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Alaska fishing communities would take hit under Dunleavy proposal to end fish tax revenue-sharing

Thu, 2019-02-21 17:07

Dutch Harbor, in Unalaska, has been the No. 1 fishing port in the nation in terms of the amount of seafood landed for more than 20 years. (Loren Holmes / ADN archive 2012) (Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch/)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed legislation this week that would keep commercial fish tax revenue that has for years been shared with Alaska fishing communities in the state’s coffers instead, a move that mayors in some of those cities say would be devastating.

At play are two taxes: Alaska’s fisheries business tax, and the fishery resource landing tax. Dunleavy’s legislation would repeal the fisheries business tax allocation to municipalities and repeal revenue sharing for the fishery resource landing tax. Those shared funds go to local governments in communities where fish processing and landings occur.

Under the proposed bill, about $28 million would stay in the state’s general fund in fiscal year 2020 instead of being shared with communities.

Dunleavy’s plan to close a $1.6 billion state budget deficit includes deep cuts, especially in education and health care, and does not include new taxes. His proposed budget still needs to go through the Legislature.

The fish taxes are crucial to many small Alaska fishing communities. The fisheries business tax is levied on fish caught commercially in Alaska waters, and is based on the price paid to commercial fishermen for the raw resource. The fishery resource landing tax is levied on fish caught commercially in federal waters and landed in Alaska, based on its unprocessed value.

Currently, the state tax division shares half of the amount of each of those collected taxes with the cities or boroughs where either the processing or the landings occurred. In fiscal year 2018, communities received about $29 million.

“There is a recognition that these are viewed as shared resources, and they should be shared by Alaskans,” said Dunleavy’s press secretary, Matt Shuckerow. “So that’s kind of what this proposal does. It takes shared resources and shares them with all Alaskans, not just some select communities.”

Dunleavy’s focus is on bringing state expenditures in line with revenues to address the deficit, Shuckerow said.

“We are really at this point where we have to make different decisions,” he said.

In a pair of statements Thursday, the Alaska Municipal League and the Alaska Conference of Mayors condemned the fish-tax decision and others made by the administration as part of its budget.

“Very quickly, we can ascertain that the proposed budget is less about state budget cuts and more about cost-shifting to lower levels of government,” Haines Borough Mayor Jan Hill said, reading the mayors’ statement at a press conference.

Dutch Harbor, in Unalaska, has been the No. 1 fishing port in the nation in terms of the amount of seafood landed for more than 20 years. Unalaska took in about $8 million from the fish taxes in 2018, according to the Alaska Department of Revenue’s tax division.

“This would be kind of devastating for us, by losing that revenue,” said Unalaska Mayor Frank Kelty. “This is going to be a major hit and naturally we’re going to scream bloody murder about it.”

[Under Dunleavy budget, state ferries would end service Oct. 1]

He worries about what losing the revenue would mean for funding Unalaska’s school district, utility systems and other services.

“These smaller communities, fisheries tax is a big part of their budget,” Kelty said.

Doug Griffin is executive director of the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference, a regional economic development group that includes Bristol Bay, the Aleutian Islands and other areas home to fishing communities. He said the reductions would be significant for such local governments, especially on top of other parts of Dunleavy’s plan, such as education cuts.

“We’re sort of getting bombarded from all sides,” Griffin said.

“We’re fortunate that we have communities that have this resource at their doorstep, so to speak,” he said, referring to the fishing sector. “We also — a lot of people come in for short periods of time, they demand services. We’d certainly rather have the fish than not have the fish, but with it comes some responsibility to provide resources.”

Dozens of Alaska cities and boroughs get revenue from the fish taxes. The Kodiak Island Borough and the City of Kodiak got nearly $2 million in 2017 revenue from the business tax, and about $23,000 more from the landing tax, according to the state tax division.

“Taking that away with the other budget cuts, especially to the schools, which are part of the borough, and the school bond debt, would be devastating,” said Kodiak city Mayor Pat Branson.

In Cordova, Mayor Clay Koplin echoed Branson’s comments and said “it would be pretty devastating” if the community no longer received money from the fish taxes. The local government there will likely suggest some alternatives to the administration on the most important issues in the budget, Koplin said.

The fish tax change, public education and Dunleavy’s proposed cuts to the Alaska Marine Highway System are likely the big three, he said.

“We just want a seat at the table and we want a part in crafting a budget fix that doesn’t collapse our (Cordova’s) economy in the process,” he said.

Cordova received about $1.2 million in 2017 from the fisheries business tax.

“We understand, though," Koplin said, “that this is just the first chess move in the process of trying to get our arms around a $1.6 billion deficit.”

The Daily News’ James Brooks contributed reporting.

Oregon housing squeeze sets stage for statewide rent control

Thu, 2019-02-21 16:41

FILE - In this April 12, 2017 file photo, supporters of a bill to ban most no-cause evictions of home renters in Oregon demonstrate on the Capitol steps in Salem, Ore. A committee of the Oregon House of Representatives debated a bill that would make Oregon the first state to impose mandatory rent controls statewide. The committee on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019, rejected proposed amendments that would make certain parts of the state exempt from the bill. (AP Photo/Andrew Selsky, File) (Andrew Selsky/)

SALEM, Ore. — Faced with a housing shortage and skyrocketing rents, Oregon is poised to become the first state to impose mandatory rent controls, with a measure establishing tenant protections moving swiftly through the Legislature.

Many residents have testified in favor of the legislation, describing anxiety and hardship as they face higher rents. Some have gone up by as much as almost 100 percent — forcing people to move, stay with friends or even live in their vehicles.

The Oregon housing shortage is getting worse because of a big influx of people moving to the state — lured by the state's job opportunities and its forests, mountains, coastline and relaxed lifestyle. Many move from California, where the cost of living is often more expensive.

Cities across the West Coast are struggling with soaring housing prices and a growing homelessness problem. The small southern Oregon city of Medford recently authorized churches to offer car camping for the homeless on their parking lots.

A state legislative House committee on Wednesday backed the measure, sending it to the full chamber for a vote as soon as next week. The state Senate passed it last week.

Gov. Kate Brown told reporters she expected the full House to approve the measure. "I look forward to signing the bill," said Brown, a Democrat.

The committee rejected an amendment that would have exempted cities with populations under 150,000 and another that would have delayed the measure from becoming law until Jan. 1, 2020, instead of immediately after Brown signs it.

"We've waited too long as it is, and there are too many people living in tents. It is an emergency," said Rep. Tawna Sanchez, a Portland Democrat and member of the House Committee on Human Services and Housing that endorsed the legislation.

Lawmakers said Oregon will be a pioneer in statewide rent control if the measure becomes law. New York has a statewide rent control law, but cities can choose whether to participate.

California restricts the ability of cities to impose rent control. Last November, voters defeated a ballot initiative that would have overturned that law.

"Homelessness and affordability have no boundaries," said Rep. Mark Meek, a Democrat from a Portland suburb. "We're going to be leading the nation now with this legislation."

Oregon's measure prohibits landlords from terminating month-to-month leases without cause after 12 months of occupancy and limits rent hikes to once per year. Those increases are limited to 7 percent above the annual change in the consumer price index.

Landlords can terminate tenancies only with 90 days' written notice and payment of one month's rent, with exemptions in some cases. A landlord can refuse to renew a fixed-term lease if the tenant receives three lease violation warnings within 12 months and the landlord gives 90 days' notice.

The Oregon Rental Housing Association, which represents small-scale landlords, said the measure protects good tenants while not encouraging landlords to leave the business and invest their money elsewhere.

"I believe most landlords will be able to adapt and operate within the parameters," said Jim Straub, the group's legislative director.

Eric Lint, who lives in Bend, one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S., urged lawmakers to pass the protections because of spiraling rents. The medical lab where he works is chronically understaffed because potential hires say there is a lack of affordable housing.

Lint said his hourly pay has risen 8 percent over five years. Meanwhile, his rent has increased 66 percent. He plans to move away in the fall but did not say where in his testimony.

Anna Pena, a senior at the University of Oregon in Eugene who works full time, described living in a house smaller than 1,200 square feet (111 square meters) with five roommates and spending over half her income on rent that then increased by 15 percent.

"Ultimately, housing insecurity has been one of the biggest setbacks for my education and personal health," she said.

Sen. Tim Knopp, a Republican from Bend, said before he voted against the measure last week that it does not address the housing supply issue.

Another measure aiming to deal with that issue would require cities and counties to allow duplexes and some higher-density housing in lands zoned for single-family homes.

House Speaker Tina Kotek, a Democrat, said 30,000 housing units must be built per year to meet the state's current housing deficit and to build for the future as more people move to Oregon.

Oregon ranked second to Vermont as the top moving destination in 2018, according to a study by United Van Lines, the largest U.S. household goods mover.

About 60 percent of Oregon's new arrivals come for jobs or because they're looking for work, said Josh Lehner, a state economist. At least one-third of the new arrivals are from California, he said.

___

Mary Esch in Albany, New York, contributed to this report.

Prosecutors: Smollett paid brothers $3,500 for staged attack

Thu, 2019-02-21 16:18

This image provided by the Chicago Police Department and taken from surveillance video shows two people of interest in an attack on "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett walking along a street in the Streeterville neighborhood of Chicago, early Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. (Courtesy of Chicago Police Department via AP)

Two brothers who told police that Jussie Smollett paid them $3,500 to help stage an attack on himself were linked to the actor through the “Empire” television series, and court documents filed Thursday allege one of the men provided Smollett with designer drugs.

Smollett appeared in court for a bond hearing one day after prosecutors charged him with a felony for allegedly concocting a story about being attacked by two men who shouted racist and homophobic slurs, doused him with a chemical and draped a noose around his neck.

In a four-page court document laying out the allegations against Smollett, prosecutors allege Smollett hired the brothers, Abimbola "Abel" Osundairo and Olabinjo "Ola" Osundairo, to buy masks and a rope — transactions recorded on surveillance video. As for the alleged attack, the actor instructed Abel Osundairo to "not hurt him too badly and give him a chance to appear to fight back," according to the filing.

The Osundairos, who are of Nigerian descent, have said they were born and raised in Chicago.

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said at a news conference Thursday that investigators reviewed extensive phone records between Smollett and the brothers, including calls from when the brothers were in Nigeria after the allegedly staged attack.

Gloria Schmidt, an attorney for the brothers, spoke to reporters Wednesday outside a Chicago courthouse where they met with the grand jury, which was collecting evidence in the case. Schmidt said the two men wanted to come clean and weren't motivated by any promises from prosecutors.

"There was never a change of heart," Schmidt said. "There was a point where this story needed to be told, and they manned up and they said, 'We're gonna correct this.' Plea deal, immunity, all of that — they don't care about that."

Prosecutors said Smollett's friendship with Abel Osundairo dates to fall 2017. He had served as a stand-in for a character named "Kai", who is Smollett's love interest on "Empire." Osundairo's brother also appeared as an extra in the show, according to the court document.

Citing text messages between Smollett and Abel Osundairo, who also exercised and socialized together, prosecutors say Smollett had requested that his friend provide him with the drug ecstasy.

Attorneys for Smollett and Abimbola Osundairo didn't immediately respond to messages The Associated Press left Thursday evening seeking comment about that claim.

The brothers are bodybuilders who have developed an online following and have dabbled in acting and at least one failed business venture, according to social media posts and news reports.

Abimbola Osundairo, 25, graduated from Lake View High School in Chicago, where he participated in football, track and field, soccer, and wrestling, before joining the football team at Quincy University in western Illinois, according to a football profile on the university's website. Olabinjo Osundairo, 27, also was on the Quincy football team and had attended Latmos Comprehensive College in Lagos, Nigeria, according to his football profile.

Smollett said he was attacked by two masked men in downtown Chicago early on Jan. 29. He also said they yelled, "This is MAGA country" — an apparent reference to President Donald Trump's campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again."

Chicago police said they reviewed video of Smollett walking downtown but found nothing showing an attack. They released images of two people, later identified as the brothers, whom they called "persons of interest" in the case because they were in the area at the time.

The Osundairos were arrested on Feb. 13 at O'Hare International Airport after returning from Nigeria when police learned at least one of them worked on "Empire." Police said they left for Nigeria on the day of the attack. Police released them after two days, saying the "investigation had shifted" following interviews with the brothers.

A man identified on some videos as the Osundairos' business partner, Leland Stanford, did not respond Wednesday to a Facebook message. The Osundairos did not respond to a message on their "Team Abel" Facebook page or to an email posted on their YouTube page, and a voice message left at a phone number listed for their father also was not returned.


FILE - In this May 20, 2016 file photo, actor and singer Jussie Smollett attends the "Empire" FYC Event in Los Angeles. A police official says "Empire" actor is now considered a suspect "for filing a false police report" and that detectives are presenting the case against him to a grand jury. Smollett told police he was attacked by two masked men while walking home from a Subway sandwich shop at around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29. He says they beat him, hurled racist and homophobic insults at him and looped a rope around his neck before fleeing. (Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File) (Richard Shotwell/)

Smollett's lawyers had said the actor was angered and "victimized" by reports that he may have played a role in staging the attack.

"As a victim of a hate crime who has cooperated with the police investigation, Jussie Smollett is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with," the weekend statement read, adding that one of the brothers was Smollett's personal trainer.

The Osundairos, who promote a fitness and diet program under the title "Team Abel," have more than 20,000 Instagram followers and more than 1,600 followers on Facebook. They also have a "Team Abel" YouTube channel.

The Chicago Tribune reported that neither brother has been credited for work on "Empire," though the older brother said in a 2015 interview that he played the prison bodyguard for Chris Rock's character. Rock guest-starred on the show's second season premiere in 2015.

The newspaper also reported that the brothers signed in 2016 with Hinsdale, Illinois-based Babes 'N Beaus Model and Talent Agency, according to one of the owners, Don Underwood.

Each appeared on an episode of NBC's "Chicago P.D." last year, and both had roles in the 2017 independent movie "The Worst Nightmare," the Tribune reported. One had a small part in Spike Lee's 2015 film, "Chi-Raq."

State records showed the Osundairos established a party and decoration store in 2015 that was dissolved last year, the Tribune reported. Federal court records show they filed for bankruptcy in 2016 with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt and their store "operating at a loss."

The newspaper reported that the older brother pleaded guilty in 2012 to aggravated battery and was sentenced to two years of probation for a stabbing that occurred a year earlier about a block away from the brothers’ home, according to Cook County records. His brother was ticketed for a DUI in 2015.

Scientists discover the origin of Stonehenge stones - quarries 180 miles away

Thu, 2019-02-21 15:01

The Stonehenge quarry, Carn Goedog. Handout courtesy of University College London (University College London/)

A team of archaeologists in the United Kingdom says it has traced dozens of Stonehenge’s massive rocks to two quarries in west Wales. The rocks were transported 180 miles - dragged on wooden sleds, the scientists suggest, by teams of strong men. These stones, called bluestones after their bluish-gray hue, form the inner circle of the monument that towers over the Salisbury Plain.

Two bluestone quarries, named Carn Goedog and Craig Rhos-y-felin, were excavated around 3000 B.C., according to the authors of a study published this week in the journal Antiquity. Expeditions at the quarries from 2014 to 2016 recovered ancient charcoal and stone tools. In some places, the charcoal was mixed with dirt and stones to form flat platforms, which may have been used like loading bays to distribute the massive pillars, said Michael Parker Pearson, an archaeologist at University College London and an author of the new study.

Among the Welsh hills, bluestones erupted from the ground. Here, millions of years ago, sheets of magma slowly cooled into columns. Eons passed and softer rock around the magma eroded. Only the jagged bluestones remained.

Prehistoric workers probably exploited natural weaknesses in these structures, Parker Pearson said. "They're nearly vertical," he said. "All you've got to do is get a lasso around each one and pull."

With ropes and simple tools, such as sandstone wedges shoved into the outcrop's joints, excavators may have plucked out a pillar as cleanly as a loose tooth. Those on top of the outcrop could have carefully slackened their ropes to control the pillar's descent to a platform below, the authors wrote. From there, workers may have lowered a stone, six feet long and weighing two to four tons, onto a wooden sled to haul it away.

Bluestones are big, but not so big that a "burly group of Stone Age men" couldn't drag them across the countryside, Pearce said.

These pillars are "the Ikea version of Neolithic megaliths," Parker Pearson joked - the stones peeled off the outcrop as though from ready-to-use kits. Unlike the people who crafted Egypt's obelisks from much larger rocks, Stonehenge's builders did not need to rework the bluestone pillars.

The bluestones, which are speckled with fingernail-size deposits of white minerals, form an inner horseshoe and ring at Stonehenge. These rocks, though impressive, are not Stonehenge's biggest. The imposing sandstone trilithons, the three-part structures made of two vertical stones and a horizontal top, are larger and more locally sourced, though their exact origins are unknown.

Previous chemical studies linked the bluestones to the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire, Wales. "That's the only place you get that particular rock type," said Nicholas Pearce, a geochemist at Aberystwyth University in Wales, who was not involved with the current study.

Humans buried at Stonehenge probably came from this region of Wales, too. Remains at the site contain isotopes consistent with life near the quarries. Just a few miles separate the two outcrops - standing on one quarry, it's possible to see the other, Pearce said.

Radiocarbon dating indicates that the quarry charcoal is about 5,000 years old. The Welsh charcoal and Stonehenge remains suggest a connection in time as well as space. "We've got dates for both quarries that link nicely with the first dates at Stonehenge," Parker Pearson said. The bluestones and early Welsh travelers could have arrived at the Salisbury Plain together. There's about 100 years of fuzziness in the radiocarbon dating, though. "It could be immediate, it could be 100 years from getting from A to B," Parker Pearson said.

Unexpectedly, the quarries are on the northern side of the hills. The south side is closer to the ocean, where, according to one hypothesis, prehistoric travelers floated bluestones along the coast. An attempt to replicate a bluestone float failed spectacularly in 2000, however, when a raft carrying a stone sank close to shore. Parker Pearson and his colleagues suspect that the stones were transported over land instead, on sledges.

The existence of the quarries "conclusively invalidates" the misconception that Ice Age glaciers pushed the bluestones into the region, the authors of the new study said.

Bournemouth University archaeologist Timothy Darvill, who was not involved with this report, said that geological evidence points to "several other sources" of stone, including a site called Carn Menyn. Routes between Wales and Stonehenge remain speculative, Darvill said, though he agreed stones probably moved over land rather than by sea.

Among Europe's megalithic structures, Stonehenge is an oddity. Most other prehistoric builders did not stray more than 10 miles to collect stones for their monuments. Why craft Stonehenge from such far-flung pieces? Parker Pearson offered one idea. He suggested that Stonehenge was a unifying symbol for British tribes, constructed during what may have been a period of economic and population decline.

“A major event like this,” he said, “would have brought together disparate communities that were growing apart.”

The role of education in solving Alaska’s economic crisis

Thu, 2019-02-21 14:39

The Akasofu Building, left, and Elvey Building, on the campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, on September 9, 2015.

Economists tell us that long-term economic growth has some major ingredients: labor, capital (factories, machinery, equipment, computers, etc.), institutions (properly setting the rules of the game) and technology. They define technology to be nothing more than the recipes and/or the know-how that produce the most output from a given amount of labor and capital. How is this “know-how” or “recipe” produced? Some primary explanations are investment in human capital and in basic research and innovation. Human capital, a fancy term for education and training, is one of the most important factors in technological progress, and therefore in long-term economic growth.

Oil producing states such as Louisiana, Wyoming and Alaska tend to cut funding at both K-12 and higher education levels due to declining oil prices. On Feb. 13, Gov. Mike Dunleavy decided to cut state funding for the university at an unprecedented rate, by almost 41 percent. One natural consequence of these cuts is less economic activity in the short- to medium-run. However, education cuts also foreshadow economic dysfunction later on down the road. This article does not intend to justify the number of Alaska higher education institutions or the current allocation of resources. While budget cuts can potentially harness efficiency and productivity gains, Alaskans should also be aware that funding education fuels economic growth and prosperity.

The provision of quality and affordable higher education can play a particularly important role in isolated communities like Alaska. Beyond increased labor productivity and higher wages, the University of Alaska gives young, bright Alaskans a reason and the opportunity to live in Alaska. Based on existing studies, increasing tuition by 5 percent at a typical four-year university induces a 0.5 percent drop in enrollment (for UAA, this is about 100 students, roughly equivalent to all of the economics majors). In response to higher prices, some Alaskans will decide to forgo a college education altogether, while others will attend college in another state. Based on a national sample of data, attending college Outside reduces the chances of living in one’s home state after graduation by 54 percent. Future students also care about the quality of education they receive. We live in a capitalist economy; the most effective and productive teachers and researchers demand the highest salaries, and they will receive them in Alaska or another state. In response to an economic downturn, it is ironic to cut funding for education. A university should be thought of as an economic powerhouse, a magnet that maintains and attracts the brightest minds that will fuel economic prosperity into the future.

One cannot ignore the possibility that what is happening to places like Alaska is a natural course in the history of why nations and regions tend to rise and fall. History is full of these stories. About three centuries ago, the city of Ouro Preto in Brazil was twice as big as New York City and five times as big as Rio de Janeiro. Once rich in precious stones and minerals, especially gold, its current population of about 70,000 is half of what it was then. A UNESCO World Heritage site with its beautiful architecture, the city now earns its living mainly from tourism!


The Parrish Bridge connects the Engineering & Industry Building, left, with the Health Sciences Building on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes / ADN/)

During the past decade, the economies of many resource-rich countries/regions had been in good shape. It is uncertain, however, if their policy makers were aware of the so-called paradox of plenty or the resource curse. Countries/regions with plenty of especially non-renewable resources paradoxically tend to experience slower economic growth than those that do not have them. We will not list all the reasons why this can happen but volatility in resource (oil) prices, rent-seeking, mis-allocation of resources especially during the boom years are some of the explanations given. Cushioning oil price shocks by drawing down a wealth fund when oil prices are low (and building it back up when oil prices are high) can stabilize public spending and will promote long run economic growth. However, for such fiscal strategy to succeed, countries/states must have effective as well as efficient institutional structures in place.

Robert Solow fittingly stated that, “Over the long term, places with strong, distinctive identities are more likely to prosper than places without them. Every place must identify its strongest, most distinctive features and develop them or run the risk of being all things to all persons and nothing special to any...” What has happened to oil is not only the result of enhanced production everywhere in the world. At least for the U.S., technological advancements that made unconventional oil and gas recovery economically feasible in the Lower 48 also played a role. Also worth mentioning are the demand shocks (slower global growth) and innovations/regulations in fuel efficiency. Averaged over the last half-century, the real price of oil is just $50. All of this is to say that it would be surprising for oil prices to rise to the levels seen in the last decade. In the face of this long-term challenge, we should focus on developing our “strongest, most distinctive features:” Our land, geography and, most of all, our people.

Addressing an issue that seems structural in Alaska’s case may require a more seasoned approach and stronger consensus. As we have seen in the experiences of smaller European nations during the last economic meltdown, certain cuts may will likely hurt the least fortunate in our society. Perhaps Alaskans could entertain different arrangements to the Permanent Fund dividend payment structure in the form of “means-testing," and a combination of taxes as well as incentives, or even different ways to structure higher education and its funding. If not, doing what is currently proposed will likely lead to more pain and open the door to yet another economic slowdown and/or recession. At the end of the day, it remains to be seen whether the potential efficiency and productivity gains due to streamlined public spending will be overwhelmed by the long-run deleterious effects on economic growth of lack of effective and wise spending on public education.

Policymakers should continue to encourage diversification and provide incentives to attract outside businesses. However, that by itself will not suffice.

Gokhan Karahan is an associate professor of accounting at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

90-day comment period for Pebble mine review is inadequate, Sullivan says

Thu, 2019-02-21 13:27

Sen. Dan Sullivan (Loren Holmes / ADN archive)

JUNEAU - U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan says a 90-day comment period is inadequate for a draft environmental review of a large copper-and-gold mine near the headwaters of a major Alaska fishery.

Sullivan says more time is needed to review a document of that size and importance.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Wednesday released the draft that lays out development alternatives for the proposed Pebble mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region, including a no-development option.

Critics called the review rushed and superficial. The CEO of developer Pebble Limited Partnership said he sees "no significant environmental challenges that would preclude the project from getting a permit."

Meanwhile, Sullivan says he supports President Donald Trump’s efforts to secure the U.S.-Mexico border but doesn’t think a national emergency declaration was needed.

Alaska faces tough choices as climate change effects become plain

Thu, 2019-02-21 13:13

The Exxon Valdez is refloated and towed away from Bligh Reef Wednesday, April 5, 1989. The tugs towed the damaged ship toward Naked Island for preliminary repairs. (Erik Hill / ADN archive 1989) (Alaska Dispatch News/)

Nearly 30 years ago, the Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef, and the $900 million settlement began a scientific frenzy to understand its consequences. I recently sat down for the annual report, now called the Alaska Marine Science Symposium, to catch up on decades of research.

Despite all the signs that the Arctic is warming and there are dramatic impacts to wildlife: historic lows in sea ice coverage in the Arctic Ocean, salmon failures, the blob, and seabird die-offs, the public and the media demonstrated a glaring indifference to the symposium. Thank you to Lori Townsend for hosting Fran Ulmer on Alaska Insights at the end of the week. If you had one person to get the rundown from, Fran would be my choice.

While I don’t blame anyone who would like to forget the hideous Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, for not wanting to spend days inside listening to talks, what the scientists who have spent decades perfecting their craft would have you know is that the natural world is changing, they can actually measure it, and it's happening faster than anyone would have predicted. In some instances the changes could surpass the damage done by the Exxon Valdez.

Changes scientists thought they'd be warning us about in 30 years, are already here: The shells of littleneck clams from a beach in Kachemak Bay are already dissolving because the nearshore areas are too acidic. Pteropods, an animal plankton that is food for many fishes, including pink salmon, are already experiencing lower survival due to the increase in acidity of the ocean. In fact, shellfish shells are affected by ocean acidification in all the oceans around Alaska.

Increased salinity in coastal wetlands poses a threat to seabirds. This spring, 1.5 million seabirds will migrate to the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge to feed, rest and nest. Experiments on sea ducklings at the Alaska SeaLife Center found that the ducklings cannot thrive in saline environments before they develop a gland for handling seawater. It takes time for this gland to develop. Levels of salinity that impair the ducklings’ development are already surpassed in the wetland where they will hatch this spring. The lack of ice in the Bering Sea for the past five years is causing ocean levels to rise, more waves to breach the shorelines and contribute more marine water to the usually freshwater delta. The warmer waters and changing ice patterns are producing effects that cascade up and down the food web in ways that anyone who fishes for a living, enjoys seafood or loves marine wildlife, should care about.

We heard from scientists with decades of experience here in the Arctic, students from a variety of universities and colleges, as well as other scientists from around the world.

The evening panel about the 30th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez recapped events leading up to the beginning of the North Pacific Research Board. It featured talks by scientists from the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Auke Bay Lab in Juneau, but also from as far away as South Korea and Louisiana, on the response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and the 2007 Hebei Spirit oil spill in South Korea, and who took lessons from the research on the impacts of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Korean scientists reported social and economic effects among the people affected by the Hebei Spirit oil spill as it damaged Taen National Park, particularly a beautiful sandy beach that the adjacent community cherished. More than a million people showed up to help clean the beach. They used mechanical means as well as hand labor, wiping each rock by hand, to clean their beach, with much less lasting damage, than the hotwater cleanup used in the EVOS. The community damaged by the Hebei Spirit also experienced tremendous psychological effects as well as health effects from exposure to crude oil. One researcher reported that six suicides are attributed to the 2010 Hebei Spirit oil spill.

I came away startled by some of their findings, but also impressed by the effort to understand the ecology of the oceans surrounding Alaska, and somewhat soothed by the power of the knowledge being generated and the new methods and technical advancements for measuring change. I give credit for this not just to the scientists and the staff of the North Pacific Research Board, but also the public response to the oil spill and the public demand for ecosystem science.

Do you remember the 1993 blockade of the tanker lane in Valdez Narrows? Prince William Sound fishermen were protesting after the herring (which were spawned in 1989) turned up with a disease, viral hemorrhagic septicemia, and the pink salmon run failure. They put their boats on the line to try to get a change in the type of research funded by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council and for the council to do more to “make them whole again” as promised. They wanted ecosystem science.

Who knows if this is what they imagined, but soon Congress picked up where the Exxon settlement left off, creating the North Pacific Research Board to keep ecosystem research going in all the seas around Alaska with an endowment that feeds the fund every year. It’s changed how science is done here in the Pacific Northwest, and the result of this dedicated effort to monitor and measure ecosystem changes in the oceans surrounding Alaska is that scientists are able to see things coming down the pike that are potentially way worse than even a spill like the Exxon Valdez. The threat to our environment comes from the same source - human reliance on petroleum, CO2 in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels.

It's a lesson we should really remember, and stay involved as people who care about our environment, to help guide this thing as the changes in our world play out. There will be choices to make.

Jody Seitz is the former producer of the public radio series “Alaska Coastal Currents (1997 - 2001).

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Judge imposes total gag order on Trump confidant Roger Stone after he posted her photo

Thu, 2019-02-21 12:52

WASHINGTON — A federal judge ordered Roger Stone not to discuss his criminal case with anyone and issued a stinging reprimand Thursday over the longtime Trump confidant’s decision to post a photo on Instagram of the judge with what appeared to be the crosshairs of a gun.


Former campaign adviser for President Donald Trump, Roger Stone, leaves federal court Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, in Washington. A judge has imposed a full gag order on Trump confidant Roger Stone after he posted a photo on Instagram of the judge with what appeared to be crosshairs of a gun. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) (Jacquelyn Martin/)

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said that Stone would “pose a danger” to others in the case unless she modified the terms of his release to include the gag order.

Stone had taken the witness stand to try to explain his post and apologize to the judge, repeatedly telling her that he had made an egregious and inexcusable mistake.

"Thank you, but the apology rings quite hollow," the judge shot back before instituting the gag order.

The 66-year-old Stone has pleaded not guilty to charges he lied to Congress, engaged in witness tampering and obstructed a congressional investigation into possible coordination between Russia and Trump's 2016 presidential campaign. The charges stem from conversations he had during the 2016 campaign about WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group that released material stolen from Democratic groups, including Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Stone was arrested last month and has remained free on a $250,000 personal recognizance bond. He is the sixth Trump aide or adviser charged in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, which increasingly appears to be reaching its final stages. Stone has maintained his innocence and blasted Mueller's Trump-Russia investigation as politically motivated.

Last week, the judge issued a limited order that prevented Stone from discussing his case near the courthouse and generally prohibited his lawyers, prosecutors and witnesses from making public comments that could "pose a substantial likelihood" of prejudicing potential jurors. But that order stopped short of imposing a broad ban on public comments.

Stone had been ordered to court Thursday after he posted a photo of Jackson with what appeared to be crosshairs near her head. Stone and his lawyers filed a notice with the court that said they recognized the photo was "improper and should not have been posted."

Stone, a political operative and self-described dirty trickster, later said the photo was "misinterpreted" and that the symbol was actually a logo, not crosshairs of a gun. He said the picture was a "random photo taken from the Internet" and dismissed any suggestion he was trying to threaten the judge.

His lawyers argued that placing any limits on his public comments would infringe his constitutionally protected right to free speech.

Special counsel Mueller’s team has been dwindling in recent weeks, and lawyers from the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington were assigned to Stone’s case from the beginning, which could be an indication that Mueller is planning to hand off the investigation.

Letter: Snow removal suggestions

Thu, 2019-02-21 12:30

I’ve been in Anchorage for a couple of weeks now, driving a truck for my company, which recently got a contract to do some work here. Being a first-time visitor I am awestruck by the beauty of the area. But I do have one complaint: Your roads, parking lots and sidewalks. They are in horrible shape compared to ours in the Midwest.

Thick ice and snow in the median and along the sides of the roads are not uncommon here, as I have discovered, as well as in parking lots. Allow me to make a suggestion: Calcium chloride. It does wonders! Hours after a snowfall, our roads are clean, dry and in perfect condition.

Science has made giant leaps in the field of snow removal, Anchorage and Alaska in general should embrace the science. Your drivers will love it.

— Tony LaMantia

Chicago, Illinois

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Credit rating firm warns of possible trouble for Alaska boroughs if governor’s budget passes

Thu, 2019-02-21 12:03

JUNEAU — A new analysis by the national credit rating firm Fitch Ratings says Alaska’s municipal governments could see their ratings drop if Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed state budget becomes law.


The Alaska State Capitol, photographed on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes / ADN/)

A lower credit rating would make it more expensive for local governments to borrow money, creating costs that would be passed to local taxpayers.

The analysis, dated Feb. 20, says the governor’s budget could have “significant negative impacts on local municipalities’ credit quality throughout the state if enacted.”

According to the analysis, the governor’s proposed school budget cuts “could stress the budgets of Fitch-rated boroughs" as local governments are required to take on more school construction debt and possibly increase their local funding for schools to make up a loss of state funding.

In addition, the analysis cautions that the government sector is the No. 1 or No. 2 employer in many Alaska boroughs, and layoffs would cause economic problems.

The analysis also examines the governor’s proposal to divert local petroleum property tax revenue from local governments to the state, and declares it is unlikely to pass the Legislature.

If it does pass, the analysis says, the North Slope Borough is prepared to sue the state to block the change.

The report ends by saying that a separate report will examine the effects of the governor’s budget on the state’s credit rating. A prior report examined the governor’s constitutional amendments.

Letter: Closed doors equal bad policy

Thu, 2019-02-21 12:01

As a member of the Alaska Chamber, past chair of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and a business owner, I too applaud Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposal to bring revenue and expenditures more in line. My applause, however, is lackluster at the chosen approach.

The governor released a budget developed in a vacuum by staff unfamiliar with the inner workings of not only Alaska state government, but also the ripple effect of dramatic reductions to state spending in all corners of our state. By not involving members of the community to be engaged in the development of the budget, discussing intended and untended consequences, the governor has positioned himself as a separatist bystander while the Legislature is forced to assume the leadership role the governor was elected for.

Other governors have been faced with tough budget decisions as well, yet they chose to engage those who would be most affected by reductions or restructuring into the room for dialogue on solutions. Great ideas come from collaboration and engagement. Bad policy and harm to individual citizens comes from closed doors.

— Sandra Heffern

Anchorage

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Anchorage School District unveils plans for quake-damaged Eagle River schools

Thu, 2019-02-21 11:59

Parents listen to a presentation by Anchorage School District officials about plans for elementary and secondary students in Eagle River for the 2019-20 school year during a public meeting Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019 in the Eagle River High School cafeteria. (Matt Tunseth / Chugiak-Eagle River Star)

Redrawn school boundaries, relocatable classrooms and the continued combination of a middle and high school are among the Anchorage School District’s preferred options for a pair of earthquake damaged schools in Eagle River.

The district unveiled its recommendations Tuesday and Wednesday during meetings with the Anchorage School Board and the public in Anchorage and Eagle River. The plans include redrawing elementary school boundaries to accommodate displaced Eagle River Elementary School students and keeping Gruening Middle School students at Chugiak High.

The district has also released the results of an online survey and public comments about the plans taken last week.

Superintendent Deena Bishop joined district officials, school board members and elementary school principals for a presentation Wednesday night in the Eagle River High School cafeteria to discuss the recommendations. She acknowledged the plans might not be the best option for everyone, but the district believes they’re the most cost-effective and least disruptive to all parties.

For Eagle River Elementary, the recommendation is to temporarily realign school boundaries, which would shift students currently zoned for Eagle River Elementary into Homestead or Birchwood ABC. That option was preferred among 114 Eagle River Elementary parents who filled out an online survey and will keep families together, according to the district.

The district wants to move the school’s Open Optional program to Fire Lake Elementary. Survey participants said they favored placing the program at Homestead, but according to the district, Fire Lake has available space and is interested in housing the program. Also, the district said housing the open optional program at Fire Lake will also require two relocatable buildings instead of four or more needed at Homestead.


Eagle River Elementary School has been closed through at least the 2019-20 school year. (Matt Tunseth / Chugiak-Eagle River Star)

At Gruening, the recommendation for 2019-20 is simpler: keep the status quo by keeping Gruening students at Chugiak High. That was the most preferred option on the district’s survey — which did not include a much-discussed option to house Gruening students at Eagle River High while combining Eagle River High and Chugiak High on the Chugiak campus. Combining high schools was the top public comment, according to the district. However, the local school communities have been sharply divided on the issue, with the second-most frequent comment being not to combine the high schools.

District officials said Wednesday that’s a long-term possibility but wouldn’t be feasible for 2019-20.

“That does not mean that cannot be a long-term conversation,” said ASD deputy superintendent Dr. Mark Stock.

The district’s recommendations are contingent on board approval. The school board will take public testimony on the issue at its March 4 meeting and make a final decision on the plans March 18.

The district has not yet taken up the long-term planning for how to handle the hundreds of students attending school at other campuses in Chugiak-Eagle River. Students from Gruening have been going to school at Chugiak High, while Eagle River Elementary students have been split by grade level between Ravenwood, Birchwood ABC and Homestead Elementary.

It’s unknown when — or if — Gruening and ERES will ever be occupied again. The district said it’s hoping to have engineering reports back on the schools by the beginning of March.

Wednesday’s meeting included an open forum in which elementary school parents asked whether the “short term” solutions were really going to turn into long-term fixes and questioned the district on how specifically the moves would work. For example, Birchwood ABC (Anchorage Basic Curriculum) has a highly structured program where students are expected to say “please, thank you, yes ma’am, no sir,” and parents wondered how the integration of new students into the mix would work. Other parents said they worried about class sizes at the schools set to take in Eagle River students.

District officials said that in many cases, the specifics are still being worked out, but they assured parents they’re working with school principals to make transitions as smooth as possible. If parents want more options, they can also apply for zone exemptions or enter the district’s school lottery by the March 22 deadline.

“Those are still possibilities for people,” Stock said.

Bishop said no full-time positions will be cut and that student-teacher ratios will remain the same, though some teachers will have to move to different schools.

“We put the teachers where the students are,” Bishop said.

A second community input summary meeting will be held to discuss secondary school comments and recommendations at 6 p.m. Thursday at Chugiak High.

Letter: Budget echoes

Thu, 2019-02-21 11:59

The rhetoric is different, but Alaskans should recognize that our new Valentine’s Day (almost) budget echoes the Kansas tax experiment of Gov. Sam Brownback. In 2012 and 2013, he signed historic tax cuts for Kansas. Arthur Laffer (recognize the name?) earned $75,000 as a consultant for the Brownback plan. Economic growth slowed and job growth fell to less than that of neighboring states. Services suffered. A web search will provide the unfortunate details if you are interested.

The difference between Kansas and Alaska is that we have no taxes left to cut. The Parnell administration took care of that. We have some savings left to spend but not much. Also, we have a Permanent Fund dividend.

This Alaska experiment will take years to play out and it is not very likely to end well here either, so brace yourself if you are working in Alaska, especially if you are among the working poor.

— John Jensen

Anchorage

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Letter: Budget nonsense

Thu, 2019-02-21 11:57

Our new governor has finally unveiled his long-awaited budget plan. A 25 percent cut to state funding for public K-12 education, a constitutionally mandated responsibility. A 41 percent cut in state funding to the University of Alaska. Deep cuts to Medicaid and health care programs. Property taxes on oil and gas infrastructure diverted from local governments to state coffers. All in the name of fattened Permanent Fund dividend checks. Are we Alaskans truly this greedy?

— Richard Emanuel

Anchorage

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Letter: Are we freeloaders?

Thu, 2019-02-21 11:55

When considering Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s opinion piece published Feb. 12 regarding his budget proposal, it’s important to identify his underlying premise, which is this: Alaskans should benefit from state government services without having to pay for them. Believing that state services must be free is the ethic of a freeloader, defined as one who takes advantage of another’s generosity without giving anything in return.

Consider the synonyms for “freeloader”: mooch, leech, deadbeat, parasite, sponge, bloodsucker, tic, bum. Apparently, it is OK with Gov. Dunleavy if thousands of Alaskans lose their jobs. It is OK that the oil companies will continue to make billions in profits while many Alaskans lose their health insurance. Dunleavy would rather watch thousands of Alaskans suffer than eliminate the per-barrel tax credit, a possibility suggested by Sen. Bill Wielechowski. The governor won’t suffer himself, of course. He’ll continue to collect his salary and enjoy generous state benefits while denying others. Do you smell that? It is the stench of his hypocrisy, rising to the high heavens.

— Timothy Johnson

Anchorage

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Letter: Let’s decide our priorities

Thu, 2019-02-21 11:52

Finally, a rough budget proposal from Gov. Mike Dunleavy in writing. Although it is the bleakest budget in Alaska’s history, it does bring attention that Alaska is in a budget crisis.

Balancing the budget with cuts is a shortsighted solution to our budget crisis and would have long-lasting negative affects for all Alaskans.

Arguably, Gov. Dunleavy won his race by promising a whopping $6,700 dividend. But at what cost? We are now faced with the threat of higher local taxes and massive layoffs at the university, local school districts, the health care industry and public safety.

Reducing costs by outsourcing API management at $1 million per month, reducing public safety officers and sending prisoners to the Lower 48 again — really? How would crime be reduced with fewer resources to fight it?

No one wants to pay more for the same services, but the alternative is far bleaker. Massive budget cuts would result in a statewide recession like we have never seen. There would be massive job losses and thus massive numbers of Alaskans leaving the state.

All this, while at the same time proposing the largest dividend in Alaska’s history — the irony. A larger dividend would actually hurt Alaskans more than help. This is a classic bait-and-switch scam.

The fact is we need at least a three-pronged budget solution to our $1.6 billion deficit that includes reducing petroleum incentives, reducing the dividend and increasing taxes. It is in the hands of the legislators to do what is right for Alaska’s future. We cannot balance the budget entirely with savings. The status quo is no longer acceptable.

Wake up, Alaska! Time to fight for our future.

— Tom Bronga

Anchorage

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Letter: Support UAA School of Education

Thu, 2019-02-21 11:50

I think UA President Jim Johnsen would like us to believe that eliminating the UAA School of Education would be in the best interest of the Anchorage community. How would forcing prospective candidates to choose between moving to Fairbanks or Juneau, or pursuing their program through distance delivery, support their pursuing a career in teaching?

Since 1976, the UAA School of Education has graduated hundreds of educators. Research shows that those prepared in Alaska make the best teachers for Alaska’s children and are more likely to be retained. How will losing this program benefit our community when the quality of public education is one major factor in families’ decisions to stay here?

The current interim director, faculty, and staff have now brought the initial licensure programs substantially into compliance with accreditation standards. How is pulling the rug out from under them an example of leadership that acknowledges past mistakes but commits to moving forward? Instead of halting this forward progress in its tracks, President Johnsen and the Board of Regents should be supporting the school’s effort to regain accreditation and ensure that the Alaska State Board of Education meanwhile continues to grant licensure for its graduates.

— Kate O’Dell, Ph. D.

Professor Emeritus, UAA teacher education

Anchorage


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Teen sexually assaulted and choked girl at Mat-Su high school, troopers say

Thu, 2019-02-21 11:33

PALMER -- A 17-year-old from Wasilla was arrested Wednesday on charges he sexually assaulted and choked a former girlfriend at a Mat-Su high school, Alaska State Troopers say.

Kaiden Jimenez was indicted by a Palmer grand jury last week on first-degree attempted sexual assault, second-degree sexual assault and third-degree assault, according to a troopers dispatch posted late Wednesday. The incident occurred in late January at a high school that wasn’t identified.

Troopers arrested Jimenez after a warrant for his arrest was issued by a Palmer judge, they said. He was jailed at Mat-Su Pretrial Facility on $100,000 cash bail.

Check back for updates on this developing story.

Coast Guard lieutenant accused of planning terror attacks ordered held without bail

Thu, 2019-02-21 11:15

This image provided by the U.S. District Court in Maryland shows a photo of firearms and ammunition that was in the motion for detention pending trial in the case against Christopher Paul Hasson. Prosecutors say that Hasson, a Coast Guard lieutenant is a "domestic terrorist" who wrote about biological attacks and had a hit list that included prominent Democrats and media figures. He is due in court on Feb. 21 in Maryland. Prosecutors say Hasson espoused extremist views for years. Court papers say Hasson described an "interesting idea" in a 2017 draft email that included "biological attacks followed by attack on food supply." (U.S. District Court via AP) (AEly/)

GREENBELT, Md. — A Coast Guard officer suspected of drawing up a hit list of top Democrats and network TV journalists spent hours on his work computer researching the words and deeds of infamous bombers and mass shooters while also stockpiling weapons, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

Lt. Christopher Paul Hasson, 49, was ordered held without bail on drug and gun charges while prosecutors gather evidence to support more serious charges involving what they portrayed as a domestic terror plot by a man who espoused white-supremacist views.

Hasson, a former Marine who worked at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington on a program to acquire advanced new cutters for the agency, was arrested last week. Investigators gave no immediate details on how or when he came to their attention.

Federal agents found 15 guns, including several rifles, and over 1,000 rounds of ammunition inside his basement apartment in Silver Spring, Maryland.

In court papers this week, federal prosecutors said he compiled what appeared to be a computer-spreadsheet hit list that included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and presidential hopefuls Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris. Also mentioned were such figures as MSNBC's Chris Hayes and Joe Scarborough and CNN's Chris Cuomo and Van Jones.

In arguing against bail Thursday, federal prosecutor Jennifer Sykes said Hasson would log onto his government computer during work hours and spend hours searching for information on such people as the Unabomber, the Virginia Tech gunman and anti-abortion bomber Eric Rudolph.

"This is not an isolated activity," Sykes said, referring to evidence disclosed so far. "This is something that is being done for hours on end while he is at work."

Calling Hasson a "domestic terrorist," she said the charges so far are just the "tip of the iceberg."

In court, public defender Julie Stelzig accused prosecutors of making inflammatory accusations against her client without providing the evidence to back them up. She also accused the government of trying to "criminalize thoughts" and perhaps make an example out of Hasson, given criticism that authorities have overlooked domestic terrorists.

"Perhaps now they can say, 'Look, we're not targeting only Muslims,'" she said.

Hasson was previously an aircraft mechanic in the Marines, serving from 1988 to 1994.

Court papers detail a 2017 draft email in which he wrote that he was "dreaming of a way to kill almost every last person on the earth." Also, Hasson sent himself a draft letter in 2017 that he had written to a neo-Nazi leader and "identified himself as a White Nationalist for over 30 years and advocated for 'focused violence' in order to establish a white homeland," prosecutors said.

Last February, he searched the internet for the "most liberal senators" and also asked, "Do senators have ss (Secret Service) protection" and "Are supreme court justices protected," according to the court filing.

Bob Davis, who rents a house from Hasson in coastal Currituck County, North Carolina, and met him a few times, said he was "absolutely shocked" by the allegations.

"He was a very stern military guy. That's how I saw him. I truly nothing but respected him. There are people in life who are not 100 percenters. He was a 100 percenter," Davis said, meaning Hasson worked hard and didn't slack off. "He portrayed in a very professional manner. He was honorable. ... He was a good man."

___

Associated Press writer Ben Finley in Currituck County, North Carolina, contributed to this report.

Our Health in Our Hands, Part 1: The early days of tribal health care, 1955-1968

Thu, 2019-02-21 10:47

SPONSORED | PART 1 OF 4: Today, Alaska’s tribal health care system is owned and managed by the Alaska Native people, with objectives and innovations that are unique to the cultures, trends and geography of our state.

But this hasn’t always been the case. Ask those who worked to put Alaska Native health care in the hands of Alaska Native people and they’ll tell you there was nothing easy about getting to where the tribal health care system is now.

The road to today’s health care network was long and rough. And it resulted in a system that hasn’t been duplicated anywhere else in the world.

The Indian Health Service in Alaska

Health care has long been part of tribal relations in the U.S. The federal government had begun acknowledging “certain responsibilities” toward Native American people in the late 18th century, according to an Indian Health Service publication released to mark the agency’s 50th anniversary in 2005. Early tribal health programs began as early as the 1800s, and it was not unusual for cession treaties to list medical care as partial compensation when tribes were forced to surrender their traditional lands.

In 1955, the Indian Health Service was established as a bureau of the U.S. Public Health Service, taking over work that had previously been managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. That same year, IHS built the Anchorage Medical Center of the Alaska Native Service (known as ANS) in downtown Anchorage.


Photo courtesy of Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium

Growing up, Anchorage resident Vivian Echavarria recalls, going to the doctor at ANS was a daylong affair.

“My mother would take me out of school all day,” she said. “I would go to the front area of the old hospital, and she would take a number, and from there she would wait to get my chart. Then we would go to the ER and she'd drop the chart off, take another number, and we'd wait. I remember sitting long hours in that waiting room. And then if I needed to go get my lab (tests) or get an image done, we'd go to all of these ancillary areas and we'd draw a number, wait, draw a number, wait.”

At the time, IHS facilities across the country were already considered “poor and outmoded,” according to its own reports. Primarily located on or around reservations, IHS facilities were small and focused on critical inpatient care. ANS provided routine primary care for the Anchorage Service Unit (which covered a huge area, from the Aleutians to Glennallen) as well as serving patients from other parts of the state who required a higher level of care than was available in their regions.

The hospital was as much a social gathering spot as it was a medical facility.

“I remember my mother bringing all of us kids in tow to the Native hospital because relatives were being brought in for care,” Echavarria said. They’d bring food and visit with friends and family in the wards.

A one-size-fits-all approach

IHS’ Alaska Area Native Health Service is just one of 12 regional “areas” that make up the IHS. Headquartered in Anchorage, the Alaska Area was divided into seven regional service units that oversaw medical care in different areas of the territory, from village clinics to hospitals.

By the time Alaska became a state in 1959, the federal government was nearly 20 years into the Indian termination policy, a succession of laws that attempted to force the assimilation of Native people. The result was the loss of indigenous languages and traditions across the country, including in Alaska.


Photo courtesy of Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium

While individual IHS officers worked to provide health care, preventive medicine and sanitation in Indian Country, the agency’s structure reflected the indigenous policies of the day. In its own 50th anniversary publication in 2005, IHS described its administration at the time as “paternalistic and highly centralized, with local service units reporting to Area Offices, which reported to Washington,” with “little input” from tribal leaders.

Echavarria, who today serves as vice president of professional and support services for Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, says that blanket approach didn’t work, especially in Alaska. National priorities didn’t always translate to every region. And the top-down approach lingered long after boarding schools and relocation initiatives had been abandoned. During her years working in the federally managed health care system, Echevarria remembers IHS pushing nationwide programs to prevent hantavirus -- a disease that has never been reported in an Alaska patient.

“I'm not trying to knock down Indian Health,” Echevarria said. “It's just that Indian Health is a government entity that has its governance from people in Maryland.” Under that arrangement, she said, “you are banking (on) the decisions from people that may not have a clue as to what the real health care concerns are of the (local) people.”

Planting the seeds of self-governance

At the time IHS was established, the leading cause of death among Alaska Native people was tuberculosis. Introduced by European explorers in the 1700s, TB had grown to epidemic proportions in the villages. In some places, as many as 75 percent of Alaska Native children tested positive for the disease, according to a 2017 State of Alaska Epidemiology Bulletin. In the 1960s, that number began to decline, thanks to advances in treatment and new hospital facilities like ANS, which was built primarily to address TB, with 291 of its 400 beds allocated for TB patients when it opened.

There was another reason for the disease’s decline: a new trial program that designated “community health aides” who were trained to provide medical care in villages where there was no permanent clinic or full-time physician.

“It was in response to the TB effort that IHS created the community health aides,” said Paul Sherry, a longtime Alaska health care administrator who helped form the tribal health consortium in the 1990s. “They needed on-site providers in the communities to do medications management.”

Officially authorized by Congress in 1968 -- the same year President Lyndon Johnson proposed ending termination policies -- the Community Health Aide Program was the first step toward putting Alaska Native health care in the hands of Alaska Native people. Soon, in addition to dispensing tuberculosis medication, community health aides were responding to emergencies and providing care for expectant mothers.

“That was the first time, essentially, that (IHS) moved outside of the model of hiring Western medical practitioners who traveled around and treated people,” Sherry said. “The idea was that we'll use local Native people to help get the job done, and of course those people quickly became relied on to do other things.”

The Community Health Aide Program changed the way health care was delivered to Alaska Native villages -- and it would prove to be the first small step toward putting tribal health care under tribal management.

Next week: How Alaska Native people gained control of their own health care management.

This series is sponsored by Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, a statewide nonprofit Tribal health organization designed to meet the unique health needs of more than 175,000 Alaska Native and American Indian people living in Alaska. Read Part 2.

This story was produced by the creative services department of the Anchorage Daily News in collaboration with Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.

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