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Updated: 21 min 42 sec ago

Veteran NASCAR driver will make his 1st racing appearance in Alaska

2 hours 20 min ago

Alaska Raceway Park is drawing some big names this summer.

Saturday, Iditarod icon Lance Mackey won the Legends featured race to retain his lead in the season standings. It was the second victory of the year at the Palmer race track for Mackey, a four-time Iditarod champion.

When racing on the track's NASCAR oval resumes June 30, the competition will include a man who has won four NASCAR Cup races and is the only person to win the pole at three consecutive Daytona 500 races.

Ken Schrader, 63, is scheduled to travel to Alaska to compete in the late-model division. The race will mark the 49th state he has raced in.

Schrader, who lives in North Carolina, was a NASCAR Cup racer from 1984-2013. He won four races, beginning with the 1988 race at Talladega, Florida, where he defeated Dale Earnhart and Geoff Bodine. Over the years his NASCAR teammates included Jeff Gordon and Terry Lebonte.

Schrader boasts 11 top-10 finishes at the Daytona 500, where he won three straight poles from 1988-90. He placed second in 1989 and third in 1996.

Though he has retired from NASCAR Cup racing, Schrader continues to race at dirt and asphalt tracks around the country.

Among his competition at Alaska Raceway Park will be Alaska drivers Jeff Creech, a two-time series champion; Tim Workman, the current late-model points leader; and Dana Pruhs, who survived a spinout in last week's featured race to grab victory for the second straight weekend.

Gates on June 30 will open at 3 p.m., with racing at 6 p.m.

This week at the track, there's a NASCAR test-and-tune event Wednesday at 5 p.m. and a two-day diesel race Saturday and Sunday. Gates open each day at 9 a.m. for the Prowl for Power.

You can check the weather at the track at raceak.com, which has a webcam and a weather report on its home page.

Celebrate solstice by catching a ballgame or watching ski jumpers

3 hours 18 min ago

For fans of late nights and long days, the summer game and a winter sport will provide a midnight treat on the summer solstice Thursday.

In Fairbanks, the annual Midnight Sun game, scheduled to start at 10 p.m. Thursday, will cap 24 straight hours of baseball that begins at midnight Wednesday with an American Legion game.

In Anchorage, the Midnight Sun Ski Jump-a-Thon will feature 12 hours of ski jumping and camping. The event begins at 6 p.m. Thursday and ends at 6 a.m. Friday at the Karl Eid Ski Jumps near the Hilltop Ski Area.

The Midnight Sun baseball game is the granddaddy of all things solstice in Alaska. It's 113 years old.

Since 1906, the game has been played on the night of the solstice without the use of artificial lights. The first pitch is delivered at 10 p.m. At the half-inning break closest to midnight, the crowd rises to its feet to sing the Alaska flag song.

Only twice has darkness prompted the cancellation or postponement of the Midnight Sun game. In 1984, Taiwan's national team forfeited when its manager deemed it was too dark to see the ball. In 2001, umpires halted the game in the 10th inning, at 1:20 a.m., because they ruled it was too dark to play; the game was finished on a later date.

The forecast is for clouds for this year's game at Growden Memorial Park, which pits the Fairbanks Goldpanners — the home team since 1960 — against the Orange County Surf of California.

The late-night game marks the final event of 24 straight hours of baseball and softball in Fairbanks as part of Major League Baseball's Play Ball program, which MLB runs in conjunction with a variety of partners including USA Baseball and USA Softball.

The first Play Ball event begins at midnight Wednesday — an American Legion game at Kiwanis Field between Fairbanks and North Pole.

Between the Legion game and the Midnight Sun game, a number of baseball and softball games will be played — including a 2 a.m. girls softball game and a 4 a.m. adult softball game. From 1-6 p.m., 600 kids are expected to run drills and collect freebies at Growden Park.

A smaller crowd is expected at the Karl Eid Ski Jumps for the inaugural ski jumping marathon.

There's a competition for members of the ski jumping club from 6-8 p.m. After that, those kids can jump whenever they want off any of the four jumps (10, 20, 40 and 65 meters) they are qualified to use.

"We're hoping to do it every year, sort of as a fun way to celebrate the solstice, and we're also hoping to raise a little bit of money for the club," said Karen Compton, one of the organizers of the event.

"Kids are getting pledges per jump and the jumps will be open all night long. We have a whole schedule of people who are manning the jumps and making sure everybody's safe and that jumps get counted."

The astrological event that is the actual summer solstice — the moment when the sun reaches its highest yearly point in the northern sky — is at 2:07 a.m. Thursday. Most of Alaska's solstice-related sports events will happen on the weekend.

The Midnight Sun Marathon will send runners from Bartlett High to the Delaney Park Strip on Saturday morning. Runners can also do a half-marathon or a 5K.

At 10 p.m. Saturday, the Anchorage Glacier Pilots will play their annual solstice baseball game at Mulcahy Stadium. This year the Pilots will take on the Mat-Su Miners.

There are two solstice events for mountain bikers — 12 Hours of Kincaid and the Kenai 250.

The 12 Hours of Kincaid provides two options Saturday at Kincaid Park — a 12-hour race at 10 a.m. and a 6-hour race at 4 p.m. Teams or individuals ride a loop starting at the Jodhpur Trailhead as many times as they can in the allotted time.

The Kenai 250 is a self-supported mountain bike race that covers 265 miles — much on single-track trails — with 30,000 feet in elevation gain. It starts Friday and ends Sunday in Hope.

How a simple state regulation added $85 million each year to Alaska health care costs

3 hours 20 min ago

A state regulation is a big reason for Alaska's high health care costs, according to a new study. But the Walker administration still hasn't decided to change a rule that has distorted the market in favor of higher charges.

I've been writing about the 80th percentile rule for two years. It seemed obvious it would push health care costs higher, especially for doctors in specialties without much competition. Now we have proof.

Over the 10 years after the rule was adopted in 2004, it added from 9 percent to 25 percent to the increase of health care costs in Alaska, according to the report by Mouhcine Guettabi of the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Under the rule, insurance companies have to pay 80 percent of the average going rate for a medical service even if the provider is out-of-network for the insurance plan.

[Alaska needs its very own health care solution]

In Alaska's small market, some medical practices can effectively set the going rate for their specialties. Insurance companies then have to pay 80 percent of that. These providers have little incentive to join networks, which would require negotiated discounts.

Alaska's health care costs have risen faster than nationally and are the highest of all the states. Experts say that high charges for hospitals and physicians — especially specialists — are the largest factor in the disparity, not usage levels, drug prices, insurance companies, or other factors.

Guettabi's results reflect that fact, showing that the rule is an especially large factor for physicians and clinicians, contributing 15 to 39 percent of their increases.

The director of the Alaska Division of Insurance, Lori Wing-Heier, has the power to change the regulation with a signature. She held hearings on it in early 2017. But she held back because of a lack of hard evidence and because the rule protects consumers.

The rule was designed to prevent patients from getting stuck with large bills from out-of-network doctors. Wing-Heier also told me some alternatives to the rule could cut doctor compensation too much.

But there is a huge cost. The rest of us pay more for health care, through insurance premiums and taxes, to protect patients who go out-of-network and the doctors who serve them. Guettabi estimated the rule increased Alaska's health care cost an additional $85 million every year of the 10-year period.

That's a lot of money. But the public doesn't know why we're paying it. We blame insurance companies for higher premiums, not state officials.

Doctors, on the other hand, know who to talk to.

[This disillusioned doctor quit his practice. Now he works to reform Alaska's overpriced health system.]

Wing-Heier posted Guettabi's report on her website. She is asking again for comments. But she told me she is undecided on changing the rule, pointing to caveats in Guettabi's report and suggesting his conclusions are uncertain.

ISER received only $31,250 to do the study, which was funded by the state's Office of Management and Budget.

The report compares Alaska with other states where costs rose at the same rate before the 80th percentile rule went into effect. After the rule, costs rose faster in Alaska. That divergence provides the basis of the findings.

OMB Director Pat Pitney said Guettabi's methods are robust and the results are strong.

"I don't think more information is going to help make a decision," she said.

Guettabi came up with a wide range of impact, from 9 to 25 percent. There was a fascinating reason.

The lower number came from a comparison only with other oil states. Health care costs rose faster in oil states (although not as fast as in Alaska), compared to states with economies not based on oil.

Apparently, states that suffered the full brunt of the Great Recession in 2008 controlled their health care costs more effectively. In states like Alaska, where oil paid more of the bills, people didn't bother to reduce costs as much.

"It's a little bit like a diet," Pitney said. "If you're not dieting, you're gaining."

Alaska's health care bulge came with more doctors and higher compensation.

From 1998 to 2015, Alaska went from having 368 physician offices to 569, with specialists gaining the most, according to Guettabi. In another report Wing-Heier's released on her site, insurance payments in 2016 to Alaska cardiologists, neurosurgeons and radiologists were all more than three times higher than in Seattle.

That pattern makes sense if the 80th percentile rule is driving the market higher. Primary care physicians, who face more competition, cannot use the rule to increase their rates. Their insurance payments are much closer to what is charged in other states and the numbers of their offices didn't increase as much as specialists'.

Alaska avoided a health care diet in other ways, as well, going all the way back to the mid-1990s. That's when our rate of medical inflation began rising faster than that of the nation as a whole.

[The moment has probably passed for Alaska health care reform. The future is here.]

For example, Alaska law makes managed care plans unfeasible here. An HMO that started would be required to allow members to go to any other doctor if they wished, destroying the savings of a coordinated system.

Like the 80th percentile rule, outlawing managed care protects individuals. Together, the two rules allow us to continue going to small clinics and having insurance pay the fees for each service we request. The concept of payment based on results hasn't taken hold here because the system is so fragmented.

The alternative isn't all rosy. Outside Alaska, the experience of going to the doctor has changed. Many small practices are gone. Visits are shorter. More contact is done online.

Outside, people go to the doctor assigned by their managed care plan or stay within their insurance networks. You can't go out-of-network because you would pay too much.

But that may work better. Big, coordinated practices Outside can use innovative payment systems that emphasize outcomes. Meanwhile, from 1995 to 2010, Alaskans' assessment of their own health has gone down.

In Alaska, we still have a 1990s system. That's partly a political decision. But it isn't working and we can't afford it anymore.

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.

Hypocrisy abounds in attacks on Stand for Salmon initiative

3 hours 21 min ago

I had to laugh when reading Paula Easley's recent commentary about the Stand for Salmon initiative, an "are-you-kidding-me" sort of snicker.

A member of the Alaska Policy Forum's board of directors, Ms. Easley would have Alaskans believe that she and her allies are trying to save us residents from the awful intentions of Outside interests. What she conveniently ignores is that Stand for Salmon is at its core a homegrown effort, whose primary goal, as I understand it, is to update a 60-year-old law in order to give greater protections to Alaska's salmon and their spawning habitat. This worries many of our state's corporate leaders, businessmen and resource-development boosters, who've responded with their own Stand for Alaska campaign.

I should make it clear that I have no personal or business stake in Stand for Salmon, though I wholeheartedly support increased statewide protections for salmon, given that Alaska's current laws and regulations don't seem to provide enough safeguards. Consider the state's tepid response to the Pebble Project in Bristol Bay or proposed coal mining that would have destroyed the Chuitna River, a salmon stream on the west side of Cook Inlet.

Especially aggravating to me is Ms. Easley's disingenuous attempt to paint this issue as an us-versus-them battle, "us" of course being Alaskans, and "them" being those dastardly Outside "wealthy elitists and activist environmental organizations with no interest in Alaskans' livelihoods." I'm surprised she didn't toss in "extremist," which usually is attached to any mention of environmentalists by corporate Alaskans.

What Easley fails to mention — or conveniently ignores — is the huge and ongoing role that Outside interests play in the development and exploitation of Alaska's natural wealth, what most folks call "natural resources." Are not the petroleum giants that operate in Alaska—and have outsized influence in state politics — corporations based outside Alaska? And what about the mining companies that are either seeking to develop, or are already developing, gargantuan metal deposits? Or the company that sought to tear up the Chuitna River drainage to mine coal, before pulling out for its own financial reasons? And what about the Outside, Lower 48 conservative "think tanks" and other groups that meddle in many areas of Alaska's politics? I suppose all of them have the best interests of hard-working Alaskans — and the place itself — in their minds and hearts when they peddle their influence here.

Yeah, the hypocrisy of Ms. Easley and the Stand for Alaska coalition bugs me greatly. "Leveraging Outside money and influence" is a favorite pastime of Alaska's entire political spectrum, not just greenies. I'm not sure that Ms. Easley and her allies should be casting stones here.

I also wonder if Ms. Easley and other Stand for Salmon opponents have looked at that group's website. I made a visit there while working on this commentary and among the things I learned is this: Two of the initiative's three top contributors are Alaska organizations; among the Alaskans to express their support are 10 Native village and tribal groups and dozens of Alaska businesses (many of them, not surprisingly, with ties to salmon and/or tourism). I suspect that many of these supporters (who also include more than 40,000 residents who've publicly expressed their backing) are as equally hardworking and care as much about Alaska and its wild riches as anyone with Stand for Alaska, the group formed to fight the initiative.

Arguments can be made on both sides of the issue, and I recommend that Alaskans who haven't made up their mind do some homework to learn more. But one thing we don't need is the sort of hypocritical arguments posed by Paula Easley, who points fingers at Stand for Salmon that could easily be directed inward.

Anchorage nature writer Bill Sherwonit is the author of more than a dozen books about Alaska, including "Living with Wildness: An Alaskan Odyssey" and "Animal Stories: Encounters with Alaska's Wildlife."

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@adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

Letter: A legal conundrum

3 hours 26 min ago

A president determined to appoint judges who strictly interpret the Constitution according to original intent also insists that he can pardon himself for any crime he is convicted of. These two positions do not appear to be compatible. I would like a supporter of President Donald Trump to justify this conundrum for me.

— Jon Sharpe
Anchorage

Letter: Thanks to educators for their support

3 hours 27 min ago

I am one of 35 US citizens to receive the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching grant for the 2018-2019 school year. The award is part of the larger Fulbright program — an international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government which is designed to build lasting connections between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.

As I prepare to travel to New Zealand and learn from their schools, I would like to thank Michael Graham and Jennifer Knutson with the Anchorage School District for their support in the application process and for seeing the value of this professional learning experience can bring to students in the Anchorage School District. I would also like to thank my principal at Airport Heights Elementary School, Mike Webb, for his support, flexibility and strength of vision. Starting in January 2019, I will be regularly posting about the multi-cultural teaching practices I am observing and plan to share when I return at www.lesliehannam.com.

— Leslie Hannam
Anchorage

Officials are racing an Alaska glacier that threatens to swallow what’s left of a 1952 plane crash that killed dozens

3 hours 30 min ago

COLONY GLACIER — For 60 years, the mountains and glaciers east of Anchorage hid the remains of 52 men killed when an Air Force plane crashed into a mountain in bad weather.

After the wreckage was spotted in 2012 by members of the Army National Guard during a routine training mission, crews have returned to the site near the toe of Colony Glacier each summer to recover additional remains and personal effects.

Each spring the Army National Guard flies over the site, identifying new areas of wreckage exposed by the constantly changing glacier, giving investigators an idea of the areas where they should focus their efforts. Work on the glacier begins in early June and is usually wrapped up by July, when conditions on the glacier become unsafe.

"It's a different landscape up here," said Jairo Portalatin, a medicolegal death investigator with the Armed Forces Medical Examiner's office at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. Dover AFB is home to Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations (AFMAO), which handles the dignified transfer of remains for all fallen service members, and is leading the recovery operations on Colony Glacier.

"This is an old incident. Most of our teams today are used to doing current-day, active-duty crashes. For those, because you're in a set location that's not moving, you can find pretty much anything," said Col. Dawn Lancaster, commander of AFMAO. "This is different because of the way things have been preserved. It's task-intensive, where you have to get down and flip over rocks, because that's where they're finding teeth or small tissue. But it's critical that we find those items so that hopefully we can identify somebody else."

This has been a good year so far for recovery of personal effects and remains. Crews found uniforms, dog tags, wallets and lighters. They also found three gold wedding rings, the most they've ever found in a year.

"They are all just simple gold bands, but if there was any way that we could see a picture of somebody from the past and determine who that belonged to, to be able to give that back to a spouse or grandkids, that would be amazing," Col. Lancaster said.

Earlier this month, the team was able to identify remains from another service member, the 38th so far. Being able to notify someone that they've identified a loved one's remains "keeps us going," said Col. Lancaster.

The crash site, on the side of Mount Gannett, is about 12 miles from where the debris now sits, the plane having been crushed and carried down from the mountain by Colony Glacier. It's now less than a mile from the toe of the glacier, which empties into Lake George.

"Time isn't on our side when it comes to recovering the remains," said Capt. Victoria Martinez, who is leading the project for AFMAO. "Obviously, the glacier changes on a daily basis. It's exposed to the sun more in the summertime, and so the ice is constantly melting. It forms different rivers, and it's easy for things to get lost."

"We estimate that we have about two to five years," said Col. Lancaster. "There's a point where we have to decide, looking at the safety (for the crew) and how much is left, what the benefit is to continue the search."

"I would hope to be able to identify every single member, every single one of the 52 members that were lost on this aircraft," said Col. Lancaster. "If we could be able to at least tell these families that we have something of their loved one, then we have succeeded in our mission. Bringing our fallen home, whether it was in a past conflict, or a past incident, that is something that the Department of Defense truly believes in and we truly support."

"I'm an optimist. If in two years, we have identified 50 members, we're going to look for two more," she said. "We made a promise to them, and at least for a couple more years, as long as we keep finding what we're finding, we're going to keep doing it."

Letter: Football protest is patriotic

3 hours 35 min ago

When worshiping God, kneeling is respectful, but when worshiping the flag, kneeling is disrespectful — according, no doubt, to someone who made it up.

I thought our flag stood for the Founding Fathers' principles, primary among them, the principle of liberty. Certainly it stands for a whole lot more than "our troops," which have been co-opted by reference into the latest patriotism-as-dog-whistle race pandering scheme by President Donald Trump. The flag certainly stands for peaceful protest, and free speech, and free association. And the list goes on. It's all there in the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution.

I'll go way out on a limb and propose President Trump has read neither. The enduring mystery here is that anyone believes that, after inflicting heaping mounds of moral vandalism on himself, he retains any such authority to tell anyone how to act.

— Bob Lacher
Palmer

Letter: Border family separations reopen old wounds

3 hours 49 min ago

I want to express my appreciation to U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski for opposing the separation of families at the U.S. border and demanding an immediate halt to this "cruel, tragic" practice. I also want to recognize Sen. Dan Sullivan for requesting a more deliberate bipartisan approach to this issue.

For me and for many, many other Alaska Natives, this issue is personal and resurrects old wounds. As Alaska Natives, we suffered the kidnapping of our children who were interned in boarding schools under the assimilationist policy of the United States. We as individuals and societies continue to suffer the intergenerational trauma from being separated from our families and raised in boarding schools.

When I was six, a missionary kidnapped me in Petersburg and took me to an orphanage in Haines, where I was kept for three years apart from my family. I know firsthand the despair felt by children longing for their loved ones and the terror of being a child alone. I feel my heart breaking all over again when I see children at the border suffering the same trauma today. It breaks my heart to hear their cries.

To the Trump administration, we implore you, we plead with you, to act immediately to stop this barbaric, inhumane act of separating children from their parents and guardians at the border. This practice is morally reprehensible and will become a repeat of previous horrific American Indian policies and practices to eradicate Native cultures. We are proud to be Americans, but this practice does not represent American values and ethics.

— Rosita Kaaháni Worl
President, Sealaska Heritage Institute
Juneau

Canadian Senate passes weed bill but legalization delayed

4 hours 1 min ago

TORONTO — Canada's Senate gave final passage Tuesday to the federal government's bill to legalize cannabis, though Canadians will have to wait at least a couple of months to legally buy marijuana as their country becomes the second in the world to make pot legal nationwide.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government had hoped to make pot legal by July 1, but the government has said provincial and territorial governments will need eight to 12 weeks following Senate passage and royal assent to prepare for retail sales. Trudeau's government is expected to decide a date that would legalize it in early or mid-September.

"It's been too easy for our kids to get marijuana — and for criminals to reap the profits. Today, we change that. Our plan to legalize & regulate marijuana just passed the Senate," Trudeau tweeted.

Canada is following the lead of Uruguay in allowing a nationwide, legal marijuana market, although each Canadian province is working up its own rules for pot sales. The federal government and the provinces also still need to publish regulations that will govern the cannabis trade.

The bill passed in the Senate by a vote of 52-29.

"We have seen in the Senate tonight a historic vote that ends 90 years of prohibition of cannabis in this country, 90 years of needless criminalization, 90 years of a just-say-no approach to drugs that hasn't worked," said independent Sen. Tony Dean, who sponsored the bill in the upper house.

Canada is the largest developed country to end a nationwide prohibition on marijuana use. In the neighboring U.S., nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana. California, home to one in eight Americans, launched the United States' biggest legal marijuana marketplace on Jan.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould tweeted that it was a "historic milestone for progressive policy in Canada as we shift our approach to cannabis"

Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor tweeted she was thrilled that the Senate approved the bill. "We're on the cusp of a sensible, responsible and equitable cannabis policy," she said.

The Canadian government largely followed the advice of a marijuana task force headed by former Liberal Health Minister Anne McLellan as well as the advice of former Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, who is the parliamentary secretary to the justice minister.

The task force recommended adults be allowed to carry up to 30 grams of pot and grow up to four plants. It also said marijuana should not be sold in the same location as alcohol or tobacco.

The most controversial aspect of Canada's move to legalize marijuana nationwide has been setting the minimum age for use at 18 or 19, depending on the province. That is lower than in U.S. states that have embraced legalization.

Advocates argued that putting the limit at 21 would encourage a black market and drive youths into the hands of criminals. But some health experts have worried that the lower age will encourage use of a substance that can have long-term consequences on still-maturing brains.

Conservative senators remained staunchly opposed to legalization.

"We're going to have all those involved in illegal marijuana peddling right now becoming large corporation," Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos said. "When you normalize the use of marijuana and you're a young person and you had certain reservations because of the simple fact that it was illegal, there's, I believe, a propensity to have somebody be more inclined to use it."

Youngest migrants held in ‘tender age’ shelters

4 hours 12 min ago

Trump administration officials have been sending babies and other young children forcibly separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border to at least three "tender age" shelters in South Texas, The Associated Press has learned.

Lawyers and medical providers who have visited the Rio Grande Valley shelters described play rooms of crying preschool-age children in crisis. The government also plans to open a fourth shelter to house hundreds of young migrant children in Houston, where city leaders denounced the move Tuesday.

Since the White House announced its zero tolerance policy in early May, more than 2,300 children have been taken from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, resulting in a new influx of young children requiring government care. The government has faced withering critiques over images of some of the children in cages inside U.S. Border Patrol processing stations.

Decades after the nation's child welfare system ended the use of orphanages over concerns about the lasting trauma to children, the administration is standing up new institutions to hold Central American toddlers that the government separated from their parents.

"The thought that they are going to be putting such little kids in an institutional setting? I mean it is hard for me to even wrap my mind around it," said Kay Bellor, vice president for programs at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which provides foster care and other child welfare services to migrant children. "Toddlers are being detained."

[Trump, GOP leaders strain for migrant-kids solution]

Bellor said shelters follow strict procedures surrounding who can gain access to the children in order to protect their safety, but that means information about their welfare can be limited.

By law, child migrants traveling alone must be sent to facilities run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services within three days of being detained. The agency then is responsible for placing the children in shelters or foster homes until they are united with a relative or sponsor in the community as they await immigration court hearings.

But U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' announcement last month that the government would criminally prosecute everyone who crosses the U.S.-Mexico border illegally has led to the breakup of hundreds of migrant families and sent a new group of hundreds of young children into the government's care.

The United Nations, some Democratic and Republican lawmakers and religious groups have sharply criticized the policy, calling it inhumane.

Not so, said Steven Wagner, an official with the Department of Health and Human Services.

"We have specialized facilities that are devoted to providing care to children with special needs and tender age children as we define as under 13 would fall into that category," he said. "They're not government facilities per se, and they have very well-trained clinicians, and those facilities meet state licensing standards for child welfare agencies, and they're staffed by people who know how to deal with the needs — particularly of the younger children."

Until now, however, it's been unknown where they are.

"In general we do not identify the locations of permanent unaccompanied alien children program facilities," said agency spokesman Kenneth Wolfe.

The three centers — in Combes, Raymondville and Brownsville — have been rapidly repurposed to serve needs of children including some under 5. A fourth, planned for Houston, would house up to 240 children in a warehouse previously used for people displaced by Hurricane Harvey, Mayor Sylvester Turner said.

Turner said he met with officials from Austin-based Southwest Key Programs, the contractor that operates some of the child shelters, to ask them to reconsider their plans. A spokeswoman for Southwest Key didn't immediately reply to an email seeking comment.

"And so there comes a point in time we draw a line and for me, the line is with these children," said Turner during a news conference Tuesday.

On a practical level, the zero tolerance policy has overwhelmed the federal agency charged with caring for the new influx of children who tend to be much younger than teens who typically have been traveling to the U.S. alone. Indeed some recent detainees are infants, taken from their mothers.

Doctors and lawyers who have visited the shelters said the facilities were fine, clean and safe, but the kids — who have no idea where their parents are — were hysterical, crying and acting out.

"The shelters aren't the problem, it's taking kids from their parents that's the problem," said South Texas pediatrician Marsha Griffin who has visited many.

Alicia Lieberman, who runs the Early Trauma Treatment Network at University of California, San Francisco, said decades of study show early separations can cause permanent emotional damage.

"Children are biologically programmed to grow best in the care of a parent figure. When that bond is broken through long and unexpected separations with no set timeline for reunion, children respond at the deepest physiological and emotional levels," she said. "Their fear triggers a flood of stress hormones that disrupt neural circuits in the brain, create high levels of anxiety, make them more susceptible to physical and emotional illness, and damage their capacity to manage their emotions, trust people, and focus their attention on age-appropriate activities."

Days after Sessions announced the zero-tolerance policy, the government issued a call for proposals from shelter and foster care providers to provide services for the new influx of children taken from their families after journeying from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico.

As children are separated from their families, law enforcement agents reclassify them from members of family units to "unaccompanied alien children." Federal officials said Tuesday that since May, they have separated 2,342 children from their families, rendering them unaccompanied minors in the government's care.

While Mexico is still the most common country of origin for families arrested at the border, in the last eight months Honduras has become the fastest-growing category as compared to fiscal year 2017.

During a press briefing Tuesday, reporters repeatedly asked for an age breakdown of the children who have been taken. Officials from both law enforcement and Health and Human Services said they didn't how many children were under 5, under 2, or even so little they're non-verbal.

"The facilities that they have for the most part are not licensed for tender age children," said Michelle Brane, director of migrant rights at the Women's Refugee Commission, who met with a 4-year-old girl in diapers in a McAllen warehouse where Border Patrol temporarily holds migrant families. "There is no model for how you house tons of little children in cots institutionally in our country. We don't do orphanages, our child welfare has recognized that is an inappropriate setting for little children."

So now, the government has to try to hire more caregivers.

The recent call for proposals by the federal government's Office of Refugee Resettlement said it was seeking applicants who can provide services for a diverse population "of all ages and genders, as well as pregnant and parenting teens."

Even the policy surrounding what age to take away a baby is inconsistent. Customs and Border Protection field chiefs over all nine southwest border districts can use their discretion over how young is too young, officials said.

For 30 years, Los Fresnos, Texas-based International Education Services ran emergency shelters and foster care programs for younger children and pregnant teens who arrived in the U.S. as unaccompanied minors. At least one resident sued for the right to have an abortion in a high-profile case last March.

For reasons the agency did not explain, three months ago the government's refugee resettlement office said it was ending their funding to the program and transferred all children to other facilities. This came weeks before the administration began its "zero tolerance" policy, prompting a surge in "tender age" migrant children needing shelter.

In recent days, members of Congress have been visiting the shelters and processing centers, or watching news report about them, bearing witness to the growing chaos. In a letter sent to Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday, a dozen Republican senators said separating families isn't consistent with American values and ordinary human decency.

On Tuesday, a Guatemalan mother who hasn't seen her 7-year-old son since he was taken from her a month ago sued the Trump administration. Beata Mariana de Jesus Mejia-Mejia was released from custody while her asylum case is pending and thinks her son, Darwin, might be in a shelter in Arizona.

"I only got to talk to him once and he sounded so sad. My son never used to sound like that, he was such a dynamic boy," Mejia-Mejia said as she wept. "I call and call and no one will tell me where he is."

___

Colleen Long contributed from New York.

Watch a wolf and a wolverine fight over food in Denali National Park

4 hours 25 min ago

A wolf and a wolverine spar over food in a video released by Denali National Park and Preserve last week.

The video was captured on a motion sensor game camera on Feb. 9, said Bridget Borg, wildlife biologist with Denali National Park.

Borg said the camera was placed near a moose carcass in the Savage River area of the park, where it was left for the winter until being retrieved last week.

"We were just amazed when we started looking at the videos," Borg said.

Three subsequent videos provide the narrative of one remarkable #wolf vs. #wolverine wildlife encounter! Watch below as a wolverine feeding on a moose carcass is attacked and ultimately chased off by a wolf. #wildlife #science #Denali pic.twitter.com/CbKHD0qDgK

— Denali National Park (@DenaliNPS) June 13, 2018

The game camera caught interactions between a wolf and a wolverine that are both vying to feed on the moose carcass. The wolverine can be heard vocalizing as the two scuffle.

Seeing an interspecies interaction at a feeding site is rare, Borg said — the park has deployed game cameras to more than 30 other sites, and biologists had not yet seen two different species in one shot.

"Catching that is really pretty unique," Borg said. "We'll see multiple species feeding at one carcass, but not at the same time."

The camera also caught interactions between other species, like a wolf and fox, Borg said, and more visits from birds than researchers had seen before.

Denali National Park uses Reconyx brand game cameras to withstand cold winter weather, Borg said. She said the use of the cameras is "a cool example (of what) new types of technology can show, in a non-invasive way, about animals."

Photos: Best of June 2018

4 hours 36 min ago

Anchorage Daily News photographers and contributors capture slices of life around Anchorage and beyond.

U.S. attorney seeks death penalty against Palmer man charged in double homicide

4 hours 44 min ago

Federal prosecutors said Tuesday that they will seek the death penalty against a Palmer man accused in the 2016 shooting deaths of two people in a Meadow Lakes home.

John Pearl Smith II, 32, is facing federal charges in the deaths of  Crystal S. Denardi, 30, and Ben G. Gross, 43, both of Wasilla.

[Palmer man charged in 2016 double homicide and string of armed robberies]

Tuesday's filing of notice of intent to seek the death penalty "follows the decision and directive by Attorney General Jeff Sessions," the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Alaska said in the statement.

In the filing, a June 13 letter from Sessions addressed to Alaska U.S. Attorney Bryan Schroder said "you are authorized and directed to seek the death penalty against John Pearl Smith II."

[Read Tuesday's filingNotice of Intent to Seek a Sentence of Death]

In 2017, Smith was indicted on 17 charges, including using a firearm during a crime of violence resulting in murder, robbery and being a felon in possession of a firearm. In a series of armed robberies between September 2015 and June 5, 2016, Smith targeted people who he believed were involved in drug trafficking, prosecutors say.

Federal prosecutors say that if Smith is convicted, his use of a firearm "in furtherance of a crime of violence resulting in murder, and the use of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime resulting in murder," justifies a death sentence, along with aggravating factors.

Prosecutors said in Tuesday's filing that Smith's aggravating factors include prior violent felony convictions involving a firearm, and that he undertook "substantial planning and premeditation" before allegedly killing two people, and that he planned to murder at least one witness to the crime.

Alaska law does not allow for the death penalty in state cases. The federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988.

The last time federal prosecutors filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty was in 2009 against Joshua Allen Wade, but it was later withdrawn, said Chloe Martin, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Alaska. Wade murdered two women in random acts of violence.

Before that, the last time prosecutors sought the death penalty in an Alaska case was in 1997, in a case against Abram Walter, who was accused of slaying a Ruby postmaster.

Neither Wade nor Walter were sentenced to death.

It is "very rare" for federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty, said Rich Curtner, the federal public defender for Alaska.

"I have handled every potential death penalty case since statehood," said Curtner. "There has only been a handful."

Nobody has been sentenced to death in an Alaska federal case since statehood, Martin said.

ADN reporter Michelle Theriault Boots contributed to this report.

Rocket launches and alleged government waste: The hidden backstory of that Glenn Highway crash

5 hours 6 min ago

Remember when that tractor-trailer hauling part of a building crashed into an Eagle River overpass? And how it quickly produced an epic Glenn Highway traffic jam and snarled traffic for Anchorage commuters for days?

Turns out there's much more to the story, with strands that connect to a state-owned rocket-launching complex and accusations of government waste and improprieties in awarding a contract. Here's how:

— The truck, when it hit the overpass, was hauling a load destined to become temporary housing nearly 300 miles away at the Kodiak Island rocket complex.

— The winning $11 million proposal to build and tear down that island housing has become the subject of a months-long dispute between a company that lost out on the work and the state-owned Alaska Aerospace Corp., which runs the complex.

— The head of the losing company, which had offered to do the job for $3.5 million less, asserts that the selection process was flawed and wasted public money. The aerospace corporation, he says, picked a more expensive proposal that awarded some of the work to a company linked to a former aerospace corporation executive. That former executive was one of three people who helped the corporation judge the bids.

"This doesn't pass the smell test," said Bernie Karl, the Fairbanks businessman who runs the losing company, Kodiak Narrow Cape Lodge.

Officials at the aerospace corporation say Karl's bid was rejected for the simple reason that it failed to meet their specifications.

The corporation's request for proposals asked bidders to provide everything needed to "assemble, operate and dismantle" the temporary housing.

Karl's proposal included building the housing. But rather than dismantle it, the housing would have stayed in place on private land, for future use, at no cost to the government.

As a result, Karl's bid was considered "non-responsive," said Craig Campbell, the aerospace corporation's chief executive and a former lieutenant governor.

The competing proposal from PRL Logistics, the one chosen by the government, includes $2.2 million to tear down the temporary housing after it's used. For the next big test, the housing may have to be built all over again.

Campbell said he understands if that sounds inefficient.

But the requirement to dismantle the housing didn't come from his agency, Campbell said. Instead, it came from the federal Missile Defense Agency, which is using the rocket launch complex for testing and asked for the housing.

"Philosophically I understand why the taxpayer — and I'm one, too — would prefer to have it only built once," Campbell said in a phone interview. But, he added: "The MDA establishes requirements."

The aerospace corporation is owned by the state and runs the Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska, at Narrow Cape near Kodiak's eastern tip. It works with both commercial launch companies and government entities, including the Missile Defense Agency.

The agency has a five-year contract with the aerospace corporation, and it needs to house as many as 210 people near the complex for this year's launch, according to Campbell and the corporation's request for proposals.

The details of the launch are secret, Campbell said.

But a Missile Defense Agency environmental assessment says it's using the complex to test the agency's ability to intercept incoming missiles. The Kodiak site is part of the United States' strategy for knocking down potential attacks from North Korea and other potentially hostile nations.

A year ago, a missile launched from the complex successfully shot down another, incoming test missile that had been launched by a U.S. Air Force plane north of Hawaii.

The aerospace corporation issued an initial request for housing proposals last summer. But it then canceled and reissued it, at the Missile Defense Agency's request, Campbell said.

Both PRL and Karl's company entered bids the first time, with PRL's proposal coming in lower.

Karl's company already owns a 58-room facility on Narrow Cape, near the launch complex. It's been used, on and off, by the aerospace corporation for 18 years, Karl said.

To meet the corporation's need for more space, Karl was going to bring in extra housing units, set them up on his property and leave them there.

Karl asserts that Aerospace corporation staff endorsed the idea of leaving the extra housing in place, without dismantling it. (He could not provide documentation or emails supporting that claim, however — he said the endorsement came in personal conversations.)

The price was the only functional difference between his company's first and second proposals, Karl added. The first time, the company was the high bidder, and the second time it was the low bidder.

But while corporation officials said the first proposal was acceptable, they rejected the second one. Karl said he thinks that's suspicious, given the two proposals' similarities.

He asserted that the corporation is using the dismantling requirement as a pretext to dismiss his second proposal even though it was cheaper. That, he said, would allow the corporation to choose the higher bid, which would benefit a child of the former corporation executive.

The former executive, John Zbitnoff, was one of the aerospace corporation's evaluators for the second round of bids. Zbitnoff used to be a vice president responsible for operations at the Kodiak launch complex, and after leaving that state job, he was re-hired as a contractor, Campbell said.

Zbitnoff's son, Jascha Zbitnoff, is a part-owner of a Kodiak-based company, Brechan Construction. PRL Logistics — the winning bidder for the housing project — said in its proposal that it planned to hire Brechan as a subcontractor, to prepare the site where the housing units would go.

That meant that of the two bids that John Zbitnoff was evaluating, one would have awarded work to his son's company. Karl said that's a problem.

"This is a set-up deal," he said. "This whole deal is so one person could have the bid."

John Zbitnoff and PRL's president, Ron Hyde, didn't respond to requests for comment in response to Karl's accusations. Jascha Zbitnoff, reached by phone, said he played no part in the bidding or selection process, and didn't talk to his father about it.

Campbell, the chief executive of the aerospace corporation, said no one there ever told Karl that he could submit a bid without plans to dismantle the temporary housing, as Karl asserts he was told.

John Zbitnoff, meanwhile, was one member of a three-person evaluation team that examined whether the bids were technically adequate, Campbell said. The team noticed and flagged the fact that Karl's proposal didn't include deconstruction, but it still said the bid was "technically qualified," Campbell said.

The evaluation team, including Zbitnoff, wasn't responsible for deeming Karl's bid non-responsive, Campbell added. That decision came from separate employees in the corporation's contract office, with Campbell's approval, he said.

"Just because a son might work for a subcontractor for another contractor — I don't see that as an inherent problem," Campbell said. He added: "There's a distance of separation between the two Zbitnoffs."

Campbell said there was, in fact, a substantive difference between Karl's first and second proposals, beyond the prices.

In the first bid, Karl proposed to set up the new housing units on a parcel of aerospace corporation property. Afterward, the units would be moved back to property owned by Karl's business.

The units would only have moved a few feet. That's because the aerospace land where the new housing units would have been placed is next to Karl's existing lodge, and it currently belongs to Karl's company.

If the first bid from Karl's company had been accepted, it would have transferred the land to the aerospace corporation, solely to meet a specification by the corporation that the housing sit on corporation property.

When the contract ended, the new housing units would have been moved off the corporation's new property, back to land owned by Karl's company.

In the second round of bids, the aerospace corporation removed the requirement that the housing sit on corporation land.

So Karl proposed to set up the units on his own land and leave them there. And that plan failed to meet the aerospace corporation's requirements that the units be taken down, Campbell said.

Campbell said the aerospace corporation has asked the Missile Defense Agency about allowing a longer-term housing contract, where deconstruction wouldn't be required after each test. But the agency hasn't agreed, he said.

Missile Defense Agency officials wouldn't make clear why it refuses to let bidders leave temporary housing in place, on private property, when such a step might save the federal government millions of dollars.

The agency seemed to justify its specifications in a written statement, by saying that its needs at the launch site — the Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska, or PSCA — are temporary and sporadic.

"Because MDA does not have a continuous requirement for housing and dining at PSCA, we intend to continue the requirement of demobilization of life support areas when planned tests are approximately two years apart," said the statement, attributed to the agency's director, Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves.

Karl's company hasn't formally protested the award of the contract to PRL, and it doesn't want any money, Karl said. Karl has asked for an investigation, however, and he also wants Campbell placed on administrative leave, he said.

"We just want to be treated fairly in the future," he said.

The aerospace corporation's board of directors, in response to Karl, asked its attorney to examine the circumstances of PRL's hiring. The attorney, Thomas Klinkner, wrote a 2 1/2-page memo that attributed the rejection of Karl's proposal to its "non-responsive nature."

Aerospace corporation board members, who are appointed by the governor, are comfortable with the bidding and review processes, Chair Robert McCoy said in a phone interview. He acknowledged, however, that it's "weird" for the Missile Defense Agency to require that the temporary housing be taken down.

"We're generally happy with Alaska Aerospace and Craig and his guys," said McCoy, the director of the Geophysical Institute at University of Alaska Fairbanks. He added: "I think it was handled professionally."

Karl maintains that if his company had been selected, the federal government would have saved money. He also asserts that the Glenn Highway crash, the resulting traffic jam and the $2 million repair bill for the overpass could have been averted, too.

Karl's housing units would have traveled from the North Slope to Valdez, on the Richardson Highway, skipping the Glenn Highway altogether.

"Absolutely, it would have been avoided," Karl said. "One hundred percent."

Alaska airstrip vandalism is highest in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, and officials are trying to stop it

5 hours 22 min ago

The Alaska Department of Transportation has a problem: It's hard to keep people from breaking runway lights in rural airports, especially in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. The state is trying to mitigate this through a series of public service announcements, posters on bulletin boards and outreach to villages, as the lack of working runway lights can keep flights from landing.

A long, gravel airstrip is very tempting for kids looking to have some fun in Alaska villages.

"We need help keeping kids off the runways, and we don't want them using the runways for any purposes other than to safely meet a flight," said Linda Bustemante, the Department of Transportation's outreach coordinator for a program to try to curb the problem.

The DOT has a Rural Airport Safety Program, which uses public service announcements and posters to spread awareness of the dangers of breaking runway lights. Bustemante says that they see the vandalism problem a lot at Western Alaska's many airstrips.

In Russian Mission, for example, four kids smashed around 40 runway lights in one evening a few months ago. Jim Duffy, the state's contractor for maintaining the village's airstrip, understands why kids want to go there to play: It's right next to town.

"Early in the spring, this is the driest ground," Duffy said. "Just maintaining the runway and the apron, having that cleared, that's always clear ground first whereas up at the areas that aren't cleared, there's still snow four weeks later."

Duffy says that the kids are usually responsible and police behavior among themselves.

Bustemante was asked if the state might be open to finding a better place for kids to play, particularly during breakup.

"(If) it's a direction they want to go, it's certainly something we can talk to them about," Bustemante said.

A couple of teachers in Russian Mission have started their own outreach in schools to help, but the runway light vandalism problem usually spikes in the summer when kids are out of school.

This story is republished with permission from KYUK.

Remembering the Exxon Valdez from the deck of a Coast Guard cutter

6 hours 4 min ago

Rear Adm. Matthew Bell assumed command of the U.S. Coast Guard's 17th District — Alaska — in May. He has previously served with the Coast Guard in Alaska, and was at the scene of two of the state's major maritime disasters, the groundings of the Exxon Valdez and the Selendang Ayu. In a meeting with the Anchorage Daily News editorial board this week, he shared this remembrance of his role in the immediate aftermath of the worst oil spill in Alaska's history. 

I was up on the maritime boundary line as the Exxon Valdez ran aground. So we left the MBL on turbines to make that trip across the entire Bering Sea through the Unimak Pass, across the Gulf of Alaska into Prince William Sound, and trying to go on turbines the whole way. Trying to fast. You can't, because every time you try to make a course change, you're beam-to or the props are coming out of the water and you just — you really appreciate it or hate it all the same.

(Arriving in Prince William Sound), I think I felt inadequate. I'm on a 378 (-foot cutter, the largest class of Coast Guard cutters at the time) — we were doing fisheries patrol, international relations, maritime boundary line interactions with the Russians at that time. And here we show up in Prince William Sound — and we're a big ship, we do fisheries law enforcement warrants — and we show up in Prince William Sound, and you can smell the oil. The ship's still up on the rocks at the time, and of course we didn't have fuel, so we had to go in and immediately fuel and come back out.

We were like, "Oh my gosh, there's so much to do." One of the first things that we did was we ended up taking the Air Guard for Prince William Sound. So we ended up (going from) three flights a day to 300 flights a day, so we had our air traffic control and our combat information center. So I now have two radio radar men, standing 24/7 watch controlling the amount of air traffic that's coming in and out of Prince William Sound. Most people were just coming to take a look, but now it's all the resources that are just flying in to the region. Look at Valdez — it's not a big airport. And now all these resources are trying to fluctuate in. There was no offshore presence from a radar perspective, so that's now (the responsibility of) our ship.

Of course, from a spill response (perspective), cleaning up the oil, (we were) inadequately prepared. But now from a command and control perspective, which is what our big ships really bring in, now we've got command and control, we've got eyes on scene, we've got coordination, we've got people who can actually stand that watch and now control assets moving, coming and going. And at that time, that (gave me) a full appreciation for what a command-and-control platform can really do. The Coast Guard isn't technically going to clean that up, but we're going to monitor it and supervise, and coordinate all of the assets that are on scene.

Of course, after that is the control effort — how do you control things moving to the beach, things moving back over to the ships where they're offloading all the hazardous materials and coordinating those efforts throughout Prince William Sound?

We're still seeing the effects of that (spill). You can go to any one of those beaches, turn over rocks and you can still see the oil. Most of that's under the rocks, of course, and if you don't disturb them, it's fine — but that impacts life in perpetuity.

Rear Adm. Matthew Bell Jr. is the commander of the 17th Coast Guard District.

Muldoon Farmers Market finds new home in a new neighborhood park

6 hours 23 min ago

The Muldoon Farmers Market—opening just after we pass Summer Solstice—is a celebration of both a growing market and a new venue.

The market previously called Begich Middle School its home. With the recent grand opening of the new Chanshtnu Muldoon Park, the market is moving to the park, which was designed partly with the market in mind.

"The market has planned since its creation to eventually move into the new park," says Forrest Dunbar, a member of the Muldoon Farmers Market Board and the Anchorage Assembly. "We wanted a location that is more visible from Muldoon Road.

"From the beginning of the Chanshtnu Muldoon Parks 'build out,' hosting the Muldoon Farmers Market has been a specific, shared goal of the municipality and the market. Some of the features of the park are specifically designed to accommodate the market, so we're hoping that it gives it a great, welcoming feel."

Jerrianne Lowther, the market spokesperson, says among the returning vendors for the opening market include Arctic Wonder Marketplace and Ba-Lescas Brothers. The market is open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

Dunbar says the owners of the Muldoon Town Center Mall, which sits north of the market, are allowing market guests to use the mall's parking lot to relieve any overcrowding at the park's lot.

Anchorage Farmers Market

Sarah Bean of Arctic Organics says as summer arrives, so are more fresh veggies.

"We'll be adding to the menu this week," Bean says. "We should have the first harvest of greens mix, along with more arugula, lettuce, scallions and basil! Maybe even some pac choi.

"The most difficult part of this slow, cold spring is keeping our customers waiting. Just remember, everything is planted and it will be coming all in good time."

Bean says the plant starts are thinning out, but they will have hanging baskets and herbs.

Rob Wells, The Persistent Farmer, also says planting season is wrapping up.

"This may the last week to get your dahlia starts," he says. "It's about time to take a mid-season break from markets and help the dahlias on the farm make their blooms."

Wells says in addition to a few dahlias, he will have Icelandic poppies, parsley, basil, dwarf dahlias and Tumbler tomato baskets.

Other vendors scheduled at the market include: AD Farm, Ed & Tina's Kraut & Pickling, Happy Valley Chickens' eggs, Mom's Garden, Seldovitch Farm, Shaggy Mane Shroomery, Sun Fire Ridge, Turkey Red Café breads and treats, and VanderWeele Farm.

South Anchorage Farmers Market

Loads of vendors are lined up the South Anchorage Market.

There will be Arctic Choice Seafoods with Prince William Sound side stripe shrimp, sockeye salmon from King Cove, king salmon from Anita Bay, oysters from Karheen Passage, halibut, rockfish, sablefish and frozen options too.

Farm 779's stand at the market will include Pierre's Indigo and Kumquat tomato starts, which Julie Meer describes as "super-rich in antioxidants and beautiful sunset colors." And Meer also will have krauts, kvass, kombucha and coconut kefirs. Farm 779 also is at the Thankful Thursdays market and the Wednesday Farmers Market at Airport Heights.

New to the market this week from Rempel Family Farm is kale and cress. The Rempels also will have arugula, green cabbage, radishes, spinach, purple onions, fresh mint and nine varieties of last year's potatoes.

And Drool Central's fresh-baked dog treats will be at the market, along with the Solstice Block Party from noon to 6 p.m. on F Street downtown.

Center Market

Alex Davis of AD Farm will have rhubarb, carrots and potatoes at the market, along with plenty of eggs (chicken, duck, goose, turkey and Guinea), cuts of pork (chops, fresh side, ground pork, chorizo, sausage and other), raspberry jam, pumpkin butter and a variety of other items, including products from Alaska Sprouts and Alaska Flour Co.

Steve Edwards lives and writes in Anchorage. Contact him at akmarketfresh@gmail.com.

Local farmers markets

Wednesday in Anchorage: APU Farmers Market, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., 4225 University Drive; Center Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., The Mall at Sears, Benson Boulevard and Denali Street; Farmers Market at Airport Heights, 3-7 p.m., 2530 E. 16th Ave.;

Wednesday outside of Anchorage: Highway's End Farmers Market, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Delta Junction; Homer Farmers Market, 2-6 p.m., Ocean Drive; Soldotna Wednesday Market, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Soldotna Creek Park; Tanana Valley Farmer's Market, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., 2600 College Road, Fairbanks; Wasilla Farmers Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Iditapark

Thursday in Anchorage: Thankful Thursdays market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., The Mall at Sears, Benson Boulevard and Denali Street

Thursday outside of Anchorage: Peters Creek Farmers Market, 3-8 p.m., American Legion Post 33

Friday in Anchorage: Center Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., The Mall at Sears, Benson Boulevard and Denali Street; Fourth Avenue Indoor Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., 333 W. Fourth Ave.

Saturday in Anchorage: Anchorage Farmers Market, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., 15th Avenue and Cordova Street; Anchorage Market and Festival, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Third Avenue between C and E streets; Center Market, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., The Mall at Sears, Benson Boulevard and Denali Street; Fourth Avenue Indoor Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., 333 W. Fourth Ave.; Muldoon Farmers Market, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., 1301 Muldoon Road; South Anchorage Farmers Market, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., O'Malley Sports Center; Spenard Farmers Market, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., 2555 Spenard Road

Saturday outside of Anchorage: Highway's End Farmers Market, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Delta Junction; Homer Farmers Market, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Ocean Drive; Kenai Saturday Market, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center; Soldotna Saturday Farmers Market, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., East Corral Avenue and Kenai Spur Highway; Tanana Valley Farmer's Market, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., 2600 College Road, Fairbanks

Sunday in Anchorage: Anchorage Market and Festival, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Third Avenue between C and E streets; Fourth Avenue Indoor Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., 333 W. Fourth Ave.

Sunday outside of Anchorage: Tanana Valley Farmer's Market, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., 2600 College Road, Fairbanks

Track Palin pleads guilty to reduced charge, enters Anchorage court program for veterans

7 hours 17 min ago

Track Palin pleaded guilty in an Anchorage courtroom Tuesday to a charge of misdemeanor criminal trespass stemming from a December altercation with his father at the family's home in Wasilla.

The plea officially enrolls Palin in a therapeutic court program for military veterans, in which participants agree to work to better themselves in exchange for reduced criminal penalties.

The trouble stems from a Dec. 16 incident in which Track Palin showed up at his parents' home to confront his father, who met him at the door with a pistol, according to the original charging documents in the case.

Track Palin broke a window, entered the home and assaulted Todd Palin, leaving him bleeding from the head, according to the charges. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Track's mother, called police.

Palin was originally charged with felony burglary along with criminal mischief and misdemeanor assault.

If he successfully completes the requirements of Anchorage Veterans Court — including months of drug and alcohol testing, counseling and weekly court appearances — he will be sentenced to 10 days in jail. He will serve one year if he fails to complete the program.

Palin also tried veterans court in a 2016 domestic violence case but didn't finish, court records show. His criminal record includes a conviction for a fourth-degree misdemeanor weapons misconduct charge from the case.

On Tuesday, the 29-year-old called in from Wasilla to enter his plea instead of appearing in person in court, where reporters — including some working for a British tabloid who had flown from Los Angeles — had gathered.

Palin's attorney had earlier argued for media to be kept out of the veterans court sessions, which require participants to speak about their progress in open court.

The therapeutic court program, which typically takes nine months to a year to complete, is the harder choice for someone facing Palin's charges, said Anchorage District Attorney Rick Allen. Participants have to "jump through a lot of hoops" to make it through, he said.

"The easiest thing for him to have done would have been to plead guilty, do a little jail time and be done. The more rigorous thing is to go through a court like (veterans) court. That's what people who are thinking more long term and really want to better themselves do."

Twin brothers reunited 74 years after WWII death at Normandy

7 hours 39 min ago

COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France — For decades, he was known only as Unknown X-9352 at a World War II American cemetery in Belgium where he was interred.

On Tuesday, Julius Heinrich Otto "Henry" Pieper, his identity recovered, was laid to rest beside his twin brother in Normandy, 74 years after the two Navy men died together when their ship shattered while trying to reach the blood-soaked D-Day beaches.

Six Navy officers in crisp white uniforms carried the flag-draped metal coffin bearing the remains of Julius to its final resting place, at the side of Ludwig Julius Wilhelm "Louie" Pieper at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.

The two 19-year-olds from Esmond, South Dakota, died together on June 19, 1944, when their huge flat-bottom ship hit an underwater mine as it tried to approach Utah Beach, 13 days after the D-Day landings.

While Louie's body was soon found, identified and laid to rest, his brother's remains were only recovered in 1961 by French salvage divers and not identified until 2017.

A lone bugler played taps as the casket was lowered in an end-of-day military ceremony attended by a half-dozen family members, closing a circle of loss. Each laid a red rose on the casket and two scattered American soil over it.

The Pieper twins, both radiomen second class, are the 45th pair of brothers at the cemetery, three of them memorialized on the Walls of the Missing at the cemetery. But the Piepers are the only set of twins among the more than 9,380 graves, according to the American Battle Monuments Commission.

The cemetery, an immaculate field of crosses and Stars of David, overlooks the English Channel and Omaha Beach, the bloodiest of the Normandy landing beaches of Operation Overlord, the first step in breaching Hitler's stranglehold on France and Europe.

"They are finally together again, side by side, where they should be," said their niece, Susan Lawrence, 56, of Sacramento, California.

"They were always together. They were the best of friends," Lawrence said. "Mom told me a story one time when one of the twins had gotten hurt on the job and the other twin had gotten hurt on the job, same day and almost the same time."

The story of how the twins died and were being reunited reflects the daily courage of troops on a mission to save the world from the Nazis and the tenacity of today's military to ensure that no soldier goes unaccounted for.

The Pieper twins, born of German immigrant parents, worked together for Burlington Railroad and enlisted together in the Navy. Both were radio operators and both were on the same unwieldy flat-bottom boat, Landing Ship Tank Number 523 (LST-523), making the Channel crossing from Falmouth, England, to Utah Beach 13 days after the June 6 D-Day landings.

The LST-523 mission was to deliver supplies at the Normandy beachhead and remove the wounded. It never got there.

The vessel struck an underwater mine and sank off the coast. Of the 145 Navy crew members, 117 were found perished. Survivors' accounts speak of a major storm on the Channel with pitched waves that tossed the boat mercilessly before the explosion that shattered the vessel.

Louie's body was laid to rest in what now is the Normandy American Cemetery. But the remains of Julius were only recovered in 1961 by French divers who found them in the vessel's radio room. He was interred as an "Unknown" at the Ardennes American Cemetery in Neuville, Belgium, also devoted to the fallen of World War II, in the region that saw the bloody Battle of the Bulge.

Julius' remains might have stayed among those of 13 other troops from the doomed LST-523 still resting unidentified at the Ardennes cemetery. But in 2017, a U.S. agency that tracks missing combatants using witness accounts and DNA testing identified him.

Lawrence, the niece, said the brothers had successfully made the trip across the English Channel on D-Day itself, and "they had written my grandparents a letter saying, do not worry about us we are together."

"My grandparents received that letter after they got word that they (their sons) had passed away," she said.

The Pieper family asked that Louie's grave in Normandy be relocated to make room for his twin brother at his side.

The last time the United States buried a soldier who fought in World War II was in 2005, at the Ardennes American Cemetery, according to the American Battle Monuments Commission.

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Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed to this report.

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