters.

More than 5 million gallons of partially treated sewage spilled into the Cape Fear River after power went out at a treatment plant, officials said, and the earthen dam of a pond holding hog waste was breached, spilling its contents. The flooding killed an estimated 3.4 million chickens and 5,500 hogs on farms.

In Wilmington on Tuesday, workers began handing out supplies using a system resembling a giant fast-food drive-thru: Drivers pulled up to a line of pallets, placed an order and left without having to get out. A woman blew a whistle each time drivers had to pull forward.

Todd Tremain needed tarps to cover up spots where Florence's winds ripped shingles off his roof. Others got a case of bottled water or military MREs, or field rations. An olive-drab military forklift moved around huge pallets loaded with supplies.

Brandon Echavarrieta struggled to stay composed as he described life post-Florence: no power for days, rotted meat in the freezer, no water or food and just one bath in a week.

"It's been pretty bad," said Echavarrieta, 34, his voice breaking.

About 3,500 vehicles came through for supplies on the first day they were available, county officials said in a Facebook post.

Supplies have been brought into the city by big military trucks and helicopters,

At Fayetteville, about 100 miles inland, near the Army’s sprawling Fort Bragg, flooding from Cape Fear River got so bad that authorities closed a vehicle bridge after the water began touching girders supporting the span’s top deck.

Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin said it was unclear if the bridge was threatened.

"We've never had it at those levels before, so we don't really know what the impact will be just yet," he said.

___

Waggoner reported from Raleigh, North Carolina. AP photographer Gerry Broome in Lumberton, North Carolina; Gary Robertson in Raleigh; Alex Derosier in Fayetteville, North Carolina; and Jay Reeves in Atlanta contributed to this report.

Candidates fill forums as elections approach

Juneau Hot Topics - 7 hours 34 min ago
Those will be followed by local forums for statewide office and Ballot ... hosted by the League of Women Voters of Juneau, KTOO and the Empire.

Feds plan funding boost to fight assaults on Native women

Alaska News - 7 hours 43 min ago

FILE - In this July 14, 2018 file photo, Kenny Still Smoking stands over the tombstone of his 7-year-old daughter, Monica, who disappeared from school in 1979 and found frozen on a mountain, as he visits her grave on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Browning, Mont. A top U.S. Justice Department official says it’s doubling the amount of federal funding for tribal public safety and crime victims as it seeks to tackle the high-rates of violence against Native American women. The announcement on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018, comes amid increased focus on the deaths and disappearances of Native American women and girls in the United States. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File) (David Goldman/)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The U.S. Justice Department will double the funding it grants tribes for public safety programs and crime victims as it seeks to tackle the high-rates of violence against Native American women, a top official said.

In an interview, the Justice Department's third-highest ranking official told The Associated Press that officials are seeking, in part, to address the issue with more than $113 million in public safety funding for 133 tribes and Alaska Native villages that will be announced Wednesday, and another $133 million that will be awarded in the coming weeks to tribes to help serve Native American crime victims.

The announcement comes amid increased focus on the deaths and disappearances of Native American women and girls in the United States.

"We recognize the serious nature of the problem we're facing and we are trying through a variety of strategies — both through the funding and the use of our own prosecutors, and building up awareness — to address these issues," said Jesse Panuccio, the Justice Department's acting associate attorney general.

For decades, tribes largely had been unable to directly access money in a federal program aimed at supporting crime victims nationwide — even as federal figures showed more than half of Native American women had encountered sexual or domestic violence at some point during their lives. On some reservations, Native American women are murdered at a rate more than 10 times the national average.

Nationwide, figures at the end of 2017 showed a disproportionate number of them listed as missing. An AP report this month found based on figures obtained from an FBI database that there were 633 open missing person cases for Native American women, who comprise 0.4 percent of the U.S. population but 0.7 percent of cases overall. African-American women were the only other group to be overrepresented in the caseload compared to their proportion of the population.

[Despite past reforms, Native women face high rates of crime]

The Justice Department announcement follows years of federal legislative efforts that have attempted to fix a system that many say has left Native American women especially vulnerable to violent crime. Legal experts and victims' advocates have blamed both underfunded police departments that lack the resources to investigate crimes, and lingering jurisdictional gaps among federal, tribal and local law enforcement agencies that often resulted in cases going unprosecuted.


FILE - This file combination of images from various law enforcement agencies and organizations shows posters of missing and murdered Native American women and girls as of September 2018. No one knows precisely how many there are because authorities don't have reliable statistics. A top U.S. Justice Department official says it’s doubling the amount of federal funding for tribal public safety and crime victims as it seeks to tackle the high-rates of violence against Native American women. The announcement on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018, comes amid increased focus on the deaths and disappearances of Native American women and girls in the U.S. (AP, File)

The announcement also comes as a series of congressional proposals seek to address how authorities' handle and track reports of missing women on reservations.

For example, a law proposed by U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat from North Dakota, seeks to establish protocols for handling cases of missing and murdered Native Americans. It also would require annual reports to Congress on the number of missing and murdered Native American women, saying accurate statistics could potentially help authorities detect patterns and solve more cases.

A measure to expand the Violence Against Women's Act calls for similar proposals and for amending laws to give tribes authority to prosecute non-Native Americans suspected of selling tribal members for sex or running human trafficking rings. On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate voted to extend the Violence Against Women Act in its current form for two more months, delaying a vote on proposals to expand it.

"There is still much work to do," Heitkamp said.

The Justice Department has not expressed support or opposition for the proposals to expand tribal jurisdiction over non-Native Americans. Under the current law, tribes are able to prosecute people who aren't tribal members only in assault cases where the victim is a woman and knows her assailant.

Panuccio said the department's approach to tackling violence against Native American women focuses on partnering with tribes to assign more prosecutors capable of handling cases in federal and tribal courts, and supporting tribal law enforcement and victims.

For Juana Majel-Dixon, co-chair of a National Congress of American Indians' taskforce established to address violence against women, the increase in funding is welcome, though she still questions whether the money will stretch far enough in serving victims.

“When you think about the enormity of (the number of) victims we’re talking about, the money being provided has been graciously received,” she said. “But it’s not enough.”

Bethel DMV office to close until new worker is hired

Alaska News - 7 hours 49 min ago

BETHEL – The Division of Motor Vehicles office in Bethel will be closed for more than a month following a worker's transfer.

The office will close after Friday for up to eight weeks until a new employee is hired and trained for the position, KYUK-AM reported Tuesday.

The state will send a worker every few weeks to operate the office for a week at a time beginning Oct. 8, DMV Manager Janice Torsen said.

The town about 400 miles west of Anchorage serves as a hub community for smaller villages in Southwest Alaska.

The closure will make certain services unavailable to area residents, including the issuance of original driver's licenses and ID cards, permits, and road testing.

Other services will remain available online or over the phone, including renewing driver's licenses and IDs, ordering personalized plates, scheduling a road test, updating addresses, renewing disabled parking permits, renewing vehicle registrations, and ordering duplicate registrations.

Attorneys argue cases in cruise industry suit against Juneau

Alaska News - 7 hours 55 min ago

Four cruise ships are docked in Juneau on July 24, 2018. (Bob Hallinen / ADN)

JUNEAU – A federal judge said it will take some time to decide a lawsuit brought against the City and Borough of Juneau by the cruise ship industry.

Attorneys for the Cruise Lines International Association and Juneau argued their cases Tuesday before U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland in the lawsuit claiming that taxes were misused, the Juneau Empire reported.

The association filed the suit in April 2016, claiming Juneau used marine passenger fees and port development fees for projects that did not directly benefit the cruise ships visiting the city. The association claims Juneau violated the Tonnage Clause of the U.S. Constitution that prohibits states from charging for a vessel's cargo without providing a service to the boat.

"It's a revenue stream that the city has created that it's re-dispensing as it sees fit," said Jonathan Benner, the association's attorney. "We believe that just blows a big hole in the Constitution."

The city and borough claim the funds have been only used in projects that serve cruise passengers. Bob Blasco, Juneau's attorney, has argued that passenger fees can be spent on services for the passengers, not solely for the vessels.

The association has not targeted specific expenditures that could be in violation of the Tonnage Clause, Blasco argued.

"They have not identified which actual expenditures they claim to be unlawful," Blasco said in court. "And so we are put in the position of saying, 'well, your honor, we don't know what they're claiming to be unlawful. The ones that they agreed to, the ones that they requested, those cannot be any kind of violation of the Tonnage Clause.'"

The association isn't seeking reimbursement for city expenditures with the fee revenue, rather it's looking to set a precedent for future cases, Benner said. A case similar to this has not been tried, he said.

"All the case law development over two centuries was about situations where fees were being extracted for different kinds of uses," Benner said. "As far as I'm aware, this is the first and only situation in which a city's just trying to create a revenue stream out of it."

Kim agrees to dismantle North Korea’s main missile site if US takes steps too

Alaska News - 8 hours 12 min ago

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shakes hands after signing the documents at the Paekhwawon State Guesthouse in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018. Moon and Kim announced a sweeping set of agreements after their second day of talks in Pyongyang on Wednesday that included a promise by Kim to permanently dismantle the North's main nuclear complex if the United States takes corresponding measures, the acceptance of international inspectors to monitor the closing of a key missile test site and launch pad and a vow to work together to host the Summer Olympics in 2032. (Pyongyang Press Corps Pool via AP)

PYONGYANG, North Korea — The leaders of North and South Korea announced a wide range of agreements Wednesday which they said were a major step toward peace on the Korean Peninsula. But the premier pledge on denuclearization contained a big condition, with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stating he’d permanently dismantle his main nuclear complex only if the United States takes unspecified corresponding measures.

Compared to the vague language of their two summits earlier this year, Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed in their second day of meetings to an ambitious program meant to tackle soaring tensions last year that had many fearing war as the North tested a string of increasingly powerful weapons.

Kim promised to accept international inspectors to monitor the closing of a key missile test site and launch pad and to visit Seoul soon, and both leaders vowed to work together to try to host the Summer Olympics in 2032.

But while containing several tantalizing offers, their joint statement appeared to fall short of the major steps many in Washington have been looking for — such as a commitment by Kim to provide a list of North Korea's nuclear facilities, a solid step-by-step timeline for closing them down, or an agreement to allow international inspectors to assess progress or discover violations.

It also was unclear what "corresponding steps" North Korea wants from the U.S. to dismantle its nuclear site.

The question is whether it will be enough for U.S. President Donald Trump to pick up where Moon has left off. Trump, tweeting about the Korean leaders' agreements, said, "Very exciting!"

Declaring they had made a major step toward peace, Moon and Kim stood side by side as they announced the joint statement to a group of North and South Korean reporters after a closed-door meeting Wednesday morning. They took no questions.

"We have agreed to make the Korean Peninsula a land of peace that is free from nuclear weapons and nuclear threat," Kim said at the guesthouse where Moon is staying. "The road to our future will not always be smooth and we may face challenges and trials we can't anticipate. But we aren't afraid of headwinds because our strength will grow as we overcome each trial based on the strength of our nation."

Kim and Moon earlier smiled and chatted as they walked down a hallway and into a meeting room to finalize the joint statement, which also said that the leaders would push for a Korean Peninsula without nuclear weapons and to "eliminate all the danger of war." Moon and Kim planned to visit a volcano sacred to the North on Thursday, the last day of Moon's visit.

This week's summit comes as Moon is under increasing pressure from Washington to find a path forward in efforts to get Kim to completely — and unilaterally — abandon his nuclear arsenal.


South Korean President Moon Jae-in, left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un clap upon their arrival at Okryu-Gwan restaurant in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018. (Pyongyang Press Corps Pool via AP)

Trump has maintained that he and Kim have a solid relationship, and both leaders have expressed interest in a follow-up summit to their meeting in June in Singapore. North Korea has been demanding a declaration formally ending the Korean War, which was stopped in 1953 by a cease-fire, but neither leader mentioned it Wednesday as they read the joint statement.

In the meantime, however, Moon and Kim made concrete moves of their own to reduce tensions on their border.

According to a statement signed by the countries' defense chiefs, the two Koreas agreed to establish buffer zones along their land and sea borders to reduce military tensions and prevent accidental clashes. They also agreed to withdraw 11 guard posts from the Demilitarized Zone by December and to establish a no-fly zone above the military demarcation line that bisects the two Koreas that will apply to planes, helicopters and drones.

Though not directly linked to security, the leaders' announcement that they would seek a joint Summer Olympics was a significant move in terms of easing tensions and building trust. It also flows from the North's decision to participate in the Pyeongchang Winter Games in February, which was regarded as a success for both sides.

Other agreements aimed at removing some longstanding irritants from their relations, such as allowing more contact between families divided by the Korean War. Moon also appeared to be making good on his proposals to help build up the North's infrastructure and open cross-border rail links.

Unlike Trump's initial tweets praising the summit, the news brought a quick and negative response from Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who tweeted that he was concerned the visit would undermine efforts by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley to impose "maximum pressure" on the North.

"While North Korea has stopped testing missiles and nuclear devices, they have NOT moved toward denuclearization," he tweeted.

With the main business of the day complete, North Korea was expected to hold a huge mass games spectacle in the evening, with Moon as the special guest. Seoul said Moon would make a short speech.

North Korea had put the iconic games, which feature tens of thousands of performers dancing and flipping placards in unison to create giant mosaics and slogans, on a back burner for the past several years, but revived them for this month's celebrations of its 70th founding anniversary. In a performance for the anniversary, a giant photo of Moon and Kim shaking hands at their first summit in April was projected onto one side of the stands in Pyongyang's 150,000-seat May Day Stadium.

Kim has gone all out to make Moon's visit a memorable one.

On Tuesday, the first day of the summit, he greeted Moon and his wife at Pyongyang's airport and then rode into town with Moon in an open limousine through streets lined with crowds of North Koreans, who cheered and waved the flag of their country and a blue-and-white flag that symbolizes Korean unity.

At the start of their meeting, Kim thanked Moon for brokering the June summit with Trump.

"It's not too much to say that it's Moon's efforts that arranged a historic North Korea-U.S. summit. Because of that, the regional political situation has been stabilized and more progress on North Korea-U.S. ties is expected," Kim said, according to South Korean media pool reports and Moon's office.

___

Klug reported from Seoul. Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim and Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul contributed to this report. Talmadge is the AP’s Pyongyang bureau chief.

Reality show doctor charged with California drug rapes

Alaska News - 8 hours 18 min ago

LOS ANGELES — A California physician who appeared in a reality TV dating show and an alleged female accomplice have been charged with drugging and sexually assaulting two women, and authorities said Tuesday there could be many more victims.

Orthopedic surgeon Grant W. Robicheaux, 38, of Newport Beach and Cerissa Laura Riley, 31, of Brea were arrested Sept. 12 after being charged with rape by use of drugs, oral copulation by anesthesia or controlled substance, and other crimes, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas told a news conference in Santa Ana.

Investigators were meticulously going through "thousands and thousands of videos and images on Robicheaux's phone, many also including Riley," Rackauckas said.


This undated booking photo provided by the Newport Beach, Calif., Police Department shows Grant W. Robicheaux, 38, a California doctor who appeared in a reality TV dating show. He and a woman co-defendant, Cerissa Laura Riley, 31, have been charged with drugging and sexually assaulting two women, and authorities suspect there may be many more victims. Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas announced charges Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018 against Robicheaux of Newport Beach and Riley of Brea. (Newport Beach Police Department via AP)

Some videos show women who “appear to be highly intoxicated beyond the ability to consent or resist, and they’re barely responsive to the defendant’s sexual advances. Based on this evidence, we believe that there might be many unidentified victims out there,” he said.

The district attorney showed reporters video of Robicheaux from a now-canceled Bravo TV show called "Online Dating Rituals of the American Male" in an episode titled "Three's A Crowd."

"We believe the defendants used their good looks and charm to lower the inhibitions of their potential prey," Rackauckas said, releasing an array of information about many locations and events associated with Robicheaux and Riley.

The defendants, who were released on $100,000 bail, could not be immediately reached for comment.


This undated booking photo provided by the Newport Beach, Calif., Police Department shows Cerissa Laura Riley, 31. She and a co-defendant, Grant W. Robicheaux, 38, a California doctor who appeared in a reality TV dating show, have been charged with drugging and sexually assaulting two women, and authorities suspect there may be many more victims. Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas announced charges Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018, against Robicheaux of Newport Beach and Riley of Brea. (Newport Beach Police Department via AP)

The two women who were allegedly assaulted met the pair during social encounters.

"Women who have encountered these two might have felt a false sense of security due to the fact that both defendants are clean cut, good-looking," Rackauckas said.

"We tend to trust doctors who take an oath to do no harm. The second defendant, being a female, is key. A woman purporting to be his girlfriend clearly played a significant role in disarming the victims, making them feel comfortable and safe," he said.

According to prosecutors, Robicheaux and Riley met a 32-year-old woman at a Newport Beach restaurant on April 10, 2016, invited her to a party and then escorted her to Robicheaux's apartment when she was intoxicated.

The pair allegedly gave the victim multiple drugs and then sexually assaulted her while she was incapable of resisting. The woman called police the next day, and a forensic exam found multiple controlled substances.

On Oct. 2, 2016, the defendants allegedly drank alcohol with another woman at a Newport Beach bar until she was unconscious, brought her to Robicheaux's apartment and sexually assaulted her. The district attorney's office said the victim awakened and screamed for help until a neighbor called police, who began an investigation.

Other charges against the two allege large amounts of illegal drugs were found in Robicheaux's residence in January 2018. Robicheaux is also accused of possessing two illegal, unregistered assault rifles, four other firearms and several large-capacity magazines.

The district attorney said events and places the pair may have traveled to since 2015 include the Burning Man festival in Nevada, the Dirtybird Campout festival in Silverado, California, the Splash House festival in Palm Springs, and landmarks near Page, Arizona.

Robicheaux was an undergraduate at Louisiana State University and then graduated from its medical school in 2007, Rackauckas said. He then did postgraduate work at New York University Hospital for Joint Diseases in New York City and did an orthopedic surgery residency at University of California Irvine Medical Center in Orange, California. He was licensed to practice medicine in California on May 30, 2009.

A message left at Robicheaux's office wasn't immediately returned Tuesday, and a home number listed for him did not have a voicemail. Riley's number was unlisted, and she was otherwise unable to be reached.

The Bravo reality show aired for one season, is no longer in production and there are no plans to bring it back, a spokeswoman for NBC Universal said in an email.

___

Associated Press reporters Amy Taxin in Santa Ana and Amanda Lee Myers in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

Kavanaugh accuser says FBI should investigate her sex assault claim before Senate hearing

Alaska News - 11 hours 3 min ago

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, walks past members of the media as he heads to the Senate Chamber floor on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/)

WASHINGTON — Christine Blasey Ford wants the FBI to investigate her allegation that she was sexually assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh before she testifies at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing next week, her lawyers said in a letter to the panel.

The lawyers wrote that Ford, who is now a college professor in California, wants to cooperate with the committee. But in the days since she publicly accused Kavanaugh of the assault when they were teens at a party 35 years ago, the lawyers said, she has been the target of "vicious harassment and even death threats." Her family has relocated, they said.

An FBI investigation "should be the first step in addressing the allegations," the lawyers wrote in the Tuesday letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press.

The development came after President Donald Trump showered sympathy on his embattled nominee and as Senate Republicans and Democrats fought determinedly over who should testify at a high-stakes hearing on the allegation just six weeks before major congressional elections.

Trump has already rejected the idea of bringing in the FBI to reopen its background check of Kavanaugh. Should he order such a review, it would likely delay a confirmation vote until after the election. Republicans hope to have Kavanaugh confirmed by Oct. 1, the start of the next Supreme Court term.

In a tweet Tuesday night, Trump wrote: "The Supreme Court is one of the main reasons I got elected President. I hope Republican Voters, and others, are watching, and studying, the Democrats Playbook."


FILE - In this Sept. 6, 2018, file photo, after more than an hour of delay over procedural questions, President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh waits to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee for the third day of his confirmation hearing, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Christine Blasey Ford, the woman accusing Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct when they were teenagers has come forward to The Washington Post. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) (J. Scott Applewhite/)

Meanwhile, Republicans are suggesting that Ford, whose allegations have upended Kavanaugh’s nomination — the committee’s vote was already pushed from Thursday to likely next week — will have one chance to testify, and one chance only.

"Monday is her opportunity," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday, a line that was echoed by other Republicans throughout the day.

McConnell expressed confidence that Kavanaugh would be confirmed. "I'm not concerned about tanking the nomination," he said.

The GOP chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said an FBI investigation wouldn't have bearing on Ford's testimony so "there is no reason for further delay."

Grassley said the committee offered Ford "the opportunity to share her story" in a public or a private hearing, or staff interviews, "whichever makes her most comfortable. The invitation for Monday still stands."

Said Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, a key Republican on the panel, said, "We should proceed as planned."

The furious jockeying over Ford's testimony underscores the political potency so close to an election that will decide control of both the House and Senate, not to mention the confirmation of a conservative justice likely to serve on the high court for decades.

Democrats complain that Ford was not consulted before the hearing was announced. They also want more witnesses besides Kavanaugh and Ford, hoping to avoid what they said would turn into a "he-said-she-said" moment.

[A former sex-crimes prosecutor analyzed Ford’s allegations against Kavanaugh. Here’s her take.]

The lawyers for Ford predicted the hearing, as now scheduled, “would include interrogation by senators who appear to have made up their minds” that she is “mistaken” and mixed up.

But Democrats also said Tuesday they were planning to attend the hearing even if Ford did not show up.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said he had "a lot of questions" for Kavanaugh. "A simple denial is not the end of questioning."

As Democrats press for more time to investigate, Republicans have been careful to say that Ford should have her chance to speak, and they have stressed that they are willing to move Monday's hearing behind closed doors, if she prefers.

"Were planning on a hearing Monday. It can be open. It can be closed, whatever Ms. Ford wants," said Sen. John Kennedy, a member of the Judiciary panel from Louisiana. "We're ready to hear anything she has to say. I am, anyway, and I think most of us are."

GOP Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee — among a handful of Republicans who insisted on hearing from Ford before voting — said it would be a "shame" if Ford didn't show up to testify. But he suggested Republicans will not bend from their offer of a hearing Monday.

"That would be quite something if she decided she did not want to testify," Corker said. "I'd assume the committee would then move on as they should."

One witness the Democrats want to hear from is Kavanaugh's high school friend Mark Judge, who Ford said was in the room when she was assaulted. Kavanaugh has denied Ford's allegation, and Judge says he doesn't remember any such thing. "More to the point, I never saw Brett act in the manner Dr. Ford describes," Judge said in a letter to the panel.

The risks of a public hearing starring the all-male lineup of Republicans on the committee could be high. Republicans said late Tuesday they were considering hiring outside attorneys, presumably including women, to question the witnesses. But that may be moot if Ford declines to appear.

Kavanaugh, 53, was at the White House on Tuesday for a second straight day, but again did not meet with Trump. The president said he was “totally supporting” Kavanaugh and felt “terribly” for him and his family.

"I feel so badly for him that he's going through this, to be honest with you, I feel so badly for him," said Trump, who has himself faced numerous accusations of sexual harassment that he's denied. "This is not a man that deserves this."

The No. 2 Senate Republican leader, John Cornyn of Texas, noted that Ford has admitted she doesn't remember some details of the incident. He called the allegations a "drive-by attack" on the judge's character.

"There are gaps in her memory," Cornyn said. "She doesn't know how she got there, when it was and so that would logically be something where she would get questions."

Criticism like that fed a Democratic narrative that the GOP's handling of Ford could jeopardize that party's election prospects in the age of #MeToo, the response to sexual abuse that has torched the careers of prominent men.


Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is surrounded by reporters as she arrives for a vote, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) (Jacquelyn Martin/)

“Now this is really what #MeToo is all about, if you think about it,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Judiciary Committee Democrat. “That’s sort of the first thing that happens, it’s the woman’s fault. And it is not the woman’s fault.”

Meanwhile, Kavanaugh has been calling Republican senators, including Kennedy, who said the nominee was committed to moving forward.

"He's not happy, he's upset," Kennedy said. "He said very clearly and unequivocally, 'This did not happen.'"

Ford went public with her story Sunday, telling The Washington Post that Kavanaugh had forced himself on her in a bedroom at a party when he was 17 and she was 15, attempting to remove her clothes and clapping his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream. She says she escaped when Judge jumped on the bed.

___

Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Mary Clare Jalonick, Juliet Linderman and Catherine Lucey contributed from Washington.

Letter: Trump is in good company

Alaska News - 12 hours 56 min ago

Regarding Sen. John McCain's rejection of President Donald Trump, I would like to point out that President Trump is in good company, because Jesus, the Christ, was also rejected by many, even though God the Father was well pleased in him (Matthew 3:17).

That should give all the Trump haters pause for thought.
— Bert Maupin
Anchorage

Have something on your mind? Send to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.

Letter: Trump didn’t respect McCain

Alaska News - 12 hours 59 min ago

Steve Hillman's letter Sept. 11 regarding Sen. John McCain's funeral illustrates the stunning myopia of some Trump supporters. Mr. Hillman saw a bitter, leftist message in a ceremony that the rest of the world applauded for its celebration of love of family, service to country, authentic patriotism, and political cooperation.

Mr. Hillman made the jaw-dropping statement that President Donald Trump should have been allowed to attend and pay his respects. Why? President Trump exhibited nothing but contempt for John McCain and his service to this country while he was alive.
Mr. Hillman used Scripture to advance that God will judge each of us by the same measure we used to judge others. If that's true, then Donald Trump, not John McCain, will be the one with the problem "on the other side."
— Gary Griffeth
Anchorage

Have something on your mind? Send to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.

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