John Erhart of Tanana leads James Wheeler of Clam Gulch around a tight corner near the Alaska Native Medial Center during the first day of the 2019 Fur Rendezvous Open World Championship Sled Dog Race. (Bob Hallinen photo) (Bob Hallinen/)
Driving a team of 12 dogs, Fur Rendezvous rookie Amy Dunlap of Salcha outran a host of bigger teams to seize the first-day lead in the Open World Championship Sled Dog Race.
Dunlap finished the 25-mile race across Anchorage in 1 hour, 24 minutes, 18 seconds. She was 42 seconds ahead of second-place John Erhart (1:25:01), who drove a team of 16.
In third place with 15 dogs was Ricky Taylor (1:25:12). Defending champion Blayne Streeper and his team of 18 dogs were fourth in 1:25:18.
Blayne Streeper of Fort Nelson, British Columbia, drives his dog team past the Alaska Native Medial Center campus on the first day of the 2019 Fur Rendezvous Open World Championship Sled Dog Race. (Bob Hallinen photo) (Bob Hallinen/)
Though Dunlap is a Rondy rookie, she is no stranger to sled dog racing. She is a veteran of the Open North American in Fairbanks, and she competed in the 2016 Fur Rondy Invitational, a replacement event staged when poor trail conditions led to the cancellation of that year’s Open World Championships. Mushers that year did three-mile runs on three straight days.
Dunlap’s husband Jason placed fourth in the 2017 Rondy and was 11th last year. He’s not racing this year.
Dunlap was one of only four mushers in a field of 23 to run with 12 or fewer dogs. Don Cousins had 12 and Wendy Callis and Todd Whitcomb both had 11, and all but Dunlap finished near the back of the pack.
Racing continues Saturday and Sunday, with mushers leaving the start line at Fourth Avenue and D Street beginning at noon each day.
1) Amy Dunlap (12 dogs) 1:24:18;
2) John Erhart (16) 1:25:01;
3) Ricky Taylor (15) 1:25:12;
4) Blayne Streeper (18) 1:25:18;
5) Courtney Agnes (16) 1:26:04;
6) Guy Gerard (14) 1:26:10;
7) Ken Chezik (16) 1:27:01;
8) Michael Tetzner (16) 1:27:08;
9) Lina Streeper (14) 1:27:31;
10) Marvin Kokrine (14) 1:27:38;
11) Carl Knudsen (13) 1:28:16;
12) James Wheeler (14) 1:29:02;
13) Nikki Seo (13) 1:29:39;
14) Jeff Conn (14) 1:30:13;
15) Rejean Therrien (18) 1:30:20;
16) Brent Beck (14) 1:32:01;
17) Armin Johnson (16) 1:32:21;
18) Bill Kornmuller (16) 1:36:21;
19) Don G. Cousins (12) 1:36:25;
20) Wendy Callis (11) 1:37:22;
21) Colby Evensen (14) 1:41:00;
22) Todd Whitcomb (11) 1:42:05;
23) Matt Paveglio (14) 1:54:53.
Fans cheer for Marvin Kokrine of North Pole. (Bob Hallinen photo) (Bob Hallinen/)
Alyeska’s sun-drenched headwall backlights Utah's Addison Dvoracek, who posted his fifth win of the season Friday. (Photo by Bob Eastaugh) (Bob Eastaugh/)
Alyeska Resort and Kincaid Park both delivered a gorgeous day Friday for skiers in the NCAA Western Regional championships.
UAA took full advantage by producing seven top-10 finishes, including five in the giant slalom race at Alyeska.
Giant slalom wins went to Andrea Komsic of Denver and Addison Dvoracek of Utah, who are among several world-class skiers competing in two NCAA meets this week in the Anchorage area. A handful of the alpine skiers came to Alaska after competing in last week’s World Championships.
“It’s a world-class group of athletes. We can walk away from today with our heads high," UAA head coach Sparky Anderson said in a release from the school.
UAA put three women in the top 10 of the giant slalom – fifth-place Georgia Burgess, sixth-place Li Djurestad and 10th-place Kristina Natalenko. In the men’s GS, Sky Kelsey and Liam Wallace tied for seventh place and were right in the mix for podium finishes.
“Our women had a great day,” Anderson said. “It’s one of the most demanding hills we’ve competed on this season. It’s nice to see good results in front of a home crowd.”
Andrea Komsic, a Croatian skiing for the University of Denver, deflects a hinged gate at the top of Alyeska's Waterfall on her winning giant slalom run Friday. The snow looks blue because windshield fluid is used to improve depth perception on shady courses. (Photo by Bob Eastaugh) (Bob Eastaugh/)
At Kincaid Park, cross-country skiers enjoyed an ideal day for classic-technique races.
“The conditions at Kincaid don’t get any better with the clear skies and new cold snow,” UAA cross-country Andrew Kastning said.
New Mexico skiers went 1-2 in the men’s race, with Kornelius Groev nipping teammate Ricardo Izquierdo-Bernier by half a second in the mass-start 20-kilometer race.
For UAA, Toomas Kollo placed 10th for his best classic result of the season and Sigurd Roenning was 15th.
In the women’s 15K, Anchorage’s Hailey Swirbul set the pace, finishing two minutes ahead of the top NCAA skier. Swirbul trains with the Alaska Pacific University nordic team, which isn’t an NCAA program.
Julia Richter of Utah topped the college skiers. Casey Wright continued a strong week of skiing for UAA by placing ninth, one spot behind Anchorage’s Emma Tarbath, who skis for Montana State. Michaela Keller-Miller was 13th for the Seawolves.
Friday’s race was the last one in Alaska for college cross-country skiers, but racing continues Saturday and Sunday at Alyeska with slalom races.
NCAA Western Regional
Friday’s alpine results
Women’s giant slalom -- 1) Andrea Komsic, Denver, 2:33.69; 2) Norbye Tuva, Denver, 2:34.45; 3) Eirin Linnea Engeset, Utah, 2:34.69; 4) Sona Moravcikova, New Mexico, 2:35.01; 5) Georgia Burgess, UAA, 2:37.44; 6) Li Djurestaal, UAA, 2:37.97; 7) Mia Henry, Montana State, 2:37.98; 8) Andrea Louise Arnold, Colorado, 2:38.76; 9) Kathryn Parker, Utah, 2:39.20; 10) Kristina Natalenko, UAA, 2:39.54.
Men’s giant slalom -- 1) Addison Dvoracek, Utah, 2:25.06; 2) Joachim Bakken Lien, Utah, 2:25.84; 3) Max Luukko, Colorado, 2:26.31; 4) Filip Forejtek, Colorado, 2:26.57; 5) Tobias Kogler, Denver, 2:27.03; 6) Aage Solheim, Montana State, 2:27.22; 7) Sky Kelsey, UAA, 2:27.24; 7) Liam Wallace, UAA, 2:27.24; 9) Vegard Busengdal, New Mexico, 2:27.30; 10) Florian Szwebel, Montana State, 2:27.33.
With a 3-2 loss Friday night in Houghton, Michigan, the UAA hockey team was mathematically eliminated from the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs.
The Seawolves occupy last place in the 10-team league, which sends its top eight teams to the WCHA tournament. They are 14 points out of eighth place, and with only three regular-season games left, the most points they can score between now and the end of the season is nine.
Coming into the game, UAA trailed eighth-place Alabama Huntsville by 11 points. Catching Huntsville was possible, but only if the Seawolves won their final four games and Huntsville lost its final four. Neither of those things can happen now, because UAA lost and Huntsville won on Friday.
Jonah Renouf and Drayson Pears each scored and Kristian Stead made 39 saves for UAA, but the Seawolves were outshot 42-14 and gave up two power-play goals.
UAA (3-25-3 overall, 2-20-3 WCHA) led 1-0 in the second period and forged a 2-2 tie early in the third period. Michigan Tech (13-16-4, 12-10-3) scored the game-winning goal on a power play with 11 minutes left.
“I thought our effort was there, but we never seemed to get things rolling the way we are able to,” UAA coach Matt Curley said in a release from the school. “We struggled to get pucks to the net and gave up a lot against on the other end, ultimately costing us the game.”
After a scoreless first period, Renouf scored about five minutes into the second period on an assist from Nicolas Erb-Ekholm. Two minutes later, Tech tied the game.
The Huskies went up 2-1 a little more than four minutes into the third period, only to see UAA tie it 70 seconds later with Pear’s goal, assisted by Trey deGraaf and Carmine Buono.
UAA had no answer when the Huskies’ Jake Jackson scored a breakaway power-play goal for the game-winner.
The Seawolves were 0-for-2 on the power play and Tech was 2-for-4. UAA hadn’t allowed a power-play goal in its previous five games.
“Kristian Stead was outstanding tonight and kept us in it,” Curley said. “Hopefully tomorrow we will be able to generate some more presence in the offensive zone.”
Race winner Kendall Kramer of West Valley gets a hug from West's Ivy Eski after the girls 7.5-kilometer freestyle race Friday at the Birch Hill Recreation Area. (Danny Martin / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner)
Masters of the ski trails for a second straight day, Kendall Kramer of West Valley and Zanden McMullen of South claimed Skimeister titles Friday at the state high school cross-country ski championships at Birch Hill Recreation Area in Fairbanks.
It was the second straight Skimeister crown for Kramer, a junior who on Friday won the girls 7.5-kilometer freestyle race by nearly 50 seconds over runnerup Garvee Tobin of Service.
It was the first title for McMullen, a senior who topped the boys 10K freestyle race by nearly a minute over West’s Everett Cason.
Tobin and Cason both finished second in the Skimeister standings. The title of Skimeister is awarded to the boy and girl with the fastest combined times in the two individual races at the state championships.
The meet concludes Saturday with relay races at Birch Hill. Team titles are at stake, although the West girls appear to be in great position to win a fifth straight state championship.
The Eagles lead the West Valley girls by nearly four minutes heading into the race. Even with Kramer on their team, the Wolfpack will be hard-pressed to make up that much time in the 4x3K relay.
In the boys competition, West’s three-year reign as state champs could come to an end. Going into the 4x5K relay, West Valley leads second-place Service by 53 seconds and third-place West by 98 seconds.
ASAA/First National Bank state skiing championships
Friday’s individual results
Girls 7.5K freestyle
1) KRAMER, Kendall, West Valley, 23:37.0; 2) TOBIN, Garvee, Service, 24:25.5; 3) ESKI, Ivy, West, 24:33.8; 4) LECLAIR, Aubrey, West, 24:55.9; 5) HANESTAD, Annika, Colony, 25:06.7; 6) DONLEY, Quincy, West, 25:17.6; 7) GONZALES, Annie, West, 25:30.3; 8) PROFFITT, Adrianna, Chugiak, 25:36.1; 9) JEROME, Emma, West Valley, 25:36.3; 10) HOUSER, Katey, Palmer, 25:41.5; 11) WALSH, Emily Eagle River, 26:06.4; 12) WITTER, Tatum, Service, 26:10.5; 13) FLORA, Marit, Service, 26:21.3; 14) BRUBAKER, Neena, Service, 26:29.7; 15) WILSON, Helen, Eagle River, 26:39.1; 16) DRUCKENMILLER, Maggie, West Valley, 26:39.3; 17) HAAS, Abigail, Lathrop, 26:44.2; 18) WHITAKER, Maggie, West Valley, 26:57.3; 19) MITCHELL, Ellie, West, 27:18.1; 20) PERSONIUS, Hjelle, West Valley, 27:23.3; 21) NELSON, Claire, Eagle River, 27:35.7; 22) SALZETTI, Maria, Kenai, 27:44.6; 23) YOUNG, Lucy, South, 27:52.4; 24) LATVA-KISKOLA, Tarja, Dimond, 27:55.5; 25) CVANCARA, Maria, Dimond, 27:58.3; 26) BERRIGAN, Aila, Palmer, 28:03.8; 27) EARL, Ava, South, 28:16.1; 28) DAIGLE, Autumn, Homer, 28:19.0; 29) CONIGLIO, Morgan, West, 28:20.4; 30) KILBY, Elizabeth, South, 28:24.2.
Boys 10K freestyle
1) MCMULLEN, Zanden, South, 25:56.1; 2) CASON, Everett, West, 26:53.2; 3) EARNHART, Michael, Chugiak, 26:53.7; 4) MEYERS, Kai, South, 26:55.8; 5) DIFOLCO, Eric, West Valley, 27:15.6; 6) MAURER, Alexander, Service, 27:33.4; 7) WALLING, Joseph, Palmer, 27:53.3; 8) CVANCARA, George, Dimond, 28:03.2; 9) LAKER-MORRIS, Jordan, West Valley, 28:04.9; 10) MARTIN, Kelly, West, 28:06.8; 11) BEIERGROHSLEIN, Max, Chugiak, 28:11.1; 12) BURRELL, Jonathan, Lathrop, 28:13.7; 13) DELEMARE, Sam, West Valley, 28:17.4; 14) CONNELLY, Michael, Chugiak, 28:21.2; 15) BAURICK, Josh, West Valley, 28:22.4; 16) DENNIS, Miles, Chugiak, 28:48.7; 17) MAVES, Aaron, West, 29:03.2; 18) POWER, Joel, Service, 29:11.0; 19) BAURICK, Dale, West Valley, 29:15.2; 20) ULBRICH, Hayden, Service, 29:18.8; 21) FRTIZEL, Luke, Grace Christian, 29:32.4; 22) TAYLOR, Kaj, Palmer, 29:33.4; 23) CLAPP, Sean, South, 29:36.0; 24) RENNER, Torsten, Chugiak, 29:41.9; 25) REIGER, Matthew, West, 29:51.1; 26) RENNER, Konrad, Chugiak, 29:57.3l; 27) RYGH, Martin, Dimond, 30:02.3; 28) WALTERS, Bradley, Soldotna, 30:09.8;29) ESPINOSA, Daryn, Lathrop, 30:13.4; 30) BIERMA, Joshua, Service, 30:17.1.
JUNEAU — U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she is likely to support a resolution of disapproval over President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to secure more money for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
In an audio recording provided by an aide late Friday, Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, noted concerns she has raised about the precedent that could be set if the declaration stands.
House Democrats introduced a resolution Friday to block the national emergency declaration. If it passes the Democratic-controlled House, it would go to the Republican-held Senate. Trump on Friday promised a veto.
"I want to make sure that the resolution of disapproval is exactly what I think it is, because if it is as I understand it to be, I will likely be supporting the resolution to disapprove of the action," Murkowski said.
When pressed on her position during an appearance on Anchorage TV station KTUU Friday evening, she said: "If it's what I have seen right now, I will support the resolution to disapprove."
Earlier in the week, Murkowski told reporters she supports efforts to bolster border security but worries about an erosion of government checks and balances.
"I'll be very direct. I don't like this. I don't like this," she said. "I think it takes us down a road and with a precedent that if it's allowed, that we may come to regret."
Congress recently approved a border security compromise that included about $1.4 billion for border barriers, which is less than Trump wanted. But Murkowski said it is "certainly as much as the administration can spend in this fiscal year" to advance Trump's priorities.
Alaska’s other U.S. senator, Republican Dan Sullivan, on Thursday called the border situation a crisis but said he didn’t think a national emergency declaration was needed because of the money just approved and other resources identified by the White House.
Downtown Juneau, including the Alaska State Capitol (background left) is seen Friday morning, Feb. 22, 2019. (James Brooks / ADN)
JUNEAU — Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget for the state Department of Health and Social Services is based upon as-yet-unreceived federal permission, members of the Alaska Senate Finance Committee were told Friday, causing Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel to deem the governor’s approach a “serious gamble.”
“It seems as though we’re taking a major gamble here, and I don’t believe that people’s health care in the state of Alaska should be gambled with. This is a very, very serious issue,” he said.
Friday was the first time legislators have been formally presented with the governor’s proposal for the Department of Health and Social Services, the state’s largest department by budget, according to figures from the nonpartisan Legislative Finance Division.
The governor has proposed cutting the health budget from $3.25 billion to $2.47 billion, according to figures from the Office of Management and Budget. Those cuts are part of the governor’s plan to pay a larger Permanent Fund Dividend without new taxes or spending from savings.
Most of the health department’s cuts are in the division that handles the state-federal Medicaid program. According to OMB documents, the Medicaid services portion of the budget is cut from $2.27 billion to $1.55 billion. Medicaid is primarily funded by the federal government, but the state paid $661 million this year, a figure that would drop to $412 million under Dunleavy’s plan.
More than one-quarter of Alaska’s population is covered by Medicaid, according to state figures, and in order to participate in Medicaid, the state is required to provide a certain amount of coverage.
Federal law allows states to vary from the standard funding formula and practice if they receive official permission. One of the most common variations is what’s known as a “1115 waiver” after the appropriate section of federal law. The governor’s health budget takes for granted that the state will receive such a waiver, allowing it to reduce spending below normal levels.
“The department is working with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to explore the possibility of another 1115 demonstration project,” Sana Efird, administrative services director for the Department of Health and Social Services, told lawmakers.
Lacey Sanders, budget director in the Office of Management and Budget, said after the hearing that the state is also “exploring other options” than the 1115 waiver.
The problem is that the fiscal year begins July 1, and obtaining federal waivers takes time. Last year, it took the state nine months to receive an 1115 waiver for a behavioral health program, according to data from the federal government.
“I don’t think many of these things can occur (by) July 1,” said Sen. Natasha Von Imhof, R-Anchorage.
If they don’t, the budget contains contingency language allowing the state department to spend the last $172 million remaining in the Statutory Budget Reserve as a “backstop,” Efird said.
Efird also told lawmakers that the health department is working on “many initiatives” that will not require federal approval.
“The intention is not to harm current Alaskans, if possible, in any way,” she said. “We want to provide the most sustainable Medicaid program to cover our low-income Alaskans, but with the policy direction of the current administration, we need to match our revenues to expenditures, and as you know, Medicaid is one of the largest general fund spends for the state.”
There’s a difference between intention and actual action, Hoffman said.
“You said it may not affect people’s lives, but it may affect people’s lives. That is the other flip side of your equation, and you are, with this proposed budget, playing with people’s lives,” he said.
Von Imhof is co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee and will be chairing the subcommittee in charge of the health budget. Speaking during Friday’s hearing, she said the governor didn’t explain why he cut what he did.
“Right now I sort of look at it, and for some of (the cuts), I think it’s just a Zorro cut. I don’t really see a rationale,” she said.
She later clarified what she meant: “Broad cuts with less thought behind them and less policy — less thought behind consequences.”
Those consequences matter, Von Imhof said, and she expects to spend time on them when her subcommittee meets.
“I think it’s one of the biggest cost drivers in the state of Alaska today, and I think it’s important to understand it,” Von Imhof said of the health budget.
A company’s ambitious plans to conduct the first seismic shoot in decades to hunt for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is off the table this winter, the company and federal officials confirmed Friday.
“You can do the math and there’s no time left on the season,” said Jeff Hastings, chief executive of SAExploration.
The company, along with two Alaska Native corporations, applied last year to conduct the first oil exploration in the refuge since the mid-1980s, after Congress in late 2017 agreed to allow development in the 1.6-million acre coastal plain.
But the seismic work must be done in winter, when the ground is frozen enough and the snow is deep enough to protect the tundra from the 45-ton trucks that vibrate the ground to create ultrasound-like images that provide hints of subsurface oil.
SAExploration had wanted to begin the work in December last year. But the five-week partial federal government shutdown that ended in late January put federal reviews of the plan on hold.
This is an example of the kind of rubber-tracked equipment SAExploration plans to use for its seismic work over two consecutive winter seasons in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Courtesy SAExploration via Bureau of Land Management)
Interior Department officials had sent conflicting signals, saying in early February that the shoot was off this winter, though Joe Balash, an assistant Interior secretary, later said a limited, late-season shoot might still be possible.
Hastings had held out hope he could win federal approval for that option.
But on Friday, Hastings said too much time has passed.
The season will likely end in early May as temperatures rise. Requirements include a monthlong public comment period, agency review of the comments, and 10 days’ travel time to get rigs to the village of Kaktovik. All of that adds up to make a shoot this season no longer possible, he said.
An official with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Friday that the agency has been in recent discussions with Hastings.
“(SAExploration’s) proposal is to conduct seismic operations beginning December 2019 in the coastal plain,” said Andrea Medeiros, a spokeswoman with the Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska.
Hastings has asked Fish and Wildlife to continue processing his original request for an incidental-take authorization. Approval from that agency would set guidelines to protect polar bears and cubs that den in the refuge.
"It’s important for us to make sure we keep the permit moving,” Hastings said Friday.
The company wants to shoot the survey over two straight winters, he said.
The yearlong delay in seismic work is good news for polar bears and the conservation community, who can all breathe a sigh of relief for now, said Lois Epstein, director of The Wilderness Society’s Arctic program.
“These are legitimate questions about whether seismic will harm polar bears,” and the concerns need as much study as possible, Epstein said Friday.
“I’m not delighted they’re doing this at all," she said of the proposed seismic work.
The Bureau of Land Management hopes to hold the federal government’s first-ever lease sale in ANWR later this year. It must also issue a permit before the seismic survey can begin.
A southern resident killer whale breaches in Haro Strait just off San Juan Island's west side with Mt. Baker in the backround. (Steve Ringman/Seattle Times/TNS) (Steve Ringman/)
The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion should be approved by the government of Canada, the country’s National Energy Board found Friday in a massive report.
The project would likely harm endangered southern resident killer whales, increase greenhouse-gas emissions that worsen the impacts of climate warming, and could cause oil spills that would be damaging to the environment, the board found. However, the more-than-700-mile-long pipeline should be approved by the government anyway, the board found, because it is in Canada’s national interest.
The environment of the Salish Sea is already degraded and disturbed and detrimental to the southern residents, the board found. The pipeline expansion’s increase in tanker traffic therefore will have significant negative impact on the whales, the board found.
Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee deplored the decision.
“The Canadian Energy Board’s own analysis found that this pipeline would be detrimental to the survival of the southern resident orcas, increase greenhouse gas emissions and worsen global climate change. Yet they still recommended that the expansion move forward. This is deeply irresponsible,” Inslee said in a prepared statement.
Final approval now is before the government of Canada, which has nationalized the project, and has 90 days for its consideration.
Canada wants to expand the existing Trans Mountain pipeline in order to ship bitumen oil to Asia in hopes of gaining higher oil prices than its market in the U.S. A pipeline spur from the existing Trans Mountain pipeline, in service since the 1950s, brings bitumen directly to Washington refineries, where a variety of products, including gasoline and jet fuel, are produced.
The expansion would nearly triple the amount of oil shipped from Edmonton, Alberta, to Burnaby, British Columbia, on the coast just outside downtown Vancouver. The $9.3 billion project would increase capacity to 890,000 barrels of bitumen oil a day, and increase tanker traffic in the Salish Sea from about six tankers per year to more than 400.
The board imposed 156 conditions if the project is approved, intended to cover a range of impacts including emergency preparedness and response, consultation with affected indigenous communities, and pipeline safety and integrity. Most are the same conditions as from the board’s previous approval for the project in 2016. The Canadian Court of Appeals last August ordered the board to reconsider its approval, because it had inadequately considered effects on killer whales, and had inadequately consulted with First Nations.
This time around, the energy board made 16 new recommendations to the Canadian government related specifically to marine shipping, including consideration of possible slowdowns in shipping routes, limits on whale-watching boats, noise reduction in ferries, and incentives and requirements for design of quieter vessels. Initiatives to improve marine oil-spill response, marine shipping and small vessel safety, and reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions from marine vessels, were also encouraged by the board.
“The National Energy Board listened to a range of diverse views and carefully considered all of the evidence submitted, the results of which are reflected in the conclusions, conditions and recommendations presented in the report,” said Robert Steedman, the energy board’s chief environment officer, in a prepared statement.
First Nations leaders said Friday the decision by the board was not a surprise, and that the process is hopelessly compromised by conflict of interest, given the government’s $4.5 billion purchase of the project last summer from Texas-based developer KinderMorgan, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s vow to build it.
The Canadian ministers of finance and natural resources each have also backed the project and its nationalization to ensure its construction.
“It must be built, it will be built,” Finance Minister Bill Morneau said last spring, defending the Canadian government’s decision to buy the project after KinderMorgan threatened to walk away as intense opposition on the coast to the project pitted one region of the country against the other. The purchase was a political fix that has created other problems, including a cloud over governmental evaluation of its own project.
“The fix is in,” said Chief Bob Chamberlin, vice president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, at a Vancouver news conference Friday. Legal action is certain if the Canadian government grants final approval, he and other First Nations leaders vowed.
“This is just another day on this ongoing sordid affair, an absolute dog’s breakfast of a terrible conflict of interest that permeates this entire affair,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, at the news conference. “Without question, there will be more lawsuits, more marches, rallies, the gauntlet has been thrown down … This pipeline will never, ever see the light of day.”
The remand consideration by the board included hearings with First Nations leaders that drew hundreds of participants from Native nations on both sides of the border. Washington tribes fiercely oppose the expansion because of concern over their treaty-protected fishing rights and the survival of the endangered orca whales that frequent Puget Sound, regarded as a family member in tribal cultures.
Washington tribes on Friday rebuked the recommendation to move forward with the project.
“As Coast Salish people, we do not recognize the imaginary line that divides us from First Nation relatives,” Chairwoman Marie Zackuse, from the Tulalip Tribes, said in a prepared statement. “The Salish Sea does not recognize this border. Our relatives, the salmon and the killer whales do not recognize this border. Pollution, industrial waste, and climate change do not recognize this border. Impacts to these species are felt throughout the Salish Sea on both sides of the border, and they are cumulative effects. This Trans Mountain expansion may just be the project that brings us past the point of no return.”
Southern resident killer whales face a seven-fold expansion in oil-tanker traffic if the project is built. The pipeline could potentially harm the whales in many ways, from hurting the Chinook salmon on which the whales depend, to deaths by ship strike, the board found. The “entire ecological context” of the southern residents is potentially significantly affected because of the project, the board found.
When does the 2019 Iditarod start? (And 10 other questions about Alaska’s most famous sled dog race)
Dogs in Mitch Seavey's team howl in anticipation of the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage in 2015. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Alaska Dispatch News/)
The ceremonial start for the 47th annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is Saturday, March 2. The first team will leave downtown Anchorage at 10 a.m., but the streets will come alive a couple of hours earlier with the sound of barking dogs as mushers prepare for their departure.
The restart is Sunday, March 3, when teams will leave the Willow Community Center beginning at 2 p.m. That’s when the race clock starts ticking.
The ceremonial start takes teams on a festive 11-mile journey through Anchorage. Snow stored over the winter is trucked downtown and spread onto the city streets to give the sleds something to glide on.
Teams leave the start line at Fourth Avenue and D Street in two-minute intervals. They turn onto Cordova Street and drop down the hill to Mulcahy Stadium, where they leave the streets for the trails. The run ends at Campbell Airstrip in Far North Bicentennial Park.
How many teams are in the race, and who are they?
A field of 52 is signed up for the race – the smallest since 1989, when there were 49 teams.
Six mushers are from the Lower 48, four are from Canada, four are from Europe and the rest are from Alaska.
Ten are rookies. Five are past champions -- defending champion Joar Leifseth Ulsom, four-time winners Jeff King, Martin Buser and Lance Mackey, and three-time winner Mitch Seavey.
Aliy Zirkle acknowledges cheers as she winds through parties situated along the course at 16th Avenue during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race ceremonial start in 2017. (Erik Hill / ADN) (Alaska Dispatch News/)
Women make up nearly a third of the field -- there are 17 of them. And although there have been more women in a handful of other races -- there was a record 26 in 2016 -- there’s never been a higher percentage of women. Women make up 32.7 percent of this year’s field, a slight increase from 2015, when 25 women made up 31.3 percent of the field.
How many dogs are on a team? Are there substitutes?
A new rule this year reduced the maximum number of dogs per team to 14. The previous maximum was 16.
A musher must have at least 12 dogs on the tow line when the race begins and must have at least five in harness at the finish line. In last year’s race, 60 of the 68 teams started with 16 dogs; the others started with 15 or 14.
The only time a musher can add dogs to a team is between the ceremonial start and the restart. A musher can drop a dog at any checkpoint, for any reason -- because they are sick or injured, or as part of a race strategy. Dogs left behind at checkpoints are cared from by Iditarod volunteers until they are flown back to Anchorage.
Any other new rules this year?
Yes, and one of them is a big one.
Mushers who have a dog die during the race will not be allowed to continue racing unless the death "was caused solely by unforeseeable, external forces," according a rule adopted in June by the board of directors.
Stuart Nelson, the Iditarod’s chief veterinarian, said he could think of only two occasions when a dog’s death was “caused solely by unforeseeable, external forces” – in 2016 when a drunk snowmachiner crashed into Jeff King’s team on the frozen Yukon River and killed 3-year-old Nash, and in 1985 when a moose stomped Susan Butcher’s team, killing two dogs and injuring 13.
One dog died during last year’s Iditarod. Blondie, a 5-year-old on Katherine Keith’s team, died of “aspiration pneumonia” after being dropped at a checkpoint. Race officials said Blondie was indoors and under a veterinarian’s care when it died.
When will the race end?
Probably late Tuesday or early Wednesday (March 12-13).
In 2017, when Mitch Seavey set the race record of 8 days, 3 hours, 40 minutes, 13 seconds, he reached Nome at 3:40 p.m. Tuesday. That year, the race started in Fairbanks on a Monday, a day later than usual, because of open water and too little snow on the route out of Willow.
In 2018, when deep snow slowed dogs a bit, Joar Leifseth Ulsom reached Nome at 3 a.m. Wednesday.
Joar Leifseth Ulsom drives his dogteam down Front Street in Nome for the 2018 Iditarod win. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Only seven races have ended in less than nine days. Martin Buser was the first to break the nine-day barrier in 2002, but there wasn’t another eight-day winner until 2010 when Lance Mackey did it with 51 seconds to spare.
Six of the last nine champions, dating back to Mackey’s 2010 run, have finished in less than nine days. The record has been broken four times during that stretch (John Baker in 2011, Dallas Seavey in 2014 and 2016, Mitch Seavey in 2017).
The winners of the first two Iditarods, in 1973 and 1974, needed 20 days to finish. Last year’s Red Lantern winner, Magnus Kaltenborn, finished in 12 days, 20 hours.
What’s the Red Lantern?
It’s the award given to the last musher to finish the race. The slowest Red Lantern time came in 1973, when John Schultz finished in 32 days.
Many mushers enter the Iditarod with the sole desire to get their dogs safely to Nome, so there is no dishonor in winning the Red Lantern.
Iditarod musher Christine Roalofs with her 2013 Iditarod red lantern on Friday, February 27, 2015. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Don’t confuse the Red Lantern with the Widow’s Lamp. The Widow’s Lamp is a small lantern lit on the day of the restart. It hangs on the burled arch that marks the Nome finish line, where it burns until the last musher finishes. The Red Lantern winner is given the honor of extinguishing it.
The Widow’s Lamp pays homage to the days when sled dogs carried freight and mail through Alaska, according to Iditarod.com. A musher would travel from roadhouse to roadhouse, where a kerosene lamp burned outside to guide him to his destination through the darkness.
What’s the age limit for the Iditarod?
You must be 18 or older the day the race begins. There is no age cutoff. As long as you run the necessary mid-distance races to qualify, you can enter.
The Seavey family owns the Iditarod’s two age-related records.
Dallas Seavey holds his leaders, Diesel, left, and Guiness after he arrived at the finish line to claim victory in the Iditarod in 2012. (Marc Lester / ADN)
Dallas Seavey became the youngest Iditarod champ in 2012, when he turned 25 during the race. Until then, the record belonged to Rick Swenson, who was 26 when he won the 1977 race.
Mitch Seavey, Dallas’ dad, became the oldest Iditarod champ in 2017, when he won at age 57. He broke his own record, set when he won the 2013 race at age 53.
The oldest finisher in Iditarod history is Norman Vaughan, who was 84 when he drove a team of 11 dogs under the burled arch in 60th place -- one spot ahead of last place. Vaughan, who lived till he was 100, finished four Iditarods, the first in 1978.
Has there ever been a tie in the Iditarod?
In 1978, Dick Mackey edged Rick Swenson by one second to win the 1,000-mile race. Their teams were side-by-side as they raced down Nome’s Front Street.
Dick Mackey runs in front of Rick Swenson in a sprint to the Iditarod finish in Nome in 1978. (Rob Stapleton / ADN archive 1978) (Unknown/)
Mackey won by a nose -- the nose of a lead dog. Though Swenson was the first human across the finish line, Mackey’s lead dog crossed the finish line a heartbeat ahead Swenson’s lead dog to claim the victory.
Years later, the two mushers told the story of their photo finish.
“For years,” Swenson told the Daily News, “the only trophy that we had in the house any place where you could see was my second-place trophy from 1978, to remember that a second counts.”
Who are those people in the sleds during the ceremonial start in Anchorage?
They’re called Idita-Riders, and they are the winners of the race’s annual online auction, which raises money for the race.
Bids open at $850. An instant purchase costs $7,500, and this year eight mushers were claimed with instant purchases -- Martin Buser, Jeff King, Lance Mackey, Nic Petit, Aliy Zirkle, Matthew Failor, Blair Braverman and Shaynee Traska.
The auction for this year’s race ended last month.
Who has won the most Iditarods?
Rick Swenson is the race’s only five-time champion. He won in 1977, 1979, 1981, 1982 and 1991 -- the only musher to win in three separate decades.
Six mushers have won four races apiece, and three of them are signed up for this year’s race -- Martin Buser (1992, 1994, 1997, 2002), Jeff King (1993, 1996, 1998, 2006) and Lance Mackey (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010).
Four-time winner Dallas Seavey (2012, 2014, 2015, 2016) is skipping the Iditarod for the second straight year in favor of running the 744-mile Finnmarkslopet in Norway. He finished third in that race last year.
Susan Butcher and one of her lead dogs at the finish line after winning the 1990 Iditarod Sled Dog Race. (Bill Roth / ADN) (ADN/)
Doug Swingley (1995, 1999, 2000, 2001) is retired from sled dog racing, and Susan Butcher (1986, 1987, 1988, 1990) died of leukemia in 2006 at age 51.
Those seven mushers have won all but 17 of the 46 Iditarods. Add three-time champion Mitch Seavey (2004, 2013, 2017), and you have eight mushers who have won 70 percent of the races.
What does the top musher win?
For his victory last year, Joar Leifseth Ulsom won a new truck and a check for $50,612.
The size of the purse varies from year to year, depending on sponsorships, entry fees and fundraising. This year’s purse is $500,000, about the same as last year. The bulk of it will be paid to the top 20 finishers, but every finisher from 21st place to last place will collect $1,049.
While $50,000 buys a lot of dog food, the new Dodge truck awarded to winners can be every bit as precious. A new truck couldn’t have come at a better time for Ulsom last year -- he said his 1999 pickup broke down right before the race.
ADN reporter Tegan Hanlon contributed.
The Alaska State Capitol is seen Monday, Feb. 18, 2019 as snow falls in Juneau. A storm is expected to drop as much as 12 inches of new snow by Tuesday. (James Brooks / ADN)
Last month a group of representative community members and economic experts organized by Alaska Common Ground met with an audience in Anchorage to discuss “The Costs of Alaska’s Economic Roller Coaster.” It was an enthusiastic and civil discussion, peppered with questions from an engaged audience and moderated by John Tracy. These people clearly loved Alaska and cared about its future prosperity.
They all emphasized that we were at a turning point in the state’s history and should take a long-term view to achieve fiscal stability. New sources of state revenue were essential. Most reasonable cuts have already been taken. There was also consensus that moderate dividends should be continued. During the discussion Tracy asked the audience for their opinions by a show of hands. Most supported all points of consensus. Video of the discussion can be reviewed online.
This month, Alaska’s new governor, Mike Dunleavy, also chose fiscal stability as the focus of his budget plan. But Dunleavy’s proposals are radically different from those of the Anchorage community leaders. He takes new revenue totally off the table. Faced with the looming fiscal shortfall, Dunleavy would cut $1.8 billion from the budget, eliminating state funds for programs that people rely on and have been developed with years of effort.
On the other hand, he would spend about $1.8 billion for supersized dividends. Sen. Natasha von Imhof, chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee, has aptly referred to Dunleavy’s supersized dividends as the “elephant in the room.” When questioned about this plan, Dunleavy’s spokespeople say he wants to let Alaskans decide how to spend the money, not government.
Unfortunately, this answer ignores the fact that government - accomplishing together what we cannot do as individuals - is essential to life in a functioning community. Try driving across town when the streetlights aren’t working to clarify this concept.
Dunleavy’s cuts are wide-ranging, but many reduce services to those who are poor or live in small communities and would be unlikely to speak up. When asked about the proposed cuts to maintenance of airstrips in small remote communities, the governor’s spokesperson replied, “We can’t be all things to all people.” Tell that to someone with appendicitis.
Alaskans pay for governmental services at the municipal level, but only minimally at the state level. Across the U.S., per capita broad-based state tax revenues are about $2,600 for all the states. In Alaska, the figure is about $540. John Tracy asked the audience at Alaska Common Ground if they would be willing to pay $2,600 in state taxes. To his surprise, most raised their hands that they would. Taxes should and could be set to spare those with low to moderate incomes, and to tax people who earn in Alaska but reside Outside.
The Legislature has been questioning Dunleavy’s spokespeople on many fronts. A recent exchange involved his move to switch from state-run to private prisons. Would a business whose profit depends on the length and amount of incarceration implement programs that cut the need for incarceration? It should be concerning that the governor chose Wildwood Correctional Center for initial cutting. Wildwood is the prison that had started to implement innovations in prison management from Norway and Ireland that reduced post-release crime by as much as 20 percent, as seen in the documentary “Breaking the Cycle” on Netflix.
Alaska’s legislators are up against a challenge. The governor has veto power over all bills, and our Constitution (Article 2, Section 16) requires an affirmative vote of three-fourths of the Legislature to override a veto of a budget-related bill.
If the legislators want to counter the governor’s plans for Alaska, they will need to work together.
But, it’s possible. Last year’s Legislature successfully worked across the aisle to adopt SB 26, establishing the percent-of-market-value (POMV) endowment system for sustainable annual draws from the Earnings Reserve Account, the spendable part of the Permanent Fund. This year, through a similarly united effort, the Legislature could pass a new bill establishing the annual apportionment of POMV funds between dividends and other governmental costs. If enacted early this session, there would be time for the governor’s expected veto, and for the Legislature to override his veto.
The act should be effective immediately. It would convert Sen. von Imhof’s “elephant in the room” into a manageable reality, protecting the dividend for future generations and leaving part of the state’s current revenue available for state government. The Legislature could then proceed to pass a reasonable budget including needed programs and the new revenue measures necessary to fund them. The public would appreciate it!
Janet McCabe and her family have lived in Alaska since 1964. Her education and experience are in community planning with a specialty in population projection. She is actively involved in several nonprofit organizations, including Alaska Common Ground and Commonwealth North.
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 email@example.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.
This is an aerial view of a work camp in the area of the proposed Pebble Mine in Iliamna, Alaska, seen on Tuesday, August 27, 2013. The Pebble Mine could be the largest open pit mine on the continent, with an earthen tailings dam higher than the Washington Monument to hold mine waste for hundreds to thousands of years, according to an Environmental Protection Agency analysis. (Bill Roth / ADN archive) (MCT/)
The Alaska Senate majority recently conducted a poll to gauge Alaskans’ opinions on a wide-ranging set of issues. One question was whether Alaskans supported or opposed the proposed Pebble mine. Though the question assumed that “all environmental safeguards are met” for the mine, 61 percent of the 7,407 Alaska respondents still opposed its development.
This result should come as no surprise. Alaskans know that the proposed Pebble mine is unique among Alaska resource development projects because of its acute risk to the largest wild sockeye salmon fishery in the world and the economies and cultures sustained by those salmon.
The Senate majority poll result also demonstrates why the upcoming review of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Pebble project is so important. Released on Feb. 20, the draft EIS is intended to be a comprehensive document that examines the environmental impacts associated with the construction, operation and closure of the proposed mine.
The public comment period for the draft EIS that is now underway is a very important period in the permitting process. Alaskans deserve a meaningful opportunity to review the draft EIS and its more than 360,000 pages of associated documents and provide input to the Corps. This is why our organizations are asking the Corps to provide a comment period of not less than 270 days to review, analyze, discuss, and comment on the draft EIS.
Given the massive size of the proposed mine, its sensitive location, and the potentially acid-generating nature of the ore, Pebble Limited Partnership’s proposal is not only risky but also extremely complicated. In fact, some elements of its proposal appear to be unprecedented in the world of hard rock mining. Further, the Partnership presents a moving target, as it continues to revise its proposal in fundamental ways, including increasing the quantity of material to be mined and adding transportation alternatives. The Corps must provide us time to familiarize ourselves with the proposal, analyze and understand the science behind it, and consider impacts and alternatives.
An additional challenge to any review of Pebble’s proposal is that the Corps is proceeding even though Pebble has not applied for the over 60 other local, state, and federal permits necessary to develop and operate the mine. The review processes associated with these other permits would help provide a better understanding of the current proposal. This is a fact acknowledged by Pebble’s National Environmental Policy Act contractor, who said that a state-required reclamation plan from Pebble “is potentially essential to a reasoned choice among the alternatives.”
The public comment period for the Pebble draft EIS should also account for the incredibly busy summer and fall fishing and hunting seasons that consume the lives of nearly all Bristol Bay residents. A minimum 270-day comment period, with regional public hearings conducted in the latter portion after the summer fishing season ends, would lessen these concerns.
After over a decade of self-imposed delay, it is clear why Pebble now values time over thoroughness. Shortly after the 2017 presidential inauguration, Ron Thiessen, CEO of Pebble’s Canadian parent company Northern Dynasty Minerals, said the Trump administration has a “desire to permit Pebble.” Completing the permitting process while a friendly administration occupies the White House may explain why Pebble is spending millions for Washington, D.C. lobbying - efforts that would be unnecessary if the project could stand on its own merits.
Pebble also likely thinks a quick permit decision will help it secure yet another financial partner, which is necessary, given that six previous mining companies involved in Pebble have left the project. Finally, Pebble chief executive Tom Collier stands to earn an “extraordinary bonus” of up to $12.5 million if Pebble receives quick approval from the Corps.
None of these realities justifies the Corps advancing a public review and comment period that would preclude meaningful public involvement. There is no law or federal policy that compels the Corps to put speed over substance on a project that could be disastrous for Bristol Bay. The Corps should stop making speed a priority in its review.
We are not the only ones who believe that a project that so fundamentally threatens our salmon fishery cannot be fast-tracked through an incomplete and rushed permitting process. Alaska and federal leaders have reinforced the importance of the Corps engaging in an especially rigorous and open permitting process for the proposed Pebble mine. Sen. Lisa Murkowski previously stated, “(w)e must ensure that all relevant stakeholders are given ample opportunity to consider the information provided, as well as sufficient opportunity and forum to provide comment on it.” Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt stated the “permit application must clear a high bar.” Lastly, Gov. Mike Dunleavy has said “science is essential to guide us. … Alaskans should … insist that our permitting process not be short-circuited.”
We urge the Army Corps to not arbitrarily rush this process. Give the public at least 270 days to review and provide input on PLP’s proposal for Pebble mine.
Norm Van Vactor is a longtime Bristol Bay fisherman and current CEO of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation. Ralph Andersen is the former co-chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives and president & chief executive officer of the Bristol Bay Native Association. Jason Metrokin is president and CEO of Bristol Bay Native Corporation.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.
JUNEAU — Gov. Mike Dunleavy's budget proposal is the perfect tool for asking Alaska residents if they want a spending plan that goes to extremes or if they are open to broader discussion, a Republican state lawmaker said Friday.
Sen. Peter Micciche of Soldotna said Alaska residents can help decide if they want to "live essentially like cavemen" without services they count on or if they want to find a different balance.
Dunleavy, a Republican who took office in December, has proposed addressing a projected $1.6 billion deficit for the coming fiscal year with sweeping cuts and tax collection changes that would benefit the state but pinch some boroughs and municipalities.
He also has proposed a full dividend payout to residents this year from the state's oil-wealth fund, the Alaska Permanent Fund, estimated to cost $1.9 billion, and no new statewide taxes.
Dividends were capped the last three years amid the ongoing deficit debate. The state currently has no statewide sales or personal income tax. The appetite to revisit oil taxes appears tepid.
Micciche told reporters that if his constituents want a full dividend, he'll push for that. But he said the effect of the current budget plan is to shift costs locally — meaning Alaskans would have to pick up some of the slack.
Micciche said Dunleavy's budget is the perfect tool to hold up and say, "if you want to go extreme on one side, this is what it looks like. But if you want a better balance, let's talk about that."
Both Senate President Cathy Giessel and Micciche said there is room to cut the budget but Micciche noted that $1.6 billion is a huge leap.
Areas eyed for major cuts or changes include K-12 education, the university system, Medicaid and the Alaska marine highway system. The ferry system hasn't scheduled sailings after Oct. 1; Dunleavy wants to consider alternate management options.
Giessel, an Anchorage Republican, likened the state's fiscal situation to a kid who, instead of cleaning his room, shoved things under his bed or in the closet. "We're in the year where we've opened the closet and everything's falling out on us because we didn't put things away as we should have over the years," she said.
The state for years has relied on savings to fill the deficit but has seen its options dwindle amid disagreements over taxes and the level of continued cuts. The state began using permanent fund earnings last year to help pay for government expenses, and some lawmakers say they want to avoid overspending from that account.
Taxes are not under consideration at this time, said Giessel, who leads a primarily Republican majority.
Senate Democratic Leader Tom Begich told reporters recently that regardless of Dunleavy's position on issues like taxes, lawmakers have an obligation to provide services to Alaska residents in a reasonable way.
The House’s new bipartisan majority has just begun formal budget hearings after taking a month to organize.
Sophie Sergie. (Alaska State Troopers / Handout)
Alaska State Troopers made an arrest Friday in the 25-year-old cold-case killing of Sophie Sergie, who was brutally killed in a dormitory at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1993.
Steven H. Downs, 44, of Auburn, Maine, was arrested and charged with sexual assault and murder in the death of 20-year-old Sergie, the state troopers said in a news conference in Anchorage on Friday. Downs was employed as a nurse in Maine, according to charges.
Col. Barry Wilson, director of the Alaska State Troopers, said Sergie, from the western Alaska village of Pitkas Point, was visiting a friend at UAF in April 1993 when a custodial worker found her body in a bathtub at the Bartlett Hall dormitory. She had been sexually assaulted, stabbed multiple times and shot in the back of the head, according to the charging document.
Sergie had left her friend’s dorm room to smoke a cigarette shortly after midnight on April 26. The friend advised her to smoke by the exhaust vents in the communal women’s bathroom because it was too cold to go outside, according to the charging document. That was the last time she was seen alive, troopers said.
Investigators managed to recover DNA evidence from Sergie’s body, but no matches turned up and the investigation went cold.
Col. Barry Wilson, director of the Alaska State Troopers, speaks at a press conference Friday, Feb. 15, 2019 announcing the arrest of Steven H. Downs in the 1993 Fairbanks murder of Sophie Sergie. At right is Stephen Sergie, Sophie's brother, Elena Sergie, Sophie's mother, and Olga Tinker-John, Elena's niece. Comforting Olga is Alaska Department of Public Safety Commissioner Amanda Price. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes / Anchorage Daily News/)
Last year, the Cold Case Unit of the Alaska State Troopers used an emerging technology to try to identify Sergie’s killer, troopers said. Genetic genealogy testing, as it’s called, uses family genetic history to pinpoint likely suspects, Wilson said.
The same technology was used to identify Joseph James DeAngelo, who is on trial in California for the “Golden State Killer” murders, troopers said.
The new method led troopers to Downs, who was living across the country in Auburn, Maine.
Downs, who was 18 when Sergie was killed, had been living in Bartlett Hall at the time of her death, according to the charging document in the case. His roommate told investigators Downs had kept a .22-caliber handgun, the same caliber weapon that had been used in Sergie’s killing, in their dorm room.
Steven H. Downs, 44, was arrested Friday, Feb. 15, 2019 in connection with the death of 20-year-old Sophie Sergie at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1993. (Photo Courtesy Androscoggin County Jail.)
According to the charging document, Downs attended UAF from 1992 to 1996, lived in Arizona and later returned to Maine, where he “was most recently employed as a nurse.” He has no previous arrests, the charges say.
On Wednesday, Downs told Maine State Police, working with Alaska State Troopers, that he recognized Sergie from posters that had been put up after she died, but denied knowing her or going to the floor of the building where she was killed, according to the charging document.
He reportedly told investigators, “I remember the pictures, it’s terrible, poor girl,” according to the charges.
He told investigators he had been in his girlfriend’s room on the night Sergie was killed and said he believed soldiers from nearby Fort Wainwright were responsible for her death, since they were “often in the building,” the charges say.
A DNA swab taken from Downs matched evidence taken from Sergie’s body, the document said. Downs was taken into custody without incident on Friday and will be extradited back to Alaska, where he will face a grand jury, Wilson said.
“As the director of this agency, and as a member of the investigative team that originally worked on this case, I am both honored and humbled to help bring some closure to Sophie’s family,” Wilson said.
A reprimand appearing on Downs’ Maine nursing license references “unprofessional conduct” on multiple occasions. On one occasion in 2016, he reportedly made comments to a co-worker that “made that individual uncomfortable.” Another coworker made a similar complaint a few months later, according to the warning consent agreement.
He was required to take a training course called “Professional Boundaries in Nursing,” the warning claims.
[From 2009: Cold-case review finds new lead in 1993 slaying]
The application deadline to view brown bears at Alaska’s McNeil River State Game Sanctuary is fast approaching, but the partial federal government shutdown has delayed reservation sign-up at another popular bear-viewing area, Brooks Camp in Katmai National Park and Preserve.
Wildlife watchers will have until March 1 to sign up for the lottery and 185 spots to view bears at the McNeil sanctuary, said Ed Weiss, refuge coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
The last couple of summer seasons at McNeil River have offered “really good” bear viewing thanks to a rise in the number of bears, and the always-photogenic sows with cubs, Weiss said Friday.
The viewing season runs from June 7 to Aug. 25, he said. The bear gathering is what the state calls the largest in the world, and a highlight is watching the bruins fish for salmon at the word-class McNeil River Falls, about 100 air miles west of Homer.
Over the course of last year’s season, about 53 bears gathered daily on average, with fewer bears beginning to gather early in the season. The seasonal average was far higher than the long-term count of 40. Strong salmon runs seem to have helped, Weiss said. At least 110 brown bears sauntered through the area for repeated visits last summer.
Ten families of mothers and cubs have also gathered in recent years, about double from earlier years, Weiss said.
Applications cost $30, nonrefundable. Alaska residents who win the lottery pay a $225 permit fee, and nonresidents pay $525. About 900 people applied last year.
Online applications and printable application forms are available at mcneilriver.adfg.alaska.gov. Look for the “Permits” tab and “Viewing Permits” link.
Reservations for permits to stay at Brooks Camp in Katmai National Park and Preserve, more than 250 miles southwest of Anchorage, usually open in early January.
But last month’s partial federal government shutdown and changes to a reservation website have pushed that date off until March 2, at 8 a.m. Alaska time, said Pete Christian, a spokesman for the National Park Service in Alaska.
Campsite reservations go quickly, and can be made at the recreation.gov website.
A new elevated boardwalk and bridge system is being built, and should open by this summer, to improve safety for bear viewers at the Brooks Camp site, he said.
Stacey Allen Graham cries as he watches a slideshow of 15-year-old best friends Jordyn Durr and Brooke McPheters on Friday, February 6, 2015 in an Anchorage courtroom. Graham drove drunk in 2013, killing the two girls, and was sentenced by Judge Kevin Saxby to 32 years in prison.
An Alaska appeals court has thrown out the unprecedented 32-year prison sentence for a DUI driver who killed two teenage girls walking on a South Anchorage bike path in 2013.
A three-judge panel found that key facets of Anchorage Superior Court Judge Kevin Saxby’s sentencing analysis were “legally mistaken,” according to the opinion handed down Friday.
Judge Kevin Saxby listens to victim statements during a sentencing hearing for Stacey Allen Graham on Friday, February 6, 2015 in an Anchorage courtroom. (Anchorage Daily News archive)
The judges also found that Saxby’s decision “appears to have been influenced by the principle of retribution — something that Alaska law does not allow.”
The panel ruled that Saxby cannot preside over the re-sentencing decision, according to the opinion written by Chief Judge David Mannheimer.
The ruling, particularly the decision to remove the judge, marks a stunning turn in one of the most high-profile cases involving a drunken driver in recent Alaska history.
Stacey Graham, 32 at the time, was driving his Toyota Tacoma pickup on an August evening when it jumped a curb at high speed and struck 15-year-olds Jordyn Durr and Brooke McPheters, who were walking home from a back-to-school shopping trip. Graham, driving home from a company golf tournament and then a friend’s house, lost control of his truck where Dimond Boulevard curves into Abbott Road near the Independence Park neighborhood.
He was “heavily intoxicated” -- his blood alcohol level measured more than twice the legal limit for driving three hours later -- and witnesses described him tailgating and recklessly passing other vehicles before his truck hydroplaned and went out of control, according to the appeals court opinion.
He pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder in 2014.
In a courtroom packed with observers including the girls’ families, Saxby in February 2015 sentenced Graham to two consecutive 20-year sentences, each with four years suspended, saying he believed that was the longest in Alaska’s history for conduct of this type.
Judge Kevin Saxby and members of the media watch a slideshow of Jordyn Durr on Friday, February 6, 2015 in an Anchorage courtroom. Jordyn and her best friend Brooke McPheters, also 15 years old, were killed in 2013 by Stacey Allen Graham, who was sentenced to 32 years in prison. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Graham appealed the sentence, arguing it was excessive.
The appeals court action does not resolve the question of whether that’s the case, according to the opinion.
Instead, the appellate judges remanded the case back to Superior Court for re-sentencing and ordered that Saxby not preside over those proceedings.
The opinion specifically references the judge’s decision to allow 32 minutes of memorial videos played with musical accompaniment during the sentencing hearing, as well as allowing police officials to deliver “victim impact” statements.
The appeals panel critiqued Saxby’s rulings during the hearing that ultimately allowed “speaker after speaker who played to the judge’s emotions” as compromising his ability to “render a reasoned sentencing decision that comported with the law and did not rest on retribution," according to the opinion.
Check back for updates on this developing story.
Iditarod musher Jeremy Keller leads his 14-year-old son Bjorn Keller down a trail during a training run in Knik. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)
It’s midweek in mid-February, and the Keller family is busy readying drop bags. The food, dog booties and multitude of other supplies Jeremy Keller and his dogs will rely on during the 2019 Iditarod fills the room of the family’s Knik home.
Much work must be done so the bags can be taken to Anchorage the next day. It’s exhausting and exhilarating all at once.
“I love Iditarod madness,” 8-year-old Liam Keller screams gleefully.
Dad Jeremy, mom Alison and 14-year-old Bjorn agree as they prepare for Jeremy’s second Iditarod — the first of Liam’s lifetime — and Bjorn’s first Junior Iditarod.
It’s not just madness, Jeremy says, “The word ‘mayhem’ was also thrown around a time or two.”
Amid all the chaos — both organized and unexpected — Jeremy never loses sight of his return to The Last Great Race and the family affair the experience has become.
He has spent nearly 30 years in Alaska and has dedicated much of that time to running dogs. He ran his first Iditarod in 2007.
Now he’s back in the race, and he’s bringing Bjorn and Liam along for the ride.
Bjorn Keller, 14, helps with chores in the dog yard. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)
“When Bjorn was six weeks old, he rode home in a dog sled in his grandmother’s arms,” said Jeremy, 47. “He had that foundational experience. In the last two years, he and Liam would randomly ask about owning our own dog team. I told them there were about a million reasons why we shouldn’t, but they persisted.
“Life just has it own way of working itself out.”
Today, the Keller kennel, aka All Roads Lead to Dog, consists of nine of the family’s dogs -- one is recovering from a shoulder injury and is doubtful -- and a litter of nine puppies. Another six dogs have been leased from 1984 Iditarod champion Dean Osmar.
Jeremy expects his final lineup to consist of eight of his dogs and four of Osmar’s for a team of 12 -- two below the maximum 14.
“We’re playing small ball,” he said. “It’s an exceptional little group, very pragmatic like a military platoon.”
Bjorn Keller, 14, and his father Jeremy Keller with lead dog Officer Charlie before a training run in Knik. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)
Born in Iowa, Jeremy lived all over the Lower 48 before a true sense of adventure consumed him. Like so many, he followed that sense to the Last Frontier and spent the early 1990s assisting with dog teams.
By the time the 2007 Iditarod rolled around, he was poised to become a full-time musher. But the financial commitment needed to that race led to a moment of clarity.
“Running that race nearly bankrupted us,” he said.
Jeremy and Alison met in McCarthy in 1999 and married in 2003. The family spent about 20 years living off the land in the Interior, and Jeremy set aside his long-term Iditarod dreams.
The latter part of Jeremy’s time in McCarthy was spent as a cast member on Discovery Channel’s “Edge of Alaska,” which ended its run in 2017, around the same time the family got a chance to move to Knik.
“It was time,” Alison said. “It was kind of calling us. McCarthy is where we met and we had followed our nose and our gut, but we saw where we were going in our lives.
“We realized we wanted Bjorn and Liam to have access to certain things. The move really allowed Jeremy to get back into dogs, and it just seemed natural.”
Jeremy likes to say dogs have shown him the world. With Alison’s help, the couple has made dogs a focal point for the family. Jeremy and Alison homeschool Bjorn and Liam, and running dogs is a huge part of the daily routine and education.
“We’re all involved, spiritually and emotionally,” Jeremy said. “We’re with our sons and it’s the most beautiful thing we can do.”
Jeremy Keller processes goat meat to put in his food drop bags. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)
Bjorn’s excitement for the Junior Iditarod, held the week before the 1,000-mile Iditarod, is palpable. He can’t wait to drive his team 150 miles in a race.
“He’s a tough boy and probably had more wilderness prep than many of his competitors,” Jeremy said. “But he might have some of the least experience running dogs.
“He’s my first-born and I’ll worry about him. At the same time, he knows if anything goes sideways, he can drop the hook and wait for me to show up.”
Father and son are well-trained. They’ve spent many days during the last few months on long camping trips in the wild. Using connections made in his reality show days, the Kellers worked with camera and media experts to film, produce and document their training and their life in Knik.
The hope is there are many more Iditarods to come.
“I’d love to be 87 and competing in Iditarod races,” Jeremy said. “Alison and my boys see how natural this is. Running dogs — it’s what makes me tick.”
To be mushing with his family so close and so involved makes it even better,
“We do everything together,” he said. “We’re quite the little team.”
Matt Nevala co-hosts “The Sports Guys” radio show, Saturday at 11 a.m. on KHAR AM-590 and FM-96.7. Find him on social media at @MNevala9.
Jeremy Keller leaves his dog yard in Knik during a training run. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)
FOX — Lance Mackey picked at the lid of a coffee creamer at a truck stop north of Fairbanks on a recent afternoon. It took a few tries before his numb, swollen fingers could peel it back.
“My hands have never been this bad, and they’ve been bad,” Mackey said, sitting at a table with his girlfriend and their two young children. He looked his nine gnarled fingers. “I’m having a bad day.”
Lance Mackey holds his two-year-old son Atigun during a stop for food at the Hilltop Truck Stop outside of Fairbanks. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Mackey, 48, couldn’t button his pants that morning. He couldn’t brush his hair. He struggled to put on his son’s socks. The 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race was less than three weeks away, and Mackey — a four-time race champion and cancer survivor — said he was determined to get to the starting line. It will be his first Iditarod since 2016, when he dropped out of the race about halfway through.
Mackey said finishing this year’s Iditarod would give him closure and allow him to move on. He needs that, he said. But that morning he stood crying in the shower, frustrated by his hands.
“I’ve done some great things in this sport and people ask me what the hell I’m doing, what am I thinking, why would I want to do it again?” Mackey said. “It’s because I’m not good at accepting the fact that I can’t do this anymore. I’m not good at accepting the fact that the last time I tried I couldn’t finish, and I’m not a quitter.”
About a decade ago, Mackey dominated long-distance sled dog racing.
He won the Yukon Quest 1,000-mile International Sled Dog Race four years in a row, starting in 2005. He’s also the only musher to win the Iditarod four straight years. The Quest and the Iditarod happen about a month apart. In 2007, Mackey won both races back-to-back, a feat many thought impossible. Then he did it again in 2008.
Mackey gained fame and fans in Alaska and Outside. The Iditarod, he said, allowed him to become a “somebody” without changing who he is: an Alaskan who loves racing dogs, drives a pickup truck and wears his “cleanest pair of dirty pants” every day.
“It gives me a sense of pride to know that I can be somebody successful and yet still be me. I don’t have to wear a uniform. I don’t have to answer to somebody. I don’t have to cut my hair. I can still be me and be somebody,” Mackey said.
“It’s powerful, man. It’s addicting.”
As Mackey tells it, he was born into sled dog racing. His father, Dick, won the 1978 Iditarod by one second. Mackey’s half-brother, Rick, won the 1983 race.
Mackey entered his first Iditarod in 2001 and finished 36th.
Soon after, he was diagnosed with throat cancer. He underwent surgery and radiation. He dropped out of the 2002 Iditarod, but not before traveling about 350 miles down the trail with a feeding tube in his stomach. Five years later, he won the race.
“There’s a lot of people who were put on earth to be doctors and lawyers and carpenters and what have you,” Mackey said. “I was put on earth to race, train and promote sled dogs, and at one time I was pretty good at this sh-t.”
But the cancer and its treatments left lasting impacts on Mackey’s body.
His salivary glands came out with surgery, so he has to constantly drink water to keep his throat moist. Nerve damage from surgery left him with limited mobility in his right arm. His hands are extra susceptible to cold due to radiation and Raynaud’s, which causes the blood vessels to narrow in his fingers in low temperatures. He had so much pain in his left index finger that he had it amputated. He’s also had a fingertip removed, and part of another one taken off.
“If I ever run across the guy that came up with the phrase ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,’ I’m going to punch him square in the face because that’s bullsh-t,” Mackey said.
Mackey’s hands have affected his Iditarod before.
During the 2015 race, his hands got too cold. He struggled with swollen, puffy fingers to put booties on his dogs, and ran the rest of the race with his younger brother, Jason, who helped with dog care. Mackey finished 43rd. He also had two dogs die on the Iditarod trail that year: Wyatt and Stiffy.
Mackey previously described 2015 as “probably the worst year and the worst race."
The next year, he had to turn his team around on the trail after his dogs got sick. He later dropped out of the race. He said he hasn’t been quite the same since.
Lance Mackey looks at his left hand, which has four fingers. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
‘Emotional roller-coaster ride’
At the truck stop, Mackey held his 2-year-old son, Atigun, on his lap. His girlfriend, Jenne Smith, and their 8-month-old daughter, Lozen, sat across the square table. Snow fell outside.
“Look at your hairdo,” Mackey said to a smiling Lozen. “Oh, look at this baby.”
Mackey said he’s “ecstatic to be a daddy.” It has made him think more about taking care of his body.
“I can’t be beat up trying to raise two kids,” he said.
Until recently, Mackey said, he had been feeling good about the upcoming Iditarod. He had surgery on his left middle finger in November and it helped ease the pain. Then came the Eagle River Classic sprint dog races in early February. A mishap at the starting line sent Mackey down the trail face-first. He lost his gloves in the fall.
“I tore up my hands yet again,” Mackey said. “This time pretty bad.”
Lance Mackey gets dragged behind his sled during the first day of the Eagle River Classic sprint dog races on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019 at the Chugiak Dog Mushers Association Beach Lake Trails. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
Whenever things look good, he said, something seems to go wrong.
“It’s been a very hard, emotional roller-coaster ride,” he said.
By the time Mackey finished picking at his remaining toast and home fries last week, he wondered aloud if he was setting himself up for another Iditarod disappointment.
But reached at his home outside of Fairbanks a few days later, he said things were looking up once again. Smith has helped massage, wrap and soak his hands. He said he’s confident he’ll be able to take care of his dog team on the Iditarod trail, just not as quickly as he once could.
He also made alterations to his sled for the race.
Mackey said he’s planning to deploy what he calls a “covered-wagon sled.” He has a custom canvas top that will go over the back of his sled, zippered doors on both sides and a windshield. It also has a “sunroof” so he can stand up, he said. Inside, he’ll have two small heaters and he’s carrying a solar panel. The additions weigh about 15 pounds, he said.
“It’s bulky, but it’s necessary,” Mackey said. “With both heaters going you could probably break a sweat.”
It’s not the most aerodynamic sled, Mackey said. But he’s not in this year’s Iditarod to win.
Mark Nordman, the Iditarod’s race director, said he welcomed Mackey back to the race. Mackey’s entry was looked at by a review board, he said, just like the rest of the mushers.
“I think Lance is well-aware of his potential limitations,” Nordman said.
For now, Mackey said, he doesn’t know what’s next after the 2019 race, his 15th Iditarod start.
He said he knows he needs to finish the Iditarod — at least one more time. He needs that closure if he wants to move on. And on bad days, when his hands don’t work, that’s what he’s ready to do. On good days, it’s tough to imagine life without the sport and dogs he loves.
“I’m not old enough, I feel, to give up on something that I’m so passionate about. I’m fairly good at (it) at times, and I don’t know how to replace that with anything else,” he said. “There ain’t a damn thing on this planet that I’m as into as I am this.”
Mackey is one of 52 mushers signed up for the 2019 Iditarod. The ceremonial start is March 2 in Anchorage, with an official race start the next day in Willow.
Lance Mackey gives his 8-month-old daughter, Lozen, a kiss as the family heads home from the Hilltop Truck Stop near Fairbanks on February 12, 2019. With them are Mackey's partner, Jenne Smith, and their 2-year-old son, Atigun. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Rochelle Washington, left, and attorney Gloria Allred, right, look on Latresa Scaff speaks during a news conference in New York, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. Scaff and Washington are accusing musician R. Kelly of sexual misconduct on the night they attended his concert when they were teenagers.(AP Photo/Seth Wenig) (Seth Wenig/)
CHICAGO — R. Kelly, the R&B star who has been trailed for decades by lurid rumors that made him Public Enemy No. 1 to the #MeToo movement, was charged Friday with 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse involving four victims, including at least three between the ages of 13 and 17.
FILE - In this Nov. 17, 2015, file photo, musical artist R. Kelly performs the national anthem before an NBA basketball game between the Brooklyn Nets and the Atlanta Hawks in New York. Chicago prosecutors have charged R. Kelly with 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse, according to media reports citing court records. Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019 charges come after years of allegations directed at Kelly, accusing the now 52-year-old of sexual misconduct involving women and underage girls. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File) (Frank Franklin II/)
Tandra Simonton, spokeswoman for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, confirmed to The Associated Press that charges had been filed against the 52-year-old Grammy winner, but she declined to give a specific number. Media reports said there were 10 counts.
Some of the alleged abuse went back at least as far as 1998, according to charging documents. An indictment unsealed Friday specifically referred to abuse that took place around Feb. 18, 2003. The indictment provides no detail.
The singer was to appear in court Saturday. A message seeking comment from Kelly's attorney, Steve Greenberg, was not immediately returned.
Over the years, Kelly, who is best known for hits such as "I Believe I Can Fly," has consistently denied any sexual misconduct. His arrest sets the stage for another #MeToo-era celebrity trial. Bill Cosby went to prison last year, and former Hollywood studio boss Harvey Weinstein is awaiting trial.
Kelly was charged a week after Michael Avenatti, the attorney whose clients have included porn star Stormy Daniels, said he recently gave Chicago prosecutors new video evidence of the singer having sex with an underage girl. It was not immediately clear if the charges were connected to that video.
In 2008, a jury acquitted Kelly of child pornography charges over a graphic video that prosecutors said showed him having sex with a girl as young as 13. He and the young woman allegedly depicted with him denied they were in the 27-minute video, even though the picture quality was good and witnesses testified it was them, and she did not take the stand. Kelly, whose legal name is Robert Kelly, could have gotten 15 years in prison.
Charging Kelly now with sexual assault for actions that occurred within the same time frame as the allegations from the 2008 trial suggests the accusers are cooperating this time and willing to testify.
Because the alleged victim 10 years ago denied that she was on the video and did not testify, the state's attorney office had little recourse except to charge the less offense under Illinois law, child pornography, which requires a lower standard of evidence.
Each count carries up to seven years in prison. If Kelly is convicted on all 10 counts, a judge could decide that the sentences run one after the other — making it possible for him to receive up to 70 years behind bars. Probation is also an option under the statute.
Legally and professionally, the walls began closing in on Kelly after the release of a BBC documentary about him last year and the multipart Lifetime documentary "Surviving R. Kelly," which aired last month. Together they detailed allegations he was holding women against their will and running a "sex cult."
After the latest documentary, Chicago's top prosecutor, Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx, said she was "sickened" by the allegations and asked potential victims to come forward.
#MeToo activists and a social media movement using the hashtag #MuteRKelly called on streaming services to drop Kelly's music and promoters not to book any more concerts. And protesters demonstrated outside Kelly's Chicago studio.
In the indictment, the prosecution addresses the question of the statute of limitations, which is likely to be raised by the defense. It describes how prosecutors can charge Kelly under Illinois law even though the alleged crimes occurred as much as two decades ago.
The indictment says in at least one instance, the abuse of a minor occurred between 1998 and 1999 but that it clearly fell within the 20-year charging window allowed under Illinois law. The 20-year period only begins, it says, after a victim turns 18.
Greenberg said earlier this year that his client was the victim of a TV hit piece and that Kelly "never knowingly had sex with an underage woman, he never forced anyone to do anything, he never held anyone captive, he never abused anyone."
Avenatti said his office was retained last April by people regarding allegations of sexual assault of minors by Kelly. He said the video surfaced during a 10-month investigation. He told the AP that the person who provided the VHS tape knew both Kelly and the female in the video.
Despite accusations that span decades, the singer and songwriter who rose from poverty on Chicago's South Side has retained a sizable following. He has written numerous hits for himself and other artists, including Celine Dion, Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga. His collaborators have included Jay-Z and Usher.
Kelly broke into the R&B scene in 1993 with his first solo album, "12 Play," which produced such popular sex-themed songs as "Bump N' Grind" and "Your Body's Callin'."
Months after those successes, the then-27-year-old Kelly faced allegations he married 15-year-old Aaliyah, the R&B star who later died in a plane crash in the Bahamas. Kelly was the lead songwriter and producer of Aaliyah's 1994 debut album.
Kelly and Aaliyah never confirmed the marriage, though Vibe magazine published a copy of the purported marriage license. Court documents later obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times showed Aaliyah admitted lying about her age on the license.
Jim DeRogatis, a longtime music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, played a key role in drawing the attention of law enforcement to Kelly. In 2002, he received the sex tape in the mail that was central to Kelly’s 2008 trial. He turned it over to prosecutors. In 2017, DeRogatis wrote a story for BuzzFeed about the allegations Kelly was holding women against their will in Georgia.
Trump administration bars family planning clinics that provide abortion referrals from $286 million program
WASHINGTON - The Trump administration issued a rule on Friday barring groups that provide abortion referrals from participating in the $286 million federal family planning program - a long-expected move that would direct money away from Planned Parenthood and towards faith-based providers.
Under the new mandate, which opponents have vowed to challenge in court, federally funded family planning clinics could no longer refer a patient for abortion and would have to have to maintain a "clear physical and financial separation" between services funded by the government and any organization that provides abortions or referrals for abortions. Recipients of grants under the Title X program, which serves mostly low-income women, were already prohibited from performing abortions with those funds.
The change has been widely celebrated by social conservatives who oppose abortion and helped elect President Donald Trump. Health and Human Services officials have said the change is necessary to ensure transparency and the legal and ethical use of taxpayer funds.
Critics have decried the change as a "gag rule" that would undermine the doctor-patient relationship. They've also described it as an indirect way to defund Planned Parenthood, which has long been a target of anti-abortion activists as the nation's largest provider of reproductive care services, including abortions. Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee and 14 of his fellow governors have denounced the proposed rule and threatened legal action in order to block it from going into effect in their states.
"The administration's action will do irreparable harm to the public's health and damage the network of highly qualified family planning providers across the country," Clare Coleman, president of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association said in a statement.
The rule is expected to result in a dramatic change in the type of information the roughly 4 million women participating in the Title X program receive. Some of the faith-based groups advocate "fertility awareness" or the rhythm method and abstinence as methods of preventing pregnancy. In November, HHS, issued a funding opportunity announcement for Title X that elevates natural family planning and abstinence counseling as program priorities.
Democratic members of Congress last week objected to what they have called an "unconventional and nontransparent" review process for the rule and called on the Office of Management and Budget to send it back to HHS for more analysis. In a Feb. 15 letter, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Senators Patty Murray of Washington, Kamala Harris of California and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire called out HHS for taking numerous shortcuts.
Among other concerns, they said there was no advanced public notice and no early outreach to groups that participate in the program. Their letter pointed out that HHS had failed to provide an adequate cost-benefit analysis or to account for the rule's negative health impacts on the poor women the program serves. And it noted that "numerous major medical associations, 15 governors, 200 members of Congress, more than 20 state and local health departments, and more than 500,000 members of the public submitted comments opposing the rule on constitutional, legal, ethical, and policy grounds."
When the proposed rule change was first announced in May, the White House said only clinics with "a bright line of physical as well as financial separation" between Title X programs and those that support or refer for abortion would be eligible. The rule was modeled after requirements adopted under President Ronald Reagan but never enforced.
The Trump regulation does allow for a a limited exception to the referral ban. If a pregnant patient has decided to have an abortion and makes an explicit request for a referral, a doctor would be allowed to provide a list of comprehensive care providers as long as she or he does not indicate which of them offer abortion services.
In an interview earlier this year, Planned Parenthood President Leana Wen said the group could not accept funds under those conditions because it would compromise its ethical obligations to its patients. Planned Parenthood serves about 41 percent of Title X patients and receives about $60 million from the program.
"I want people to think about what if this were any other aspect of medical care - imagine if the Trump administration prevented people with diabetes from talking to their doctors about insulin," she said.
The rule takes effect 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register. However, clinics will have 120 days to comply with the requirement that family planning and abortion services are kept financially separated and a year to comply with the physical separation requirement.
The administration has implemented a similar rule - nicknamed the “Mexico City gag rule” - for grantees of U.S. foreign aid that prevents organizations that get those funds from referring, providing or discussing abortion with patients.
A driver was killed early Friday in a collision with a moose near Wasilla, Alaska State Troopers say.
The driver was not immediately identified.
A 2004 Nissan sedan hit the moose near the intersection of Pittman Road and Greensward Drive in Meadow Lakes west of Wasilla, according to an online troopers dispatch posted Friday.
Troopers received a report of a single person inside a vehicle, not moving, just before 4 a.m. Troopers and Mat-Su emergency responders arrived to find the driver dead, troopers said.
Efforts were underway to identify the driver and to notify next of kin, troopers said. The body was transported to the State Medical Examiner’s office in Anchorage for autopsy and positive identification.
Check back for updates on this developing story.