Members of the Anchorage teachers union approved a one-year contract Friday that gives them two more personal days and increases the district's contribution to their health insurance premiums.
The contract does not include the 3 percent raise the union asked for.
The Anchorage School Board still must ratify the contract. If it does, the contract will take effect retroactively to July 1, 2017 and will expire June 30.
The contract agreement follows more than two years of negotiations between the Anchorage School District and the Anchorage Education Association, the union that represents more than 3,300 district employees, including teachers, counselors and librarians.
In November, the union rejected a contract proposal, sending the two parties back to the bargaining table. The revised version includes new clarifications — giving teachers more control over their planning time and reducing the number of administrative meetings.
Tom Klaameyer, union president, said more union members participated in this week's vote than the one in November. Per union policy, he said, he could not release how many members voted, how many agreed to the contract and how many rejected it.
Klaameyer said the union hopes to start negotiating the next contract this spring.
"It's time to take a breath, to pause," he said, "but also to regroup because we're going to be at bat again in April."
At the end of the relay race they had so looked forward to, there was a group hug and smiles all around but no Olympic medal for the U.S. women Saturday night in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
The Americans finished fifth in the 4×5-kilometer relay, 37.2 seconds out of the bronze-medal position, in what might have been the last Olympic race for Anchorage's Kikkan Randall, who is competing in her fifth and final Winter Games.
Randall, 35, and Minnesota's Jessie Diggins, 26, both posted the third-fastest times in their respective legs, but it wasn't enough.
A rough start put the Americans more than a minute out of the lead and 57 seconds out of third place after the opening leg, dimming if not dooming their bid to become the first U.S. women to reach an Olympic podium.
Norway's Marit Bjoergen pulled away from Sweden's Stina Nilsson near the end of the race to secure victory for her country in 51 minutes, 24.3 seconds. Sweden clocked 51:26.3, and the team of Russians claimed the bronze in 52:07.6. Finland was fourth in 52:26.9, followed by the Americans in 52:44.8.
It's the 13th gold medal in five Olympics for Bjoergen, who tied the record for the most golds in the history of the Winter Olympics. She shares the mark with Norway's Ole Einar Bjorndalen, a six-time Olympic biathlete.
It was the best relay result in Olympic history for the U.S. women, who finished seventh in 1980 and 1984.
Although Diggins came close in two previous races in Pyeongchang, the American women have never won an Olympic medal. Coming into the relay, medal hopes were high for a team that placed fourth in the relay at the last three World Championships and has four World Cup podium finishes in the relay.
But the U.S. struggled early when Vermont's Sophie Caldwell, 27, fell way off the pace in the classic-technique scramble leg. She was 8.1 seconds out of the lead halfway through her leg, but by the time she was done she had faded from sixth place to 11th and was 61.5 seconds out of the lead and about 57 seconds out of the bronze-medal position.
Chasing the dream, believing wholeheartedly, and giving all your best is something I’ll cherish forever. This team is so much larger than a result, a medal, or a number. I’m so proud to be part of something so powerful and amazing. I love you all! #bettertogether #letthedreamcontinue
A post shared by Sadie Bjornsen (@sbjornsen) on Feb 17, 2018 at 5:23am PST
Anchorage's Sadie Bjornsen, 28, lifted the U.S. into eighth place by skiing the sixth-fastest time of the second classic leg.
Skiing the first of the relay's two freestyle legs, Randall moved the U.S. into sixth place with a time of 12:12.9 — third-fastest behind Ragnhild Haga, whose sizzling 11:46.7 put Norway back in the race after a poor second leg, and Ebbe Anderson, who finished in 12:11.4 for Sweden.
Bjoergen anchored Norway's win in 11:52.8 to hold off Nilsson, who completed the 5K in 11:58.2. Diggins had the leg's next best time, 12:11.7, to cross the finish line in fifth place.
BUKPYEONG, South Korea – Way back in 2010, Lindsey Vonn felt she'd figured out the Olympics. It was her third Winter Games and she was certain she'd finally solved the puzzle. Not only did Vonn win gold and bronze medals in Vancouver, but she'd learned how to juggle the pressures, the logistics and the intangibles inherent to her sport. Injuries kept her from competing in 2014, and she had to wait a full eight years to apply those lessons.
But the alpine courses are all different and in her first race of these Pyeongchang Olympics, the 33-year-old Vonn – one of the most decorated female alpine skiers the sport has known – was bested by a late turn and a surprising, versatile young racer in Saturday's super-G event. Despite an otherwise medal-worthy race, her mistake proved costly and Vonn opened her Olympics with disappointment, tied for sixth place in a race that was unpredictable in just about every way possible.
"I gave it everything I had," Vonn said. "I left it all on the hill, which I knew I would. Just made one mistake. And that cost me a medal."
In one of the biggest upsets of these Olympics, Czech skier Ester Ledecka, who's competing in Pyeongchang both on a snowboard and on skis, stunned the super-G field to claim gold. The podium looked set before Ledecka, the day's 26th skier and the world's 43rd-ranked super-G racer, blazed her path through the course, finishing in a time of 1:21.11, appearing to surprise even herself in the process.
That mark put her 0.38 seconds ahead of Vonn and just 0.01 ahead of silver medalist Anna Veith, of Austria. Liechtenstein's Tina Weirather took bronze, finishing 0.11 seconds off the lead.
By then, Vonn's super-G fate had already been sealed. She tore through the top half of the course, but with the finish line almost in sight, she struggled on one of her final turns, skiing off her line and very nearly losing her balance altogether.
"The thing with this hill is it's not very steep," she said later. "If you make one mistake, it not only affects the immediate split time, but it compounds down the entire slope. So there is really no room for error."
She recovered quickly and still posted one of the day's top times – 1:21.49 – but a full 0.27 seconds separated Vonn from the podium. She appeared slightly stunned and surely disappointed after the race, shaking her head at the bottom of the course.
Because she was the first of 45 racers, she had to wait and watch, hoping her mistake wouldn't prove as costly as she feared. It took only six racers before Vonn was bumped out of the running for a possible medal.
"I was prepared. I was aggressive. I had a great inspection. I felt awesome. I skied well," Vonn said. "Everything lined up except for one turn, and that's all it takes, and that's ski racing. That's why it's so difficult to win at the Olympics because literally anything can happen."
While all eyes were on Vonn at the start of the race, it was Ledecka, 22, who stole the show. She had only one career top-10 on the World Cup circuit, finishing in seventh in the downhill two months ago in Lake Louise, Alberta. And her best super-G race before Saturday? She'd posted a pair of 19th-place finishes last season.
She'd only started skiing World Cups in February 2016, in fact. She was an elite snowboarder before that and won world championships in back-to-back years, the parallel slalom in 2015 and the parallel giant slalom in 2017. She juggling a complicated competition schedule this season, shuffling between snowboard and ski events, to become the first athlete to compete in both sports at an Olympics. In Sochi four years ago, she posted sixth- and seventh-place finishes in the slalom events as an 18-year old.
"Her focus today was just to have a good run," said Justin Reiter, a former U.S. snowboarder who coaches Ledecka. "She's not a medal favorite. She just wanted to come here and be the first person ever to ski and snowboard race, and she stayed in her heart, and she stayed in her own head, and she skied like she can ski. It was beautiful to watch."
Ledecka is skipping the downhill here to prepare for Thursday's snowboarding parallel giant slalom.
While the ski world tries to process Saturday's upset, Vonn will turn her attention forward. She has two more chances to nab an Olympic medal here. The women's downhill – her best event – is scheduled for Wednesday and the combined is set for Friday, and Vonn is considered a podium threat in both.
"I don't see this as a negative," she said of Saturday's loss. "Obviously, I didn't get a medal. Man, I've been waiting eight years for this. I'm super happy. I left it all on the hill. Hindsight's obviously 20/20, but I wouldn't change anything. I attacked and that's what happens."
But she had high hopes for the Super G and was eager to kick off these Olympics with a cleaner race. She entered Saturday's event ranked No. 10 in the World Cup's Super G standings and had competed in five Super G events this season, winning on Dec. 16 in Val d'Isere, France. But her best race in the other four was a sixth-place finish on Jan. 21 in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy.
Vonn was trying to become the first female racer to win Olympic gold in both downhill and the Super G. She was the downhill champion at the Vancouver Games, where she scored her bronze medal in the Super G. The Super G was added to the Olympic program in 1988 and is a speed event that requires bigger turns – and thus less speed – than downhill. No American woman has won gold in the Super G since Picaboo Street at the 1998 Games.
"All you can do is prepare your best, give your best, and at the end of the day I'm going to go home and be happy with myself because there's nothing more I could have done," Vonn said.
The Seawolves played their final home game of the hockey season Friday night at Sullivan Arena and got a familiar result – a one-goal loss.
Tyler Spezia scored the game-winning goal for 14th-ranked Bowling Green midway through the third period to claim a 2-1 Western Collegiate Hockey Association victory over UAA.
It was the 10th time this season UAA (2-25-4 overal, 2-20-3 WCHA) has lost by a one-goal margin.
The game marked the final appearance in front of a home crowd for seven UAA seniors — Alec Butcher, Tanner Johnson, Jarrett Brown, Austin Azurdia, Tad Kozun, Matt Anholt and Olivier Mantha.
The teams skated through a scoreless first period. The second period started and ended with goals that bookended more than 18 minutes of scoreless hockey.
Bowling Green (18-9-6, 15-5-5) took a 1-0 lead nine seconds into the period on a goal by Connor Ford. UAA didn't answer until the final minute, when Butcher tied the game with 54 seconds left. Johnson and David Trinkberger got assists on the play.
Mantha made 20 saves for the Seawolves. Bowling Green's Eric Dop had 16.
All of the goals were even strength. UAA was 0 for 5 and Bowling Green was 0 of 4 on the power play.
UAA wraps up the season next weekend in Fairbanks with a Friday-Saturday series against the Nanooks.
Keegan Messing will leave the Winter Olympics with a top-12 finish, a smile on his face and quite possibly a host of new fans.
Messing, a 26-year-old Girdwood man competing for Canada, wrapped up his excellent Olympic adventure Saturday in South Korea with a strong freeskate that earned him 12th place in men's figure skating.
"I put down a solid performance and I can leave the Olympics happy," he told reporters after he skated. "… I was so excited to be able to go out there and do what I've been training to do, other than the two obvious mistakes."
The first Alaskan to compete in Olympic figure skating, Messing landed both of his quadruple jumps and nailed a triple axel, the jump he missed in his short program Friday.
Between the jumps, he executed some of the best footwork and fastest spins of the competition. For the second straight day, he put on an engaging performance that is likely to raise his profile in the sport.
Just as he did in his "Singin' in the Rain" short program, Messing charmed the Gangneung Ice Arena audience in the freeskate by assuming a character and appropriating movements associated with it.
This time it was Charlie Chaplin in a program set to a medley of songs from Chaplin movies. Between all the quads and sit spins and Russian splits, he mimicked Chaplin's herky-jerky walk, the cane twirl and other signature moves.
Messing's first mistake came on a combination jump when he turned the opening triple axel of a combination jump into a single axel. He successful executed the rest of the combination to salvage some points.
On his final jump, he popped a triple loop into a double loop, but he was all smiles when the performance was over. He finished with 255.43 points.
The gold medal went to Japan's Hanyu Yuzuru was one of four skaters who broke the 300-point barrier, winning with a score of 317.85 to become the first man since Dick Button (1948, 1952) to repeat as Olympic champion.
Silver went to Japan's Shoma Uno (306.9 points) and bronze went to Spain's Javier Fernandez (305.24).
Nathen Chen of the United States, a disappointing 17th in the short program, skated the highest-scoring long program, landing six quads to vault into fifth place with 297.35 points.
Messing's Olympic appearance marks the pinnacle of a career that began when he learned to skate at age 3. Through the years, he has been a regular performer at Alaska ice shows like Rondy on Ice.
He's a life-long Alaskan, but his mother and both of his maternal grandparents were born in Canada, giving him dual citizenship. He was a member of the U.S. skating federation early in his career and started skating for Canada in the 2014-15 season.
By placing second at last month's Canadian national championships, Messing fulfilled his dream of earning a spot in the Olympics.
In Pyeonchang, he learned that the reality is every bit as good as the dream.
"The Olympics is everything and more I have been told about," Messing said Saturday. "It has touched me in ways that I've never thought it would. Just the camaraderie between the nations, the fact that the whole world has come together to form the greatest competition in the world.
"It's a magical feeling."
State age-group titles were awarded in the slalom Friday when the Alyeska Cup race series kicked off in Girdwood.
Claiming state championships in the Under-19 age group were Kennedy Kane and Kevin Leach. In the U-16 competition, Mary Grace Stahla and Colin Horrigan took home the titles.
Results were based on two slalom races. Overall race winners in the first slalom were UAA's Charley Field and Conor McDonald. In the second slalom, Stahla and Hunter Eid were the overall winners.
The Alyeska Cup and the U16/U19 State Championships, sponsored by Anchorage Fracture & Orthopedic Clinic, continue Saturday at Alyeska with two giant slalom races.
Slalom No. 1
U16 — 1) Stahla, Mary Grace, Alyeska Ski Club (ASC), 1:51.08; 2) Griggs, Johanna, Juneau Ski Club (JSC), 1:54.03; 3) Kragt, Hannah, ASC, 1:57.27; 4) Bergstedt, Francesca, ASC, 1:57.34; 5) Von Wichman, Randi, ASC, 1:57.98
U19 — 1) Kane, Kennedy, ASC, 1:50.76; 2) Patten, Lexi, ASC, 1:57.14; 3) Maroney, Madi, ASC, 2:07.54; 4) Maroney, Miki, ASC, 1:07.36; 5) Wessels, Lubava, ASC, 2:15.87
Overall — 1) Field, Charley, UAA, 1:43.11; 2) KANE, Kennedy, ASC, 1:50.76; 3) Stahla, Mary Grace, ASC, 1:51.08; 4) Griggs, Johanna, JSC, 1:54.03; 5) Patten, Lexi, ASC, 1:57.14
U16 — 1) Horrigan, Colin, ASC, 1:44.57; 2) Wrigley, William, ASC, 1:49.64; 3) Rand, Evan, ASC, 1:50.12; 4) Rygh, Noah, ASC, 1:52.44; 5) Quigley, Nolan, ASC, 1:56.11
U19 — 1) Leach, Kevin, ASC, 1:39.04; 2) Eid, Hunter, ASC, 1:42.64; 3) Eriksson, Austen, ASC, 1:47.04; 4) Penn, Kai, ASC, 1:57.88; 5) Ostberg, Adam, ASC, 2:04.21
Overall — 1) McDonald, Conor, UAA, 1:36.88; 2) Cruz, Erik, UAA, 1:37.37; 3) LEACH, Kevin, ASC, 1:39.04; 4) Eid, Hunter, ASC, 1:42.64; 5) Horrigan, Colin, ASC, 1:44.57
Slalom No. 2
U16 — 1) Stahla, Mary Grace, ASC, 1:33.53; 2) Sage, Piper, ASC, 1:33.54; 3) Von Wichman, Randi, ASC, 1:36.69; 4) Griggs, Johanna, JSC, 1:37.72; 5) Liles, Ava ASC, 1:40.74
U19 — 1) Buck, Sydney, ASC, 1:36.26; 2) Kane, Kennedy, ASC, 1:36.28; 3) Patten, Lexi, ASC, 1:42.84; 4) Maroney, Madi, ASC, 1:43.26; 5) Ingrim, April, 1:44.04
Overall — 1) Stahla, Mary Grace, ASC, 1:33.53; 2) Sage, Piper, ASC, 1:33.54; 3) BUCK, Sydney, ASC, 1:36.26; 4) Kane, Kennedy, ASC, 1:36.28; 5) Von Wichman, Randi, ASC, 1:36.69
U16 — 1) Sticka, Tanner, ASC, 1:31.44; Horrigan, Colin, ASC, 1:34.01; 3) Hildreth, Sage, ASC, 1:35.76; 4) Quigley, Nolan, ASC, 1:39.13; Rygh, Noah, ASC, 1:44.11
U19 — 1) Eid, Hunter, ASC, 1:29.17; 2) Lane, Conner, ASC, 1:31.45; 3) Leach, Kevin, ASC, 1:34.27; 4) Eriksson, Austen, ASC, 1:38.27; 5) Penn, Kai, ASC,1:41.38
Overall — 1) Eid, Hunter, ASC, 1:29.17; 2) Sticka, Tanner, ASC, 1:31.44; 3) LANE, Conner, ASC, 1:31.45; 4) Horrigan, Colin, ASC, 1:34.01; 5) Leach, Kevin, ASC, 1:34.27
A pilot’s love for the mountains built a house on Denali. Now it’s at the center of a family dispute.
Pioneering glacier pilot Don Sheldon and his wife Roberta left a hand-built legacy a mile up North America's tallest peak.
A six-sided cabin perched at 6,000 feet on a rock nunatak at the top of Ruth Glacier, the Don Sheldon Mountain House became a landmark for Denali flightseers in the yawning ice-scoured bowl known as the Don Sheldon Amphitheater.
Now the hut in the granite heart of Denali National Park and Preserve is part of a bitter legal battle that's exposed a deep schism between Sheldon's adult children.
Daughter Holly Sheldon Lee, a pilot who owns an air service with her husband and lives in Talkeetna, sued her brother Robert in 2015 over his administration of the $1.7 million family trust and her access to the house. She appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court after lower-court judges sided with Robert.
Son Robert, an international businessman with a home in Anchorage, says he is carrying out his mother's wishes as required and his sister is refusing to comply with a settlement she signed more than two years ago that gave her a third of the trust, including the mountain house.
A third sibling, Kate, lives in the Lower 48 and is aligned with her brother in the dispute but not named in the suit.
Robert, Kate and Holly Sheldon spent Valentine's Day in front of the state's highest court.
Hours before the Supreme Court hearing started Wednesday, Holly Sheldon posted a Valentine's Day greeting on Facebook to her brother and sister that ended, "…just need to get a couple things straightened out."
The day after, her tone changed: "The intense battle from money and power at any cost will knock your socks off if you aren't cognizant & careful."
The family dispute centers on the trust left by Roberta Sheldon when she died in 2014. Don Sheldon died in 1975.
Don Sheldon, who built the mountain house on Denali's south face with friends in 1966, is known as perhaps the most famous pilot to fly on the mountain. He operated Talkeetna Air Service.
Roberta, born into aviation as the daughter of glacier pilot Bob Reeve, became a fixture in Talkeetna community matters and activism and wrote books on local history.
Roberta designated her son to oversee the trust.
Holly sued her brother in 2015 over claims she didn't get complete information about trust assets from her brother, according to a brief filed in the Supreme Court case.
She also contended a December 2015 mediated settlement wasn't valid because she was feeling sick during the 9-hour negotiations and didn't realize the paperwork she signed was the actual settlement.
The settlement included a $25,000 payment for legal costs to Robert and gave Holly a one-third share of the Mountain House LLC and the right to visit the cabin provided it didn't interfere with the business.
A Superior Court judge found in Robert's favor in 2016. Holly was ordered to pay Robert legal costs.
"While the court rulings have clearly upheld my actions each step of the way, Holly has sadly chosen to use social media and others to advance inaccurate statements that are degrading to the tremendous legacy of Don and Roberta Sheldon," Robert Sheldon wrote in an email. "As Trustee I chose to provide Holly with an interest in the Mountain House LLC."
His sister got a share in the Mountain House LLC but not a voting interest, Robert's attorney said in an interview.
"Because Holly had created so many problems already," attorney Kevin Clarkson said.
Hut to chalet
The nearly 5-acre Sheldon property sits on an inholding within the Denali National Park, according to Tucker Carlson, a National Park Service ranger who works at the Talkeetna visitor center.
A new 1,000-square-foot hotel — the 5-room Sheldon Chalet — just opened for guests on the same property as the mountain house. The 212-square-foot hut is still open for day trips or overnight stays.
The court case has nothing to do with the chalet, Robert Sheldon said. Holly said she didn't want to say too much about the chalet because of the ongoing proceedings.
"But I do want to say, maybe my brother advertises it as a Sheldon family business and it's not true," she said.
The chalet is a rarity in Alaska: luxurious accommodations in such a remote locale.
The chalet was part of his parents' plans all along, Robert said.
"Three generations of the Sheldon family have worked to make the vision of Don and Roberta Sheldon a reality," the chalet website says. "The Sheldon Chalet welcomes visitors to experience the wildness of Alaska in comfortable luxury, just as the elder Sheldons intended."
The lucrative air taxi business to the Sheldon property is also part of the dispute.
Back in 2014, after their mother died, Robert promised Sheldon Air Service the exclusive right to ferry visitors to the mountain house, Holly said in an interview Thursday. But by early 2015, she contends, he awarded the contract to a competitor.
"It was between a quarter and a third of our business," she said, of the mountain house taxi trips. "This is a story about power and money. It's a story about the remainder of our Sheldon family relations and how my mom's wishes have been carried out after her death."
Sheldon's original lawsuit referenced the claim that her brother deprived her of the contract.
Robert, asked about the contract, replied by email: "Holly never had an exclusive right for anything to do with the Mountain House LLC, yet demanded one. Immediately after Roberta Sheldon's passing Holly obtained aggressive legal counsel and began pressuring me as Trustee with various demands inconsistent with the Trust that I am beholden to uphold."
The future of that trust is in the hands of the state's highest court now.
Arguing before all five Supreme Court justices Wednesday afternoon, Holly Sheldon's attorney asked that the settlement be set aside.
His client got physically ill during the 9-hour mediation session in 2015 and thought she was signing only a proposal, Fairbanks attorney Robert John said. He also argued the settlement did not rise to the level of binding arbitration.
John urged the justices to develop a new "bright line" ruling requiring a trustee like Robert who is also a beneficiary to "disclose all information prior to settlement" and assigning all risk and responsibility to them.
John said Holly never got $30,000 worth of jewelry and $27,000 in paintings and family heirlooms.
"Has Robert sold those to finance some kind of venture? We don't know the answers to that," he said.
Robert Sheldon's attorney told the panel that the case centered on Holly Sheldon's refusal to follow a settlement agreement she entered voluntarily.
The agreement she signed included statements like "agreement to a settlement of all claims of all parties" and "as a result of the full and complete settlement reached today," attorney Matthew Clarkson said. "No reasonable person could think that's not a settlement."
He also said Holly Sheldon had enough information about the financial status of the trust to decide whether to sign the settlement.
Several justices asked questions centering on the settlement and whether it rose to the level of arbitration.
A decision could take at least six months.
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Now the Olympics distilled again to maybe its most gasping, writhing finish line, and so a Swede crossed, careened rightward and sprawled onto his gut for a good 10 seconds. A Czech crossed, stopped abruptly and toppled. A Norwegian contender churned in under undulating Norwegian flags in Norwegian hands in the stands, spilled and began squirming gently on his belly.
A Swiss arrived in a time torrid for 15 kilometers of cross-country skiing — 33 minutes, 43.9 seconds — then realized it would mean a gold medal and began soon to sob. A South Korean made it to the ending of this admirable torture, plopped down face-down and rear up, rolled over and kicked his skis a bit with his poles sticking straight up. A Canadian crossed and seemed almost to croak, staying prone while an Australian veered by to the right, while a Greek skier came by, an Iranian, a Bosnian, before finally, haltingly, managing to sit, legs splayed.
The clock showed 4:21 p.m. Friday. The public-address announcers continued their near-screaming. The sun had started to go. The cold had started to get mean. The medals had been clinched.
Yet somehow, after this graphic theater of steep human effort, after the stands had gone from full to half-full to one-third full, and the national flags on the flagpoles started to look lonely, this match of 116 contestants still had resilient men out there in the pretty woods and the wretched upslopes. It still had something else lurking just before its curtain. It still had announcers, blaring through the venue, trying to manufacture noise and achieve encouragement.
It still had another show.
Fast-forward past 4:30 p.m., then past 4:40, and here came the second emotional prong of the Olympics, the one that juts out differently from the fourth gold medal and the fresh tears of Dario Cologna, or the silver medal and the spill and the crawl of the Norwegian Simen Hegstad Krueger.
Here came a 40-year-old Moroccan at 4:44, a 38-year-old Ecuadorian at 4:47, a 38-year-old Portuguese at 4:50, a world-famous 33-year-old Tongan at 4:51.
Four minutes along behind that, just after the Tongan got out his Tongan flag, and the Portuguese and the Moroccan and the Tongan posed for photos arm in arm, here came a 42-year-old Colombian. These are the men who represent "the exotic countries," as the Tongan's German coach Thomas Jacob phrases it, and they're from countries without ample snow, and they're here to struggle and to finish and maybe even to inform and to inspire.
They're also friends, and some of them also have trained together on their uphill mission, and so soon after the Colombian crossed, four of them did something outstanding: They stood shoulder to shoulder at the finish line, the Colombian Sebastian Uprimny, the Tongan Pita Taufatofua, the Moroccan Samir Azzimani, and the Portuguese Kequyen Lam, as one last man made his way toward 116th place.
The Mexican named German Madrazo, 43, looked halting through his last stretch. He looked like his body might fold in on itself. For a second, it seemed he might not make it, that he and his Mexican flag might tumble into the snow. The remaining crowd cheered him on, with a few Swiss flags here, Norwegian flags there, Korean flags there, all waving in support, for this moment, of Mexico.
Slowly, painstakingly, Madrazo edged toward the great and vivid line, and made his way across, and his four friends put up their hands, right there as 4:56 turned into 4:57 and the day finally died. They all formed a beautiful blob of a group hug, and then they all, all stragglers and all Olympians, put Madrazo on their shoulders as he waved his flag.
Uprimny called it "very moving." Madrazo said his "mind was blurry" and the remaining crowd was "unreal" and, "The most emotional part was when I saw Pita." Uprimny said the group hug included no words, because, "We didn't need to talk." Madrazo said his body had hurt worse than usual.
Taufatofua did a barrage of interviews and said of the course, "You see that hill over there? It doesn't end. It looks like it ends but it keeps on going." He said he felt pain, "in my stomach, my breathing." He said, "This has been the toughest year of my life." Jacob, his coach, said, "It's a great part of the Olympics: just to see these guys and the exotics."
They had had their finishes and their hug, but as they had unfastened themselves from that hug, they still had another Olympic moment to go.
Here came Cologna, the Swiss gold medalist, going all Federer and all sportsman and congratulating them all, shaking their hands, a competitor from the one prong of the Olympics finding his way to the competitors from the other.
"It was kind of like an out-of-body experience when I finished the race," Madrazo said, "and then Dario's coming toward me, and I'm like, 'He won!' " — even as they all did.
Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, in his bid to win a second term as mayor, has raised twice as much as his main rival in recent months, new financial disclosure statements show.
Berkowitz raised more than $102,000 from several hundred donors as of Feb. 1, including a large number of city employees and members of his executive team. A number of political action committees affiliated with unions also gave Berkowitz money.
His top challenger, Rebecca Logan, raised about $51,000, according to her campaign disclosure reports. Her donors included several Republican state legislators, former Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, retirees and executives in the real estate, home building and resource development industries.
Logan is the general manager of an oil, gas and mining industry association, but she said only about 20 percent of her donors came from the oil and gas industry.
She also said she felt she was on track with fundraising as a first-time candidate.
No other mayoral candidate raised a significant sum of money. While fundraising doesn't predict the outcome of a political race, it does suggest who has an advantage in communicating their message to voters.
Candidates have to report donations to the Alaska Public Offices Commission, the regulatory agency that tracks campaign finance. Disclosures by individual candidates don't reflect spending by outside groups that aren't affiliated with the campaigns. Those "independent expenditure groups" are not subject to limits on fundraising.
Logan had spent about $35,000 so far — about $5,000 more than the Berkowitz campaign. The money has largely gone to campaign signs, fundraisers and advertising.
"I'm doing a lot of radio and digital right now to get my name out there," Logan said.
Berkowitz pointed out that his campaign had more than $70,000 in cash on hand. He hinted that a bigger push was coming.
Timing will be different this year. For the first time, Anchorage is running its election by mail. On March 13, the city will send out ballots to registered voters.
Political strategists have said that heavy campaigning will come around that time, instead of the usual pre-Election Day blitz.
The new vote-by-mail system largely replaces the old system of precinct voting. April 3, "Election Day," is actually the last day to cast a ballot.
More than half of Berkowitz's expenses went toward a poll conducted by Alaska Survey Research, a firm run by political strategist Ivan Moore. Berkowitz said Friday that the poll was an effort to test political messaging.
He said it confirmed what he planned to focus on in the coming weeks: crime and the state's fiscal situation.
Logan has made crime the focus of her campaign. Business owners, she said, feel the city is trying to downplay the city's crime problems.
Berkowitz said Anchorage residents are "rightfully concerned" about public safety.
He said he plans to discuss crime in the context of the dramatic influx of addictive opioid drugs in Alaska, and state cutbacks. He also said he plans to talk about how he's added 100 officers to the police department.
Hefty fundraising for opponents of Proposition 1
The opponents of an initiative to regulate Anchorage restroom use by sex at birth reported raising more than $124,000 since July, dwarfing the amount raised by the initiative's supporters.
Proposition 1 would undo the part of Anchorage's nondiscrimination law that allows people to use the restroom or locker room that corresponds with their gender identity.
The opposition campaign, Fair Anchorage, said Friday it had also received nearly $300,000 in non-cash donations. That includes a website and staff time donated by the Washington, D.C.-based group Freedom For All Americans; staff time and meetings coordinated by the D.C.-based group the National Center for Transgender Equality, and staff time from the ACLU of Alaska.
The "Yes on 1" campaign reported raising about $31,000 overall. The money came from two sources: Alaska Family Action, a socially conservative advocacy group, and the Family Policy Alliance, a Christian organization based in Colorado Springs.
Kim Minnery, one of the sponsors of Proposition 1, said she expected her group's campaign to be outspent, calling it "grass-roots."
Campaign mounted to support ML&P sale
Finance reports also show the hopeful buyer of Anchorage's city-owned electric utility is gearing up for an advertising campaign.
In early February, Chugach Electric Association spent about $60,000 on communications consulting and campaign strategy, records show.
The member-owned cooperative has offered about $1 billion to buy Municipal Light & Power, the utility that serves downtown, Midtown and parts of East Anchorage.
The sale is going before voters on the ballot in March. The city needs voter approval to move forward with negotiations on a detailed sales document, which would be submitted first to the Anchorage Assembly and then to regulators.
The third Saturday of August 2016 seemed like a big day for Donald Trump in Florida.
A group called "Being Patriotic" had organized more than a dozen "Florida Goes Trump" rallies throughout the state – from Clearwater to Jacksonville to Miami. They bought Facebook advertisements for the occasion and hyped a "patriotic flash mob" for Trump. They even paid someone to build a large cage on a flatbed truck that could hold a costumed Hillary Clinton impersonator in prison garb.
"Go Donald!" concluded a Facebook post, outlining the day's festivities.
But the effort was not part of the official Trump campaign.
Instead, the pro-Trump rallies were just a small piece of an expansive shadow campaign engineered thousands of miles away by Russians who gained what prosecutors said Friday was a keen understanding of the fault lines of U.S. politics. From staging events on the ground in political battlegrounds to spreading misinformation across social media, the operation functioned in effect as a third party injecting itself into the hotly contested 2016 presidential race – exploiting the vulnerabilities of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and stoking ethnic tensions to help Trump.
The Russian effort to meddle in the 2016 presidential elections spanned at least two countries and multiple states and included fake rallies, false identities and divisive slogans intended to magnify Trump's message and undermine Clinton's candidacy, according to a 37-page indictment of a notorious Russian troll farm announced by the Justice Department's special counsel.
"I'm amazed – and I suppose I shouldn't be – what a widespread campaign it was," said Republican consultant Doug Heye. "It looks like the size of this was probably bigger than Jeb Bush's primary campaign."
The efforts in Florida that August day did not turn out to be particularly impressive. No people showed up to at least one of the proposed rallies, and online photos of some of the other events reveal ragtag groups with Trump signs staking out patches of grass or traffic medians.
But the fledgling events belied a broader Russian scheme. While Clinton and Trump battled one another, Russian saboteurs and propagandists working for the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency were waging a secret political crusade to benefit Trump.
The group, which included 80 people, fashioned itself similarly to an actual political campaign, complete with departments for everything from search-engine optimization and data analysis to technology support and budgeting, according to prosecutors.
"I hate to say it, but it seems like the creative instincts and the sophistication exceeds a lot of the U.S. political operatives who do this for a living," said Brian Fallon, a spokesman on Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign. "There were memes and advertisements that were really in sync with the Trump campaign's rhetoric. The messages were in sync, and they certainly exploited some of our vulnerabilities."
"To read about it in this level of detail is pretty gripping," added Fallon who, like other former Clinton aides, said he was unaware of the Russian meddling as it was playing out in real time.
In announcing charges against three companies and 13 individuals on Friday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said that "there is no allegation in the indictment of any effect on the outcome of the election."
But the lengthy document provides the most in-depth look so far at how the Russians studied the Trump campaign and tried to amplify its messages and strategy, if not always in a linear or successful fashion.
The group of Russian trolls, for instance, quickly turned its focus to battleground "purple states" after being advised to do so in June 2016 by someone affiliated with a Texas-based grass roots organization.
"Florida is still a purple state and we need to paint it red," the group wrote two months later, using a false U.S. Facebook account to try to gin up real support for its Florida rallies. "If we lose Florida, we lose America."
Indeed, the effort appears to have been at its most savvy on social media, where there were echoes of many of the attacks Trump repeatedly leveled at Clinton.
The Russian-funded ads on social media emphasized the notion that Clinton was corrupt, prosecutors say. One trumpeted, "Ohio Wants Hillary 4 Prison," and another carried the hashtag #HillaryForPrison2016 – mirroring the "Lock her up" chants that had become commonplace at actual Trump rallies.
The ads portrayed Trump as far tougher on terrorism and more supportive of gun rights than his Democratic rival. Clinton, the ads suggested, was pro-immigration and pro-Muslim.
The ads also sought to stoke real tensions Clinton had with the Black Lives Matter movement, with one claiming: "Hillary Clinton Doesn't Deserve the Black Vote."
During the election, Trump periodically accused Clinton and the Democratic National Committee of rigging the primaries against her Democratic challenger, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. That included a late June 2016 tweet in which Trump said Clinton "colluded with the Democratic Party in order to beat Crazy Bernie Sanders."
And after Clinton narrowly prevailed over Sanders in the Iowa caucuses, the Sanders campaign, too, complained of voting irregularities and never got the full recount it sought.
The Russians seized on this theme, using it in political advertisements they placed on social media, including one that said, "Hillary Clinton has already committed voter fraud during the Democrat Iowa Caucus."
Fallon said it was stunning to realize that the Russians understood how Trump was trying to woo disaffected Sanders supporters and use that knowledge to exploit divisions within the Democratic Party.
"That takes a very sophisticated understanding of U.S. politics to know that would be a damaging line of attack," he said.
In late September 2016, the Russian trolls allegedly created and bought Facebook ads for a series of "Miners for Trump" rallies aimed at bolstering a critical constituency for Trump: coal miners in Pennsylvania.
Blue-collar voters in the nation's Rust Belt were a key target for the Trump campaign as it sought to pick off some traditionally Democratic states and create a path to victory in the electoral college. With coal miners in particular, Trump repeatedly cast himself as a champion and Clinton as a villain.
In one September speech in New York, Trump claimed that Clinton "wants to shut down the miners just like she wants to shut down the steel mills and shut down the steelworkers and we're not going to let it happen … We're going to put our great miners and our steelworkers back to work."
In Florida, meanwhile, the Russians had pushed ahead with their planned day of "purple state" rallies.
Jim Fritsch, a retired real-estate development consultant in St. Petersburg, Florida, said he received a phone call that August from a young man who was associated with the "Florida Goes Trump" group. The man, whose name Fritsch said he does not recall, asked if he would be willing to wave signs in support of Trump.
At the time, Fritsch was running for local property appraiser and doing similar sign-waving on his own. He agreed to help with the Trump rally, but said the man on the phone ultimately produced no volunteers and no signs.
Instead, the participants at the Aug. 20 event were all supporters of his own – ultimately unsuccessful – campaign.
Fritsch dismissed concerns over the Russian effort as a waste of time, saying the Russians did nothing differently in 2016 than the Communists did for years in Soviet days.
"When you're a candidate for public office and somebody says, 'We want to help this candidate that you support too,' it's not a big leap to say, 'I'll help,' " he said. "If the Russians wanted to help someone or hurt someone, they're free to do it."
" If someone from Russia said, 'Hey, we think you ought to support Trump,' who cares?" Fritsch concluded.
– – –
The Washington Post's Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.
A 26-year-old man has been accused by police of starting a fire and causing significant damage in the men's restroom at the downtown Anchorage bus depot this week.
Officials have since closed off the transit center restrooms entirely, removing one more public bathroom from downtown Anchorage while sharply underlining a public policy dilemma for city officials and downtown business advocates.
Just before 8 a.m. Wednesday, someone called 911 to report smoke at the bus depot, said Jodie Hettrick, deputy chief of operations for the Anchorage Fire Department. People evacuated the building.
Andrew Halcro, the executive director of the Anchorage Community Development Authority, the city agency that owns the center, said the fire apparently started near the bathroom sink. He said his staff suspected hand sanitizer had been set on fire.
He said the full cost of the damage wasn't yet known. But he guessed it would rise into the thousands of dollars.
"There was soot all over the place, the mirror is broken, the whole vanity is trashed," Halcro said.
Now signs in front of the cordoned off hallway declare: "Restrooms are permanently closed."
The signs directed people to the Dena'ina Convention Center, City Hall and the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts, all a block or more away.
"It's an inconvenience, but there's not much we can do when people resort to arson," Halcro said.
Halcro said security cameras captured a photo of the suspect. He said the photo was then turned over to police.
About 11:30 a.m. Thursday, a security guard called police to say the suspected bathroom fire-starter was at the bus depot, said MJ Thim, spokesman for the Anchorage Police Department.
Police showed up and arrested Rigoberto Walker, 26, at the transit center. Walker is being charged with felony arson, according to Thim. His first court appearance was scheduled for Friday afternoon.
About 20 people were standing or sitting inside the center late Friday morning. One man waiting for a bus said he'd heard someone had tried to burn the restroom down.
The sudden lack of restrooms was "no biggie," he said. People could go elsewhere in the neighborhood.
The transit center restrooms were on track to be permanently closed sooner or later. Much of the building is slated to be turned into a hotel and apartments. The city's transit agency will take up a dramatically smaller part of the building after the renovation is complete.
Half of the building has been boarded up. Businesses, nonprofits and food vendors that used to be located inside the center have all moved out.
With the building empty of food services, Halcro said the transit center no longer had a legal obligation to provide restrooms. But he said the scarcity of public restrooms downtown is a real issue.
That includes for tourists in the summer, and the city's downtown homeless population, Halcro said.
"We can't have people taking care of their business in stairwells and elevators and behind people's places of business," Halcro said.
On the other hand, he said, he found himself standing in the ash-covered bathroom in the transit center at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday thinking about how much money it would take to fix it. Public restrooms don't make money, said Halcro, the former president of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce.
Who pays for, maintains and cleans the facilities are all difficult questions, he said. He said he's researched options in other cities. Most downtowns struggle with it, he said.
To underscore maintenance and security challenges, this week's restroom fire happened just steps away from the transit center's security office, Halcro said.
"We've got to create that balance where you're providing facilities, but not so that private enterprises are suffering thousands of dollars in damages because they're providing a service people need," Halcro said.
Gov. Bill Walker, with the power of incumbency, led the pack in the gubernatorial candidates' fundraising race, pulling in $277,000 before a reporting deadline earlier this month.
Walker, an independent, topped his three leading Republican challengers: Anchorage businessman Scott Hawkins, former state sen. Mike Dunleavy of Wasilla and Nikiski Rep. Mike Chenault.
But Walker's total was substantially below the $407,000 raised by his predecessor, Republican Sean Parnell, over the same time frame in 2014.
Walker's campaign pointed to the combined $432,000 haul between him and the lieutenant governor, Democrat Byron Mallott. It added that figure to another $100,000 the pair raised previously to say they'd collected more than $500,000 combined.
Hawkins, who raised $217,000, wasn't far behind Walker. But nearly all that cash — $200,000 — was his own. He runs a company, Advanced Supply Chain International, that helps oil, gas and mining companies with logistics.
His own contribution, Hawkins said in a brief phone interview Friday, is "indicative of my commitment."
“I want people to know that I’m serious about this and that I’m in it to win,” he said.
Dunleavy, who raised $105,000, had the next highest total.
That figure included a $17,500 poll that Dunleavy paid for with his own money. But his campaign pointed to the fact that more than $70,000 came in a six-week span since December, after he resumed his run for governor following treatment for a heart problem.
That $70,000 came without Dunleavy holding an actual fundraising event, said Brett Huber, Dunleavy's campaign manager.
Chenault, a former state House speaker, raised $33,000. He didn't respond to requests for comment Friday.
Of the five leading lieutenant governor candidates, Mallott raised the most, at $155,000.
Anchorage Republican Sen. Kevin Meyer pulled in $83,000, while former Wasilla Republican Rep. Lynn Gattis raised $42,000, $30,000 of which was her own money.
Republican Edie Grunwald of Palmer, a former human resources director for the Alaska National Guard, also raised $42,000, of which more than $30,000 was her own.
Kodiak Republican Sen. Gary Stevens raised $4,400 for his lieutenant governor campaign; $2,500 was his own money.
Here are a few of the most interesting transactions we noticed:
• Both the governor and lieutenant governor reimbursed the state for political activity they did while on state-paid trips. Alaska law allows state aircraft to be used for "incidental" political activity, as long as the activity is reimbursed and doesn't exceed 10 percent of the use of the aircraft on a single trip.
• The Walker and Mallott campaigns spent $100 on "unity ice cream" — a nod to the fact that Walker was a Republican and Mallott was Democrat before the two merged their campaigns in 2014. "It was a blue flavor and a red flavor swirled together," said Lindsay Hobson, a campaign spokeswoman.
• Several Republican candidates paid a conservative news website, Must Read Alaska, for advertising. Hawkins spent $3,700, former lieutenant governor candidate Charlie Huggins spent $3,100 and Grunwald spent $1,500.
• Grunwald is already running radio ads in Anchorage and Fairbanks.
WASILLA — The Dimond Lynx were a bit battered and bruised emotionally entering the state hockey tournament after losing twice in overtime at the conference tournament.
By the time their work was done Saturday night, the Lynx were all smiles after taking possession of the First National Cup for the first time since 2013 and the eighth time in school history.
Sophomore Dawson Thompson and senior co-captain Jaiden Gibson scored 36 seconds apart early in the third period at the Menard Center to help Dimond secure a 4-2 championship-game triumph over Cook Inlet Conference adversary West.
That's the same West squad that dented Dimond's psyche with a 3-2 double overtime win in the CIC tourney semifinals. Two nights after that, the Lynx dropped an overtime decision to Service in the tournament's third-place contest.
"But our seniors tried and succeeded in getting us comfortable again in our shoes, and our skates," said Dimond freshman defenseman Jack Dolan, who scored a spectacular goal on a rush through the neutral zone in the second period. "They kept telling us this was our year. Once we knew we had the rematch with West, we all got that much hungrier."
Dimond coach Dennis Sorenson, winner of his fifth state crown, said the CIC tourney losses were crushing. But he and assistant coach Chris Higgins trusted their seniors — among them, Gibson, Gavan Hardy (one assist) and Blake Hausinger (one assist) — to turn the tide.
"It was very difficult," said Sorenson, Alaska's winningest high school hockey coach. "We were pretty upset because we felt like we deserved a better fate and kind of let ourselves down.
"But those older guys have been our leaders all year. They proved why in this tournament."
Dolan's dazzler at 8 minutes, 17 seconds of the second spotted Dimond a 2-1 lead. But it was his defensive pairing with sophomore Tyler Graeber in the closing seconds that should draw the most rave reviews.
With the Lynx (22-6-0) clinging to a 4-2 lead and West goalie Connor Batman (22 saves) pulled for an extra attacker, the duo lined up with the senior leaders up front to close out the Eagles in the waning moments.
Dimond sophomore goalie Hunter Kattness did his part with 29 saves, including 16 in the final period.
" 'Don't screw up' — it's the first and about the only thing you're thinking," Dolan said. "The stress of the moment takes over because you want to send those seniors and everyone else out on a high note.
"But you do get more self-confidence as the minutes pile up. You just try to come up with that play to get it out of the zone or keep things clear for (Kattness) to see the puck."
Thompson's eventual game-winner came at 2:23 of the third off a centering feed in the slot from Dylan Hoey (two assists). Gibson teamed with Hardy and Hausinger to score in a goalmouth scramble seconds later.
The Eagles (18-9-1) concluded their memorable postseason run with another second-place showing, having lost to South last weekend in the CIC title game. But they left Saturday night with their heads held high.
"I'm happy with everything we accomplished," senior Riley Sloane said. "It's tough right now, but I'm extremely proud to have been part of this team."
Sophomore Nick Opinsky scored West's first goal, and Sloane added a power-play goal in the third period.
Once the game was over and the First National Cup was delivered to Dimond, the Lynx took turns taking spins with it around the ice, sidestepping strewn helmets, sticks, gloves and even a few mouthpieces.
Moments after posing for pictures with his hockey buddies and giving his father Roger a huge hug, Gibson remained giddy.
"As sore as we might have been, we all made a commitment to move on to the next game and state," Gibson said with huge smile on his face. "I believed in everyone on this team, and look where they took us."
Colony 6, Wasilla 3
Colony claimed third place with a 6-3 win over Wasilla, erasing an early three-goal deficit to exact revenge on its Valley rival for last weekend's loss to the Warriors in the North Star Conference championship game loss.
The Knights' Jake Hessinger scored a pair of goals and added two assists and goaltender Cole Doss compiled 29 saves. Colony completed its season with a 19-6-0 record.
Wasilla's Porter Schachle scored a goal and an assist for the Warriors (19-8-3).
South 9, Juneau-Douglas 3
South exploded for four first-period goals and capped its 26-2-0 season with a 9-3 victory over Juneau-Douglas in the tournament's fourth-place game.
Nicolas Corbin scored twice for the Wolverines. Logan Orr and Hunter Schmitz each added a goal and two assists.
Bill Bosse scored twice for Juneau (7-13-0). Crimson Bears goaltender Cody Mitchell was credited with 37 saves in a relief role.
Bill Bosse, Juneau-Douglas
JJ Fabeck, South
Cooper Smith, Colony
Alex Engan, Wasilla
Zac Nelson, South
Foster Riekena, Colony
Gavan Hardy, Dimond
Sawyer Courrier, West
Chase Schwamm, West
Blake Hausinger, Dimond
Brenden Anaruk, Dimond
Hunter Kattness, Dimond
*Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled Foster Riekena's last name. It has been corrected.
On Thursday, a federal agency told the state gas line corporation it has not answered questions about the $43 billion natural gas project and must further analyze Valdez and Port MacKenzie as alternatives to the chosen export site, Nikiski.
The Matanuska-Susitna Borough, in a January filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, had argued that the Port MacKenzie site in northern Cook Inlet had not been properly vetted.
"The Mat-Su Borough fully supports this worthy effort" and simply requests that its deep draft port be considered, said the borough's mayor, Vern Halter, in a statement Friday.
The Alaska Gasline Port Authority, a municipal group that includes the city of Valdez in Prince William Sound, had argued Valdez should be the terminal and port.
Valdez Mayor Ruth Knight said the city will press for a Valdez selection.
"We are very happy," she said.
FERC is the lead permitting agency for the project.
FERC, in a letter to the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. dated Feb. 15, asks nearly 300 questions about the project's impacts to the environment, economy and cultural resources. Requests from other federal agencies, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, also need to be answered, the letter says.
AGDC officials did not immediately comment on the letter Friday.
The letter is signed by James Martin, a branch chief for FERC. It's addressed to Frank Richards, the gas line corporation's senior vice president for program management.
The letter extends 170 pages, with attachments.
Martin says the agency has made "several requests for information" that have not received adequate responses.
Incomplete answers and repeated efforts to acquire data will affect the project schedule, Martin says.
The state gas line agency took over the project in late 2016, after major oil company partners BP, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips backed out, citing concerns about its global competitiveness.
The four partners had spent some $500 million studying the project, which includes an 800-mile gas pipeline from the North Slope. In 2013, the project — led by ExxonMobil then — selected Nikiski to host the port and facility to super-chill natural gas into a liquid so it can be shipped to Asian utilities.
Activity at the terminal and port could sharply boost employment and provide the winning city with revenue for decades — if the project is ever built.
Martin says FERC wants to see an environmental and engineering analysis of Port MacKenzie and a pipeline route heading there.
It also wants an environmental and engineering analysis of a pipeline route to Valdez.
The state gas line corporation has pursued an ambitious schedule to advance the project in the hope of quickly receiving an environmental impact statement from FERC, a key document federal agencies use for permitting decisions.
In January, the gas line corporation announced it had completed its response to 801 FERC questions. Keith Meyer, AGDC president, said then that his organization's "thorough and quick response" was a clear signal that the project was on track to begin delivering gas as early as 2024.
Larry Persily, a former Alaska gas line coordinator under President Barack Obama, said the agency's letter indicates that plan may be delayed.
The FERC letter points out there's still a lot of work to be done before that happens, said Persily.
"It doesn't kill the project," but it could change the development schedule, he said.
It is difficult to know whether Alaskans are always well-served by their government, and Gov. Bill Walker's bitter free-for-all with Republicans over choosing a replacement for Wasilla Sen. Michael Dunleavy is a case in point.
Dunleavy, a staunch conservative and frequent Walker critic, resigned his seat Jan. 9 to concentrate on his run for governor. A week later, 50 District E Republicans met to review a list of 11 possible replacements. They interviewed five and, following tradition, the next day forwarded a list of three to Walker.
They picked teacher Todd Smoldon, retiree Tom Braund and Sutton state Rep. George Rauscher – who drew fire for posting "BDSM Free Zone' on his legislative office door after a woman accused a lawmaker of striking her. Walker sat on the list for more than three weeks. Why is anybody's guess.
In the end, our Republican-cum-independent- cum-undeclared governor ignored the district Republicans' wishes and tapped Mat-Su Assemblyman Randall Kowalke, whose name was not on the final GOP list.
Kowalke had been considered, but reportedly received only a half-dozen votes from the 50 reviewers. Walker said he was the best pick.
State law requires a governor to select a legislative replacement from the same party as the person who vacated the seat. The political parties traditionally — the operative word — send a list of three finalists to the governor for consideration, but a governor is not handcuffed to the list. The choice then faces legislative confirmation by the party.
Is it always done this way? Nope. In 2009, Senate Democrats submitted to then-Gov. Sarah Palin but one name — then Rep. Beth Kerttula — to succeed Sen. Kim Elton, who resigned to join the Obama administration. That abused tradition and Palin refused to appoint her.
Kowalke, a retired businessman, has declared he will run for Dunleavy's seat. He describes himself as a centrist Republican, and tells the Associated Press he is conservative, against abortion and a "Second Amendment guy."
Whatever he may or may not be, unions like him. In his bid for the Mat-Su Assembly, he received support from at least eight unions. Their political action committees gave his campaign nearly $5,000 in 2015, or about a third of his campaign total.
Maybe that was Kowalke's attraction for Walker. Unions. The governor is in office thanks largely to unions. Running as an independent against then-Gov. Sean Parnell, a Republican, Walker was destined to get creamed. The Democrat candidate, Byron Mallott, faced the same fate. With polls trumpeting their ultimate electoral demise, and union bosses promising money and help, they joined forces to narrowly defeat Parnell.
When Walker picked Kowalke, perhaps he was hoping for an ally in his quest for an income tax and curbing Permanent Fund dividends to help overcome Alaska's chronic budget deficit — or maybe he was seeking a kinder ear for his gas line. Senate Republicans were unamused.
The Senate Majority quickly rejected Kowalke. An angry Walker fired back, appointing Braund from the GOP's list in an in-your-face response. Braund is a hard-line abortion opponent who claims he remembers being in his mother's womb. In a 2017 Facebook post, Braund wrote of abortion: "If I had the reins, this would be murder and the abortionists and all their accessories would be hunted and executed with scissors cutting their hearts out."
It makes you wonder about the vetting process, if there is one, in Walker's office or the Republican Party.
"It is evident that the Senate republicans (sic) will continue to reject any person I appoint, no matter how qualified, unless that person's name is on the list provided to me by the republican (sic) party," Walker said in terse letter to Senate President Pete Kelly.
Whether the lower-case "r" in Republicans was a childish insult or the work of a new secretary is unclear.
Then, Braund, apparently seeing the storm brewing, bailed out, withdrawing his name from consideration. The Republicans forwarded to Walker the next name on their list: Vicki Chaffin Wallner of Palmer. Walker responded by demanding two more names to the GOP's list.
What should have been a traditionally smooth process, degenerated into a circus, with Walker initially ignoring the district's Republicans — a cynic might think — for his own ends.
What was lost in all this is that the vacant seat in question is not Walker's property. It belongs to the people. District politics — of both parties — serve an important purpose, engaging average citizens at the grassroots level. Senate Republicans were right not to yield to Walker's imperious rejection of an important tradition that has served election districts and Alaska well over the years.
In the end, questions remain: What happens now?
It is, indeed, difficult to know whether Alaskans are always well-served by their government.
Seventeen dead in a high school. South Florida.
A former student, 19. Armed to the teeth. A semi-automatic AR-15 rifle. Made to kill.
Police officers running to the school, machine guns drawn. A mother texting her son to turn off his phone's ringer so the killer with the rifle won't hear it and find him.
Seventeen dead. At a high school. In America.
It has happened before, it happened Wednesday and it will happen again.
Why? Because nothing. We do nothing.
School shooting. Nothing.
School shooting. Nothing.
School shooting. Nothing.
Thoughts and prayers. Don't talk about guns. Don't politicize deaths.
Too soon, too soon, too soon.
Thoughts and prayers and thoughts and prayers and thoughts and prayers.
A tweet from the president. Nothing more. It gets a tweet. No spoken words.
Don't talk about guns.
It's mental health. Mental health, right? Got to fix mental health. Never do, but keep saying it.
Seventeen dead Wednesday. What's changed since the last one? Nothing. When was the last one? Can't remember. It's a blur.
Mass shootings in America — in schools, at concerts, in movie theaters– are a blur.
Read that again: Mass shootings in America are a blur. A blur.
What do we do?
Don't talk about guns. Evil can't be stopped. Guns aren't to blame. Weapons of mass killing have nothing to do with mass killings. Nope.
Listen to the National Rifle Association. The world is scary. You need guns. More.
Listen to the politicians who get the money from the NRA which gets the money from the people who make the guns and the bullets and the bulletproof vests we ought to send kids to school wearing so they don't die when bullets fly from a gun in the hands of a maniac who fell through the cracks and could only have been caught, could only have been stopped, if we had better mental health care or if we had teachers carrying guns or no more gun-free zones or something, anything, that isn't tougher gun laws.
What do we do?
Cry. Shout. Scream.
Nah. Just arm people. Arm 'em all.
Arm the teachers. Arm the janitors. Arm the principal, the front-office manager, the librarian.
Arm your kid. Arm the crossing guard. Arm the bus drivers.
Arm store clerks and salespeople and gas station attendants. Arm mall cops. Arm doctors and nurses and dentists and surgeons. Arm priests, arm nuns and monks and rabbis and imams.
Arm your neighbor. Let your neighbor arm you.
Arm your friends, arm your lovers, arm your aunts, arm your mother, arm your dad and brothers and uncles and aunts, arm your sons and daughters, arm your cousins and in-laws and Facebook friends and every damn person you've ever met and keep them armed at all times, for they are the good guys with guns who will fend off the bad guys with guns, and don't you talk for a minute — not a minute — about gun laws because it's too soon and you're politicizing a tragedy and no, no, no, no, no, no, no you mustn't infringe on any American's freedom to own and bear and fire and fetishize firearms even if it keeps costing life after life after life in places where young human beings should feel safe.
Arm 'em all. That's the answer. That's what the NRA wants.
Seventeen dead in a high school. Massacred. Nothing we could've done, right?
Mental health, right?
Now back to the blur. On to the next time. On to nothing.
Tougher gun laws wouldn't have stopped those schoolchildren in Florida from dying, right?
So what allowed it?
What do we tell those parents? Grieving. Heartbroken. Ruined.
This is what I'll tell them. This is what I'll tell the NRA. This is what I'll tell politicians who line their pockets with blood money and sit on their hands.
This is what I'll say: I don't know exactly what would've stopped children from being murdered at a South Florida high school. But I know for certain that what allowed it to happen was America doing nothing. America doing what it always does in the wake of slaughters.
Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
Nothing gets us 17 dead on the ground in a high school.
Nothing is insanity.
Nothing has to stop.
Rex Huppke is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, where this originally appeared.
HATCHER PASS — Emergency crews responding to an injured snowmachiner in the Talkeetna Mountains Thursday encountered a steep, switch-backed and unplowed road under more than a foot of snow.
The Alaska Department of Transportation stopped plowing the road to Hatcher Pass on Feb. 11 due to the avalanche danger, spokeswoman Shannon McCarthy said.
A series of storms that brought wind, a warmup and then heavy snow set up high potential for snow slides, McCarthy said.
Skiers reported at least daily observations of avalanches on the Hatcher Pass Avalanche Center website between Tuesday and Thursday.
But DOT officials approved an emergency operation to clear the road from the Gold Mint trailhead parking lot to Hatcher Pass Lodge Thursday after dispatchers in Wasilla called at 2:30 p.m. and asked for help with the rescue, McCarthy said.
Medic and rescue crews from the Mat-Su Borough and Palmer headed up into the pass after getting a report of an injured snowmachiner, according to Ken Barkley, the borough's deputy emergency services director for fire.
A group of snowmachiners with the injured man were bringing him down to the Archangel Road parking area, Barkley said.
But responders couldn't get up the road that far.
"We weren't going to be able to get there without them helping us," he said, of DOT and the plows. "They were real hesitant too, because that's entering an avalanche area."
A state avalanche specialist happened to be checking conditions in the pass before the incident Thursday, McCarthy said. Avalanche danger was rated 4 to 5 out of 5 but the specialist cleared crews to go ahead to help with the rescue.
Two plows drove into the pass from Palmer-Fishhook Road, each equipped with an avalanche beacon, she said. There was roughly 18 inches of snow on the road. A foreman blocked sections of the road as they worked.
Avalanche danger shuts down plowing about once a winter in Hatcher Pass, McCarthy said.
Emergency operations like this one are rare, she said. "If we can help it, we want the avalanche danger to subside first."
An ambulance took the snowmachiner to Mat-Su Regional Medical Center with injuries that weren't life-threatening, Barkley said.
We all know that building a new sustainable economy can be complex and have numerous hurdles. But sometimes a simple and easy first step forward stands right in front of our face. It's not a new idea; it's not expensive; and much of it is already in place. It's the kind of realization that makes Homer Simpson slap his forehead and say, "D'oh."
That first step for Alaska is trails — long trails, in particular. Long trails are the ancient paths in Alaska that were used for commerce and communication by foot and dogsled and boat. These same trails became the Klondike and the Iditarod as later settlers and gold seekers traveled for mineral riches. Long trails tell the story of Alaska and who we are. They can also now be part of framing our future and what we can be.
While long trails have existed for centuries, they are now capturing the interest of people all across the world: the Coast to Coast trail in England, the Inca Trail in Peru, the Camino de Santiago in Spain, the hut-to-hut trails throughout the Alps, the Himalayan trails of Bhutan and Nepal, the Appalachian Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail in America, to name a few. Millions of visitors are now traveling to trek on these trails. This is their moment. Now it can also be ours.
Independent travelers going to these long trails are always the most sought-after visitors because of the local economic benefits they bring. Their purchases for travel, lodging, meals, logistics and side trips are all local. It's not a complete package purchase going to one international company that owns the facilities and takes home the profits. It's new businesses and jobs for Alaskans.
In our state, there are three possible Alaska Long Trails (ALTs) that are now ready for development. They could rival other international long trails if we would just fill in the gaps.
The first is the brilliant idea of Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, an Alaska legislator, to use the current TAPS corridor for a 900-mile Trans-Alaska Trail from the Beaufort Sea to Valdez. Two years of quiet work and a fast-growing body of public support is beginning to take this from an idea to a practical possibility.
A second could be the 129-mile connection between the Anchorage Coastal Trail and the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park in Seward. Significant portions of this spectacular hiking, biking and possibly ski trekking trail are already in place.
A third could be the 179-mile route from Glennallen to Cordova, with its breathtaking course along the abandoned railway route on the Copper River bordering the spectacular Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Chugach National Forest. This would include a hike or bike trip across the famous "Million-Dollar Bridge" over the Copper River and then a 50-mile hike to Cordova. It would be an unbelievable journey.
And for the future, it is easy to imagine trail routes connecting the Fairbanks trailhead of the Trans-Alaska Trail to the Anchorage Coastal Trail with a 360-mile trail and a Fairbanks-to-Glennallen trail of 180 miles.
There is much work and planning to be done. This network of ALTs would need some new trail sections, trailheads, sanitation facilities and trail access points. It will require real public-private partnerships with funds raised by individuals and foundations along with federal, state and local transportation dollars to cover capital costs. Private NGOs need to be willing to assume operation and maintenance responsibilities.
Other trails have successfully taken this approach and so can we. We are fortunate that the public rights of way already exist for most of the three ALTs. In addition, a considerable number of transportation connections are in place. We know from our history of trails that it will be essential to have public support for Alaska Long Trails. As a start, Alaska Trails, a well-respected nonprofit statewide advocacy organization, has adopted ALTs as part of its mission.
The next and most important step is for the Legislature to embrace this concept and forward a resolution to the governor for him to appoint a team to work with the Alaska Trails organization to develop a feasibility study. The results of this study would be sent back to the Legislature for action.
And what is the prize? Alaska Long Trails will sustainably elevate the tourism sector of our economy to a whole new level. The flood of new independent travelers' expenditures will create Alaska jobs and businesses. Best of all, we will get to use them ourselves! If done right, the financial, health, social and environmental benefits make Alaska Long Trails a simple step toward a sustainable economy. Let the fun begin!
Making the first documented case of a complex plot by Russians to influence our elections and specifically to bolster President Donald Trump, special prosecutor Robert Mueller III has indicted 13 Russians and obtained a plea bargain from a cooperating U.S. witness accused of identity theft. The Washington Post reports:
"The Justice Department's special counsel announced the indictment Friday of a notorious Russian troll farm – charging 13 individuals with an audacious scheme to criminally interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
"The Internet Research Agency, based in St. Petersburg, Russia, was named in the indictment as the hub of an ambitious effort to trick Americans into following Russian-fed propaganda that pushed U.S. voters toward then-Republican candidate Donald Trump and away from Democrat Hillary Clinton. …
"Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein called the charges 'a reminder that people are not always who they appear on the internet. The indictment alleges that the Russian conspirators want to promote social discord in the United States and undermine public confidence in democracy. We must not allow them to succeed.'"
The special counsel's actions raise a host of questions, but here is what we can say with confidence:
– There is no "hoax," and Trump's insistence that the Russia investigation is about nothing only reinforces the perception that he cannot concede that he received Russian help and/or that he's been trying to disable the Russia investigation, precisely because he did not want this plot of interference to come through.
– It will be exceptionally hard, if not impossible, for Trump now to fire Rosenstein or Mueller.
– Mueller and his team are moving with remarkable speed, wrapping up witnesses and substantiating a conspiracy to influence the election. There is much more to this than "just" evidence of obstruction. There is an embarrassing scheme of influence that certainly could have been the motive for Trump's effort to thwart the Russia investigation. Mueller has multiple witnesses: Michael Flynn, Richard Pinedo (the indicted American), George Papadopoulos and soon, we are told, Rick Gates. Trump and his legal team should be exceptionally worried about what else Mueller has.
– The president's failure to take action to protect the U.S. election system and prevent another assault on our democracy – a real and ongoing concern voiced by the unanimous testimony of his top intelligence officials – appears to be a gross dereliction of Trump's duties and an abrogation of his oath.
– The Russian plan was specifically aimed at helping Trump. "By February 2016, the suspects had decided whom they were supporting in the 2016 race. According to the indictment, Internet Research Agency specialists were instructed to 'use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump – we support them),'" The Post reports. "Prosecutors say some Russian employees of the troll farm were chastised in September 2016 when they had a 'low number of posts dedicated to criticizing Hillary Clinton' and were told it was 'imperative to intensify criticizing' the Democratic nominee in future posts."
– While Rosenstein said there was no evidence that the actions in the indictment affected the election outcome, such an assertion, he surely must know, is not a provable fact and is legally immaterial. No one can prove how many people were affected by what the Russians put out.
– A plan of this magnitude involving so many people and so much money could not have feasibly been conducted without the knowledge or assistance of the Kremlin.
– Carter Page is largely irrelevant to the larger plot to undermine the U.S. election system.
Republicans' efforts, led by the clownish Rep. Devin Nunes. R-Calif., to assist and enable Trump now look foolish or worse. Republicans who have been trying to interfere with the investigation look foolish or worse. What has been implicit is now explicit: They are doing the Russians' work for them.
"Among other things, the indictment details how Russian nationals concealed their identities to 'produce, purchase, and post advertisements on U.S. social media and other online sites expressly advocating for the election of then-candidate Trump or expressly opposing Clinton. Defendants and their co-conspirators did not report their expenditures to the Federal Election Commission, or register as foreign agents with the U.S. Department of Justice,'" watchdog Common Cause said in a statement.
"We are hopeful that these new facts will finally drive the White House and Republicans in Congress who have worked to hamper the investigation to admit the reality and the scope of the attack and the threat from Russia which is ongoing today as we approach our next election. It is time for Congress and the White House to put their country before their party. The attacks on Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his investigators are disgraceful and must cease."
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., released a written statement blasting the administration. "Special Counsel Mueller's indictment today underscores just how serious, far-reaching, and successful Russia's 2016 interference campaign was," he said. "Despite the president's continued, strange denials, the administration's own national security and intelligence officials have told Congress unequivocally that Russia is out to do this again in the midterm elections. This should be a wake-up call. We must act to protect our democracy from the next round of attacks."
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., in his own statement said, "Special counsel Mueller's indictments are further proof that Vladimir Putin directed a campaign to interfere with our elections, with the goal of tipping the outcome." He added, "Given these indictments, President Trump should implement the sanctions that Congress has passed immediately. The indictments are also a reminder that Russia will continue to try to interfere in our Democracy. The administration needs to be far more vigilant in protecting the 2018 elections, and alert the American public any time the Russians attempt to interfere."
The indictments and plea raise a slew of questions: How did Mueller get the information? Did any Trump official have any connection to the Russians? How did the Russians determine what hashtags to use and what themes to push? If we are now in pursuit of social media players, are the hackers who broke into the DNC and John Podesta's emails in sight?
Rosenstein described help afforded to the Russians by "unwitting" figures linked to the Trump campaign. However, as one Russia guru points out to me, "on the 'unwitting' Trump campaign officials, we know there was a hell of a lot of 'witting.' That is effectively what the June 9 meeting (at Trump Tower) and (outreach to Russians from) Papadopoulos show."
Once more, we are reminded how little we know about what Mueller has already found. If he has this much evidence just on the quadrant of a Russian troll farm, what else is out there? Stay tuned. We are nowhere near the end of this investigation.
I have followed with great interest the series of commentaries that began with celebrated Alaska author Seth Kantner's meditation on New York City, northern Alaska, and the proposed industrial road across the southern Brooks Range, followed by two rebuttals, one by former New Yorker Jessica Pezak, now an Expedia manager living in Alaska; and most recently ADN columnist Charles Wohlforth, another celebrated author and someone who carries strong opinions about many topics.
As another longtime Alaska writer (though not nearly as famous) and one who cares greatly about our species' complicated and often harmful relationship with our shared home and also "different ways of knowing the world," I'd like to keep the conversation going and add a few more observations to the mix.
While I appreciate Pezak's spirited defense of New York (and other urban cultural centers) and her wish for Alaskans — and humans generally — to be less judgmental and instead "embrace our differences, and express curiosity, and awe at the lives and experiences of others," she is herself harshly judgmental of Kantner and any other Alaskans who "feel disdain for others who don't share their lives and their priorities." I'm guessing that's a lot of people, including myself at times. And likely Pezak, too.
But there's another point I'd like to make: I read Kantner's piece quite differently from Pezak. To me, Seth was writing about the distress and disorientation he felt upon entering that "land of a thousand roads and zero caribou," a place of overwhelming confusion (at least for him).
To me, Kantner's main judgment was about the place and the lifestyles and values it represents and the oppression he felt while there. I have a similar experience when visiting my daughter and grandkids in the LA megalopolis. They live on the fringes of Los Angeles. But when I visit, I still become overwhelmed by the noise, the traffic, the congestion, the worship of celebrity, the pollution, the crowds, the abundance of roads and buildings and other human constructs at the expense of wild nature. I still can't imagine how I lived in the LA region for six years during my early adulthood. I wouldn't go there now if not for family, no matter how culturally rich it may be in some ways.
Do I feel disdain for some of the values that LA represents? You betcha. But more than that, I feel blessed to live in Alaska. Yet even here I've chosen to reside in the state's urban center, a place that Kantner and many other Alaskans disdain as "Los Anchorage." Many criticisms of our city are justified, but I happen to appreciate, even embrace, the mix of urban amenities and yes, culture, plus the incredible wildness still to be found in and around Anchorage.
As for Wohlforth: again, I agree with some of his larger points, most notably that there are aspects of New York City worthy of Alaskans' admiration. Many New Yorkers contribute significantly to the protection of wilderness and the Arctic that Kantner so loves, largely through their philanthropy.
But for my tastes, Charles goes way overboard. There is also much to dislike about New York, including many of the values it represents (such as those manifested by our president).
I also take great issue with Wohlforth's blanket assertion that "the Manhattanites Kantner demonizes, and their ilk, are strong allies for conservation. They're the people who buy his books, and mine, elevating the spiritual value of these places."
Whoa, Charles. That last statement, about the elevation of spiritual values, seems quite a leap. But what bothers me more is his statement — or implication — that Manhattanites as a group are "strong allies for conservation" and protectors of the Arctic. What's his evidence for that? I'd wager that many Manhattanites don't give a damn about the wild Arctic or worse, their lifestyles contribute to its development.
As much as I enjoy reading Wohlforth, he has a bad habit of making sweeping generalizations and stating them as fact when really they are simply his opinions.
Another example: in his opening paragraph, Wohlforth unequivocally states that while Kantner may be Alaska's greatest writer, "he stands alone . . . ultimately neither persuasive nor relevant to the important discussion about development in Northwest Alaska."
What is the evidence that Kantner is "neither persuasive nor relevant"? That's clearly Wohlforth's opinion, stated as fact. And it's an opinion with which I wholeheartedly disagree. Like Martha Amore (Letters, 2/1), I believe Kantner's readers — or at least many of them — "are quite moved by his beautiful words and stunning insights."
If Kantner is as irrelevant as Wohlforth would have us believe, why would the ADN give him an entire page in its opinion section? Kantner's opinions are certainly as relevant — and likely more widely embraced, at least in rural Alaska — as Wohlforth's or mine.
It's fine to disagree with Kantner, but as Pezak might point out, it's unnecessary to demean him.
Though I don't agree with all that Kantner wrote, I appreciate his story (and what it has stirred up). To me, his commentary is actually an essay that is also an advocacy piece. Once upon a time, it would likely have been published in We Alaskans. But with that option gone, I'm happy to see it in the opinion pages. In the end, he is writing about something of great importance, which seems to have been overlooked in the responses to his piece: namely, the need for Alaskans to oppose an industrial road through the Arctic, which will benefit a Canadian mining company at the expense of wilderness, wildlife and many local residents. Amen to that.
Finally, I assume that both Pezak and Wohlforth would applaud Kantner's final comments, as I do: "Ask yourself nothing about whom you hate. Ask only what you love, and what sustains you. And protect that."
I can't speak for New Yorkers, and I'm not even sure about most Alaskans, but I hope that those of us asking what we truly love would answer that our state's wildness is among the things that we cherish most. And that wildness is a big part, maybe the greatest part, of what sustains us.