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Letter: It’s about education, and educators

Sat, 2018-05-19 15:31

Thanks to the Alaska Legislature for maintaining the public education budget and adding an additional $20 million to local school districts. Now the Anchorage School District has to decide how to spend the roughly $5.5 million it will receive.

I suggest the money go to the contract they are currently negotiating with the Anchorage Education Association. Teacher pay and working conditions are deplorable, and morale is at a new low. Many teachers, nurses, and counselors are leaving the state or considering transferring to better districts. A good contract could help attract and retain quality educators, which will make a bigger difference than anything else the district could do right now.

ASD, please put your money where your mouth is and put this windfall to good use — budget more money to educators, so they can serve our students better.

Cheryl Lovegreen

Letter: Fight the ravages of Alzheimer’s and dementia

Sat, 2018-05-19 15:31

There are 5.7 million Americans living with Alzheimer's disease, including 7,500 in Alaska. In addition, there are more than 16 million Americans caring for someone with Alzheimer's or another dementia, including 33,000 caregivers in Alaska. This debilitating disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States and the only cause of death in the top 10 in America that cannot be prevented, cured or slowed.

Having watched my mother and three of her sisters battle Alzheimer's before passing away, I know that the impact of this disease is devastating. The experience of watching Alzheimer's rob loved ones of their ability to communicate, recall treasured memories, follow daily routine and recognize those they love is immensely painful.

In addition to the human toll, Alzheimer's takes a financial toll, costing an estimated $277 billion in 2018 and expected to cost the nation more than $1.1 trillion by 2050 and afflict more than 14 million affected Americans by 2050.
These costs include a five-fold increase in government spending under Medicare and Medicaid and nearly a five-fold increase in out of pocket spending. One in five Medicare dollars are spent today on people with Alzheimer's and other dementias. In 2050, it will be one in every three dollars. In order to change the trajectory of Alzheimer's we must take bold steps now toward finding the treatments, prevention and one day a cure.

The urgency is clear. Alzheimer's can't wait. Please contact Sens. Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young and ask them to support the additional $425 million increase in funding Alzheimer's research activities at the National Institute of Health for fiscal 2019.

Together we can be part of the first survivor.

Cindy Harris

Letter: New river crossing needed at Brooks Camp

Sat, 2018-05-19 15:30

In his May 14 op-ed, Tom Walker spoke of challenges resulting from high visitation to Katmai National Park's Brooks Camp in mid-summer, when large numbers of brown bears share space along a short stretch of river with even larger numbers of people. Most of the people who visit Katmai's Brooks Camp during peak season stay for only a few hours and depart on the same day. Their planes usually land on Naknek Lake, on the north side of Brooks River, making it necessary for the visitors to walk across a floating (pontoon) bridge to reach the three bear viewing platforms located on the river's south side, then to return for meals and departure. The gravel trail that leads from the lodge to the floating bridge passes through heavily-used bear habitat, often resulting in surprise bear encounters. During peak visitation, park managers frequently close the bridge for safety, sometimes for periods of several hours at a time.

Unfortunately, in his opposition to facility improvements at Brooks Camp, Mr. Walker failed to mention that the floating bridge has long outlasted its purpose, and it impedes movement by salmon, bears and people, especially during low-water periods. He also neglected to mention the wealth of information and experience tapped by the National Park Service in coming to their decision to replace the obsolete floating bridge.

I have previously reviewed, organized or participated in multiple assessments of bear and visitor management at Brooks Camp, including design specifications for crossing alternatives, in my capacity as NPS Alaska Regional Science Advisor (now retired). I have also interacted with dozens of managers, scientists, employees, visitors and others with firsthand experience at Brooks Camp, most recently during a week-long stay at the campground last July. Bear and fish biology, visitor safety and experience, facility management and other factors were thoroughly considered through on- and off-site discussions among knowledgeable and experienced wildlife biologists who recommended both the route and critical design elements selected by NPS.

The selected design reflects the best features of the highly-effective elevated boardwalks that already lead to the Falls and Riffles platforms. I am confident that the new structure will provide a better viewing experience for visitors and better access to habitat for Katmai's brown bears, and I look forward to bringing my own family when I visit Brooks Camp again to see the improvements.

Robert A. Winfree

Letter: Sound thinking on plastic bag ban

Sat, 2018-05-19 15:30

Thanks to Sophie Tidler for her opinion piece "Anchorage, it's time for a plastic bag ban," published in the May 14 edition of the ADN. It is time for Anchorage to follow the examples of Kodiak, Homer, Bethel, Hooper Bay and Wasilla.

Did you know the entire states of Hawaii and California have plastic shopping bag bans? Austin, Chicago, Seattle, Boulder, New York City and the countries of China and Australia also have bag bans. The information I found on these bans show that the transition for people was relatively painless and successful.

As Anchorage is a coastal city, it is time to make the proactive change. How good it would be as a city to know we are reducing nasty litter, dangerous threats to land and ocean animals, and the overall impact of human trash on Earth? Since the Alaska Legislature has not been able to get much accomplished in the past few years of long, lengthy sessions, maybe the Anchorage Assembly could show them how it is done by banning plastic shopping bags in the municipality.

Karen Avila-Lederhos

Katmai’s bridge is not to nowhere

Sat, 2018-05-19 14:59

The recent opinion piece by Tom Walker, "Katmai's bridge to nowhere," is emblematic of a person who is able to frequent places like Brooks River, but who would deny that same opportunity to others for whom it may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience — in this case, average tourists who may not have as much time or ability to enjoy all that Alaska has to offer.

Mr. Walker is concerned that "habitat can be quickly degraded" and that "wildlife will be displaced by too many people" at Brooks River. These were the same concerns that created the need for a bear study at Brooks River back in the early 1970s. Back then, there were far fewer human visitors to Brooks River and also far fewer bears. The study ended up concluding that "people had intruded into prime bear habitat" and it predicted the demise of the park's entire bear population, not just Brooks River, if the lodge were not removed. Those of us who knew better have been fighting against moving the visitor facilities ever since. Since then, human visitation has increased tenfold and has been paralleled by an equal increase in the number of bears, park wide. The purported doom and gloom never happened.

[Photos: Katmai bears feast on salmon]

The fact is that people have not "intruded into prime bear habitat," as the 1970s bear study concluded. The archaeological record of Brooks River goes back more than 4,500 years, when the area was a narrow constriction in a single, much larger lake. As the water dropped and the river formed between what is now Brooks and Naknek lakes, National Park Service archaeologists say that "all available evidence attests to an intense and continuous occupation of the river margins by Native Alaskans that extends well into the historic period. The mantle of cultural deposits extend out at least one quarter mile on each side of the river and frequently reach depths of up to two meters in thickness. Nearly 900 house and structural depressions are visible on the surface alone, not counting those that are buried deep within the ground," reads a 1992 paper by Ted Berkedal, Chief NPS archaeologist. Drying salmon on racks was then and still is the primary way these Native people preserved their subsistence catch. This could not have been done unless they excluded bears from the river for the past 4,000 years. Given that, it might be more accurate to say that bears have recently intruded into prime people habitat.

That said, I am not suggesting that Brooks River be returned to its prior subsistence fishing state. Rather, we just need to be honest about what it actually is. To again quote Mr. Berkedal's paper, "To the multitude of visitors that crowd the bear-viewing platforms each year, nothing appears more natural than the sight of dozens of satiated bears feeding and cavorting in the waters of Brooks River. Yet, from a historical vantage point nothing could be further from the truth — the situation is indeed most 'unnatural.' This 'bear heaven' is not a creation of Mother Nature, rather, it is a cultural artifact of National Park Service management."

Mr. Walker also says that the new park concessionaire, the operator of Brooks Lodge, "reportedly" plans this summer to increase the number of fly-in day visitors. This is patently false. In fact, just the opposite is true. For the first time ever, the Brooks Lodge concessionaire, which also operates Katmai Air, plans to cap the daily number of day trips they sell, and that number is less than what they sold last year, not more.

Also, Mr. Walker's contention that the new bridge will "do absolutely nothing to reduce or eliminate lines at the falls' trailhead" is not a view shared by the Park Service or myself. The main reason for lines at the falls trailhead is that the "bear jams" that happen at the current bridge create a situation where large numbers of people cross at once when the bridge finally opens. Everyone rushes to the trailhead, and they all get there at once. Hence the line forms. The new bridge will eliminate the bear jams so people can trickle across the bridge all day long. It may actually allow for longer viewing times on the falls platform, not shorter ones.

Besides, the main reason the Park Service limits viewing times at the falls platform is to prevent professional photographers with mega-cameras and tripods (like Mr. Walker) from hogging the prime spots all day long to the exclusion of ordinary tourist visitors, most of whom wouldn't spend more than an hour there anyway. There are ample opportunities to view bears in the rest of the Brooks River area.

[Beyond the bears: Appreciating other Brooks Camp attractions in Katmai]

Mr. Walker is correct on a couple of points. One is that, "a bear atop Brooks Falls is one of Alaska's iconic images." And it is also true that, "an up-close look at a wild bear has become a hallmark of almost every Alaska vacation." There are plenty of places where diehard photographers and campers can go to see bears with very few or even no people. Brooks Camp, Brooks River and its famous falls — which are currently accessible without limits — is the one place that provides that hallmark opportunity to anyone and everyone willing to go. There is nothing wrong with that, and the new bridge will help keep it that way.

Sonny Petersen is the previous owner of Katmailand Inc., the Brooks Lodge concessionaire and Katmai Air. The lodge was founded by his father Ray Petersen in 1950. Petersen recently sold the operations to Bristol Bay Native Corp. in May 2016.

Here’s what to expect on the road to Haines, by the numbers

Sat, 2018-05-19 13:43

Yes, it's road trip season. I did my part to prepare: the full-size spare, a couple of flares, tools, gloves, gas can and a bag of corn chips. Well, the corn chips were a gift from my neighbor. I ate most of them by the time I got to Eagle River.

My road trips this month are split into bite-size parts. The first was to get to Haines and to the Alaska Marine Highway.

Even in mid-May, the big lakes still are frozen on both sides of the border. The green buds are just barely sprouting, so the hillsides are gray and brown as more snow melts away. Still, the beautiful vistas at the Matanuska Glacier, at Kluane Lake and the Haines summit are compelling. Go ahead — pull over and take some photos. Fear not — the bug count is low. The weather was kind to me: 40s and 50s the whole way with high overcast, affording uninterrupted views of the spectacular Wrangell Mountains. There was very little traffic.

[Some things to keep in mind as you plan your next Alaska road trip]

Along the way, there's plenty of time to collect bits of useful information for the drivers still to come this summer. Here are some of the things I learned … by the numbers.

756: Number of miles from Anchorage to Haines. I've driven the route a couple of times, but not as many times as our state legislators. True story: just south of Tok yesterday, I passed a lobbyist who was returning from "a difficult session." Her vanity license plate gave her away!

33: number of litres of Canadian gas I bought for $50 at Haines Junction.

4: The number of CD audio books my neighbor gave me to listen to on the way: a little Stephen Colbert, a little John Grisham, but nothing too scary.

4: number of major highways between Anchorage and Haines. Glenn Hwy to Glennallen, Richardson Highway to Gakona, Tok Cutoff to Tok, Alaska Highway through the border to Haines Junction in the Yukon, then the Haines Highway into Haines. Actually the Alaska Marine Highway counts as a fifth highway. Right now, we're passing cruise ships down Lynn Canal to Auke Bay/Juneau.

3: Number of different states/provinces you'll travel through: Alaska, the Yukon and a thin slice of British Columbia before re-entering Alaska near Haines. You'll cross two borders: into Canada 90 miles southeast of Tok and back into the U.S. outside of Haines.

99: The number of dollars I spent to stay overnight at Young's Motel in Tok. Bronk Jorgensen runs the "All Alaska Gift Shop" at the "T" where the Tok Cutoff intersects the Alaska Highway. He gave me the heads-up on lodging in Tok: "Young's is really convenient since Fast Eddy's restaurant is right next door."

4: Number of different beers on tap at Fast Eddy's. They're all from Alaskan Brewing in Juneau. I opted for the Icy Bay IPA. It's one of my favorites.

2: Number of scoops of ground coffee I used to fix my own cup in the room at Young's. Oh, they have the pre-packaged coffee-by-the-cup. But since I travel with the Aeropress system, I just used the in-house coffee maker to spit out the hot water. Then I poured it into the compact plastic contraption for a top-notch cup of coffee.

3: Number of black bear cubs that I scared when I rounded a corner near Kluane Lake between the border and Haines Junction. Later down the road, a big boar hesitated for a moment so I could take a picture.

6: Number of young caribou that ran across the Tok Cutoff in front of me near Chistochina.

2: Number of road construction sites that required a hard stop. That's not counting the two border stops. There was one on the Glenn Highway before Sheep Mountain Lodge. The road crews are working hard to cut away a mountain that had a habit of spilling boulders on the roadway. There was another delay right outside of Haines along the Chilkat River. There are crews on both sides of the border continuously filling in potholes and regrading stretches of road damaged by frost heaves. If you see a sign that says "bump" or "road damage," go ahead and slow down. If you see paint marking off an area on the road — that's code for a really bad bump: slow way down.

6: The number of hours to drive from Anchorage to Tok. The next day, it took me about eight hours to drive from Tok to Haines. It took me a little longer because I was stopping for photos, but not for meals. I waited to eat at my destination.

$1.25: The cost of a copy of The Chilkat Valley News, the local paper in Haines. I picked up a copy when I ordered my dinner at Mountain Market.

1. The number of Holland America cruise ships that call in to Haines each week. Wednesday is cruise day. All of the Chilkat River rafting tours, eagle-watching expeditions and other activities are in full swing. So is internet usage. When the ship docks, it boosts the town's population by about 2,600 people. Everyone's checking their email and posting on Facebook — and the network speeds slow down.

I arrived too late to visit the Hammer Museum in Haines. Don't make that mistake. The kids love it. It's right on main street and has all manner of hammers on display. It's one of many local treasures in Haines.

In ‘A Wild Promise,’ a wilderness area in limbo and a book with a mission

Sat, 2018-05-19 12:34

A Wild Promise: Prince William Sound

By Debbie S. Miller. Photography by Hugh Rose. Braided River/Mountaineers Books, 2018. 176 pages. $29.95.

Well-known Alaska writer Debbie Miller has teamed up with naturalist-guide and photographer Hugh Rose to produce this gorgeous, large-format book that celebrates a very special part of wild Alaska, "where land and sea are woven together." The high-quality photos speak loudly for their subjects, large and small — mountains and glaciers, wildlife, tiny flowers, striations on rock, bluest ice. The well-informed and often lyrical text details both Miller's personal explorations of the area and its cultural and natural history.

This is a book with a mission, and that mission is not only to share an amazing place with readers but to advocate for its protection. The specific area (displayed on a map right at the start) is not the whole of Prince William Sound but what's known as the Nellie Juan-College Fiord Wilderness Study Area. Miller avoids the awkwardly long title by calling it, simply, the "Chugach wilderness." It covers most of the western half of Prince William Sound, from Elrington Island in the south into the Chugach Mountains and their glaciers in the north.

The "study area" status originated in 1980, with passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). As part of the act, 2.1 million acres of the 5.6-million-acre Chugach National Forest were set aside in an area to be studied for future designation as wilderness. After study, Congress was to determine what portions should receive wilderness status and what parts might be managed for multiple uses.

Thirty-eight years later, after multiple studies and recommendations to Congress, the entire area remains in limbo, as "unfinished business." Congress has never acted on Forest Service recommendations developed with public input. Hence this book's title — "A Wild Promise." The promise is still out there, waiting to be fulfilled.

An irony documented by Miller and Rose is that the area, so close to Anchorage and now road-connected via the Whittier Tunnel, is wilder today than it was for much of the past. Throughout the text, Miller details use of the area by the early Chugachmiut people and later by gold and copper miners, canneries and fox farmers. "Culturally modified trees" from which slabs of hemlock bark were cut for housing planks are found in the woods, along with rusted mining machinery. "At one time, there were three active gold mines, sixteen fox farms, and four salmon canneries in the region," Miller tells us.

The authors are not suggesting that such extractive activities be reintroduced — only that we understand that the area has a human history as well as a natural one involving glaciers, earthquakes and ecosystem changes. Today, most use is recreational, and the authors build a strong case for protecting wilderness values that are increasingly rare anywhere else. As the rest of the world gets busier and noisier, a wild place crackling with glacier ice, mewing with baby otters and forested with twisted hemlocks and ancient cedar trees takes on significant new meaning. In addition to recreational and spiritual values, it offers a living laboratory for studying natural systems and climate change.

Among its other attributes, the Chugach wilderness is home to the largest concentration of tidewater glaciers in America. The photos and descriptions of glaciers, glacier-carved landscapes, and floating ice are ones a reader will want to linger with. Most of these glaciers are now receding rapidly, with notable changes from year to year. A two-page spread in the middle of the book shows Columbia Glacier in 1983 and again today from the same location. The images are startling. The massive Columbia Glacier has retreated more than 12 miles in that time, its thickness and volume shrunk by half.

Elsewhere, Miller brings to life the Harriman Alaska Expedition of 1899, which slipped past the toe of Barry Glacier into an unchartered fjord now known as Harriman Fjord; the expedition also named College Fjord and the glaciers within it. Miller researched John Muir's notes and drawings from that trip and shares some of both.

One lovely feature of this book is insert panels identified as "snapshots." These portray individuals associated with the Chugach wilderness and serve to make the point that wild places need human stewards. One of these tells of biologist Kate McLaughlin, who lives in Chenega Bay (just outside the study area) and "runs the northernmost hummingbird banding station in America." She has captured more than 500 individual rufous hummingbirds in a single summer, including one previously banded in Florida.

Another snapshot is of Scott Groves with the nonprofit Gulf of Alaska Keeper. That organization since 2005 has removed more than three million pounds of plastic debris from beaches, mostly on Montague Island, the long outer island that guards the sound. These clean-ups prevent debris from making its way into the wilderness area or from entering the food chain.

Yet another snapshot tells of oyster farmer Dave Sczawinski and his permitted operation within the study area, as an example of a sustainable business that can be compatible with protections.

Get this book for the beautiful and inspiring photographs, but then read every page of Miller's text. Marbled and Kittlitz's murrelets, ghost forests, staircase meadows, the return of sea otters, the legacy of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the origin of the name "Chugach" — these are all here. You may even be moved to action — to work towards stewardship and permanent wilderness protection for, as Miller calls it, "this precious piece of the planet."

Suspect confesses in Texas high school shooting that left 8 students, 2 teachers dead

Sat, 2018-05-19 12:18

SANTA FE, Texas – This time, it happened during first period.

The day after a student went on a shooting rampage at a Texas high school, a Houston-area community grappled with a horrific reality that has unfolded in so many other places across the nation.

On Friday morning, a 17-year-old student armed with a shotgun and a pistol stormed Santa Fe High School, about 30 miles southeast of Houston, and opened fire in an art class, officials said.

He killed at least 10 people and wounded 10 others, including a school resource officer who was left in critical condition, police said, before surrendering to the officers who confronted him.

Of those killed, eight were students and two were teachers, Santa Fe Independent School District Superintendent Leigh Wall said in a letter to parents.

"Our community has suffered a terrible tragedy," Wall wrote. "We are all feeling the overwhelming grief of this horrific event."

[School shooting suspect was nondescript, betraying growing darkness]

Santa Fe High School became the latest scene of carnage in what has become a national epidemic of mass shootings. For the second time in the past three months, the victims were children and their teachers.

Isabelle Laymance, 15, was in art class, drawing geometric shapes, when she heard gunshots. She froze for a moment, then she ran to a back door leading to a patio, but it was locked. She and seven other students barricaded themselves in a supply closet that connected two art classrooms. She lay on the floor and called police, and then called her mother, whispering "I love you" while holding a friend's hand. They shushed each other, hoping to avoid detection.

The trenchcoat-clad gunman – whom police identified as student Dimitrios Pagourtzis – came into the first art classroom and began shooting. He knew students were hiding in the supply closet, Isabelle said.

"He said, 'Surprise,' and then he started shooting, and he killed one or two people. And he shot a girl in the leg. In the closet. He shot through the window," she said. "We blocked the doors with ceramic makers, and he kept on trying to get in and he kept on shooting inside the closet."

She called police three times over the course of 30 terrifying minutes. A police dispatcher told her to be quiet and assured her that help was on the way, she said.

The gunman kept shooting, cursing and yelling. He shot a police officer who approached, then engaged other officers in discussion, offering to surrender.

"He kept saying 'If I come out, don't shoot me.' They didn't shoot him; they just put him in handcuffs," she said.

Pagourtzis, whom students described as a quiet loner, was held Friday without bond at the Galveston County jail, charged with capital murder and aggravated assault on a peace officer. It was unclear what motivated the attack, as authorities said it came without any obvious warning.

Pagourtzis made his first court appearance Friday evening, a little more than 10 hours after the massacre. He spoke quietly, saying, "Yes, sir," when asked if he wanted a court-appointed attorney. After the brief hearing, Pagourtzis was led away.

Police said Pagourtzis gave a statement admitting responsibility for the shooting, according to a probable-cause affidavit filed in court. Pagourtzis told police that he went into the school wearing a trench coat and wielding two guns, intent on killing people.

The affidavit, which identifies him as Dimitrios Pagourtzis Jr., states that the 17-year-old told police that "he did not shoot students he did like so he could have his story told."

The two guns used in the shooting belong to Pagourtzis's father, according to Gov. Greg Abbott, who said it was unclear if the father knew his son had taken them. Unlike many other mass shootings carried out with high-powered rifles such as the AR-15, this one, authorities said, included relatively common weapons.

Police said they also found explosive devices inside the school and at locations off campus.

['Loner' student shoots and kills 10 at Texas school]

Authorities said they also were scrutinizing two other potential suspects in the shooting. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said officials questioned another student, described as "a person of interest." Abbott said police also hoped to speak with a third person who he said could have "certain information," though he did not elaborate.

Three officers responded to the attack, officials said. The first to confront the shooter was school safety officer John Barnes, a retired Houston police officer who, according to former Houston colleague Capt. Jim Dale, joined the Santa Fe Independent School District police force because he wanted a less-stressful job.

Barnes was shot in both arms, Dale said. A second Santa Fe ISD officer arrived, pulled Barnes to safety and applied a tourniquet. A third officer, a state trooper, also engaged the gunman, according to a state police official.

Officials have not yet provided a timeline showing how long it took to respond to the active-shooter emergency calls, nor have they disclosed many details about their interactions with the shooter.

Barnes was taken by helicopter to the trauma center at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, where he was in danger of "bleeding out" when he arrived, chief medical officer Gulshan Sharma told reporters. Dale, the Houston police captain, said many officers descended upon the hospital to show their support and that the family is in good spirits after hearing from doctors that Barnes's injuries probably were not fatal.

Santa Fe High School, home of the Indians, had won a statewide award for its safety program. As an ominous precursor to Friday's shooting, the school had experienced a false alarm about an active shooter in February, an event that attracted a massive emergency response and the chaotic arrival of fearful parents.

Many of the 1,400 students had staged a walkout April 20 as part of a nationwide school shootings protest, part of a grass-roots movement among young Americans in the wake of the February massacre of 17 students and staffers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. One sign carried by Santa Fe students during their April protest: "#NeverAgain."

Four Fridays later, their school was attacked.

Gage Slaughter, 17, said he was sitting in his Advanced Placement history class when the shooting started. When he heard the gunshots, he thought – as is so often the case in mass shootings – that it was just firecrackers. Someone pulled a fire alarm, he said, and everyone went outside. Then a coach and some teachers told the students to start running.

"There were people who were starting to cry," he said. "I didn't know what was going on until I was down the road a little ways and I heard one of the teachers saying it was a school shooter."

In the hours that followed, heavily armed officers in tactical gear surrounded the school. Authorities said they found explosives in the high school and in surrounding areas, and put out warnings on social media for people to avoid touching anything unfamiliar.

Parents were picking up their children early from other schools in the area as they reeled from the horror that had come to their community.

"I just need to cuddle [my] baby girl," said Catharine Lindsey, a parent who lives nearby and said she could hear the rescue helicopters from her home. "Ever since Parkland, I've had to tell my 13-year-old daughter to 'not be a hero, to hide and stay safe with teacher' if something like this happens, because she's the type who would try and talk the shooter down."

This was the 16th school shooting so far this year, according to a Washington Post analysis. That's the highest number at this point in any year since 1999, the year of the Columbine High massacre. The Post's analysis found that since 1999, shootings during school hours have killed at least 141 children, educators and other people, with another 284 injured.

There was limited solid information about the victims at Santa Fe High in the hours after the shooting.

The Embassy of Pakistan confirmed Friday evening that Sabika Sheikh, a Pakistani exchange student, was killed in the attack.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Sabika's family and friends," Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry said in a statement.

Another exchange student, Sayyed Zaman Haider, said Sabika was from Karachi City and was studying through the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program, funded by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. A spokesman for the bureau did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment. Haider said Sheikh was about to return home: The academic year was ending, so she was almost done with her cultural exchange.

Cynthia Tisdale, 63, a substitute teacher at Santa Fe High School, died in the shootings there, her family confirmed Friday. Tisdale worked at the school frequently, her son Recie Tisdale said.

"She started substitute teaching because she loved to help children," he said. "She didn't have to do it. She did it because she loved it."

Recie Tisdale is a police detective in nearby League City. Cynthia Tisdale lived in Dickinson, Tex., with her husband of nearly 47 years, William Tisdale. The couple had three children and 11 grandchildren. William Tisdale said his wife had also been a paralegal for 22 years.

"She was a good woman," he said. "She watched out for me."

Among the injured was sophomore Rome Shubert, a pitcher on the school baseball team, who said that a bullet grazed his head. "I'm so grateful and blessed that God spared my life today," Shubert wrote in a tweet. "Today I was shot in the back of the head but I am completely okay and stable."

On Friday night, students gathered at a vigil here wearing T-shirts, made after Hurricane Harvey, that read "Texas Tough." On the back: "Indians got your back."

The shooting immediately drew condemnation nationwide. President Trump quickly decried the Texas shooting.

"This has been going on too long in our country – too many years, too many decades now," Trump said in Washington. "We grieve for the terrible loss of life and send our support and love to everyone affected by this absolutely horrific attack."

In Santa Fe, Sen. Ted Cruz said: "Once again Texas has seen the face of evil."

Late Friday, Houston Texans star J.J. Watt offered to personally cover funeral costs for all of the victims from the Santa Fe shooting.

In his jailhouse booking photo, the suspect, Pagourtzis, wore a blank expression, as if bored.

On a Facebook page, Pagourtzis had posted a photograph of a T-shirt saying "Born to Kill," Abbott said during an afternoon news conference. But Abbott said the suspect did not have a criminal record or show signs of being violent. He said that in this case there weren't the kind of red flags seen in other mass shootings, such as the one last year at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, or the one in Parkland.

The suspect documented his thoughts on his computer and cellphone, and the writings revealed not only that he intended to commit the shooting but also planned to commit suicide, the governor said. He said the shooter didn't have the "courage" to follow through on the suicide.

Experts on mass shootings note that the killers study their predecessors, copy their moves and even their fashion choices. The shooter at Santa Fe High appeared to copy elements of the Columbine massacre: a black trench coat, a shotgun, explosives.

More than 30 shooters have copied the Columbine killers and admitted they'd done so, according to Adam Lankford, a criminology professor at the University of Alabama.

"This seems like actually a more extreme version because of all of the different elements that seem to be copied, from clothing to weapons and modus operandi in terms of planting bombs," Lankford said. "It's a form of celebrity worship. The celebrities in this case are celebrity killers – the Columbine killers."

Abbott said he will convene a roundtable of experts to discuss ways to stave off another school shooting, including speeding up background checks on gun buyers, putting more money into mental-health treatment, and adding security personnel.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said infrastructure is a problem: Schools have too many entrances and exits and need to be retrofitted.

"We may need to harden our schools and make them safer," Patrick said.

Cable news and social media were dominated Friday by painfully familiar images of students being led out of the school by armed officers. Survivors of the Parkland massacre and their relatives, many of whom have become outspoken advocates for stronger gun-control laws, publicly offered support to the Santa Fe community – and sent angry messages to politicians they said have not acted to avert such massacres.

– – –

Berman, Achenbach and Wang reported from Washington. Christian Davenport and Stephanie Kuzydym in Sante Fe, Tex., and William Wan, Julie Tate, Alice Crites, Jennifer Jenkins, Jenna Johnson, Susan Svrluga, Emily Wax, Matt Zapotosky, Nick Anderson and Abigail Hauslohner in Washington contributed to this story.

Letter: Can we stop with the megaprojects?

Sat, 2018-05-19 12:01

It is beyond belief that our Legislature has the nerve to insert funding for megaprojects in the budget when our state is in a financial crisis. Their priorities are skewed when said money could be utilized in so many other ways that would actually benefit Alaskans. Not to mention, these specific megaprojects have massive logistical issues.

I hope Gov. Bill Walker will veto funding for these megaprojects, as that was one of his campaign promises. I only voted for him because I believed him.
Della Dempsey

Village police officer charged with evidence tampering in Mountain Village murder investigation

Sat, 2018-05-19 11:56

A village police officer has been charged with tampering with physical evidence and third-degree theft in a Mountain Village shooting death in April, Alaska State Troopers said Friday.

Coy Bryan, 18, was shot and killed and found dead inside his home in the Southwest Alaska village, troopers said. John Hunter, a 22-year-old village police officer, "was involved in criminal activity related to the aftermath of the murder," according to an online dispatch from troopers Friday.

[16-year-old charged with murder in Mountain Village shooting]

Hunter was arrested this week and transported to the Yukon Kuskokwim Correctional Center, troopers said, and his bail was set at $2,000. In addition to evidence tampering and theft charges, he is also charged with official misconduct.

At the end of April, troopers charged 16-year-old Ramond Landlord with first-degree murder in the case, among other charges.

The investigation is ongoing, troopers said.

Legislature paves the path to end Permanent Fund dividends

Sat, 2018-05-19 11:47

I'm lucky enough to have family visiting. Oh, the joys of hosting a dear cousin, then screaming about how insane our state lawmakers are. Stop being jealous; at least I can cook. "Oh, we're borrowing money so we can pay banks and oil companies." Try explaining that to someone who was under the impression that Alaska owned its oil and even pays out dividend checks yearly. Why would we jeopardize that?

The Legislature broke its budget stalemate as time ticked down to the end of the session. For the first time in Alaska's history, earnings from the Alaska Permanent Fund will be used to pay for government — well more than a billion dollars this year. The Legislature passed Senate Bill 26, which capped the amount of funds that can be taken out of the earnings reserve at 5.25 percent (dropping to 5 percent in three years). While several legislators and the governor proclaimed how "monumental" this bill was, and that it was the panacea for our fiscal ills, it doesn't actually bind the Legislature or prohibit it from exceeding that 5.25 percent draw. While a cap on funds taken from the earnings reserve is fiscally responsible, the Legislature could decide to take 10 percent or 20 percent of the value of the earnings reserve next year, and this statute would not stop them.

The statute also creates a conflict in our dividend laws. There are still statutes on the books that require the Permanent Fund to calculate the full value of Alaskans' PFDs and then other statutes order that they "shall transfer" those funds to a special dividend fund, where the Commissioner of Revenue "shall" pay those funds to Alaskans in the form of a dividend. But the Supreme Court has ruled that "shall" really means "may" here, and these statutes don't have to be followed. This means that instead of following the statutory formula for the PFD, the Legislature can set the amount of the dividend at whatever amount it chooses. This year, for example, the statutory formula mandates that the PFD be approximately $2,650. But the Legislature instead ignored the statute and set the dividend at $1,600.

Here is how SB 26 played out this year. The statutory formula — still on the books — required the Permanent Fund Corp. to transfer about $1.7 billion to pay full $2,650 dividends to Alaskans. However, under SB 26, the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. is now required to calculate 5.25 percent of the value of the fund (averaged over the past five years) — and that comes to about $2.7 billion. This is the total amount of funds available to be drawn from the Earnings Reserve. If the Legislature wanted to limit the total draw from the Permanent Fund to 5.25 percent and still follow the statutory dividend formula, they could have done so. Government would have had access to about $1 billion — still a significant amount. But this was not enough to balance the budget. Instead, they chose to violate one of those statutes — the one requiring a full PFD — so they could stay within their new 5.25 percent draw limit.

The Legislature cut the amount transferred for PFDs by $700 million — and gave that money to themselves to spend. In the end, government got $1.7 billion (about 63 percent) and the people got $1 billion (about 37 percent). $700 million equates to almost $1,000 for every man, woman and child in Alaska.

Recent versions of SB 26 eliminated the requirement to pay a full PFD, and stated the PFDs "may" be paid. That would have been a more intellectually honest way of dealing with this. Instead, the Legislature took the more politically expedient (although some might use some other choice words) method of simply slapping a new, conflicting statute on the books — then ignoring the PFD statute. This gives them the cover to go back to their constituents and say they fought to keep the PFD statute on the books.

It will be interesting to see how the electorate responds when they see how this plays out. I suppose it's time to climb out of the weeds of state law to go see what's blooming and crawling in the tide pools. It won't take a decade for Alaskans to start saying, "I remember the Permanent Fund dividend." Remember who wrecked it. Remember who tried to save it.

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

In a union of tradition and modernity, Meghan Markle marries Prince Harry

Sat, 2018-05-19 11:39

WINDSOR, England – Prince Harry and his actress bride Meghan Markle married on Saturday in a dazzling ceremony that blended ancient English ritual with African-American culture, infusing the 1,000-year-old British monarchy with a blast of modernity.

In a medieval chapel at Windsor Castle that 39 English kings and queens have called home since 1066, Harry and Meghan exchanged vows watched up close by royals and celebrities, and from afar by a global TV audience of many millions.

Wearing a veil, diamond tiara and a sleek dress with a long train, the American actress was accompanied up the aisle of St. George's Chapel by Harry's father, Prince Charles, before she and Harry exchanged vows and were proclaimed husband and wife.

The couple kissed on the steps of the 15th-century chapel, before delighting the sea of well-wishers, some of whom had camped for days to witness the spectacular show of British pomp and pageantry, by touring Windsor in a horse-drawn carriage.

The union of Harry, 33, a former royal wild child and sixth-in-line to the British throne, and 36-year-old Meghan, a divorcee whose mother is African-American and father is white, was like no other the royal family has seen before.

"We can break the barriers down, it can be done," said 40-year-old black Briton Yvonne Emanuel, one of the 100,000-strong crowd that thronged Windsor's streets.

The ceremony was typical of royal weddings in many ways. The service was conducted by the Dean of Windsor while Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, declared the couple man and wife, beneath the banners of the knights of the Order of the Garter, the world's oldest chivalric group dating back to 1348.

The newlyweds will also be officially known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex after Queen Elizabeth bestowed those titles on them.

But throughout the wedding, there were significant breaks with tradition, in particular when U.S. Episcopalian bishop Michael Bruce Curry delivered a passionate sermon that was a far cry from the sober tones of the Church of England.

"There's power in love," he boomed at a congregation that included Queen Elizabeth, senior royals and celebrities ranging from Oprah Winfrey to George Clooney and David Beckham.

"Do not underestimate it. Anyone who has ever fallen in love knows what I mean," said Curry in an energetic address that quoted Martin Luther King.

African-American Karen Long, who was among the crowds in Windsor listening as the ceremony was relayed on loudspeakers, was one of those who appreciated the bishop's fiery address.

"It was a moment for African-Americans," said Long, who had come from Houston, Texas, with her sister and a group of friends, all dressed as bridesmaids. "The idea that Harry allowed that and acknowledged it, it was the perfect blend between her culture and the royal culture."

As well as traditional Church of England anthems and delicate English choral music, the ceremony also featured a gospel choir singing "Stand by Me," the 1960s hit by American soul singer Ben E. King.

Meghan's mother, Doria Ragland, 61, accompanied her daughter to the chapel in a vintage Rolls Royce and shed tears of emotion at several points during the ceremony.

Meghan entered the chapel unescorted, offering TV viewers and the congregation a first good look at her hotly anticipated wedding dress, which was created by British designer Clare Waight Keller of the French fashion house Givenchy.

Harry, looking nervous, appeared to say: "Thanks Pa" to his father, and "You look amazing!" to his beaming bride.

In further breaks with tradition, Markle, 36, did not vow to obey her husband, and Harry, who is three years her junior, wore a wedding ring – unlike other senior male royals such as his older brother Prince William.

Before becoming engaged to Harry, Meghan, who starred in TV legal drama "Suits," had spoken out on a number of feminist causes.

The world's media have been gripped by the occasion, and television channels beamed the ceremony across the world.

To some Britons, the marriage of a senior member of the royal family to the daughter of an African-American mother and white father embodied a modern Britain where race or background are no bar to even the most elite and traditional of institutions.

To others, it was an irrelevance or a mild distraction from the schism of Brexit, which has deeply divided the United Kingdom. Polls suggested that most Britons would not bother tuning in.

But in the narrow streets of Windsor, 30 miles west of London, the enthusiasm from the vast crowds waving British flags and cheering was overwhelming, while thousands more celebrated at street parties held across the country.

Air traffic controllers for nearby Heathrow Airport, one of the world's busiest, even closed the airspace over the town for the 15 minutes before the ceremony to avoid marring proceedings with the roar of low-flying aircraft.

Among the raft of celebrity guests were James Corden, British host of the American TV chat show "The Late Late Show," tennis ace Serena Williams, British actor Idris Elba along with two of Harry's ex-girlfriends and the siblings of Harry's late mother Princess Diana.

Her sister, Lady Jane Fellowes, delivered the reading and the chapel itself was garlanded with white roses, the favorite flowers of Diana, who died in a car crash in Paris in 1997.

Elton John, who sang at Diana's funeral, performed at Harry and Meghan's wedding reception, held in the castle's St. George's Hall.

The royal couple, who met on a blind date in 2016 and fell in love in a tent under the stars in Botswana, later left in a silver blue Jaguar E-Type for nearby Frogmore House mansion.

Meghan, who was wearing a long white dress designed by Stella McCartney, was, in another break with tradition, to make a speech at the newlyweds' evening event, to which about 200 guests were invited.

With security tight, tens of thousands of visitors had to pass through police search points around the castle.

Markle's own father Thomas Markle, 73, a former lighting director for TV soaps and sitcoms, pulled out of the ceremony this week, telling the U.S. celebrity website TMZ he had had heart surgery on Wednesday.

Confusion over his attendance marred the build-up to the wedding, which had been choreographed for months by royal aides, and his name was still present in the order of service.

After watching the ceremony from California, he told TMZ it had been "emotional and joyful":

"My baby looks beautiful and she looks very happy. I wish I were there and I wish them all my love and all happiness."

Harry and Meghan will not immediately leave for a honeymoon and will carry out their first official engagement as husband and wife next week.

The British remain broadly supportive of the monarchy, albeit with a sense of mild irony about the pomp and pageantry that accompanies it, though most have deep respect for Queen Elizabeth after her 66 years of service as head of state.

Despite being unlikely to ever ascend to the throne as he is behind his father, brother, two nephews and niece in the line of succession, Harry has been at the forefront of efforts to modernize the monarchy in recent years, rejecting the uptight royal image to talk openly about his innermost feelings.

(Additional reporting by Estelle Shirbon, Emma Rumney, Andrew MacAskill, Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Costas Pitas)

Chasing the sun from New York to Alaska on a plane

Sat, 2018-05-19 11:14

When I left my sister's house in Brooklyn on a recent afternoon, I was 4,200 miles from my home. That's a long way, but I slept in my Fairbanks bed before the next sunrise.

Enabling this incredible time travel are modern jet aircraft like the Boeing 737-700, which carried me and 125 others on the first leg of my journey, from Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

I settled into my window seat to savor an experience I sometimes take for granted — the traverse of our country in one day.

As the plane roared off the busy runway, we looped over the salt water of the Atlantic Ocean. We arced westward until the pilot had the nose pointed toward the other coast.

In minutes, we were over northern Pennsylvania, the second of 10 states and one province (Ontario) we would hurdle during the next 5 1/2 hours.

We soon climbed to smooth air about 6 miles high. The pilot chose this cruising altitude because fewer air molecules exist up high. The plane glides with less friction, saving fuel, while the engines still have enough oxygen to combust the fuel. At that height, we were more than a mile above the tallest mountain on Earth but still more than 50 miles beneath the aurora borealis.

Tiny feathers of frost formed on my window. The temperature outside the plane was minus 62 degrees Fahrenheit. We were near the tropopause, the frigid boundary between the troposphere — the air from sea level to around 6 miles up — and the stratosphere.

That 737-700, the most common commercial airliner, carried more than 6,500 gallons of jet fuel, giving the aircraft a range of more than 5,000 miles. The pilot could have flown me straight from New Jersey to Fairbanks.

The plane burned 750 gallons of jet fuel each hour. That was about 33 gallons apiece for each passenger, which seems pretty efficient when compared to those toy trucks hauling our goods on the highways below.

As it burned, each gallon of jet fuel combined with 23 pounds of oxygen and turned into 20 pounds of carbon dioxide and just over 9 pounds of water, noticeable as flowing white contrails. By taking this flight, me and the other passengers were each contributing about 800 pounds of carbon to the atmosphere, the 30-mile shell of gases surrounding Earth.

Propelled by two jet engines, we were zipping along at 514 miles per hour. Thirty-five thousand feet above St. Cloud, Minnesota, we were 10 times faster than cars approaching the city, 40 times faster than a rider on horseback and 170 times faster than I walked across Alaska with my dog last summer.

It's hard to fathom 500 miles per hour, but we reached the border of Idaho at 6:07 p.m. Our route took us over the northern portion of the panhandle. We entered Washington at 6:15 p.m., spending just eight minutes in Idaho airspace.

We were not the only aircraft above Idaho. Workers for the company Flight Aware estimated that in 2016 there were an average of 9,928 planes in the sky every moment of every day. That means 1.3 million people are now sipping a drink a few miles above our heads.

Correction: A previous version of this article previously said the tropopause is between the troposphere and Earth's atmosphere. Reader Vivian Mendenhall pointed out that the tropopause is between the troposphere and the stratosphere. And both are part of Earth's atmosphere.

How a Fairbanks scientist made a new map of Denali using his own DIY system

Sat, 2018-05-19 10:49

A Fairbanks scientist recently made an intricate new map of Denali while crisscrossing its summit a few times in a single-engine airplane. His top-of-the-continent measurement was within a few feet of a GPS reading done a few years ago, using a system he calls "fodar."

Matt Nolan is a former University of Alaska Fairbanks faculty member who is now in the business of precision mapping using his three aircraft equipped with fodar, a term he invented. It means "any photogrammetric process for quantitatively measuring both the color and elevation of Earth's surface using a small-format digital camera."

In previous glacier studies, Nolan had been frustrated with the expense of Lidar systems, which pilots carry over landscapes, bouncing laser pulses to the surface and back to determine elevations. He combined a digital camera with a GPS system while flying and refined it until it worked.

On April 8, 2018, he, fellow pilot Kristin Scott and their 12-year-old son Turner took off from Fairbanks on a nice spring day with calm winds.

They flew 150 miles southwest to Denali, the highest mountain in America. After flying over the summit several times and crunching the data, Nolan measured the height of Denali's south peak as 20,308.6 feet.

A GPS point measurement of Denali's summit height by climbers, including UAF's Tom Heinrichs in 2015, was 20,310 feet, with an accuracy of plus or minus one inch. That number, embraced by USGS officials, pushed out the old USGS map measurement of 20,320 that was the standard for decades. The 2015 expedition team also determined Denali's high point was on top of at least 13 feet of wind-packed snow that coated the ice or rock underneath.

The difference between Nolan's and the 2015 reading is something he expected, due to changes to the snow cornice covering the bedrock, which "could easily exceed a meter elevation in a single storm," Nolan said.

Nolan said the accuracy of his system allowed him to map the entire top of the mountain down to individual snow drifts, to within 6 inches accuracy. The next-best map he has is accurate to about 50 feet, he said.

"Had there been any climbing teams on the mountain, their tents and even their bodies would have become part of this map," Nolan said. "It's a new era for map making. What once took years to create can now be done in a few days at much higher resolution."

His map now exists in digital form but he may create a print version that would require a few more flights for more data points.

A few years ago, Nolan measured the highest peaks in the Brooks Range with his system and corrected an error on USGS maps: He found Mount Isto, the highest peak in the Brooks Range, was 8,975 feet rather than the 9,050 feet on a USGS map made from data collected in the 1950s.

Nolan, Scott and their son made the flight from Fairbanks to a few thousand feet above Denali in Nolan's turbocharged Cessna 206. The turbo boost was needed to keep the engine running while flying at the high altitude. The three in the plane wore oxygen masks for the high passes over the mountain at 23,000 feet.

Nolan flew the Denali mission not only for scientific interest, but because he wanted to prove to himself that he could. He said he is not a mountain climber, but this mapping project presented the same type of challenge for him. Scott was along as a safety pilot. Completing the family outing was Turner, a home-schooler who would turn the mission into a geography project.

A correction from last week's column: Reader Vivian Mendenhall pointed out that the tropopause is between the troposphere (which is the air from sea level to around 6 miles up) and the stratosphere. And both are part of Earth's atmosphere.

In the long run: Congratulations to Anchorage’s 2018 graduates

Sat, 2018-05-19 10:45

Graduation time is here! For the 3,253 students graduating in these two weeks, the Anchorage School District is excited to send you off into a future of hopes, dreams, and achievements. Keep in mind your hopes and dreams are not only for yourselves, but for your families too. It is essential that you look beyond yourself into the faces of your parents, your friends, and others around you — those whom have invested much in you.

While reflecting on the future of the class of 2018, I found some interesting and familiar thoughts in the Alaska Natural History Association's book "Chugach National Forest: Legacy of Land, Sea, and Sky." Gifford Pinchot, widely considered the father of the Forest Service, was a proponent of the idea of the greatest good for the greatest number which had been put forth by English writer, Jeremy Bentham. This idea of public service and greater good is mirrored in public education and provides food for thought in the way we manage our private lives. Pinchot thought it important to add to this concept, "in the long run."

On your commencement or graduation day, you are beginning a lifetime of choices — choices which may involve deciding on how to achieve a greater good for a greater number in the long run. Personal choices such as where you will live, the work in which you will be involved, and with whom you will associate and build relationships, will all be a part of forming the picture of your life in the long run. Just as Pinchot felt that the great forests of Southcentral Alaska needed protection so they could benefit everyone in the long run, so should you consider how to manage your mind, will, and abilities in ways that are beneficial over time. That doesn't involve a withdrawal from life because of fear and anxiety, but of stepping out and using your life for the greater good for you, your family, your friends and all those who stand with you along your way.

Advice and words of wisdom will come at you quickly and often in the next few years. You will hear words like grit, inspiration, perseverance and bravery. These are characteristics that will help you build a future that will stand the tests of time, uncertainties of hardship, and attentions of victories. You will need to be brave and know how to develop an inner core of honesty and integrity. In Julian
Treasure's TED talk on how to speak so people listen, he explains that honesty is about being true in what you say and being straight and clear. While integrity involves being your word, doing what you say and being somebody people can trust. I encourage you, in the long run of your future, to be honest and
live with integrity.

As your superintendent, I am extremely proud of you as young adults in Anchorage schools. You have demonstrated a tenacity to not just learn, but to also learn what you can do with your knowledge. That will serve you best in a future yet unknown. When you are building that future, look to be involved with things that matter to you. Find out how you can contribute to build a better world for the greater good.

Your own personal greater good will come to you as you invest your time, your intellect and your well-being in working hard, respecting others and building a life of purpose.

You may remember your high school years as some of the most enjoyable times you will experience. You may stay in touch with teachers, a principal, and childhood friends. Keep your medals and blue ribbons. Reflect on those experiences. Take the best of what you have learned in school and build your
future. Be grateful to those whom support you, and beyond all, follow your dreams!

Congratulations, 2018 Anchorage School District graduates!

Deena Bishop is the superintendent of the Anchorage School District.

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

Waging war on trash tyranny

Sat, 2018-05-19 10:43

By all accounts, the 2018 Anchorage Citywide Cleanup from Girdwood north to the Knik River bridges during the week of April 28-May 5 was a garbage-grabbing success. It was the city's 50th cleanup event, and folks at the Anchorage Regional Landfill expect it amounts to roughly the same as last year, when volunteers brought loads in 5,425 cars and pickups, delivering more than 1,280 tons of trash.

It takes an aggressive army of people to trash up our landscape every year to make a not-so-nice impression on our first spring tourists. It takes an even more aggressive army of folks to clean it. It involves hundreds of businesses and organizations, more than 80 schools, Boy Scouts, thousands of individuals, the Anchorage and Eagle River Chambers of Commerce, tens of thousands of plastic trash bags and endless trips to the Anchorage landfill.

I saw a lot of trash-collecting action when I worked for one of Anchorage's major businesses — BP, a longtime cleanup sponsor. We became competitive not only about the number of bags filled, but also on the strangeness of items found. Car parts such as rear-view mirrors and hub caps were old hat. We searched diligently for more exotic items, such as credit cards, cellphones, CDs, nylon stockings, undergarments and often things too disgusting to mention.

No one I know has ever determined how much it costs to hold these annual cleanups. Time is money, and if you calculate the time spent by thousands of private citizens, the Municipality of Anchorage and the military, as well as the cost of vehicle usage, gasoline and related logistics, it must come up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

With spirited zeal, we take on this herculean task each year, but always wonder: where does all the trash come from?

It you ask garbage professionals, answers are generally vague and mercurial. "Improperly covered loads on the highways," they say, or "from neighborhoods during wind storms," and "some, perhaps, windblown from the Anchorage landfill itself."

I haven't heard anyone postulate that the mephitic, malodorous, mind-blowing mess comes from individuals in their vehicles. But the tens of thousands of daily Glenn and Seward highway commuters couldn't possibly throw this staggering amount of refuse from their windows without being seen.

The garbage goonies: Stephen King could do literary wonders with this phenomenon, perhaps embedding an environmental message. He would write: "Vengeful aliens disguised as garbage fairies streak down from the sky in the dark of night, gleefully flinging trash everywhere they can — mountains of trash they retrieved from the Earth's oceans and seashores."

The non-fiction reality, however, is that we are the generators and distributors of this awful "offal" that transforms one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world into something reminiscent of scenes in the movie "Slumdog Millionaire."

So, we have it cleaned things up … at least most of it. But how do we keep
it that way? Raise the littering fine (AS 46.06.080), from $1,000 to $5,000? The Anchorage landfill has fines ranging from $10 to $30 for unsecured loads, which seems like a pinch on the arm. Do we need "litter patrols" comparable to community watch programs? Automated photo surveillance?

True story: I once tried to get myself cited for littering — definitely before I knew the fine. After picking up trash along the Glenn Highway for several hours, I started throwing stuff back into the ditch — paper plates, beer cans, the ubiquitous McDonald's containers. At least two police cars cruised by and didn't even slow down. I thought maybe someone would give me a citizen's arrest, but the cars just kept whizzing by. Feeling rather foolish, not an unfamiliar state of mind for me, I shrugged my shoulders and picked up the trash a second time.

I suppose if we didn't have winter snow, we'd be able to mount continuous assaults on the garbage onslaught throughout the year — before it reached epic levels in April and May.

But then, maybe some people like the way garbage looks in juxtaposition to our land. Such an eclectic aesthetic, I think, must be an acquired taste. Styrofoam Happy Meal containers and plastic grocery bags clinging to tree limbs alongside Eagle River just don't do it for me. I don't think they do it for most of us.

For general interest, from the Municipality of Anchorage's website for the Anchorage Regional Landfill, here are a couple of facts: Opened in 1987, the landfill will reach the end of its useful life in 2043.

We seem to be doing our best (and not with the help of otherworldly creatures streaking from the sky) to get it filled up earlier than that.

This is pure optimism, but perhaps in future years, a majority of our trash can be picked up and delivered securely to our landfill, not collected from our streets and highways and natural environment — which, sadly, have become our community's largest landfill. Or, as writer Stephen King might call it, our Garbage Dreamcatcher.

Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River.

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

Propane tanks are a favorite target for thieves camping in city woods. This former Anchorage judge is fed up.

Sat, 2018-05-19 10:25

With summer coming, you might add another backyard ritual to your barbecue: locking down the propane tank so it won't be swiped.

The tanks, and other household items often reported as stolen on social media, are ending up in illegal homeless camps, according to people who monitor camps along the Chester Creek bike path.

Stephanie Rhoades, a retired Alaska judge and founder of the Anchorage wellness court, says the tanks help support a "lawless" population of long-term campers who raid neighborhoods for items to sell or to trade for drugs.

The tanks, for making heat and warm meals, add to fire hazards that already exist with fire pits, she said.

She said the city hasn't been able to stop the camps, but a police official said new steps will be taken this summer to remove and clean them up.

"I think we'll get more picked up this summer than we've ever gotten picked up," said Lt. Jack Carson, head of the Community Action Policing team.

Rhoades has visited the woods near Sullivan Arena for years, telling homeless individuals how they can get help. These aren't the same involuntarily homeless people she used to see at the courthouse, said Rhoades, who founded the Anchorage Mental Health Court in 1997 to get treatment for people with mental disabilities.

The camps were smaller a decade ago, she said. "And people were not stealing and pilfering everything around them to make their living."

On Tuesday, Rhoades gave two Anchorage Daily News journalists a tour of campsites between the Valley of the Moon and Rogers Park neighborhoods. Her husband, Russ Webb, former deputy commissioner of health and social services, came along.

The couple documents the camps to give municipal officials an idea of the problem. Webb believes at least 50 campsites occupy about a half-mile stretch of trail.

"No one has more sympathy for the homeless than us," Webb said. "But these people are not disabled. They are industrious, bringing all this stuff to their site."

On Tuesday, people who often appeared to be in their 30s or younger could be seen coming and going from the forest. Mini-villages of jumbo tents and tarp-huts lined the woods.

Some people carried bicycle rims or armfuls of tires. Others wheeled carts.

Everyday items littered the ground everywhere: snowboard bindings, gas cans, grills, car batteries, a hand drill, a globe, pills in prescription bottles.

"There's a chop shop," Rhoades said, gesturing toward a line of some 10 bikes in various stages of assembly.

Two women there refused to have their photos taken. "What is the point of this?" one asked, before walking off.

A sign along the bike path says camping and fire-building are illegal.

Nearby, Tony Azares, 55, poked his head from beneath a tarp. Mounds of items were piled outside his dwelling, including a Dell computer screen. Azares said he collects stuff to clean up the area.

He said he's lived there at least six months. "This is home."

The cream-colored propane tanks were a fixture at every camp, tossed on heaps of trash or set outside tents, including one pile of six.

Anchorage Assembly member Chris Constant said he had four tanks stolen from his downtown yard one night last winter. Other neighbors did too, except for one man who locked his tank with a chain.

The tanks can cause explosions or fire, but the city has struggled to keep them out of homeless camps, he said.

"It's a problem we on the assembly go back and forth on," he said.

In December 2014, the Anchorage Fire Department responded to a fire at a homeless camp in the Chester Creek greenbelt after propane explosions set the camp and surrounding trees ablaze.

And other major fires have been attributed to homeless camps, including a 2008 blaze that tore through 10 acres of the Campbell Creek greenbelt.

[Brush fire quickly burns 2 acres in Anchorage park]

Jodie Hettrick, deputy chief for the Anchorage Fire Department, said the department doesn't have the staff or time to walk the campsites looking for tanks or other possible hazards.

But it responds quickly to reports of fire, and notifies police of any illegal activity, including camping.

The department responded to 123 reports of fire at homeless camps in 2017, three times higher than in 2013. About 95 percent of those were "contained to a campfire-sized area," she said.

The department doesn't have information on how many of those fires were caused by propane tanks. But it's "very rare," she said.

Carson said the lack of space in shelters, and a 10-day eviction-posting requirement, has created a logistical problem for removing the camps. With no shelter, campers move to a new area, angering the next neighborhood.

But shelter space is expected to open up soon, and police will begin removing camps, he said. The police department is working with the parks department, which has received more resources for cleanups.

"We're coming up with a roadmap on what areas to clean, and in what order," he said.

On Tuesday off the Chester Creek Trail, a man in sunglasses sat in a folding lawn chair near a tent. He said his name was Kenny and gave his age as, "40s."

He puffed on a vape pipe. The scent of burning wood and marijuana wafted by.

Kenny said theft isn't justified. But stealing a propane tank might be.

"If it's really freezing, you would grab that bottle," he said.

Seattle businesses strike back against head tax with campaign for referendum

Sat, 2018-05-19 10:07

A coalition of businesses formally began a campaign Friday to overturn Seattle’s just-passed head tax through a citizen referendum, opening a new phase in the city’s contentious debate about the homelessness crisis and what to do about it.

“We have until June 15 to gather 17,632 good signatures to send this to the ballot in November to give Seattle a referendum on this issue and, I think even more so, on the Seattle council,” said Saul Spady, president of an advertising company and grandson of Dick Spady, founder of Dick’s Drive-In.

The referendum campaign, calling itself No Tax On Jobs, is chaired by James Maiocco, chief business development officer with Pushpay, a Redmond-based tech firm, according to a filing Friday with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC). The group had no political contributions listed as of Friday. Spady is listed as the group’s secretary.

On Monday, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved a yearly tax of $275 per full-time employee to be levied on businesses with at least $20 million annually in Seattle revenue, beginning next year.

The $47 million to $50 million expected to be raised by the tax each year would be used to fund new low-income housing and homelessness services under a nonbinding resolution the council passed at the same time as the tax. Actual spending decisions would be made as part of the city budget process in the fall.

To qualify for the fall ballot, backers of the referendum will need to gather valid signatures of 17,632 registered Seattle voters -- 8 percent of the turnout in the last mayoral election -- within 29 days of the effective date of the ordinance, according to the City Clerk’s office. Mayor Jenny Durkan signed the ordinance Wednesday. If the referendum gets enough signatures, the city council must place it on the next scheduled election ballot. A primary election is scheduled for Aug. 7, though the deadline to place measures on the ballot for that was May 11. The next general election is Nov. 6, when voters will already be presented with a property tax levy to fund education.

Supporters of the tax called for businesses to abandon the referendum attempt.

“Seattle’s exploding homeless population is a symptom of our city’s extraordinary economic growth and astronomical home prices,” said SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, a union representing health-care and behavioral-health workers, many of whom work directly with people experiencing homelessness. “The corporations who are profiting most -- the top 3 percent -- should rightfully pay a fair fee to address the problems they create.”

At least 585 companies would face the tax, based on city tax receipts from 2016, including profitable technology and professional-services firms and low-margin grocery stores.

City Council members and Durkan did not return requests for comment late Friday.

State lawmakers are considering moves to undo the Seattle’s new tax. State Sen. Mark Mullet, an Issaquah Democrat, said he intends to introduce legislation next year that would stop cities from implementing both a Business and Occupation tax and a head tax, “which would preclude Seattle from being able to keep the one they passed.”

Cities including Lynnwood, Kirkland, Redmond and Vancouver charge per-employee fees -- de facto head taxes -- as part of their city business licenses. Lynnwood charges $93 a year for each employee working 15 hours or more a week. Kirkland charges $105 per full-time employee.

But with the passage of the head tax, Seattle appears to be the only municipality in the state with both a head tax and a Business and Occupation tax.

Mullet said he has support for his proposal from Republicans. “I need to find some more Democrat supporters,” Mullet said.

He said he also favors more state funding for affordable housing and is optimistic that “the political will is there to make those investments.”

Businesses and some Seattle residents have bristled at the tax, calling it a job killer and questioning the efficiency of the city’s past spending on homelessness programs.

Spady said he expects businesses to solicit signatures for the referendum at their establishments. The campaign also plans to use paid signature gatherers, he said.

The effort is supported by an “incredibly diverse mix of individuals, small businesses and large businesses across all sectors of Seattle,” Spady said, though he declined to disclose specific names beyond his own firm, Cr8tive Empowerment, and Dick’s, which is owned by members of his family, but which he does not own directly.

James Sido, spokesman for the Downtown Seattle Association, said the organization remains firmly opposed to the tax. “We’re hearing very strong interest from our membership regarding a referendum,” he said.

The Seattle Times editorial board on Wednesday called for a referendum to repeal the head tax, but the newspaper’s president, Alan Fisco, said the company has not contributed financial support for the referendum, nor does it plan to.

The campaign ensures the fight over how to respond to the homelessness emergency declared by city and King County leaders in 2015 will continue.

Homelessness in King County has risen nearly 23 percent since 2014 to total nearly 12,000 people at the last point-in-time count, including a huge increase in people sleeping outside. Results of a 2018 count of homelessness are expected at the end of May.

The City Council narrowly rejected a head tax in November that would have raised $25 million, and it spent months earlier this year studying and drafting a successor bill. Draft legislation released in April sought to raise $75 million.

Business groups immediately opposed the measure, but it was Amazon that ignited a business backlash to the vote with the retailer’s statement early this month that it would pause some construction planning pending the outcome of the vote.

Durkan, who had indicated she would veto a larger tax of $500 a head, worked out a compromise with council members last weekend that cut the tax to $275 and set an expiration date of 2023 unless the City Council voted to renew it.

Amazon said after the vote that it would continue construction on one building it had paused during City Council deliberations, but is apprehensive about future growth in Seattle and continues evaluating options for another building it had committed to leasing.

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment on the referendum Friday.

School shooting suspect was nondescript, betraying growing darkness

Sat, 2018-05-19 07:03

He had no run-ins with police, was an honor roll student and had been praised for his defensive work on the junior varsity football team.

Dimitrios Pagourtzis, 17, projected a nondescript demeanor, a quiet loner who regularly wore a trench coat to school, even on scorching hot days. He had been bullied by classmates and coaches, one acquaintance said. And recently, he betrayed a growing darkness.

In the weeks before the shooting at Santa Fe High School, he posted a picture of a black T-shirt on his Facebook page emblazoned in white with a simple message: “BORN TO KILL.”

The signs were so subtle that Pagourtzis’s alleged attack Friday came as a complete shock.

“There were not those types of warning signs,” said Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, R. “Here the red-flag warnings were either nonexistent or imperceptible. . . . As far as arrests, criminal history, he has none. His slate is pretty clean.”

On the same day he posted the T-shirt photo, Pagourtzis uploaded a picture of a jacket adorned with several pinned symbols. In captions, he explained the significance of each: the Communist Party’s hammer and sickle representing rebellion, Nazi Germany’s Iron Cross representing bravery, the Japanese rising sun for the tactics of kamikaze pilots, the knights templar’s Baphomet for evil, and the Cthulhu from science fiction for power.

The Facebook account was quickly taken down following the shooting, but Abbott confirmed that it belonged to the alleged shooter and called it one of the few signs of any tendency to violence.

One classmate said Pagourtzis was wearing his signature trench coat and military boots Friday when authorities say he opened fire at the school, killing 10 and injuring 10 others.

Jeremy Severin, whose son was on the junior varsity football team with Pagourtzis, said his son Dustin passed Pagourtzis in the school halls five minutes before the shooting began. Pagourtzis had been teased and bullied in the past not just by fellow classmates but by the football coaches, Severin said.

“Coaches would say that he stunk, smelled like crap,” Severin said.

Juliette Rachele, 17, a senior, said Pagourtzis was best friends with her boyfriend.

She said Pagourtzis was quiet, but passionate. Funny at times, but shy outside of his group of friends.

When the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, happened, Pagourtzis seemed floored, she said, but he also cracked jokes with his friends about school shooters and their affinity for trench coats.

“We were reacting by laughing at the trench coat thing. And he ended up buying a trench coat. We thought it was just a joke. But he really liked it,” Rachele said.

Pagourtzis and his friends liked anime and heavy metal music, Rachele said. He would sometimes offer his friends rides home from school. He was also passionate about history. “The medallions he had on his coat - that’s where that came from,” Rachele said. “He liked World War II a lot. . . . He was mostly fascinated by the German side just because he liked the different guns that they had because he thought they were cool looking.”

Over the past three months, however, he seemed increasingly depressed and withdrawn, she said.

Gage Slaughter, 17, a football teammate with Pagourtzis, who was a defensive tackle, said he is “a little weird, a little quiet. . . . He just was very quiet, kept to himself.”

Holly Kanipes, whose husband, Mark Kanipes, is Santa Fe’s head football coach, confirmed that Pagourtzis was a member of the team. Of the alleged shooter, her husband told her “that football was one of the good things going for him. I don’t really know anything other than that.” She said her husband spent much of the day Friday talking with agents from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives at the high school’s field house.

Kamrin Laymance, 17, also was on the football team with Pagourtzis. He said Pagourtzis had good grades and, unlike other players, was never called out by the coach for academic failures.

Laymance also noted the long, black trench coat Pagourtzis wore daily and thought it was weird that Pagourtzis often parked on the “whole other side of the parking lot,” furthest from the school.

On his Facebook page, Pagourtzis appeared to go by the nickname Dimitri and provided detailed instructions in his bio on how to pronounce his name (“di-MI-tree-oas pag-OR-cheez”).

Pagourtzis listed as an interest the U.S. Marine Corps, “starting in 2019.” Maj. Brian Block, a Marine Corps spokesman, said the service has no record of anyone with the name Dimitrios Pagourtzis appearing in their records as a Marine, Marine recruit or prospective Marine recruit.

In the Facebook account, he described himself as an atheist, and said, “I hate politics.”

Mateo Twilley-Santiago, a 15-year-old sophomore, said Pagourtzis was in his advisory class - a period devoted to making up homework. Mateo said Pagourtzis wore his trench coat almost every day, but he never saw Pagourtzis wearing the symbols he posted on Facebook. “He was really quiet,” Mateo said.

Neighbors at the Taylor Lakes Village, where the Pagourtzis family now lives, said few in the area know them well.

The normally quiet neighborhood on Friday was blocked off by police, the ATF and the FBI. Bomb squad technicians could be seen going in and out of the home for several hours. And at one point, authorities screamed warnings to reporters nearby that there could be explosives in the home.

Jayne Scarnberg, who has lived there for 20 years, said the Pagourtzis family stood out because of their children. “It’s a predominately elderly neighborhood,” she said.

One of the few times the family would interact with others was on Halloween. Every year, neighbors said, they would wonder whether they should buy just a few pieces of candy, because the only two children who would come around were Dimitrios Pagourtzis and his little sister.

In junior high, Pagourtzis was a top student, appearing regularly on the honor roll, according to lists published in the local newspaper. Neighbors said that in his youth, Pagourtzis stuck to preppy clothes - polo shirts and slacks.

Neighbors said that Pagourtzis’ mother, who goes by Maria, works as a nurse, and his father works in the maritime business and is often overseas. During holidays, the family would often play Greek music and fly the Greek flag.

Authorities said the two guns used by Pagourtzis in the school shooting - a shotgun and a revolver - belonged to his father, who legally owned them.

Pagourtzis was a member of a dance troupe at a local Greek Orthodox church. Father Stelios Sitaras, of Assumption of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church in Galveston, Texas, told the Associated Press that Pagourtzis danced with the group in an annual festival in October, and that the family had joined the local parish.

“He is a quiet boy,” the priest said. “You would never think he would do anything like this.”

Authorities said Pagourtzis wrote in journals on his computer about plans to attack the school then turn the gun on himself.

“He said that not only did he want to commit the shooting, but he wanted to commit suicide after the shooting,” Abbott said. But when the moment came, the Texas governor noted, “he didn’t have the courage to commit the suicide that he wanted.”

In the final moments of Friday’s shooting, Isabelle Laymance, a student who hid with others in a supply closet while the gunman shot up their art class, said she heard the gunman talking with approaching police.

”‘I’ll surrender, but I need y’all to talk to me. I can’t hear you, I think I’ve blown my eardrum out. Can y’all get a megaphone? Don’t get near me. I’ll come out to y’all,’” she said she heard the gunman say. “Then he said, ‘Give me a second I’m thinking,’ and while he said that, you could hear him reloading his gun. And then the cop would step closer and he would shoot. And he said, ‘Don’t get closer to me.’ ”

After several minutes, the gunman put his firearms down and went into the hallway, she said.

At a news conference Friday, investigators said that the fact Pagourtzis was apprehended alive gives them hope of understanding a motive. Many of the recent mass shooters have been notable for the missed warnings - their run-ins with police, domestic violence, delight in torturing of animals.

But with few red flags in his past and almost no indication of past violence, authorities said they remain mystified about what drove Friday’s massacre.

The Washington Post’s Wan and Hauslohner reported from Washington. Kuzydym reported from Alvin, Texas. Brittney Martin in Santa Fe, Texas; Julie Tate, Alice Crites, Jennifer Jenkins, Mark Berman and Susan Svrluga in Washington contributed to this report.