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California fires: Number of missing soars over 1,000 as Paradise reels from unfathomable losses

Alaska News - 1 hour 5 min ago

Residences leveled by the wildfire line a neighborhood in Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said Thursday the wildfire that destroyed the town of Paradise is now 40 percent contained, up from 30 percent Wednesday morning. (AP Photo/Noah Berger) (Noah Berger/)

CHICO, Calif.-- An army of searchers moved through the rubble of Paradise in a desperate search Friday to find more victims of California’s worst fire on record as the number of people missing skyrocketed.

The death toll from the devastating Camp fire rose to 71 Friday, while the number of people reported missing jumped to more than 1,000, authorities said.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told reporters at a Thursday afternoon news conference that search crews had recovered eight more bodies in the burn area.

The number of people unaccounted for rose to 1,011, up from 631 on Thursday evening, after authorities combed through additional 911 calls, emails and other reports generated at the peak of the chaotic evacuation.

Honea said that number may include some people who are counted twice or others who may not know they were reported missing.

The staggering toll was announced as President Donald Trump made plans to visit California to meet with people affected by the wildfires. It would mark his second trip as president to the nation's most populous state.

The Camp fire is by far the worst wildfire in recorded California history. By Thursday evening, the blaze had chewed through 141,000 acres and 11,862 structures, destroying an entire town in hours. Officials said it could take weeks to complete the search for victims. Thousands of survivors are without homes, living in shelters and tent cities.

A search and rescue team combs through the debris for possible human remains at Paradise Gardens, in Paradise, Calif., on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/TNS) (Marcus Yam/)
A search and rescue team collects and documents suspected human remains from an apartment complex burned down in the Camp fire in Paradise, Calif., on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/TNS) (Marcus Yam/)
A sign warning to looters sits in the foreground of burned properties in the aftermath of the Camp fire that tore through Paradise, Calif., on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/TNS) (Marcus Yam/)
Tera Hickerson, right, and Columbus Holt embrace as they look at a board with information for services at a makeshift encampment outside a Walmart store for people displaced by the Camp Fire, Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, in Chico, Calif. The two, from Paradise, Calif., escaped the fire and don't know if their house is still standing. (AP Photo/John Locher) (John Locher/)
A firefighter searches for human remains in a trailer park destroyed in the Camp Fire, Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, in Paradise, Calif. (AP Photo/John Locher) (John Locher/)
Investigators recover human remains at a home burned in the Camp Fire, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, in Magalia, Many of the missing in the deadly Northern California wildfire are elderly residents in Magalia, a forested town of about 11,000 north of the destroyed town of Paradise, Calif. (AP Photo/John Locher) (John Locher/)

Mandatory evacuation orders were lifted in some areas and reduced to warnings as fire crews on the front lines boosted containment to 40 percent.

"What that means is, if conditions change and fire begins to threaten that area, you have to be ready to go," Honea said.

The fire is also causing a major public health problem as smoke choked huge swaths of Northern California, including Sacramento and the Bay Area. Dozens of schools across the region canceled classes as authorities urged residents to remain indoors.

At a town hall meeting in Chico late Thursday, Denise Davis showed up to reconnect with her community. There, the 53-year-old Paradise resident saw a neighbor whom she last saw in a driveway carrying someone else's dog during evacuations.

This community, she said, is why she's coming back.

"That's why we're going to rebuild," she said.

Jim Broshears, the town's emergency operations center coordinator, told the audience of more than 100 that the town will rebuild.

"We're determined to start rebuilding the community _ from you, up," he said. "You are the foundation of the community."

But Mark Brown, the deputy incident commander for the fire, said the breadth of the devastation was like nothing he'd ever seen.

"It's at the scale of unprecedented magnitude," he said.

In Southern California, fire officials were optimistic Thursday that improved weather might help them get the upper hand against the devastating Woolsey fire. The blaze has charred 98,362 acres and claimed three lives in Los Angeles and Ventura counties since it broke out last week. More than 500 structures have been destroyed.

Firefighters stopped the fire's expansion and increased containment to 62 percent by Thursday evening. The gains came as strong winds that battered the region for three days finally diminished _ a welcome development for those on the front lines.

"I think we're all hoping today will be a turning point for us in this fight," said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Chris Anthony. "But we're not ramping down. This is a huge fire, and there's still a lot of containment that needs to be done."

In this Nov. 10, 2018, Patrick Knuthson walks along his property near trees burned in the Camp Fire in Paradise, Calif. Knuthson a fourth-generation local struggled to make sense of what he was seeing. He pointed out what used to be a saloon-style pub, his favorite Mexican restaurant, a classic California motel, the pawn shop, a Real Estate office, a liquor store, entire trailer parks and other places. Paradise, Calif., literally went up in smoke in the deadliest, most destructive wildfire in California history. (AP Photo/John Locher) (John Locher/)
FILE - This Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018 shows the remains of the Gold Nugget Museum, which was totally demolished by the Camp Fire, in Paradise, Calif. Paradise, Cali., literally went up in smoke in the deadliest, most destructive wildfire in California history. And memories are all that’s left for many of the survivors. They recall a friendly place where the pace was relaxed, where families put down roots and visitors opted to stay. (AP Photo/Martha Mendoza, File) (Martha Mendoza/)
FILE - In this Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018 file photo smoke hangs over the scorched remains of Old Town Plaza following the wildfire in Paradise, Calif. Most homes are gone, as are hundreds of shops and other buildings. The supermarket, the hardware store, Dolly-O-Donuts & Gifts where locals started their day with a blueberry fritter and a quick bit of gossip, all gone. The town quite literally went up in smoke and flames in the deadliest, most destructive wildfire in California history. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File) (Noah Berger/)
The Golden Gate Bridge is obscured by smoke and haze from wildfires Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, in this view from Fort Baker near Sausalito, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg) (Eric Risberg/)

Authorities are urging residents to stay cautious as the rainy season approaches and to prepare for potential mudflows in burned-out areas. Rain could arrive in the Los Angeles area late next week, according to extended weather forecasts. But meteorologists with the National Weather Service said it’s too soon to tell how much _ if any _ rain to expect.

Across Northern California on Friday, people were dealing with unhealthy air quality from the fire.

Unrelenting smoke smothers everything in Chico. The acidic and sour haze hangs on hair, skin and clothes. Some evacuees don't have access to showers and clean towels, and the smoke from the deadly Camp fire feels impossible to escape.

Hair is like a sponge and absorbs the smoke, said Holly Little, owner of Bleached Salon. The small salon on Manzanita Avenue is one of several offering free hair washes, blowouts and more to evacuees.

At the nail counter, Paradise resident Laina Floraday was getting a free manicure Friday after finding out about the service from a friend.

Floraday fled the Camp fire with her two young children, including one who has special needs, and her three dogs. Her house, her childhood home that she bought, was destroyed. Her husband spent four hours trapped near Pentz Road Market and eventually got out.

"It was traumatizing," Floraday said.

She swapped stories about the fire and its aftermath with Megan Killingsworth, another Bleached Salon owner. Killingsworth said the salon started offering the services because she and Little felt helpless.

"We don't have money to give people," she said. Her phone buzzed with texts from displaced people seeking to book appointments.

Before leaving, Floraday took a free dry hairwash sample and an air mask from the salon.

At JCPenney’s hair salon at the Chico Mall, an elderly woman _ an evacuee from the fire _ was getting her hair washed Friday in one of the salon’s black chairs. Her head was back, her eyes were closed.

A few hundred people, men and women, have come in for the salon's free hair services since the fire broke out, assistant manager Michelle Alconero said.

She said it wasn't a corporate decision _ stylists decided to offer the services to evacuees.

“It’s a moment to be normal,” Alconero said. “There’s a lot of stress.”

19 steals carry UAA women to third straight basketball win

Alaska News - 5 hours 59 min ago

A huge first-half run and productive games by Yazmeen Goo and Kian McNair carried the UAA women's basketball team to victory Friday night.

The 6th-ranked Seawolves reeled off 17 unanswered points to stop Cal State East Bay 66-50 in front of a crowd of 1,166 at the Alaska Airlines Center.

The game was tied 11-11 midway through the first quarter when the undefeated Seawolves took charge. They held East Bay scoreless for nearly eight minutes to seize a 28-11 lead three minutes into the second quarter.

Hannah Wandersee scored seven points and Tara Thompson swished a pair of 3-pointers to fuel the power surge.

East Bay (1-2) outrebounded the Seawolves 32-29 and narrowly outshot them 40.0 percent to 39.2 percent.

But UAA's press did what it's supposed to do — create havoc. Though guilty of 20 turnovers themselves, the Seawolves stole the ball 19 times while harassing East Bay into 31 turnovers. Nearly half of their points — 31 — followed turnovers.

"That was certainly not a pretty win, but we'll take it," UAA coach Ryan McCarthy said in a release from the school. "We allowed them too many good looks at the basket and we never seemed to get into an offensive rhythm. Luckily our veterans stepped up and did what it took to get the victory."

Goo, a junior, and McNair, a senior, each had six steals, with McNair getting two during the game-changing run. Goo added 14 points, three assists and two rebounds in 23 minutes, and McNair had eight points, five assists and three rebounds in 21 minutes.

Thompson hit 4 of 5 shots from 3-point range on her way to 14 points, and Wandersee finished with 11 points. Sala Langi grabbed a team-high seven rebounds for the Seawolves.

Morgan Green had team-highs of 13 points and seven rebounds for Cal State East Bay but also gave up the ball nine times.

The game was part of the two-day Seawolf Hoops Classic. In Friday's other game, UAF escaped with a 65-61 win over Cal State Dominguez Hills.

UAA (3-0) is back in action Saturday at 7:30 p.m. against Cal State Dominguez Hills. UAF plays East Bay at 2:30 p.m.

Dunleavy team asks all at-will state workers for resignations

Alaska News - Fri, 2018-11-16 22:21

Alaska Gov.-elect Mike Dunleavy addresses the Alaska Miners Association annual conference at the Dena'ina Convention Center in Anchorage on Nov. 8. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen) (Mark Thiessen/)

Alaska Gov-elect Mike Dunleavy’s transition team on Friday sent an email to all at-will state employees asking them to submit resignation letters and, if they choose, reapply for their jobs. The request went to a bigger group of state workers than occurred with previous incoming governors, according to Dunleavy’s transition team.

“Such a move is customary when a new administration takes over, but the governor-elect has broadened the scope of which employees have been asked to take this step,” said a statement emailed by Dunleavy communications director Sarah Erkmann Ward.

Broadening that scope to include all at-will state employees, rather than a smaller, more select group, “typically has not been done in the past,” she said in another email.

Dunleavy, a Republican, will be sworn in on Dec. 3.

At an Anchorage hotel Friday night for a separate announcement, Dunleavy told a reporter, “we look forward to talking with a whole bunch of folks" in Gov. Bill Walker’s current administration.

“We want to give people an opportunity to think about whether they want to remain with this administration and be able to have a conversation with us,” Dunleavy said when asked why the scope of the resignation letter request included all at-will state workers.

Dunleavy’s transition chairman Tuckerman Babcock said employees are being asked to submit resignation letters, but that doesn’t mean those resignation letters are automatically accepted. The request does not affect classified employees, Babcock said.

“(Dunleavy) just wants all of the state employees who are at-will -- partially exempt, exempt employees -- to affirmatively say, ‘Yes, I want to work for the Dunleavy administration,'” Babcock said. “Not just bureaucracy staying in place, but sending out the message, ‘Do you want to work on this agenda, do you want to work in this administration? Just let us know.’”

Later, he said, "I do think this is something bold and different, and it’s not meant to intimidate or scare anybody. It’s meant to say, ‘Do you want to be part of this?’”

Babcock said he did not know the number of how many at-will employees have been asked to submit resignations. He used 400 as a number of workers that have been asked to submit letters of resignation in the past.

“So you add in AHFC (Alaska Housing Finance Corp.) and AIDEA (Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority) and the Permanent Fund and all these independent agencies,” Babcock said. “But independent agencies all serve the public, and they’re all part of the administration.”

In 2014, a transition team member for Walker also sent out a statement asking members of former Gov. Sean Parnell’s administration to submit resignation letters. That letter affected about 250 state workers, the Anchorage Daily News reported at the time.

Employees have been asked to submit their resignation in writing on or before Nov. 30, according to the memo that was sent to workers on Friday and which Babcock also provided to the Anchorage Daily News.

“Acceptance of your resignation will not be automatic, and consideration will be given to your statement of interest in continuing in your current or another appointment-based state position,” the memo said.

The other alternative for at-will workers who don’t submit a letter of resignation is termination from the job, Babcock said.

“If you don’t want to express a positive desire, just don’t submit your letter of resignation,” Babcock said. “And then you’ve let us know you just wish to be terminated.”

At the Crowne Plaza hotel for the Alaska Farm Bureau’s annual banquet, Dunleavy announced the appointment of Tamika Ledbetter as his commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

“She’s worked in the department for some time, she comes with great recommendations,” Dunleavy said. “She’s had a lot of administrative experience, her educational background is terrific.”

Ledbetter is currently a regional manager for the agency’s Anchorage and Matanuska Susitna Valley region. She’s registered as a Republican, according to state voter registration data. Ledbetter is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and has a doctorate degree and master’s degree from the University of Phoenix, according to information from the Dunleavy transition team. She also has a bachelor’s degree from Virginia Union University.

Comeback falls short for UAA men’s basketball team

Alaska News - Fri, 2018-11-16 21:25

The UAA men's basketball team rallied from a huge deficit to tie the game with minutes left but couldn't cash in on the comeback Friday night at the Alaska Airlines Center.

Northwood University beat the Seawolves 83-77 on the first day of the two-day Seawolf Jamboree. In Friday's other game, Lake Superior State dropped UAF, 85-63.

UAA and UAF will switch opponent Saturday, with the Seawolves playing Lake Superior State at 5 p.m. The Nanooks play at noon.

Tyler Brimhall, a junior transfer, continued to produce for UAA, scoring a game-high 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting and grabbing a game-high 10 rebounds.

Travis Adams, a freshman from Utqiagvik, hit double figures for the first time with 13 points; Nico Bevens, another junior transfer, added 11; and Brian Pearson, a returning big man, chipped in eight rebounds, seven points and two blocks.

Six players hit double figures for Northwood, a Division II team from Michigan. Ja'Kavien Lewis powered the Timberwolves (1-2) with 14 points, nine assists and seven rebounds.

UAA trailed by as many as 17 in the first half and entered the second half down by 13, 46-33.

A pair of freshmen helped UAA tie the game 71-71 with four minutes left. Tobin Karlberg, a Grace Christian grad, scored a layup off a pass from Brimhall to make it 71-68, and then Adams scored a traditional three-point play — driving for a bucket, drawing a foul, hitting the free throw — to make it 71-71.

The Timberwolves answered with an unusual four-point play that gave them the lead for good. Jack Ammerman sank one of his four 3-pointers at the same time Pearson fouled Northwood's David Jelinek, who hit a free throw for a 75-71 lead. With a little more than two minutes to go, Northwood all but sealed the win with a 3-pointer by Tanner Reha that gave the visitors a 78-71 lead.

UAA clawed back to narrow the gap to 80-77 on a Pearson basket with 17 seconds left, but those were its final points.

The Seawolves shot 46.4 percent from the field, with Adams hitting 4 of 5 shots and Karlberg going 3 of 4 for seven points. Brimhall and Bevens were both 3 of 6 from 3-point range, but the rest of the team was 1 of 7.

UAA hockey team gets served another bagel

Alaska News - Fri, 2018-11-16 19:49

This is the kind of history you don't want to repeat.

The UAA hockey team was shut out again Friday night, marking the third straight game the Seawolves have been held scoreless. That hasn't happened since the 1996-97 season.

Northern Michigan limited UAA to 18 shots on goal to claim a 3-0 Western Collegiate Hockey Association victory in Marquette, Michigan.

The last and only other time UAA suffered three straight shutouts was in February 1997, during former coach Dean Talafous' first season.

The loss dropped the Seawolves and first-year coach Matt Curley to 1-7-1 overall and 0-6-1 in the WCHA.

Though it was their third straight game without a goal, it was just the second straight loss for the Seawolves — a week earlier, UAA skated to a scoreless tie with Bowling Green before falling 3-0 the next night.

It was the fifth time in nine games UAA has been shut out this season. With 25 regular-season games remaining, the Seawolves could threaten another mark they probably aren't eager to equal — in 2002-03, the Seawolves were blanked a school-record eight times.

Northern Michigan (4-7-0 overall, 3-2-0 WCHA) outshot UAA 14-4 in the first period to grab a 1-0 lead on Tony Bretzman's goal with about five minutes remaining. The goal came shortly after a shot by UAA hit the pipes.

Vincent deMay and Troy Loggins added second-period goals for the Wildcats. Loggins struck late in the period on the power play to make Northern Michigan 1 for 4 with the man advantage. UAA was scoreless on two power plays.

Wildcats goalie Atte Tolvanen made 18 saves. UAA's Brody Claeys made 27.

The game was the first of 10 straight road games for the Seawolves, who meet Northern Michigan again Saturday afternoon in Marquette.

Eagle River bowler leads the way in season-opening action

Alaska News - Fri, 2018-11-16 19:34

The high school bowling season opened Thursday night with a girl from Eagle River setting the early season standard.

Allison Szewczyk led all competitors by rolling a 212 at Jewel Lake Bowl. No one else broke 200.

The top score among the boys came from Dimond's Tucker Graves, who posted a 198.


West 20, Service 15

High scorers — Service: Ted Hwang 164; West: Nathen Hansen 159.

South 28, East 7

High scorers — East: Ian Carle 181; South: Terren Sugita 181.

Eagle River 31, Chugiak 4

High scorers — Chugiak: Kolton Reeves 183; Eagle River: Brenden Laulaulo 195.

Dimond 31, Bartlett 4

High scorers — Bartlett: Dakota Faison 178; Dimond: Tucker Graves 198.


Service 31, West 4

High scorers — Service: Dianny Melgar 139; West: Sharon Song 106.

South 29, East 6

High scorers — East: Iris McKeon 138; South: Angelina Young 151.

Eagle River 35, Chugiak 0

High scorers — Chugiak: Jadyn Moore 170; Eagle River: Allison Szewczyk 212.

Dimond 23, Bartlett 12

High scorers — Bartlett: Lauren Riske 185; Dimond: Hanna Graves 170.

Enormous blast in Siberia more than a century ago remains a mystery

Alaska News - Fri, 2018-11-16 18:47

A photo from the Leonid Kulik expedition to the Tunguska region of Russia in 1929. Did a meteorite or comet knock down millions of trees in one of the largest space-object-meets-Earth events in recorded history? (Leonid Kulik Expedition, St. Petersburg Museum)

In 1908, a colossal blast incinerated a swath of wilderness deep in Siberia, at about the same latitude as Anchorage.

The explosion that July day registered on seismic recorders all over the world. Within minutes, 80 million trees lay flat and scorched in a circle 60 miles across. Scientists calculated the shock was more than 1,000 times stronger than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

What happened? That’s a great question. Nineteen years after the event, Leonid Kulik, curator for the meteorite collection at the St. Petersburg Museum, traveled to the Stony Tunguska River to find out. From the distant evidence, he expected to see a crater where a meteorite crashed into Earth.

He found none. Those that have followed him over the years have not found expected nickel or iron deposits. Nor have they collected any space rocks like those fired into the snow when the Chelyabinsk meteorite exploded above the Ural Mountains in 2013.

If the Tunguska event was not from a heavenly body crashing into or exploding just above Earth, what was it?

Gunther Kletetschka last visited the site in summer 2018 hoping to find out. A specialist on Earth’s magnetism and meteorite impacts affiliated with Charles University in Prague, Kletetschka is now doing work with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute. He gave a recent talk about his travel to Siberia.

At the Tunguska blast site, Kletetschka hiked to a few Siberian larch trees that remained standing after the 1908 blast. The shock waves killed most trees, but a few took the hit and remained upright, maybe because pressure waves came straight down upon them instead of at an angle.

At the site, Kletetschka cored two standing trees that survived the blast and the years after it. One was 14 years old in 1908, the other 131. Back in a lab, he analyzed the wood samples using X-ray fluorescence.

Karel Kletetschka near a tree uprooted and tossed by a mystery explosion in Siberia in 1908. His father took this picture in 2008. (Photo by Gunther Kletetschka)

He saw levels of calcium usually present only in the bark of living trees was deep in the center of the blast survivors. He concluded that pressure waves may have pushed tree fluids from the living phloem layer near the bark into the dead wood of the interior.

What does that mean? Kletetschka is not sure. No one else is, either. Was the blast that leveled the Stony Tunguska River hills from a comet whose ice soon disappeared? Did a pingo explode? Was dark matter expressing its mysterious energy in a violent way after interacting with Earth?

“We still don’t know what happened,” Kletetschka said.

Alaska has felt the colossal smack of comets and meteorites a few hundred times. Almost all of their indentations are buried and hidden from view.

One of them is Avak impact crater near Utqiaġvik. Millions of years ago, a meteorite or comet the diameter of downtown Fairbanks crashed into the shallow ocean that covered northern Alaska. It left behind a steaming crater six miles from rim to rim.

Geologists Florence Weber and Florence Collins discovered Avak in the 1950s. Looking at samples from the Naval Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, they noticed shattered and tilted rock samples. The blast that created the Avak impact crater busted up the rock to make folds that trapped natural gas. Navy researchers later tapped into the gas supply to heat buildings in the research station near Utqiaġvik, formerly Barrow. In 1964, they enabled gas distribution to the village. The North Slope Borough took over the natural gas operation in the 1980s, supplying Utqiaġvik residents with a local source of energy.

Hit the highlights on Hawaii’s Big Island - without driving too much

Alaska News - Fri, 2018-11-16 18:20

Sunset at the Lava Lava Beach Club near near Hilton Waikoloa Village on the Big Island of Hawaii. (Photo by Scott McMurren)

The first time I visited Hawaii’s Kona was the day after Christmas in 1981. The airport is in the middle of a lava field, nine miles north of the main town of Kailua-Kona. The sun was just coming up over the mountains at 6:15 a.m., but everyone was on the move. My friends picked me up — and we headed out on a small Zodiac inflatable boat towars Kealekekua Bay. Suddenly, a giant humpback whale breached about 50 yards from us.

That was the first of many surprises and delights we discovered on the Big Island of Hawaii. The island is bigger than all the other Hawaiian islands combined, but it doesn’t have the traffic and the high-rises of Honolulu. Nor does it have the lush beaches of Kauai. But more Alaskans are succumbing to the pull of the Big Island, particularly since Alaska Airlines continues its nonstop service from Anchorage.

We were on the first of Alaska’s seasonal Anchorage-Kona nonstops this month. It was a full flight. That’s not surprising, since it’s cheaper to fly to Kona right now than it is to Honolulu. Fly south between now and Dec. 12 for $199 each way. The return flight is a little more: $217 one-way through Dec. 24.

On my first few trips to the island, I set an ambitious agenda: Get up early to drive around to the Hilo side and see Volcanoes National Park, or drive up to the visitor center on Mauna Kea. On this trip, we stayed on the west coast of the island — and didn’t venture too far from the water.

After arriving late in the evening, we got up early to make the long drive to Captain Cook, south of Kailua. This was the staging area for a kayak and snorkel trip to Kealekua Bay. My sister discovered Kona Boys on a previous trip, so we got some snorkel gear at their shop and headed to the water. Our guides, Laken and Jalal, met us on the dock and went over the plan. We were set to paddle over in the open-top double kayaks for about a mile before reaching the underwater park near the Captain Cook monument.

The monument was erected in 1847 to commemorate Cook’s death in 1779. It’s an interesting story about how Cook met his demise, but it’s not the main attraction of the bay. Rather, it’s the incredible array of reef fishes, coral and the occasional spinner dolphin that inspires folks to return again and again.

There was a good reason to work the early shift and get to the bay before lunchtime. That’s because the larger boats sailing from Keauhou Bay start to arrive with dozens of other snorkelers. In fact, on my first few trips to Kona in the 1980s, we came with scuba gar and enjoyed getting up close with the reef 20 to 50 feet below the surface.

Kona Boys includes a lunch with the trip — and just as we were finishing, the Fair Wind arrived from Keauhou Bay with a new batch of snorkelers. I’ve sailed on the Fair Wind several times — and they do a great job, complete with a barbecue lunch. But with the kayaks, you get to paddle around and see parts of the bay and the coastline — right at water level.

We had the option to keep the snorkel gear for the rest of the day. The staff at the shop recommended snorkeling at the City of Refuge, Pu’uhonua O Honaunau. Whether you snorkel there or not, it’s worth a visit. When Captain Cook visited Hawaii, the sacred law was called “kapu.” If you broke kapu, the only punishment was death. But if you could reach the place of refuge, you were safe. There are interpretive displays as well as re-created structures to give you an appreciation of this sacred site.

Our day of swimming, snorkeling and paddling was exhausting — so we sought our own refuge higher up the hill in the community of Kealekakua. There, we found the best gelato on the island at Gypsy Gelato. There is a selection of traditional chocolate/vanilla/strawberry flavors, but I opted for the ginger-turmeric flavor with some mango in there.

The gelato stop gave us the energy we needed to make it back up north for a late-afternoon dip in the pool.

As the sun started to sink in the west, we started hunting around for the best place to watch. There are several waterfront spots in Kailua—but that was too far away We settled on the Lava Lava Beach Club in Waikoloa. The restaurant is right on the beach at Anaeho’omalu Bay, just south of Waikoloa. We returned a few more times over the course of the week because of the uninterrupted view of the setting sun. Oh — the mai tais were delicious, too. Just be sure and get there between 3 and 5 p.m. for happy-hour pricing ($7 for the drink and cheaper appetizers).

One advantage of the Waikoloa location is that it’s just down the road from the best beach on the island: Hapuna. This beautiful beach is one of just a handful on the Big Island. We set up our beach camp at the south end, where there’s shade under the rocks and trees. There’s a good-size surf on most days, so you have to work a little bit to get in and out of the water. But it’s worth it. Bring plenty to drink, since it gets hot! But if you’re hungry, stop in at 3 Frogs up at the parking lot. They serve up a delicious fish taco. It’s rolled up burrito style and features breaded “opa” in the center, with some delicious cole slaw. Get extra garlic mango salsa to go with it.

We checked out of Waikoloa and moved south of Kailua to the Sheraton at Kaeuhou Bay. This is another great spot for watching the sunset, as the hotel is set on lava rocks right at the water’s edge. It’s also easy to walk down to the small harbor and catch the Fair Wind for your snorkeling trip!

Friends met us for drinks at the hotel’s restaurant, Rays on the Bay. We got a waterfront table to watch the sun sink in the west. Then they turn the lights on, which draws the manta rays in to have a look. We saw several huge rays playing in the water. Each time a big one would flap its wing on the water, there would be “oohs” and “aahhhs” from the crowd.

You don’t have to buy anything to watch the rays. The Sheraton has a viewing deck adjacent to the restaurant where folks can get a great view of these beautiful creatures. They leave the lights on until around 10 p.m. The Fair Wind charter group has another vessel, the Hula Kai, which sails from the harbor at sunset — about 800 yards. From there, snorkelers can get in the water for an up-close view of the manta rays, whose wingspan can exceed 15 feet.

On our last day, we wanted the perfect cup of coffee. After all, Kona is known for its fancy coffee. We just didn’t realize how fancy it was. It was hot, as usual, on the coast. So we drove “upcountry” to Waimea, at around 2,800 feet altitude. There we found the Waimea Coffee Co. and enjoyed the perfect Americano. The baristas were busy making artful designs on the lattes and mochas. I asked about taking some coffee home and they recommended a “peaberry” varietal in a 10-ounce bag. The price? Fifty dollars. I passed, opting instead for a delicious shortbread. The coffee was worth the trip — and the shortbread was a bonus!

Anchorage goalie earns spot on Team USA junior squad

Alaska News - Fri, 2018-11-16 17:54

It's been an eventful week for Anchorage goaltender Isaiah Saville, who picked a college one day and was picked to play for Team USA on another.

Saville, who plays for the Tri-City Storm of the U.S. Hockey League, was one 21 players named to the U.S. Junior Select Team that will play in next month's World Junior A Challenge. He's one of two goalies on the squad.

The tournament, which runs Dec. 9-16 in Bonnyville, Alberta, is a high-level international competition for skaters who play at the Junior A level or its equivalent. The five-team field includes two teams from Canada and one each from Russia, the Czech Republic and the United States.

While Team USA gets Saville in December, the University of Nebraska-Omaha gets him next season — and presumably for a few seasons after that.

Saville, who led West High to the 2016 Alaska high school state championship as a freshman, made his college pick official this week by signing a letter of intent to play for the Mavericks.

He's one of three Anchorage hockey players who committed to Division I college teams this week.

Former South High skater Asa Kinnear is headed to second-ranked St. Cloud State, and former Eagle River skater Cam McDonald is going to ninth-ranked Providence.

All three play in the U.S. Hockey League. Kinnear is a teammate of Saville's with the Tri-City Storm of Kearney, Nebraska, and McDonald plays with the Muskegon Lumberjacks of Muskegon, Michigan.

All of Saville's Team USA teammates hail from the USHL.

Alaska school employees find package of meth hidden in village food shipment

Alaska News - Fri, 2018-11-16 17:24

Wainwright (Wikimedia) (Wikimedia Commons/)

Employees at the Wainwright village school were beginning to prepare a meal for students this week when they discovered one of the containers of food looked suspicious, as if the seal had been broken. Inside, says school district superintendent Stewart McDonald, was methamphetamine.

The discovery of drugs among freight shipped to the school was first made Tuesday morning, according to the North Slope Borough School District. The district announced the discovery Friday on social media, saying there is no sign that any student food was contaminated.

McDonald said the drugs had been smuggled inside a “big, oatmeal cylinder-type container." North Slope Borough police tested the package and determined it was meth. Police are investigating, working to determine who sent the package and where it originated, McDonald said.

“It’s made me and every other leader I know furious that somebody had the arrogance to think that they could move a drug through our school freight and we are cracking down at every level,” the superintendent said.

The borough health department is sending an officer to inspect the school kitchen and all food, according to the district. An initial inspection found no signs of food contamination and classes are expected to continue normally.

“The biggest issue around here is people were fearing that something was found in a way that could potentially contaminate food for students,” McDonald said. He said the district planned to place all incoming and outgoing freight under “very tight supervision.”

Wainwright is a community of about 557 people above the Arctic Circle, More than 140 students, from pre-kindergarten to high school, attend the Alak School where the package was found, according to the district website.

Police charge man with stabbing Alaska Zoo head gardener to death in parking lot

Alaska News - Fri, 2018-11-16 17:19

The killing of the head gardener at the Alaska Zoo has been tied to a 33-year-old man who police say stabbed the gardener to death after an altercation in the zoo parking lot.

The man, Clayton Charlie, has been charged with first-degree murder, police said Friday. He also faces a slew of other charges, including vehicle theft, assault and harassment, court records show.

Police say the episode started when Charlie stole a truck about 2 p.m. on Nov. 4. He also violated protective orders related to domestic violence that day, court records show.

By about 7 p.m., Charlie was in the zoo parking lot. It wasn’t immediately clear why Charlie was there. But he encountered Michael Greco, the zoo’s head gardener, and an altercation ensued, police said.

Charlie stabbed the victim multiple times and drove over him before leaving the scene, police said. He then began using Greco’s credit card at a number of different locations, police said.

Investigating officers obtained surveillance footage from the places were the credit card was used. The officers identified Charlie as the suspect, police said.

At the time, Charlie was already in jail in connection with arrest warrants and the stolen vehicle investigation, police said.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Nelson’s chances in Florida Senate race dim as key counties complete recount

Alaska News - Fri, 2018-11-16 17:10

An election worker in Broward County shows to election observers ballots that have been damaged and duplicated in the recount for three statewide races. Washington Post photo by Jahi Chikwendiu (Jahi Chikwendiu/)

LAUDERHILL, Florida - -Sen. Bill Nelson was left with almost no chance of pulling off a comeback to retain his seat Friday after Florida’s two largest counties completed hand recounts that failed to generate the big vote bump the incumbent Democrat needed.

Nelson's underwhelming performances in the recounts in Miami-Dade County and the Democratic stronghold of Broward County, along with three courtroom setbacks, make it almost impossible for the three-term senator and former astronaut to overcome a deficit of more than 12,000 votes in his reelection bid against Gov. Rick Scott, R.

The recounts set the stage for a likely Scott victory that would strengthen Republican control of the U.S. Senate and give the nation's third-most-populous state two GOP senators. Unless something unforeseen occurs, Democratic insiders expect Nelson to concede as early as this weekend ahead of the results being certified Tuesday.

In Miami-Dade County, Nelson gained only 181 votes in the manual recount, according to a spokesman for the county's elections office. But the initial results in heavily Democratic Broward, just to the north, may prove even more damaging.

Broward officials reported Friday that they had recorded more than 30,000 "undervote" ballots, in which no candidate appeared to be selected. Going into the manual recount, Nelson's campaign had hoped that large numbers of ballots with no recorded vote in the Senate race would be revealed as votes for the Democrat once they were examined by hand. But that did not occur.

Broward has yet to disclose its final tally in the hand recount, withholding the breakdown until separate recounts in the state's agriculture commissioner contest and in a county race are completed Saturday and Sunday. They were examining both "undervotes" and "overvotes" - ballots in which more than one candidate appears to have been selected - leaving the county's canvassing board to decide whether the markings showed a clear voter intent or were so ambiguous that they had to be thrown out.

As Nelson's campaign was receiving the results in Broward and Miami-Dade, it was also absorbing losses in three lawsuits filed by Democrats and voting rights advocates that could have benefited his campaign. Democrats lost what may have been Nelson's final legal recourse Friday with a federal judge's decision denying a request to accept some mail-in ballots received after Election Day.

Jacob Sanders, a Democratic consultant in St. Lucie County, said there was little question the election was over. The Nelson campaign's push to hang on only delayed the reckoning due in a race that he says Democrats should have won.

"People are not happy that the blue wave hit the rest of the country and missed Florida. People are looking around and saying, 'What happened?' " Sanders said. "The recount was a really good way to make people stop asking. There's going to be a reckoning now."

The hand recount followed an error-ridden statewide machine recount that appears to have settled Florida's closely watched gubernatorial race, with President Donald Trump's favored candidate, Ron DeSantis, R, retaining his lead over Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, D. However, the first recount yielded no definitive result in the Senate race, in which the candidates were separated by less than the 0.25 percent that would have averted a hand recount.

In key counties Friday, manual recounts were finished with startling speed. Broward, which had stumbled through the machine recount, rolled through the state-mandated hand recount in just two hours Friday morning with only minimal arguments from party lawyers and no major controversies. The recount was completed so quickly that workers were sent home before lunch.

Joe D'Alessandro, the elections director for Broward, described the county's 30,000-plus undervotes as typical. However, Broward accounted for nearly half the state's total in the Senate race. And the figure was higher than the 21,969 undervotes in the lower-profile agriculture commissioner race on the same ballot.

Allies of Nelson complained about the ballot design in Broward County because the Senate race was placed below a set of instructions and might not have been noticed by some voters.

Broward election officials were under extreme pressure Friday after their botched handling of the machine recount the day before. The county's machine-based tally was rejected by Florida's secretary of state because it was submitted two minutes past a 3 p.m. deadline. The tardy submission meant Broward's original vote count was used.

In Broward on Friday, election workers and observers gathered at 6 a.m. and were given gloves for the delicate job of handling paper ballots.

The canvassing board had to wrestle with ballots that had inked-in bubbles next to both Nelson's and Scott's names, ballots with tiny flecks of ink called "pen rests," and a ballot that had a bubble filled in but also had an X over the bubble.

One particularly curious ballot had the bubble next to Nelson's name filled in, but also listed a write-in candidate named "Rick Nelson." The Broward canvassing judges decided that one should count for Nelson, even though it seemed to conflate the Democrat's last name with the Republican's first name. They applied a concept called the "rule of consistency," noting that the same voter had also filled in the bubble next to gubernatorial candidate Gillum's name while also listing Gillum as a write-in candidate.

The manual recount will also probably determine the outcome in Florida's agriculture commissioner race, a contest that has drawn widespread attention because it pits two politicians considered rising stars: Nikki Fried, a Democratic medical-marijuana advocate, and Republican Matt Caldwell. Entering Friday's recount, Fried led by 5,307 votes.

A federal judge in Tallahassee ruled late Thursday against Democratic efforts to change Florida's recounting rules. The suit, filed by Nelson and national Democratic leaders, sought to lift two rules that dictate when unclear ballot markings may be counted.

Judge Mark Walker of the U.S. District Court in Tallahassee also ruled late Thursday against the League of Women Voters, which had sued to force Scott to recuse himself from overseeing the state's administration of the election in his official capacity as governor. However, Walker also dinged Scott for "toeing the line" between "imprudent campaign-trail rhetoric" and "problematic state action."

Since the recount was ordered last Saturday, protesters have been a constant presence outside Broward's suburban vote center, where longtime elections supervisor Brenda Snipes has been the object of frequent criticism from Republicans. In Palm Beach County, the scene has been more placid, with Republicans and Democrats arrayed in circles of camping chairs. One Republican arrived with his golf clubs.

They've been through this before, of course. During the 2000 presidential election, Palm Beach was one of the focal points of the Bush vs. Gore recount battles. It was disparaged for its poorly designed "butterfly ballot," which some said led them to cast votes for the wrong candidate. Now the talk in the county is all about machines that should have worked - but didn't.


Gardner reported from Fort Lauderdale. The Washington Post’s Beth Reinhard in Fort Lauderdale, Lori Rozsa in Riviera Beach, Fla., and Sean Sullivan in Tallahassee contributed to this report.

Kawasaki appears to upset Kelly in Alaska Senate race

Alaska News - Fri, 2018-11-16 17:03

FILE - This Jan. 16, 2018, photo shows Alaska state Rep. Scott Kawasaki, a Fairbanks Democrat, talking on a telephone before the start of the legislative session at the state Capitol in Juneau, Alaska. Republican Alaska Senate President Pete Kelly appears to have lost his re-election bid but told The Associated Press that he's leaving open the option of a recount. Ballots tallied Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, show Kawasaki widening his lead to 173 votes in the Fairbanks race. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen, File) (Mark Thiessen/)

JUNEAU — Republican Alaska Senate President Pete Kelly appears to have lost his re-election bid but told The Associated Press Friday that he's leaving open the option of a recount.

Ballots tallied Friday show Democratic Rep. Scott Kawasaki widening his lead to 173 votes in the Fairbanks race.

As of Friday afternoon, the Division of Elections said it had the potential to receive 50 ballots from military or overseas addresses; that grouping is not broken out. Friday was the deadline for the state to receive absentee ballots mailed from within the U.S. Wednesday is the deadline to receive ballots from overseas addresses.

A win by Kawasaki would leave Republicans with 13 of the Senate's 20 seats. Democrats, however, held out some hope that a bipartisan coalition could be formed.

Meanwhile, in the House race to replace Kawasaki, Republican Bart LeBon held a 5-vote lead over Democrat Kathryn Dodge. The lead in that race has gone back and forth as ballots have been counted.

Republicans last week rushed to claim control of the House, saying they had a minimum of 21 members for a new majority, assuming a win by LeBon. The current House speaker, Democrat Bryce Edgmon, said the move was premature.

The House has been held the last two years by a coalition composed largely of Democrats.

Jay Parmley, executive director of the Alaska Democratic party, said Democrats knew the race against Kelly would be tough. The race was expensive and hard fought.

"We just couldn't be more thrilled to not only pick up a seat but to pick up this seat," Parmley said. Kawasaki did not immediately return a message.

Kelly, a long-time legislator who during his career also served in the House, was known as a staunch conservative voice. In 2017, he was outspoken in opposing an income tax that the state House passed as a way to help address the state's fiscal challenges.

"As I've said many times, the only thing standing between Alaskans and an income tax is the Senate," he said at the time. The Senate killed the bill.

On Friday, Kelly said he would not rule out a recount. He noted there are still more ballots to come in.

FILE - This Jan. 16, 2018, photo shows state Senate President Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, at the start of the legislative session at the Alaska state Capitol in Juneau, Alaska. Kelly appears to have lost his re-election bid but told The Associated Press that he's leaving open the option of a recount. Ballots tallied Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, show Democratic Rep. Scott Kawasaki widening his lead to 173 votes in the Fairbanks race. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen, File) (Mark Thiessen/)

"I'm kind of accepting the numbers as final, but any kind of legal path forward, as far as recounts and those kinds of things I haven't made a decision on those," Kelly said.

He said he’s glad the race is over. “I’ve got a whole bunch of things I need to do that don’t include going down to Juneau,” he said.

A win for public health on e-cigarettes

Alaska News - Fri, 2018-11-16 16:56

FILE - This Tuesday, April 10, 2018 file photo shows vaping devices, including a Juul, center, that were confiscated from students at a high school in Marshfield, Mass. On Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018, San Francisco-based Juul Labs Inc. announced it had stopped filling orders for its mango, fruit, creme and cucumber pods but not menthol and mint. It will sell all flavors through its website and limit sales to those 21 and older. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) (Steven Senne/)

While the headlines out of Washington, D.C., seem to blare partisanship these days, a major bipartisan victory for public health — and for our kids — is happening right before our eyes.

Last week, the FDA proposed strict actions that will crack down on the access our kids have to e-cigarettes. Our own Sen. Lisa Murkowski had a huge role in the FDA’s important steps.

Sen. Murkowski has raised this issue tirelessly through letters, phone calls and meetings. She heard stories from kids who were getting addicted to nicotine, and she sent an urgent message to the FDA — do something now or risk turning back the progress that we have made to reduce youth smoking levels to record lows.

Sen. Murkowski was right. This week, the FDA announced new survey results showing that between 2017 and 2018, current e-cigarette use by high school students increased by an alarming 78 percent and by 48 percent among middle school students. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb called it like he saw it -- youth e-cigarette use has reached epidemic levels.

E-cigarettes didn’t become this popular with kids by accident. Tobacco and e-cigarette companies have a long history of developing and selling products in fun-sounding flavors, so it’s no surprise that e-cigarettes come in thousands of kid-friendly flavors such as gummy bear, cotton candy and banana cheesecake. These flavors sound more like desserts than tobacco products — and that is exactly why they appeal to kids.

Alarmed last year by the dramatic rise in e-cigarette use by Alaska kids, Sen. Murkowski and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., introduced the Stopping Appealing Flavors in E-Cigarettes for Kids Act (SAFE Kids Act), which calls for banning flavored tobacco products that are clearly meant to hook kids. The bill imposes strict measures on manufacturers of Juul (the maker of e-cigarettes that are tremendously popular among kids and resemble an innocuous flash drive) and other companies to prevent youths from being able to purchase these products online and in person.

The FDA actions announced this week, if implemented, will vigorously crack down on manufacturers who are marketing to kids. If these rules go through, it’s a victory for public health.

But the fight isn’t over. There is still much work to do to turn back this epidemic. The FDA has to seek public input on these proposed regulations and then formally implement them. And the road ahead won’t be without obstacles. There will undoubtedly be pushback from lobbyists for the tobacco and e-cigarette industries.

Even with the FDA’s proposed changes in place, e-cigarettes that deliver exceptionally high levels of nicotine will still be available at convenience stores. It will be up to our state and community health leaders to ensure these products aren’t sold to kids.

E-cigarettes may be an option for adults who have already developed an addiction to nicotine, but we cannot stand by and watch a whole new generation become addicted to these harmful toxins.

If you are a parent of a teenager here in Alaska, chances are good that your son or daughter has tried e-cigarettes — or at least known someone who has. You have a stake in ensuring we don’t reverse the progress made in getting youth smoking and nicotine addiction down to the lowest-ever recorded levels.

As we approach the season of thankfulness, I’d like to acknowledge the contributions of elected officials like Sen. Murkowski, who are not afraid to take a stand for our kids’ health. While we are not over the finish line on these rules, we are heading in the right direction.

Karen Perdue served as Alaska’s Commissioner of Health and Social Services for eight years and continues to advocate for public health improvements from her hometown of Fairbanks.

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.

US intel says prince ordered Khashoggi killing

Alaska News - Fri, 2018-11-16 16:47

The members of Arab-Turkish Media Association and friends attend funeral prayers in absentia for Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi who was killed last month in the Saudi Arabia consulate, in Istanbul, Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Thursday called for an international investigation into the killing of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel) (Emrah Gurel/)

WASHINGTON — U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. official said Friday. The Saudi government has denied the claim.

The conclusion will bolster efforts in Congress to further punish the close U.S. ally for the killing. The Trump administration this week sanctioned 17 Saudi officials for their alleged role in the killing, but lawmakers have called on the administration to curtail arms sales to Saudi Arabia or take other harsher punitive measures.

The U.S. official familiar with the intelligence agencies' conclusion was unauthorized to speak publicly about it and spoke on condition of anonymity. It was first reported by The Washington Post.

Saudi Arabia's top diplomat has said the crown prince had "absolutely" nothing to do with the killing.

Khashoggi, a Saudi who lived in the United States, was a columnist for the Post and often criticized the royal family. He was killed Oct. 2 at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Turkish and Saudi authorities say he was killed inside the consulate by a team from the kingdom after he went there to get marriage documents.

This week, U.S. intelligence officials briefed members of the Senate and House intelligence committees and the Treasury Department announced economic sanctions on 17 Saudi officials suspected of being responsible for or complicit in the killing.

A person holds up a banner as members of the Arab-Turkish Media Association and friends attend funeral prayers in absentia for Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi who was killed last month in the Saudi Arabia consulate, in Istanbul, Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Thursday called for an international investigation into the killing of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel) (Emrah Gurel/)

Among those targeted for sanctions were Mohammed al-Otaibi, the diplomat in charge of the consulate, and Maher Mutreb, who was part of the crown prince's entourage on trips abroad.

The sanctions freeze any assets the 17 may have in the U.S. and prohibit any Americans from doing business with them.

Also this week, the top prosecutor in Saudi Arabia announced he will seek the death penalty against five men suspected in the killing. The prosecutor's announcement sought to quiet the global outcry over Khashoggi's death and distance the killers and their operation from the kingdom's leadership, primarily the crown prince.

President Donald Trump has called the killing a botched operation that was carried out very poorly and has said "the cover-up was one of the worst cover-ups in the history of cover-ups."

But he has resisted calls to cut off arms sales to the kingdom and has been reluctant to antagonize the Saudi rulers. Trump considers the Saudis vital allies in his Mideast agenda.

The Post, citing unnamed sources, also reported that U.S. intelligence agencies reviewed a phone call that the prince's brother, Khalid bin Salman, had with Khashoggi. The newspaper said the prince's brother, who is the current Saudi ambassador to the United States, told Khashoggi he would be safe in going to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to retrieve the documents he needed to get married.

The newspaper said it was not known whether the ambassador knew Khashoggi would be killed. But it said he made the call at the direction the crown prince, and the call was intercepted by U.S. intelligence.

Fatimah Baeshen, a spokesperson for the Saudi embassy in Washington, said that claim was false.

She said in a statement issued to The Associated Press that the ambassador met Khashoggi in person once in late September 2017. After that, they communicated via text messages, she said. The last text message the ambassador sent to Khashoggi was on Oct. 26, 2017, she said.

Baeshen said the ambassador did not discuss with Khashoggi "anything related to going to Turkey."

"Ambassador Prince Khalid bin Salman has never had any phone conversations with him," she said.

"You are welcome to check the phone records and cell phone content to corroborate this — in which case, you would have to request it from Turkish authorities," Baeshen said, adding that Saudi prosecutors have checked the phone records numerous times to no avail.

The ambassador himself tweeted: “The last contact I had with Mr. Khashoggi was via text on Oct. 26, 2017. I never talked to him by phone and certainly never suggested he go to Turkey for any reason. I ask the U.S. government to release any information regarding this claim.”

The Anchorage School District and teachers union reached a tentative contract deal. Here’s what it includes.

Alaska News - Fri, 2018-11-16 16:47

The Anchorage School District and Anchorage Education Association teachers union held a joint press conference Friday to discuss their tentative agreement on a three-year contract. From left to right: Tom Klaameyer, union president, Michael Graham, district chief academic officer, Deena Bishop, district superintendent. (Tegan Hanlon / ADN)

The Anchorage School District and the teachers union released more details Friday about the terms of the three-year contract that they tentatively agreed to this week.

That contract proposal includes increases to union members’ salaries and to the district’s contribution toward their health insurance premiums. The proposed pay increase is more than what the school district originally proposed, but less than what the union asked for.

The proposal also includes a slew of other new additions, including some to the “academic freedom” portion of the contract such as: Union members may provide their students with additional time for physical activity. The proposed contract also addresses increasing collaboration with teachers about changes to classroom practices and programs.

The contract, however, isn’t yet a done deal.

The Anchorage School Board and the union members themselves still must vote to approve the contract before it takes effect. The union has roughly 3,300 members including school teachers, counselors and nurses. They’re currently working under the terms of a contract the expired June 30.

Bargaining teams for the school district and the union, the Anchorage Education Association, reached the tentative contract agreement late Wednesday night after months of negotiations.

Officials with the district and union released details of the proposed contract in a joint, written statement Friday and at a press conference.

“We feel we have an excellent school district. We have excellent people and we’re ready to move forward,” said Anchorage Schools Superintendent Deena Bishop.

Here’s some of what’s included in the proposed contract:

Salary: Members of the teachers union are paid based on a combination of experience and how much college education they have. The salary schedule in the expired contract starts at $48,886 for a teacher with no experience and a bachelor’s degree.

The tentative contract agreement would adjust the salary schedule in the current school year so union members would receive an additional experience step, retroactive to July 1, 2018. That means the salary for a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree would bump up to $50,213. Teachers who have topped out of the salary schedule would get an “in-lieu-of-step” that totals $1,300 this school year. In the 2019-20 school year, the base pay of the salary schedule would increase by 2 percent, followed by another 2 percent increase the next year.

The union had originally asked for three raises over three years to the base pay in the salary schedule: 3 percent in the current school year, 3 percent in the 2019-20 school year and 3.5 percent in 2020-21. The school district had originally proposed no increase in the current school year, a 0.75 percent increase in 2019-20 and a 1.5 percent increase in 2020-21.

Health benefits: Under the expired contract, the district contributes $1,645 per month to a union member’s health insurance premium.

The tentative contract agreement says the district would contribute $1.9 million to the union’s health reserve account this school year to offset premium increases. Next school year, the district would increase its contribution to health insurance premiums by $50, bringing it to $1,695. There would be no change in 2020-21.

The district had originally proposed no increase in the current school year and the next school year, then increasing the monthly payment by $50, to $1,695, in 2020-21. The union had asked the district to increase its monthly payment by $390 over three years, growing to $1,745 this year, $1,884 next year and $2,035 in 2020-21.

Academic freedom: The proposal says union members may provide their students "additional time for physical activity in keeping with school schedules and District expectations and state requirements.” It also says union members will only be required to submit lesson plans if they’re on a growth or improvement plan, or if the administrator has a specific, previously documented performance concern. Union members have a “professional responsibility to meet student learning styles and differentiate instruction,” the proposed contract says.

Special education: Changes to this part of the contract address communication, safety needs, training and more. There’s new proposed language that says union members would be compensated for Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings that extend more than 15 minutes beyond the workday.

It also says the school district would provide supports and training for teachers with students who exhibit violent and disruptive behaviors.

“Students who have been removed from the classroom for violent or severely disruptive behavior shall only be returned to the classroom after appropriate action has been taken,” the proposed contract says. “It is strongly encouraged that a meeting between the member, administrator, and parent occur prior to the student returning to the classroom.”

Scheduling in middle schools and English Language Arts in elementary schools: The school district and the union tentatively agreed to “letters of understanding” related to middle school schedules and elementary school curriculum.

Under the proposed agreements, the school district would schedule a committee to review elementary schools’ English Language Arts curriculum and implementation.

Another committee would review schedules in middle school. That committee would submit recommendations to Bishop and the Anchorage School Board by January 15.

During the recent negotiating sessions with federal mediators, middle school scheduling persisted as the main hurdle to reaching a contract deal, said Tom Klaameyer, president of the teachers union. The union and school district went through three rounds of mediation, the last one on Wednesday.

“It’s actually unusual — my understanding is — for mediation to last through several sessions that way. It was five different meetings over three different periods of time,” Klaameyer said. “And the last probably three days of those were hammering out the middle school model.”

The school district moved to a “middle school model” in the 1990s, according to Michael Graham, district chief academic officer.

Middle school teachers taught during five of the day’s seven periods, he said. A team of teachers shared the same group of students who rotated between them for their different class subjects. Teachers had a period for individual planning time. They had another period for team planning time -- when teachers could collaborate and coordinate with each other.

The middle school model is more expensive because it requires more teachers, Graham said. Under constrained budgets, the number of teaching positions was reduced, impacting the middle school model, he said.

Currently, in all but two middle schools, teachers have classes during six of the day’s seven periods. That means that many teachers have lost collaborative planning time, and they also have more students, Klaameyer said.

“It’s time to make a decision,” he said. “If we really want middle school, we need to fund it. If we can’t fund it, then we can’t expect everything out of junior high that middle school does."

Graham said it would cost about $5 million more for middle schools to return to teachers teaching during five of the day’s seven periods.

Contract cost

The entire contract proposal would cost an additional $22.6 million over three years, said Jim Anderson, district chief financial officer.

According to district estimates, the union’s original contract proposal would have cost an additional $54.4 million over its three years. The district’s original proposal would have cost about an additional $12 million over its three years.

Under the expired contract, the district spent about $345 million on salaries and benefits for members of the teachers union, Anderson has said. The district's total general fund budget for the current school year is about $565 million.

Union members will vote on whether to approve the contact on Dec. 3 to Dec. 5.

Read the entire tentative agreement here.

A changing military brings fewer Alaska Natives into the force - KTOO

Legislative News - Fri, 2018-11-16 16:12

A changing military brings fewer Alaska Natives into the force
She grew up between Bethel and Chevak in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region, and has been part of policy discussions on the Guard in the Alaska Legislature. In the past, residents in rural regions joined the military in large numbers. Part of the draw ...

Trump says he’s finished writing answers to questions from Mueller

Alaska News - Fri, 2018-11-16 15:49

President Donald Trump speaks during the UN General Assembly meeting in New York, on Sept. 25, 2018. Bloomberg photo by Jeenah Moon (Jeenah Moon/)

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump on Friday said he has answered a set of questions from Special Counsel Robert Mueller “very easily,” and his lawyers are signaling that the president expects to turn over his written answers in the coming days.

Trump stressed that he has been "busy" and that it has taken some time to complete the answers, but he also expressed his concern about Mueller's purpose in obtaining them.

"You always have to be careful answering questions for people who probably have bad intentions," he said of the team Mueller has assembled to investigate Russia's interference in the 2016 election and any possible coordination with Trump's campaign. "I haven't submitted them. I just finished them."

The president's comments, which he made to reporters gathered in the Oval Office for a bill signing, came after his lawyers postponed submitting his answers on Thursday, as they had considered doing.

With the midterm elections now over, Mueller faces key decision points in his 18-month-old investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign - a probe that has led to charges against 32 people, including 26 Russians. Four aides to Trump have pleaded guilty to various charges, most recently former campaign chairman Paul Manafort in September.

The special counsel's team has not indicated publicly that it has drawn any conclusions about whether Trump associates conspired with the Russians or whether the president obstructed justice. Trump's responses to a series of questions have been long sought by Mueller as part of his drafting of a confidential report expected to detail his overall findings.

Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer, told The Washington Post on Thursday that the legal team was still deciding whether some of Mueller's questions it agreed to answer in September would cause legal problems for the president.

According to people familiar with the delay, Trump's lawyers believe they have now resolved the problem they faced.

Trump stressed Friday that he answered the questions personally, not his lawyers.

"My lawyers aren't working on it. I'm working on it," Trump said. "My lawyers don't write the answers."

The president has met with lawyers nearly every day this week in sessions to review his answers, including a four-hour session Wednesday that was frequently interrupted by other business. Trump spent more than four hours meeting with his attorneys Monday, broken up by phone calls the president had to take, and 90 minutes Wednesday night, according to people familiar with the sessions.

Trump also was asked Friday about recent tweets that seemed to betray a sense of frustration. He called the Mueller probe "illegal" and said, without evidence, that Mueller's team was "screaming and shouting at people, horribly threatening them to come up with the answers they want."

"I'm not agitated," he said Friday. "It's a hoax."

The questions, roughly two dozen focusing on five topics, all predate Trump winning the 2016 presidential election. Trump's lawyers have not yet agreed to answer a larger set of questions that relate to Trump's time as president-elect and then as president, Giuliani said.

"There are some that create more issues for us legally than others," Giuliani said Thursday. He said some were "unnecessary," some were "possible traps" and that "we might consider some as irrelevant."

Giuliani said the special counsel has not imposed a firm deadline, but he added that Trump’s answers could be submitted Friday. Another person familiar with the effort said they expect Trump to turn over the answers before Thanksgiving.

Amazon struggles to fulfill Prime orders weeks after tornado hits Md. warehouse

Alaska News - Fri, 2018-11-16 15:05

Amazon Prime's free two-day shipping?

Expect your package in a week. Maybe two.

That's the reality for some Prime customers in the Washington and Baltimore areas heading into this holiday season. For the past few weeks, shoppers have been offered delivery dates well beyond Prime's standard two-day pledge, even for items that are in stock. And they've faced challenges getting clear answers about the lag, even though the main culprit, according to Amazon, is tornado damage to a Baltimore warehouse.

For some customers, the delays and difficulties of getting answers from Amazon about what is going on have raised questions about a company whose focus on pleasing the consumer and hard-to-beat shipping guarantees have became a major part of its success. Amazon could not predict a natural disaster, of course, but some analysts say getting the Baltimore facility back to full-speed is proving a test of Amazon's broader resilience at a time when it is expanding furiously and imagining futuristic ways to deliver products - including by drone.

Amazon's $119 Prime membership is crucial to the company's retail business. Subscribers receive free two-day shipping, and in April, Amazon announced Prime memberships had exceed 100 million worldwide. Fast and cheap shipping has also become a major competition point between Target, Walmart, Amazon and other major retailers, particularly as each unveils its own shipping perks during the holiday season.

"Everyone marvels at Amazon Prime two-day shipping, but doesn't really understand it," said Anthony Johndrow, a corporate reputation adviser. "And now that something goes wrong, it goes from being magical to being a broken promise."

Amazon's issues in the Washington-Baltimore area stem from a Nov. 2 tornado that blasted through an Amazon complex in southeast Baltimore, causing a partial collapse of a warehouse and killing two contractors inside. The storm crumbled a 50-by-50 foot concrete wall and ripped off part of facility's roof, Commander Roman Clark, chief public information officer of the Baltimore City Fire Department, said in an interview. Clark said many of the tractor-trailers on the facility were overturned, with some looking "twisted like a pretzel."

On Amazon's complex, the building that was most directly hit was a sortation center, where packages are sorted by ZIP code before they go out for delivery. Amazon spokeswoman Rachael Lighty said more than 100 full time and part-time employees work at the Baltimore center, are still being paid their regular shifts and are being offered other jobs at nearby facilities. Another facility located on the same complex - the Amazon Fulfillment Center, where products are stored - was not affected by the storm. The entire complex serves customers across Maryland, the District, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

Lighty said the sortation center hasn't reopened since the Nov. 2 tornado, causing packages to be either rerouted through other facilities or loaded directly onto a carrier truck.

"We have been communicating to customers that due to the damage caused by severe weather in Baltimore, deliveries associated with the impacted areas may be experiencing delays," Lighty said. "If customers have any concerns they should contact customer service."

Asked about how a slowdown like this tests Amazon's resiliency, and how the company has communicated with frustrated customers, Lighty said the company apologizes for any inconvenience and is working to resolve the issues. Amazon's networks are designed to minimize impacts to orders during severe weather, she said.

Basic logistics - like communication and transportation - are crucial to Prime's two-day shipping promise. Darren Prokop, an expert on logistics and emergency preparedness at the University of Alaska Anchorage, said Amazon risks letting its customer service slip if any links in the chain come undone, including in the event of a natural disaster.

Threats to Amazon's facilities worldwide go well beyond tornadoes. In the Baltimore area alone, Prokop guessed a warehouse could be vulnerable to fires, a localized earthquake, power outages, extreme cold or a cyber attack.

"Unless there are other distribution centers that can fill that gap in the delivery time Amazon Prime customers expect, it's not going to work," Prokop said.

Lighty said that during severe weather, Amazon works to ensure the safety of employees and contractors, and to minimize customer delays.

Amazon responded to some customer complaints on Twitter by clarifying that Prime's two-day guarantee kicks in only after an item has shipped, and doesn't account for the time it takes Amazon to obtain an item or prepare it for shipment.

But that didn't sway everyone. When given that explanation by Amazon's customer service on Twitter, one Prime customer responded in a tweet by saying, "Funny how I never waited longer than 1-3 days on "prime eligible" items before this past month."

Timothy Coombs, a crisis communication expert at Texas A&M University, said Amazon simply restating its policy is unlikely to win over disgruntled customers.

"That starts splitting hairs, and I know as a customer that I don't like that," Coombs said. "I don't care that people have this mistaken view of the policy. Now is not a good time to clarify that for me."

Lighty said that customers facing delays should contact customer service and that Amazon has been communicating with those facing delays.

At first, Richard Morrison thought his Prime order on Nov. 13 was delayed because of Amazon's new promise that all customers will get free shipping through the holidays. But that wouldn't explain why when Morrison tried to complete an order on Nov. 13, Prime's two-day shipping option offered him a delivery window between Nov. 16 and Nov. 24.

Morrison, who lives in the District, ended up paying for one-day shipping. But he worries that persistent delays will make it harder for him to get the items he needs without much lead time.

"You have the luxury of waiting to the last minute . . . and the short delivery window is a big value add," Morrison said. "Obviously that's why people pay for Prime in the first place."

For the past 10 years, Kam Quarles, who lives in Washington, said he'd gotten used to having his orders arrive within two days. Quarles said he started wondering this week if Prime had undergone a major policy change. And he doesn't understand why when he went to complete his order, a delivery window of 10 to 14 days came up beside the two-day shipping option.

Amazon could have easily explained the damage caused by the tornado, Quarles said. But if the company "provides a certain level of service for 10 years, and then to just have it go completely on its head and argue that nothing's changed, it's not great for their customers."

Amazon's logistical issues and customer service missteps hit Prime customer Steve Waldman at once, he said. Waldman lives in San Francisco and wanted an $8 USB adapter to arrive at his mother's house in Baltimore by the time he flew there at the end of this week.

When he tried to place his order on Nov. 13, he was given the option to pay nearly $6 for one-day shipping. If he chose Prime's free two-day shipping option, the adapter wouldn't arrive until Nov. 17 - four days later.

When Waldman took to Twitter to complain, Amazon Customer Service responded in a tweet saying that customers near the wildfires raging in California "may see extended delivery dates at checkout." Waldman followed up in a tweet saying he was actually trying to ship an item to Maryland. That's when Amazon responded again on Twitter, saying that deliveries in the DC area would be delayed because of "recent severe weather."

"They've got a catastrophe everywhere," Waldman told The Post with a laugh.

Waldman ultimately paid the $6 for one-day shipping (he is requesting a refund). And he told The Post he doesn't doubt that Amazon is struggling to rebound both from California wildfires and Baltimore's tornado.

But he's still taken issue with Amazon's communication about what is causing the delays, and the company's difficulty keeping orders flowing to a major metropolitan area.

"Usually they'll surprise you about how quickly you can get things," Waldman said. "It's a difficult habit to break."

(Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Why we’re trying to lift the ‘Roadless Rule’

Alaska News - Fri, 2018-11-16 14:32

Clouds form in the valleys of the Tongass National Forest above Holkham Bay in Southeast Alaska on Thursday, July 19, 2018. (Bob Hallinen / ADN) (Bob Hallinen/)

From the North Slope to the Panhandle, and the Interior to the Peninsula, rural Alaskans are prioritizing their access – to each other, the rest of Alaska and the world.

Cost is often the limiting factor. But not always.

Many community leaders want to improve access without jeopardizing the unique character and resources of their communities. It’s literally a fight for survival for some small communities. For others, it’s part of a long-term plan to become more sustainable.

One of the regions where the state of Alaska is working with local communities and stakeholders to increase rural access and connectivity is Southeast Alaska, where the U.S. Forest Service is taking a fresh look at how it manages roadless areas in the Tongass National Forest.

Many Southeast Alaska communities are largely surrounded by inventoried roadless areas of the Tongass and are disadvantaged by the national “Roadless Rule” when it comes to creating new jobs and access to services like transportation, renewable energy and high-speed Internet.

It’s true the Forest Service has approved some development activities in roadless areas, but the process is unpredictable and the outcomes uncertain. Often, the approvals are so limited in scope that the ability to meaningfully advance a multi-phase infrastructure project is severely hamstrung.

Advocates for the Roadless Rule focus on its implications for timber harvest. But even in parts of the Tongass where the rule doesn’t apply, timber sales face severe regulatory and economic hurdles, as well as legal challenges. Lifting the Roadless Rule won’t change that.

The state of Alaska has supported exempting the Tongass from the national rule for decades and continues to litigate for that outcome.

As a matter of policy, we support lifting the rule to create more opportunities for the 34 communities located in the Tongass.

These opportunities include: increasing jobs in mining and other employment sectors; improving the feasibility of renewable energy projects; implementing the state’s Southeast Transportation Plan to connect communities; and expanding broadband Internet to access services such as telemedicine and education. Over time, these outcomes could bring down the costs of living and doing business in our smaller communities.

We recognize that lifting the Roadless Rule for the Tongass has many detractors. It’s important to note that, in addition to fighting for an exemption, we are also participating with the Forest Service in a collaborative public process that seeks to create an Alaska Roadless Rule.

This rule-making is a critical opportunity to work with the Forest Service, local communities, the Alaska Native community, businesses and other stakeholders to identify ways to manage roadless areas that better reflect community and regional needs.

Alaska is not alone. The Forest Service has implemented state-specific rules in coordination with both Idaho and Colorado, and other states are pursuing similar opportunities to break free from the one-size-fits-all approach of the national rule.

The Forest Service plans to publish a Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Draft Rule in June 2019 for public review and input.

We have stood up a citizen’s advisory committee that has just concluded a series of meetings throughout Southeast Alaska. This group will provide recommendations to our State Forester and the Governor on how the state should weigh in on the federal rule-making process.

In addition, the State of Alaska and several tribes are participating in the federal environmental review and rule-making process as cooperating agencies.

This rule-making is a unique opportunity for Southeast Alaskans to consider the future of their communities and make their voices heard, and I encourage all to do so.

Heidi Hansen is deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources and grew up in Juneau.

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.