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Letter: Remembering a great jurist

Wed, 2021-10-20 11:59

I learned that Canadian Justice Thomas R. Berger died April 29. Many in Alaska will recount his work leading the Alaska Native Review Commission, as he conducted an in-depth review of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 for the Inuit Circumpolar Conference in 1983. I remember traveling with Jimmy Stotts of Barrow (Utqiagvik) to Vancouver, B.C., to convince him to undertake the work. I recall the thoughtfulness with which we were received in his study by Justice Berger; I especially remember the kindness Mrs. Berger showed us as she welcomed us into their home.

After considering the matter, Justice Berger accepted the charge. The Alaska Native Review Commission was by and large welcomed by the Alaska Native community — there being but few individuals in the Native community hostile to the idea of a Canadian jurist undertaking a review of U.S. federal Indian law in Alaska.

The Alaska Native Review Commission was a remarkable undertaking by any standard to affect U.S. federal Indian law. And Justice Berger’s report, entitled “Village Journey,” established the standard by which any review of U.S. federal Indian policy would be gauged.

Of the many statements made before Justice Berger during the Commission’s hearings that I found of “interest” were given by Douglas Jones and William Van Ness, staff assistants, respectively, to U.S. Sens. Mike Gravel and Henry “Scoop” Jackson. Douglas Jones stated that the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 was a form of “social engineering.” And William Van Ness said, “The act was... a very radical effort at social engineering and it was done on a very, very calculated basis.”The fact that “Village Journey,” Justice Berger’s report, remains as pertinent today as when it was first released in 1985, attests to the integrity of the man Thomas R. Berger.

I suspect that as he approached the “high bench” following his passage, he was prepared to argue for those whom no one else would defend but one other man.

Archie N. Gottschalk

Eagle River

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Letter: Beck listens

Wed, 2021-10-20 11:57

I am proud to know and vote for Matthew Beck for Mat-Su borough mayor, and so is my son, Grant. He is a first-time voter this year, and he shares my enthusiasm for Beck and the servant leadership he will bring to the borough.

I know Matthew will always make decisions based on what’s best for the people he serves, not on politics. He is a willing listener, and he knows how to bring people together to get things done. He’s going to make a great borough mayor for all the residents of the Mat-Su.

Vote Matthew Beck for Mat-Su mayor on Nov. 2.

Arthur Keyes

Glacier Valley Farm


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Letter: Assembly civility

Wed, 2021-10-20 11:55

The lead story in the ADN Oct. 18 was off the mark. How the Assembly used to get along is kind of beside the point. The real story is why people think rude behavior is OK and why people hold so fiercely to misinformation.

As I read it, the story wrongly implied that the Assembly itself was responsible for the mayhem. In fact, all the rude behavior came from the anti-mask public testimony and from Mayor Dave Bronson.

How did people get so venomous and full of contempt? Why did the mayor order the security detail excused? Why did he order the shield removed? Why did Assembly member Jamie Allard attempt to thwart an orderly public process?

The story implied that the fact of the Assembly’s progressive majority contributed to the mayhem. So we blame the progressives because their majority makes the far right furious? I don’t think so.

The story barely mentioned Donald Trump. I agree with Heather Flynn: the behavior of the anti-mask crowd was part and parcel of the Trump mentality, writ local. That mentality – anti-science, anti-fact and venomous as all get out – is at the core of what we saw in those public hearings.

Patty Ginsburg


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Letter: Don’t cut Mobile Crisis Team

Wed, 2021-10-20 11:52

I am deeply concerned the mayor has proposed to pull the funding from the Anchorage Fire Department’s Mobile Crisis Team. MCT is evidence-based, efficacious and cost-effective.

Following Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration best practices, an EMT/paramedic and mental health clinician staff MCT. They respond in real-time to behavioral health crises – providing de-escalation, risk assessment, psychoeducation, behavioral interventions and referrals – without law enforcement accompaniment unless special circumstances warrant it.

MCT provides better community-based care while saving taxpayer money. From July 15 through Oct. 4, MCT made 264 contacts with 149 individuals, most frequently due to distress, psychosis, suicide, and a need for resources. Most individuals were able to stay in the community following MCT response; only 8 needed law enforcement transport to a local hospital. Those who have interacted with MCT report feeling respected, satisfied and helped.

Our community has invested time, energy, and finances to build MCT; now it is time to reap the benefits of our investment rather than defunding an incredibly successful program. I urge Anchorage residents to speak out about the proposed cut to this vital program.

Sara Buckingham

Eagle River

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Letter: Differences in volume

Wed, 2021-10-20 11:45

The letter on Oct. 14 by Kristine Gugel, “Disappointed in the Assembly,” showed that she doesn’t understand testimony at hearings. She claimed that the Assembly “ignored the loud and abundant outcry against (the proposed mask) ordinance.” In fact, the Assembly considered all testimony, and the majority of that was in favor of the ordinance.

Testimony at an Assembly hearing can be delivered in person – or, with equal weight, in writing (usually via emails) or by phone. According to one Assembly member, about 3,500 people submitted testimony in writing or by phone, and slightly more than two-thirds of these were in favor of the ordinance. In contrast, a bit more than 250 people testified in person, all opposed. That still leaves 2 to 1 in favor.

The “loud and abundant outcry” cited by Ms. Gugel did occur. But in a democracy, the preponderance of opinion is the deciding factor – not the volume of noise from one side or the other.

Vivian Mendenhall    


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Letter: Time to right the ship

Wed, 2021-10-20 11:43

In regard to the lawsuit won by the former Alaska Psychiatric Institute doctors: What a joy! Tuckerman Babcock and Gov. Mike Dunleavy will be liable for the losses sustained by those who lost their jobs when Dunleavy issued a letter to state employees that has been judged not in compliance with the Alaska Constitution. Neither are rich enough to sustain the losses, nor is Donna Arduin (remember her?).

Paul Jenkins, in his commentary, did an excellent job of skewering the anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers. His last line should be required reading for all Alaskans. Meanwhile, the Anchorage City Manager will be sidelined for two weeks since she is now a carrier of the disease that has caused mayhem here in Anchorage. The mayor will be without a city manager and a legal advisor. Who will be left to handle the mess we are in right now?

Our former governor’s opinion piece offered hope. There is a leadership deficit in Alaska right now. Next year we can try to right the ship, if we act wisely. Time will tell.

Brett Delana


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Letter: Our children deserve better

Wed, 2021-10-20 11:38

It saddened me to hear that students are stressed and acting out in school. It’s no wonder. Look at their role models: elected officials who spread half-truths and lies and use outdated data to support wild claims. They should apologize for their poor behavior. It’s up to elected officials to calm the waters and assure young people that they will work to make the world a better place for them.

Our children are our most precious treasure. Each adult in our community must model responsible behavior. No name-calling, intimidation or threatening folks who hold different opinions. It will take all of us to repair our community and heal our planet. Our children deserve no less.

Millie Spezialy


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Letter: Saint Scordino

Wed, 2021-10-20 11:37

I just read the recent front-page article by Zaz Hollander about Dr. David Scordino’s workload as medical director of Alaska Regional Hospital, and his part-time state job transferring patients from one hospital to the next in a triage fashion.

Thank you, Dr. Scordino, for your efforts. They are heroic in my aging eyes. My wish is that the mayor of Anchorage spends some time with the good doctor and quickly offers any assistance his office can provide to help reduce and eliminate COVID-19 and its deadly variants.

David G. Brown


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Letter: A fitting honor

Wed, 2021-10-20 11:35

As Mayor Dave Bronson and his cohorts are prolonging the pandemic, why not name the new variants after them?

Leslie Nelson


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Letter: No to the mask mandate

Wed, 2021-10-20 11:34

I am disgusted by our Anchorage Assembly meetings over the past weeks fighting about mask mandates. I see no reason to have a mask mandate. When I have been out and about, I have seen businesses and their customers policing themselves. Businesses have been encouraging everyone to mask, whether vaccinated or not. I have observed that the majority of people are wearing masks, and it’s nice to see people not harassing each other about it. When you make it a rule, then everyone starts fighting each other.

I have seen businesses that require masks, businesses that encourage masks, and businesses that don’t care. We are all getting along just fine.  It’s just the babies on the Assembly and in City Hall fighting each other over something so small. If a business wants to require a mask, I wear one. If not, I have one available depending on the crowd of people in the stores or restaurants.

This recent mask mandate will probably make me quit my job. I’m an older person with a bad knee and don’t walk that great. The mask hinders my ability to see through my glasses and to see my feet. It puts me at a much greater risk of falling, and it hinders my ability to breathe the fresh air.

Thank you so much to the Assembly members for passing such a foolish ordinance. They don’t need masks, They need gag orders and perhaps a class in manners.

Vicki Williams


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Soldotna cemetery expansion project creates hundreds of new plots

Wed, 2021-10-20 10:59

SOLDOTNA - An expansion project that will provide 400 new plots at the Soldotna city cemetery is nearing completion, officials said.

Soldotna Community Memorial Park became the city’s first cemetery when it opened in 2011, the Peninsula Clarion reported.

It includes space for traditional burial plots, a columbarium and a veterans memorial. There is also a memorial wall that bears the name of former citizens who did not have an option to be buried in a Soldotna cemetery.

The cemetery also features an overlook of the Kenai River that is adjacent to a “scatter garden,” where people can spread cremains.

The new plots could add 20 years of capacity to the exiting cemetery, the city said in a release. Future plans include continued expansion and further development of the river overlook.

In the nearby community of Kenai, cemetery expansion efforts are also underway, with 75 new plots expected to open next spring, officials said.

In 2017, the Kenai City Council approved a moratorium on the sale of standard cemetery plots because it had an extremely limited number of plots.

10 days amid 8.4 million Alaska acres: A photographer’s trip to America’s least-visited national park

Wed, 2021-10-20 10:36

My family canoes the Noatak River while taking in the sweeping peak views on June 17, 2021, in Gates of the Arctic National Park. (Photo for The Washington Post by Marlena Sloss)

Far north in Alaska, above the Arctic Circle, sits the least-visited national park: Gates of the Arctic. With no roads or trails, most visitors access the breathtaking, 8.4-million acre park and preserve by small bush plane — or on foot, for the adventurous backpacker.

I grew up in Juneau, and in June, I returned to my home state for a 10-day canoe trip with my family down the Noatak River, which runs west through the park. Our group of six was led by my father, Jeff Sloss, who has spent 35 years guiding trips through the Alaskan wilderness for an adventure-travel company.

We started the trip with several flights, the first of which was to Fairbanks, Alaska’s second-largest city, where we packed and organized gear into drybags. A nine-passenger flight took us to Bettles, a small town of several dozen just outside the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. After a visit with a ranger, we took another hour-long four-passenger float plane ride in the park, and we were dropped at a small lake next to the river.

A view of the river-carved landscape on the flight between Fairbanks and Bettles, Alaska, on June 14. (Photo for The Washington Post by Marlena Sloss)

As the hum of the floatplane faded into the distance, the solitude began to sink in. We would only have each other and the wildlife for company over the next 10 days, hundreds of miles from the nearest hospital and two plane rides from the road system, with only satellite contact in case of emergency.

Over 10 days, we covered about 50 river miles in canoes. Hike days alternated with river days, offering a chance to explore the tundra and rocky ridges. On Day 3, we picked a route on an unnamed ridge leading toward the summit of Oyukak Mountain. We encountered caribou and moose antlers, wildflowers and cracks in the tundra that opened up views of permafrost beneath our feet.

A red fox carries a duck in its mouth as it trots alongside our route. (Photo for The Washington Post by Marlena Sloss)

Since we were north of the Arctic Circle during the summer solstice, the sun dipped behind the mountains between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m., but never fully set. The constant light added to the surreal nature of the landscape. I stayed up in the evenings after everyone else went to sleep, when the light turned golden. One evening, I found a stunning double rainbow sweeping across the valley, shimmering in the warm light.

On Day 8, we portaged our canoes to Lake Matcharak, where we spent two nights at our last campsite and fished for lake trout. I caught a big fish with a bloated belly, which turned out to be dozens of quarter-sized snails sitting like rocks in the stomach. After cooking the trout over the fire in tin foil, we sat back on the shore and enjoyed the fresh fish.

Freshly caught lake trout. (Photo for The Washington Post by Marlena Sloss)

Leaving the river was bittersweet, though I looked forward to a hot shower after enduring a few chilly dips in the river to bathe. I had relished the time in the pristine river landscape and the break from technology. My attention had fully shifted from screens, smartphones and emails to the natural world in front of me: the weather, wildlife and the seemingly infinite wilderness without another human in sight.

Insects swarm together near our camp in the evening light at Lake Matcharak on June 21, 2021 in Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska. (Photo for The Washington Post by Marlena Sloss)

Interior Alaska base set to receive Air Force’s first nuclear microreactor

Wed, 2021-10-20 09:56

FAIRBANKS - A base in Interior Alaska has been chosen by the U.S. Air Force to receive its first nuclear microreactor.

Eielson Air Force Base was selected in a project that began in 2019, when a National Defense Authorization Act requirement to identify potential sites for development and operation of a microreactor by 2027 began, Fairbanks television station KTVF reported.

“This technology has the potential to provide true energy assurance, and the existing energy infrastructure and compatible climate at Eielson make for the perfect location to validate its feasibility,” Mark Correll, the deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for Environment, Safety and Infrastructure, said in a statement.

“(Microreactors) are a promising technology for ensuring energy resilience and reliability, and are particularly well-suited for powering and heating remote domestic military bases like Eielson,” Correll said.

The microreactor will be commercially owned and licensed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory commission, KTVF reported.

Queen Elizabeth II accepts medical advice to rest, cancels trip to Northern Ireland

Wed, 2021-10-20 09:22

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Boris Johnson, left, greet guests at a reception for the Global Investment Summit in Windsor Castle, Windsor, England, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant, Pool) (Alastair Grant/)

LONDON — Queen Elizabeth II has reluctantly accepted medical advice to rest for a few days and has canceled a trip to Northern Ireland, Buckingham Palace said Wednesday.

The palace didn’t offer specifics on the decision, but says the 95-year-old monarch is “in good spirits,’’ and disappointed that she will no longer be able to visit Northern Ireland for engagements Wednesday and Thursday.

“The Queen sends her warmest good wishes to the people of Northern Ireland, and looks forward to visiting in the future,’’ the palace said.

She is resting at Windsor Castle, where she has stayed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. The decision to cancel the trip was understood to not be COVID related.

The decision comes just days after Elizabeth was seen using a walking stick at a major public event when attending a Westminster Abbey service marking the centenary of the Royal British Legion, an armed forces charity.

She had previously been photographed using a cane in 2003, but that was after she underwent knee surgery.

Britain’s longest-lived and longest-reigning monarch, Elizabeth is due to celebrate her Platinum Jubilee — 70 years on the throne — next year.

The queen, who was widowed this year when Prince Philip died at age 99 in April, still keeps a busy schedule of royal duties. On Tuesday, she held audiences with diplomats and hosted a reception at Windsor Castle for global business leaders.

Despite her great age, the monarch has politely declined the honor of being named “Oldie of the Year” by a British magazine. The Oldie magazine on Tuesday published the queen’s response to its suggestion that she follow in the footsteps of former recipients, such as actor Olivia de Havilland and artist David Hockney.

“Her Majesty believes you are as old as you feel, as such The Queen does not believe she meets the relevant criteria to be able to accept, and hopes you will find a more worthy recipient,” said a letter from her assistant private secretary, Tom Laing-Baker. He ended the letter “with Her Majesty’s warmest best wishes.”

No ‘ice liberty’ for crew in warming waters as Coast Guard cutter Healy cruises the Arctic

Wed, 2021-10-20 08:52

Scientists on the Coast Guard cutter Healy collect data from a host of instruments and extract water samples from Baffin Bay off Canada's Baffin Island for environmental change research. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Matt Masaschi)

SEATTLE — They call it “ice liberty,” a tradition during the Coast Guard’s maritime missions in Arctic waters. At a thick ice floe, the crew gets to disembark for a brief moment of freedom from the vessel confines. Some play touch football, or bring hockey gear for the occasion. Others just take a stroll.

This year, there was no suitable ice to be found during the Coast Guard Cutter Healy’s northern journey off Alaska and Canada. So the event was canceled.

“A lot of the floes had melt ponds with holes in them like Swiss cheese,” said Capt. Kenneth Boda, commander of the Seattle-based icebreaker. “We couldn’t get the right floe.”

Ens. Valarie Hines, an ice pilot aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Healy (WAGB 20), breaks through Arctic ice as she maneuvers through the Beaufort Sea, Sept. 1, 2021. (U.S. Coast Guard video by Chief Petty Officer Matt Masaschi)


Boda spoke via telephone during a port call in Boston. The vessel is deep into a marathon voyage that began July 10 as the 420-foot ship pulled away from its berth at the Coast Guard base in downtown Seattle and traveled into Arctic waters off Alaska. After a jog south, the Healy headed north again and through the Northwest Passage to the Atlantic.

This has been, in part, a training mission for the 85 crew members, a task that has added importance as the Coast Guard prepares to increase the U.S. Arctic presence with three new icebreakers that later in this decade are planned to be homeported in Seattle.

Some of the crew are as young as 18 and began this cruise fresh out of boot camp.

“The best way to train is just to get there and do it,” Boda said. “To see where they started and where they are today is just amazing.”

The Coast Guard Cutter Healy, a 420-foot polar icebreaker, off Alaska on July 20, 2021. The Healy and its crew are currently on a 133-day deployment into the Arctic as part of a circumnavigation around North America to conduct Coast Guard missions and to support scientific research. (U.S. Coast Guard/TNS) (U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area/)

The vessel also hosted a rotating cast of scientists who conducted research in different parts of an Arctic maritime environment undergoing epic change as temperatures warm.

The Healy had made frequent forays to the Alaska Arctic, but this was the first time since 2005 the vessel has traversed the Northwest Passage, which consists of several different routes that — as sea ice has declined in recent decades — have become more accessible.

On Prince of Wales Strait, a narrow stretch of water separating two islands in Canada’s Northwest Territories, Boda said stretches of shoreline had collapsed due to permafrost thaw. Boda said the crew was largely able to find open water rather than having to break ice.

“We were surprised at the condition of the ice,” Boda said. “All the heavy stuff, we were able to maneuver around.”

Scientists aboard the vessel included Larry Mayer, director of the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping at the University of New Hampshire, who has spent many years mapping the Arctic sea bottom.

He said the mapping this year in the Northwest Passage included a lot of shallow areas where the bottom had been scoured by icebergs over many decades. Further east, there were deeper canyons carved by glaciers that had since retreated.

Mayer said there was considerably more ice this year than in some years past, but that it was largely young ice, not the multiyear, thick floes that used to be a frequent sight during the summer cruises.

In another Arctic research cruise that ventured some 500 miles north of Alaska’s northern shoreline, scientists also reported considerably more ice than in recent years. It was thicker and extended farther south.

This was not much by historical standards, but surprising in comparison to the recent steady decay of the ice pack,” said Bernard Coakley, a University of Alaska Fairbanks geophysical scientist who was aboard the vessel Sikuliaq during a six-week Arctic trip that ended Sept. 30 in Nome.

Measuring the melt

This was Mayer’s 10th cruise aboard the Healy, so he has a lot of experience on what can go right and wrong on the vessel. He said that morale was high this year, and galley food — which some years has been a disappointment — ranked as the best ever.

“It was really a treat. Nowadays, a science party often has vegans, and they always had a vegan option,” he said.

Mayer and other scientists who had boarded in Seward, got off the Healy when the ship reached Nuuk, a city of some 17,000 on the southwest coast of glacier-clad Greenland.

New arrivals included Robert Pickart, a scientist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who has been studying how warm water can get channeled through undersea troughs to accelerate melting in tide-water glaciers. He also studies what happens to Greenland glacier melt as it enters the sea.

The fate of Greenland’s glaciers is a center-stage concern for climate scientists since their rate of melt will help determine how fast sea levels rise. And great quantities of glacial freshwater melt could cause a big slowdown or even collapse of an ocean current system — the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation — that helps shape the earth’s climate.

Pickart said he worked closely with the Healy’s crew to position the ship in key locations in Baffin Bay, where in some areas the coastal waters were filled with hundreds of icebergs.

“It’s really critical that we understand this (glacial melt) spread in high latitudes,” Pickart said. “This is a big deal.”

Arctic shipwreck found

During the voyage, the Healy crew traversed some of the waters cruised more than a century ago by their vessel’s namesake, “Hell Roaring” Mike Healy, captain of the wooden-hulled U.S. Revenue Cutter Bear from 1886 to 1895.

Healy, who was born into slavery, is a legendary figure in U.S. maritime history. He was the first person of African American descent to command a U.S. government ship, and embarked on annual patrols off Alaska, which covered 15,000 to 20,000 miles.

Healy was a kind of maritime sheriff who helped enforce the law as he acted as “judge, doctor and policeman to Alaska Natives, merchant seamen, and whaling crews,” according to a U.S. Coast Guard history, and also led the Bear on a historic 1884 rescue of starving survivors of an Arctic expedition under command of Army 1st Lt. Adolphus Greely.

After Healy, who battled alcoholism, left the Bear, that vessel spent many more years on Arctic patrols, and later did duty in World War I and World War II. After decommissioning, the Bear sank at sea in 1963 while being towed from Nova Scotia to Philadelphia, where it was going to be turned into a dockside museum and restaurant.

The Bear’s final resting place was a focus of decades of searches. In August, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association Ocean Exploration, working with the Coast Guard, located and photographed a wreck that with “reasonable certainty” was the Bear, according to a statement released last week by NOAA.

[Wreckage of Coast Guard cutter Bear, which patrolled Alaska waters for decades, found in Atlantic]

Boda has a copy of a Healy biography. And on Sept. 22, Healy’s birthday, he used the ship’s loudspeaker to read a passage in commemoration of the ship’s namesake.

By then, Boda had learned about the discovery of the Bear’s sea-bottom wreck, which was identified with the help of photos taken by a remote-operated underwater vehicle that detailed special features, such as a specific pattern of steel staples on the bow.

By the time the Healy pulled into port in Boston last week, Coast Guard and NOAA officials had arranged for a formal announcement of the Bear’s discovery by the docks, with the Healy serving as the backdrop.

After leaving Boston, the Healy returned to sea, headed for Baltimore en route to a Panama Canal passage and a final jog north up the West Coast to Seattle. The goal is to make it back by Nov. 20, shortly before Thanksgiving.

21 people in fiery Texas plane crash walk away unscathed: ‘We can celebrate today’

Wed, 2021-10-20 07:38

The images of the scorched airplane in a pile of rubble are grim - but all 21 people on a private plane walked away unharmed from the crash in Houston, Texas, on Tuesday.

The plane failed to gain altitude during an attempted takeoff, crashed into a field and burst into flames, authorities said.

“This is a good day,” Sergeant Stephen Woodard of the Texas Department of Public Safety told reporters on Tuesday near the site of the crash. “No one is deceased and man that is an awesome feeling for us right now as first responders.”

There were 21 people on the plane when it crashed here in Waller County. No reports of serious injuries. @khouron is LIVE now with updates. @DavidGonzKHOU is on the way to the scene.

— KHOU 11 News Houston (@KHOU) October 19, 2021

The McDonnell Douglas MD-87 plane was on its way from the Houston Executive Airport in Brookshire to Boston shortly after 10 a.m. local time, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement. It was carrying 18 passengers and 3 crew when it traveled about 500 feet on the runway to takeoff before rolling through a fence, crashing and burning in a green pasture.

Woodard said that all passengers, among them a 10-year-old child, survived the crash and were able to extract themselves from the burning vessel. “We can celebrate today,” he added.

It is not yet clear why the plane crashed and the National Transportation Safety Board said it would be launching a team to investigate Tuesday’s nonfatal incident.

Following the crash, only one passenger reported a minor injury of back pain, said Waller County Judge Trey Duhon, in a statement.

“The information we have at this time indicates that the plane did not attain altitude at the end of the runway and went across Morton Road, coming to a rest in the field just north of the airport, where it caught on fire,” he said.

The passengers were headed to Boston to see the Houston Astros play the Red Sox in Game 4 of Major League Baseball’s American League Championship Series, Waller County Sheriff Troy Guidry told Reuters.

Many on social media hailed the incident as a “miracle” and exclaimed their disbelief at the full survival rate.

“So glad to hear there were no deaths. Praise the Lord,” wrote one person on Facebook. Another on Twitter called it “unbelievable.”

Timothy Gibson, director of Waller-Harris Emergency Services told reporters at the scene that extinguishing the fire had taken some time but that he was relived all passengers had safely self-extricated, describing them as “stunned.”

“Any time you have a plane that doesn’t make a landing on the runway like it should, we’re always expecting the worst but hoping for the best,” Gibson said. “Today we absolutely, positively got the best outcome we could hope for.”

Oregon approved state employee religious exemptions for vaccination at nearly twice the rate Washington did

Wed, 2021-10-20 06:58

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown speaks in Portland. (Cathy Cheney/Pool Photo via AP, File) (Cathy Cheney/)

PORTLAND, Oregon -- Oregon has granted religious exemptions from Gov. Kate Brown’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate to at least 11% of state executive branch workers, nearly double the rate of faith-based exemptions approved for state workers in Washington.

Washington drew national headlines Monday when it fired Washington State University football coach Nick Rolovich and several assistant coaches because they refused to get vaccinated. Rolovich unsuccessfully sought to keep his job by requesting a religious exemption. Data released by Washington on Tuesday shows that state has signed off on vaccine religious exemptions for a far smaller percentage of the state workforce than Oregon.

Monday was the deadline for state employees in Washington, and many in Oregon, to provide proof of vaccination, obtain a religious or medical exemption or prepare to be fired. In Oregon, public employee unions worked out deals with the state to extend the time some employees have to complete that process.

Data provided by Gov. Jay Inslee’s office shows 6.8% of Washington employees had received religious exemptions as of Tuesday.

The most recent information provided by Oregon’s administrative agency is from Monday, when 11%, or 4,281 state workers, had been granted religious exemptions. Since then, the state approved an additional 463 vaccine exemptions but it has not yet shared the breakdown of how many are based on religious beliefs versus medical reasons.

In Washington, many of the state employees who received religious exemptions will nonetheless lose their jobs because their employer found workplace accommodations not to be feasible. In general, Washington employees whose jobs involve directly working with the public or colleagues can only keep their jobs if they could be reassigned to telework, the Northwest News Network reported.

Oregon, however, will ensure that all workers who get an exemption can keep their jobs.

Washington has approved both religious exemptions and job accommodations for just 2.4% of state workers, a total of 1,514 employees. That number will almost certainly rise slightly, since 610 employees with approved religious exemptions still had pending accommodation requests as of Tuesday.

Oregon allowed individual agencies, rather than its centralized human resources department, to decide which employees had a “sincerely held religious belief” against vaccination necessary to qualify for an exemption.

Among agencies with at least 100 employees, the rates of religious exemptions granted ranged from 19% at the Oregon Department of Corrections and 14% for Oregon State Police to 2% at the Higher Education Coordinating Commission and none at the Oregon Public Utility Commission.

Oregon will not dismiss employees who received religious exemptions but have jobs that involve significant in-person work. Sherry Kudna, legislative coordinator for the Department of Administrative Services, wrote in an email that state agencies’ human resources departments are going through accommodation processes with individual employees and coming up with “safety measures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.” Most jobs held by corrections and state police officials involve regular contact with inmates, members of the public or co-workers. Ahead of a vaccine mandate, public employers and others relied on masking, social distancing and remote work when possible to slow spread of COVID-19.

Nikolas Cruz pleads guilty to 2018 Parkland school massacre in Florida

Wed, 2021-10-20 06:48

Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz sits at the defense table, Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Cruz pleaded guilty Wednesday to murder in the 2018 high school massacre in Parkland, Fla.,, that left 17 dead. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool) (Amy Beth Bennett/)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Nikolas Cruz pleaded guilty to murder on Wednesday in the 2018 high school massacre in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead.

Cruz, 23, entered his pleas in a courtroom attended by a dozen relatives of victims after answering a long list of questions from Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer aimed at confirming his mental competency. He was charged with 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder for those wounded in the Feb. 14, 2018, attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, located just outside Fort Lauderdale.

A penalty trial will determine if Cruz will receive a sentence of death or life in prison without parole. Scherer plans to begin screening jurors next month in hopes testimony can begin in January.

His attorneys announced his intention to plead guilty during a hearing last week.

Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime died in the shooting, said he visited her grave this week to ask her for the strength to get through Wednesday’s hearing.

“She was the toughest, wisest person I ever knew,” he said. “My daughter always fought for what was right. My daughter despised bullies and would put herself in the middle of someone being bullied to make it stop.”

The guilty pleas will set the stage for a penalty trial in which 12 jurors will determine whether Cruz should be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole. Given the case’s notoriety, Scherer plans to screen thousands of prospective jurors. Hearings are scheduled throughout November and December, with a goal to start testimony in January.

Cruz killed the 14 students and three staff members on Valentine’s Day 2018 during a seven-minute rampage through a three-story building at Stoneman Douglas, investigators said. They said he shot victims in the hallways and in classrooms with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. Cruz had been expelled from Stoneman Douglas a year earlier after a history of threatening, frightening, unusual and sometimes violent behavior that dated back to preschool.

The shootings caused some Stoneman Douglas students to launch the March for Our Lives movement, which pushes for stronger gun restrictions nationally.

Since days after the shooting, Cruz’s attorneys had offered to have him plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence, saying that would spare the community the emotional turmoil of reliving the attack at trial. But longtime Broward State Attorney Mike Satz rejected the offer, saying Cruz deserved a death sentence, and appointed himself lead prosecutor. Satz, 79, stepped down as state attorney in January after 44 years, but remains Cruz’s chief prosecutor.

His successor, Harold Pryor, is opposed to the death penalty but has said he will follow the law. Like Satz, he never accepted the defense offer — as an elected official, that would have been difficult, even in liberal Broward County, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2 to 1.

By having Cruz plead guilty, his attorneys will be able to argue during the penalty hearing that he took responsibility for his actions.


Associated Press reporter Will Weissert in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

Tidal flooding in vulnerable Venice reaches levels shocking even to residents

Wed, 2021-10-20 06:28

FILE - In this Friday, Nov. 15, 2019 file photo, a view of flooded St. Mark's Square in Venice, Italy. Lashing winds that pushed 1.87 meters (nearly 6 feet 2 inches) of water into Venice in November 2019 and ripped the lead tiles off St. Mark’s Basilica for the first time ever shocked Venetians with the city’s second-worst flood in history, but it was the additional four exceptional floods over the next six weeks that triggered fears about the impact of worsening climate change. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno, File) (Luca Bruno/)

VENICE, Italy — After Venice suffered the second-worst flood in its history in November 2019, it was inundated with four more exceptional tides within six weeks, shocking Venetians and triggering fears about the worsening impact of climate change.

The repeated invasion of brackish lagoon water into St. Mark’s Basilica this summer is a quiet reminder that the threat hasn’t receded.

“I can only say that in August, a month when this never used to happen, we had tides over a meter five times. I am talking about the month of August, when we are quiet,” St. Mark’s chief caretaker, Carlo Alberto Tesserin, told The Associated Press.

Venice’s unique topography, built on log piles among canals, has made it particularly vulnerable to climate change. Rising sea levels are increasing the frequency of high tides that inundate the 1,600-year-old Italian lagoon city, which is also gradually sinking.

It is the fate of coastal cities like Venice that will be on the minds of climate scientists and global leaders meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, at a U.N. climate conference that begins Oct. 31.

Venice’s worse-case scenario for sea level rise by the end of the century is a startling 120 centimeters (3 feet, 11 inches), according to a new study published by the European Geosciences Union. That is 50% higher than the worse-case global sea-rise average of 80 centimeters (2 feet, 7 1/2 inches) forecast by the U.N. science panel.

The city’s interplay of canals and architecture, of natural habitat and human ingenuity, also has earned it recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its outstanding universal value, a designation put at risk of late because of the impact of over-tourism and cruise ship traffic. It escaped the endangered list after Italy banned cruise ships from passing through St. Mark’s Basin, but alarm bells are still ringing.

A view of the damaged St. Mark's Basilica's mosaic floor, in Venice, Italy, Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. Lashing winds that pushed 1.87 meters (nearly 6 feet 2 inches) of water into Venice in November 2019 and ripped the lead tiles off St. Mark's Basilica for the first time ever shocked Venetians with the city's second-worst flood in history, but it was the additional four exceptional floods over the next six weeks that triggered fears about the impact of worsening climate change. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni) (Antonio Calanni/)
The damage at columns in St. Mark's Basilica's in Venice, Italy, is seen in this photo taken on Oct. 7, 2021. Lashing winds that pushed 1.87 meters (nearly 6 feet 2 inches) of water into Venice in November 2019 and ripped the lead tiles off St. Mark's Basilica for the first time ever shocked Venetians with the city's second-worst flood in history, but it was the additional four exceptional floods over the next six weeks that triggered fears about the impact of worsening climate change. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni) (Antonio Calanni/)

Sitting at Venice’s lowest spot, St. Mark’s Basilica offers a unique position to monitor the impact of rising seas on the city. The piazza outside floods at 80 centimeters (around 30 inches), and water passes the narthex into the church at 88 centimeters (34.5 inches), which has been reinforced up from a previous 65 centimeters (25.5 inches).

“Conditions are continuing to worsen since the flooding of November 2019. We therefore have the certainty that in these months, flooding is no longer an occasional phenomenon. It is an everyday occurrence,” said Tesserin, whose honorific, First Procurator of St. Mark’s, dates back to the ninth century.

In the last two decades, there have been nearly as many inundations in Venice over 1.1 meters — the official level for “acqua alta,” or “high water,” provoked by tides, winds and lunar cycles — as during the previous 100 years: 163 vs. 166, according to city data.

Exceptional floods over 140 centimeters (4 feet, 7 inches) also are accelerating. That mark has been hit 25 times since Venice starting keeping such records in 1872. Two-thirds of those have been registered in the last 20 years, with five, or one-fifth of the total, from Nov. 12-Dec. 23, 2019.

“What is happening now is on the continuum for Venetians, who have always lived with periodic flooding,” said Jane Da Mosto, executive director of We Are Here Venice. “We are living with flooding that has become increasingly frequent, so my concern is that people haven’t really realized we are in a climate crisis. We are already living it now. It is not a question of plans to deal with it in the future. We need to have solutions ready for today.”

Venice’s defense has been entrusted to the Moses system of moveable underwater barriers, a project costing around 6 billion euros (nearly $7 billion) and which, after decades of cost overruns, delays and a bribery scandal, is still officially in the testing phase.

Following the devastation of the 2019 floods, the Rome government put the project under ministry control to speed its completion, and last year start activating the barriers when floods of 1.3 meters (4 feet, 3 inches) are imminent.

The barriers have been raised 20 times since October 2020, sparing the city a season of serious flooding but not from the lower-level tides that are becoming more frequent.

The extraordinary commissioner, Elisabetta Spitz, stands by the soundness of the undersea barriers, despite concerns by scientists and experts that their usefulness may be outstripped within decades because of climate change. The project has been delayed yet again, until 2023, with another 500 million euros ($580 million) in spending, for “improvements” that Spitz said will ensure its long-term efficiency.

“We can say that the effective life of the Moses is 100 years, taking into account the necessary maintenance and interventions that will be implemented,’’ Spitz said.

FILE - In this Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020 file photo, people wade their way through water in flooded St. Mark's Square following a high tide, in Venice, Italy. Lashing winds that pushed 1.87 meters (nearly 6 feet 2 inches) of water into Venice in November 2019 and ripped the lead tiles off St. Mark’s Basilica for the first time ever shocked Venetians with the city’s second-worst flood in history, but it was the additional four exceptional floods over the next six weeks that triggered fears about the impact of worsening climate change. (Anteo Marinoni/LaPresse via AP, file) (LaPresse/Anteo Marinoni/)
FILE - In this Monday, Dec. 23, 2019 file photo, people carry their luggage as they wade through water during a high tide of 1.44 meters (4.72 feet), near the Rialto Bridge, in Venice, Italy. Lashing winds that pushed 1.87 meters (nearly 6 feet 2 inches) of water into Venice in November 2019 and ripped the lead tiles off St. Mark’s Basilica for the first time ever shocked Venetians with the city’s second-worst flood in history, but it was the additional four exceptional floods over the next six weeks that triggered fears about the impact of worsening climate change. (AP Photo/Luigi Costantini, file) (Luigi Costantini/)

Paolo Vielmo, an engineer who has written expert reports on the project, points out that the sea level rise was projected at 22 centimeters (8 1/2 inches) when the Moses was first proposed more than 30 years ago, far below the U.N. scientists’ current worse-case scenario of 80 centimeters.

“That puts the Moses out of contention,” he said.

According to current plans, the Moses barriers won’t be raised for floods of 1.1 meters (3 feet, 7 inches) until the project receives final approval. That leaves St. Mark’s exposed.

Tesserin is overseeing work to protect the Basilica by installing a glass wall around its base, which eventually will protect marshy lagoon water from seeping inside, where it deposits salt that eats away at marble columns, wall cladding and stone mosaics. The project, which continues to be interrupted by high tides, was supposed to be finished by Christmas. Now Tesserin says they will be lucky to have it finished by Easter.

Regular high tides elicit a blase response from Venetians, who are accustomed to lugging around rubber boots at every flood warning, and delight from tourists, fascinated by the sight of St. Mark’s golden mosaics and domes reflected in rising waters. But businesses along St. Mark’s Square increasingly see themselves at ground zero of the climate crisis.

“We need to help this city. It was a light for the world, but now it needs the whole world to understand it,’’ said Annapaola Lavena, speaking from behind metal barriers that kept waters reaching 1.05 meters (3 feet, 5 inches) from invading her marble-floored cafe.

“The acqua alta is getting worse, and it completely blocks business. Venice lives thanks to its artisans and tourism. If there is no more tourism, Venice dies,” she explained. “We have a great responsibility in trying to save it, but we are suffering a lot.”

Border arrests have soared to highest levels ever recorded, new federal data shows

Wed, 2021-10-20 06:20

Migrants from Guatemala and Honduras are questioned by a Border Patrol agent after being smuggled on an inflatable raft in Roma, Texas. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills, File) (Dario Lopez-Mills/)

U.S. authorities detained more than 1.7 million migrants along the Mexico border during the 2021 fiscal year that ended in September, and arrests by the Border Patrol soared to the highest levels ever recorded, according to unpublished U.S. Customs and Border Protection data obtained by The Washington Post.

Illegal crossings began rising last year but skyrocketed in the months after President Joe Biden took office. As CBP arrests increased this past spring, Biden described the rise as consistent with historic seasonal norms. But the busiest months came during the sweltering heat of July and August, when more than 200,000 migrants were taken into custody.

During a confirmation hearing Tuesday for Chris Magnus, the Tucson police chief Biden has nominated to lead CBP, Republican senators pressed him to characterize the surge as a “crisis.”

Magnus called it a “significant challenge,” echoing the Biden administration’s preferred term, adding that “the numbers are very high.” CBP is expected to release the 2021 fiscal year data later this week.

Border enforcement has become a major political liability for Biden, and the president’s handling of immigration remains his worst-polling issue. He promised on the campaign trail to make the United States more welcoming to immigrants, in contrast to former president Donald Trump, whose zero-tolerance family separations generated widespread outrage in 2018.

During the transition, Biden said he wanted to move cautiously on immigration policy and avoid ending up “with 2 million people on our border.”

Once in office, Biden quickly halted construction on the border wall, ended the “Remain in Mexico” policy, reversed key asylum restrictions and announced a 100-day pause on most deportations and enforcement by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Biden officials initially blamed the previous administration’s policies for the increase in border crossings and said migration pressures intensified as a result of the pandemic’s economic fallout. Many migrants have told reporters they opted to make the risky journey north, at great cost and considerable danger, with the belief that Biden would allow them to stay. A tight U.S. labor market became another pull.

Earlier this year, Biden directed Vice President Harris to address the “root causes” of migration from Central America’s Northern Triangle nations - Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. But the strategy has had little to no measurable effect, and Harris has distanced herself from the border and immigration issues generally.

The latest CBP data indicates that the administration’s challenges extend far beyond Central America. Mexico was the single largest source of illegal migration during the 2021 fiscal year, as the Border Patrol arrested more than 608,000 Mexican nationals. That leaves the Biden administration in an awkward place, as it increasingly relies on Mexico to tighten enforcement and block caravan groups heading north.

Biden officials are in negotiations with Mexico to comply with federal court orders to restart the “Remain in Mexico” policy requiring asylum seekers to wait outside U.S. territory while their cases are processed.

The second-largest grouping was composed of migrants from outside Mexico and Central America whom CBP categorized as “other,” including Haitians, Venezuelans, Ecuadorans, Cubans, Brazilians and migrants from dozens of other nations. They accounted for 367,000 arrests.

They were followed by migrants from Honduras (309,000), Guatemala (279,000) and El Salvador (96,000).

More than 1.3 million migrants have been taken into custody along the southern border in the nine months since Biden took office, including 192,000 last month, the latest CBP figures show.

In the fiscal years between 2012 and 2020, border arrests averaged about 540,000. The 2021 figure was more than three times that amount and the second-highest annual total ever recorded.

The extraordinary influx has produced a series of crises for the administration, starting this spring with record numbers of unaccompanied minors crossing without parents who were crowded shoulder to shoulder into Border Patrol tents.

Crossings by Central American family groups overwhelmed U.S. agents this summer, and in September, the sudden arrival of 15,000 mostly Haitian migrants to a crude camp in Del Rio, Tex., produced politically damaging scenes of chaos and harsh enforcement tactics by Border Patrol agents on horseback.

Immigrant advocates who backed Biden’s candidacy have soured on his presidency lately, with several staging a virtual walkout last weekend during a meeting with White House policy advisers. Biden’s proposals for a major immigration overhaul are stalled in Congress, and Republicans are planning to use his border record as a cudgel in next year’s midterm elections.

The Biden administration has responded to criticism of the arrest numbers by noting that it continues to use the Title 42 public health policy to rapidly “expel” most adult border crossers to Mexico or their home countries.

Of the 1.7 million detained during the 2021 fiscal year, 61 percent were expelled under Title 42, the CBP data shows.

The expulsions have led to a significant increase in repeat crossing attempts by migrants who are turned back, so the number of distinct individuals taken into custody is lower than the number of arrests recorded. Recidivism rates have exceeded 25 percent in recent months, twice as high as in previous years, according to CBP figures.

The 1.7 million figure includes migrants arrested between ports of entry by the Border Patrol as well as those who attempted to enter the United States without authorization through official ports of entry who were detained by blue-uniformed CBP officers.

During the 2021 fiscal year, agents apprehended 1.66 million along the Mexico border only, the latest figures show.

CBP’s Rio Grande Valley sector was the busiest last year, with 549,000 Border Patrol apprehensions, followed by the Del Rio sector, with 259,000, which eclipsed historically busier sectors such as El Paso and Tucson.

The CBP figures show declines last year in seizures of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine. Analysts attribute the decrease to diminished vehicle traffic through ports of entry as a result of pandemic-related travel restrictions, as well as fewer interdictions by overstretched border agents.