Norwegian musher Joar Leifseth Ulsom, who at 31 is already a regular top 10 Iditarod finisher, claimed the race lead Monday on the Bering Sea coast as first to Koyuk.
Ulsom passed Girdwood musher Nic Petit, who had led for much of the race but appeared to veer off course Monday morning. Ulsom arrived at Koyuk (mile 827) at 1:01 p.m. with 13 dogs.
According to the race GPS tracker, Petit veered to the east between the checkpoints of Shaktoolik and Koyuk, headed toward the coast and away from the trail. Then he turned around and returned to the route.
While Petit backtracked, Ulsom took the lead.
Petit placed third in last year's Iditarod and Ulsom fourth. Defending champ Mitch Seavey trails the two frontrunners, and Mitch's son, Iditarod heavyweight Dallas, skipped this year's race.
At the moment, it's unknown what exactly happened to Petit and his 12-dog team out on the Norton Sound ice. Ulsom did not appear to lose the trail.
Petit had been in good spirits at Shelter Cabin, about 15 miles down the trail from Shaktoolik, where he rested with the lead and spoke to Iditarod Insider. What did he have to do to maintain his top spot, the Insider asked.
"I don't know because I've never done it," Petit answered, eating a steaming breakfast while using what appeared to be a broken trail marker as a spoon.
Petit soon mushed on, north along the coast for a stretch of trail that the official race map describes as "bleak, flat and deadly monotonous." It's there that he lost the lead.
Monday afternoon in Unalakleet, an earlier race checkpoint, race fans were tracing Petit's route out of Shaktoolik on a video screen that showed the GPS tracker, speculating about what led to the musher's 8-mile, 1.5-hour setback. Perhaps a ground blizzard, someone said. Maybe the trail blew in.
Many planes were grounded in Unalakleet, hampered by limited visibility further down the trail.
Mark Nordman, Iditarod race director and race marshal, said this year's course between Shaktoolik (Mile 777) and Koyuk (Mile 827) differed from that of years past.
Typically, the trail cuts across the sea ice. However, before the race, Nordman said a lack of ice in the area would push the trail closer to the coast.
Ultimately, people put in a route about halfway between those two options, he said Monday. They marked the trail with wooden sticks, their tips neon orange and wrapped in a strip of reflective tape.
The mileage would remain roughly the same, Nordman said.
"There was a bunch of jumbled ice and stuff that they've gone around," he said.
I helped write Alaska's constitution. Proposition 1 runs counter to its principles. - Alaska Dispatch News
Alaska Dispatch News
I helped write Alaska's constitution. Proposition 1 runs counter to its principles.
Alaska Dispatch News
I have watched with shock the Anchorage controversy over the "bathroom initiative" that's to be voted on as Proposition 1 on the municipal ballot. Prop. 1 raises the ugly issue of discrimination, something that should be totally unacceptable. Alaska's ...
I have watched with shock the Anchorage controversy over the "bathroom initiative" that's to be voted on as Proposition 1 on the municipal ballot.
Prop. 1 raises the ugly issue of discrimination, something that should be totally unacceptable.
Alaska's constitution is clear in its emphasis on political, civil and religious liberty and on the individual rights of all Alaskans. Its preamble states:
We the people of Alaska, grateful to God and to those who founded our nation and pioneered this great land, in order to secure and transmit to succeeding generations our heritage of political, civil, and religious liberty within the United States, do ordain and establish this constitution for the State of Alaska.
This broad focus is brought to the individual level right in the first section of the constitution:
This constitution is dedicated to the principles … that all persons are equal and entitled to equal rights, opportunities and protection under the law.
What does all that mean in terms of who can use which public bathrooms?
Clearly if all persons have equal rights, equal opportunities and equal protection under the constitution, then you may not discriminate against any group or any type of individual.
Beyond that, the constitution also protects individuals' right to privacy:
The right of the people to privacy is recognized and shall be not be infringed.
This, of course, applies to all – the proponents of Prop. 1 as well as their intended targets.
Supporters of Prop. 1 have said over and over that they "feel uncomfortable and unsafe" about certain people. That's the traditional excuse for discrimination of racial and other types. Their proposed change in municipal law is not based on a single incident or critical problem in Anchorage.
I find it preposterous that at a time when we are facing real problems — such as the opioid crisis, and domestic violence and sexual abuse — we are made to focus on this totally unnecessary potty bill.
I am grateful, however, that most of Anchorage's business, civic and religious leaders have publicly condemned the Prop. 1 initiative and have solidly called for a "no" vote. It gives me great confidence for our future,
So let's defeat this latest vestige of attempted discrimination and divisiveness. Let us then go on to unify our community and together resolve the real problems that face Anchorage.
If you, as an Alaskan, agree with Alaska's fundamental constitutional principles – please vote "no" on Proposition 1.
Vic Fischer served in Alaska's territorial Legislature and its state Senate, and was a delegate to the 1955 Alaska Constitutional Convention.
AUSTIN, Texas – A package bomb that killed a Texas teenager and injured a woman on Monday was believed to be linked to a deadly blast in the state's capital city earlier this month, according to police, who were also investigating a third explosion that injured one and was likely related to the first two.
Austin police said Monday's package bomb that killed a 17-year-old, as well as a March 2 explosion that killed a man, were being investigated as homicides. The two homes that received the packages belonged to African-Americans.
"We cannot rule out that hate crime is at the core of this but we are not saying that that is the cause," Austin Police Chief Brian Manley told a news conference.
Police said they responded to a second explosion of a package on Monday at another home in which a woman was injured. A police spokeswoman was unable to confirm if it was related to the other two explosions.
Monday's blasts were in homes about 4 miles apart in east Austin, while the March 2 blast occurred at house in the city's northeast Harris Ridge neighborhood.
The March 2 blast, which killed a 39-year-old man, was initially investigated as a suspicious death but is now being treated as a homicide.
In the deadly blast on Monday, the 17-year-old resident found a package in front of his house in the morning and brought it into the kitchen, where it exploded, Manley said. The woman, in her 40s, was taken to an area hospital with injuries that were not thought to be life-threatening.
"We are looking at these incidents as being related," Manley said, adding that federal investigators have joined the case.
After the March 2 explosion, Austin police said they had no indication the blast was related to terrorism.
The Bering Sea will define the Iditarod once again. While details were still coming in, it has become clear that Nicolas Petit, the race leader leaving Shaktoolik, took a wrong trail on the ice of Norton Sound.
After reaching land, Petit turned his team around and headed back out onto the ice to find a trail, according to the official Iditarod GPS tracker. After an 8-mile, 1.5-hour setback, Petit looks to be back on the race trail but is no longer the leader.
While Petit was off course, Joar Ulsom seized the opportunity and took what appears to be the correct trail and is now nearly 4 miles ahead of Petit and leading the race toward Koyuk. Mitch Seavey, currently in third place, has just begun moving again after resting at the Shelter Cabin 15 miles past Shaktoolik.
While we may never know the real reason for Petit's misfortune out on the ice, one thing is certain: Petit no longer has any advantage over his nearest competitor, and Ulsom is now in a position to win the race.
With the longer-than-expected run from Shaktoolik to Koyuk for all the competitors (due to a reroute around bad ice and the current windy conditions), especially for Petit and his extra hour of rerouting, the options for how to run to White Mountain are becoming limited. While it is very unlikely that anyone will overtake one of the top three from the chase pack, it is very possible that we will have one of the closest race finishes in recent years.March 12, 2018
The Norton Sound Shakeup is not only affecting the top three. Word has trickled back from Shaktoolik and they are experiencing a ground blizzard, with whiteout conditions and 40 mph gusts.
Ray Redington and Pete Kaiser blew through Unalakleet last night and ran straight to Shaktoolik, arriving at 4:30 a.m. Monday. They have now been there for six hours and just began racing again. Meantime, the teams behind them are beginning to pile up in Shaktoolik, as we have seen many other times.
Reports are that the wind should be dying down around noon Monday. Will someone try to push through the storm that is most likely hammering the top three at the moment, or will everyone wait until the wind dies down? Suddenly, fourth through 10th positios are up for the taking, with potentially 15 teams being in Shaktoolik by noon today.
The weather conditions are continually changing, and with Ulsom being 20 miles outside of Koyuk it is hard to predict next moves. But we are most likely looking at one more rest for the top three and then a final push to White Mountain for their mandatory eight-hour layover. Unless Seavey cuts significant rest to make up time on Ulsom and Petit, we are looking at a two-man duel to the finish.
The 2018 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is in its final days. On the way to the finish line, mushers and dogs need to rest whenever the opportunity presents itself. In honor of National Napping Day — yes, it's a thing — check out scenes of Iditarod-style napping.
LONDON – British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Monday it was "highly likely" that Moscow was responsible for the poisoning in England of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter using a military-grade nerve agent.
Either the Russian state was directly responsible for the poisoning or it had allowed the poison, which belonged the Novichok group of nerve agents, to get into the hands of others, May told Britain's parliament.
May said Russia's ambassador to London had been summoned to explain to British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson how the nerve agent came to have been used in the March 4 incident in the English cathedral city of Salisbury.
Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia, have been in hospital in a critical condition since being found unconscious on a bench outside a shopping center in the city.
A British policeman who was one of the first to attend to the stricken spy was also affected by the nerve agent. He is now conscious in a serious but stable condition, police said.
"On Wednesday we will consider in detail the response from the Russian state," May said.
"Should there be no credible response, we will conclude that this action amounts to an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom," she said.
May said the poisoning took place "against a backdrop of a well-established pattern of Russian state aggression" and she said Britain was ready to take "much more extensive measures" against Russia than in the past.
Russia's foreign ministry hit back immediately, saying the comments by May were a "circus show" and part of political information campaign against Russia, local media reported.
Earlier on Monday, before May spoke, Russian President Vladimir Putin brushed off a question about the affair, saying British authorities should first "get to the bottom of things," the BBC's Moscow correspondent wrote on Twitter.
(Additional reporting by Andrew Osborn in Moscow and Jonathan Shenfield and Alex Fraser in Salisbury, England)
PALMER — A long-awaited buyout along erosion-prone stretches of the Matanuska River is expected to get underway by the end of the month.
An unpredictable glacial river, the Matanuska has over decades devoured dozens of riverfront homes and threatens several more now, including one near Sutton that's literally at the water's edge.
The Matanuska-Susitna Borough announced last week that a $4.46 million Federal Emergency Management Agency grant will be awarded this month. The grant is three-quarters federal funds and a quarter from the state.
The money will pay for 10 properties in Butte and five near Sutton, officials say. All the designated property owners signed voluntary participation letters in 2014.
Not all riverfront residents opted to participate in the buyout, and even some who did aren't sure it will work for them.
Scott Easler said he's anxious to see a fair-market appraisal on his 6-acre parcel with cabin along the Butte section of the river — one that doesn't reflect the value-diminishing effects of river erosion.
Easler said the rough estimate on his property from officials in 2014 was half what it listed for in 2008.
"I'm not willing to take 50 cents on the dollar," he wrote in a message. "It's a wait n see."
The buyout program is entirely voluntary, said Taunnie Boothby, the borough's floodplain administrator and project manager on the grant.
"They will have the opportunity to say yes or no all the way to closing," Boothby said Friday.
The process will take up to 18 months, she said. Each property will be appraised before an offer is made.
Once purchased, the properties will go into a restricted status of open space in perpetuity, preventing any new buildings from going up, officials say. They will be owned by the borough.
The buyouts are part of a larger strategy to address the river's ongoing destruction. No erosion-related laws or regulations restrict building along the Matanuska.
The state has spent more than $4.3 million to protect the Glenn and Old Glenn highways from the water's encroachment. But despite calls from some residents to do so, the borough doesn't have the money to shore up river banks near homes. And there's no indication that protecting one stretch of bank wouldn't cause damage at another.
A separate Army Corps of Engineers study is looking into the buyout of threatened properties not covered by the buyouts to convert them to recreational lands.
March Barn Dance is Saturday March 24, 7:30-11pm at St. Ann’s Parish Hall, 5th Street downtown. Odette Edgar will teach and call contra dances to live French Canadian and Celtic music by the Taku Gaels. No experience or partners are needed. $10 Adults, $5 Students and age 25 and under, Free for JVs and Americorps. Sponsored by the Juneau International Folkdancers. Info at 586-1787.Cost: $10 Adults, $5 Students and age 25 and under, Free for JVs and Americorps.Date: Saturday, March 24, 2018 - 19:30Website: http://juneaucontras.org Type:
Alaska House, Senate buckle down on remaining legislation
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
FAIRBANKS — The Alaska Legislature is nearing the one month mark before reaching the 90th day of the session. As the clock runs down, more legislation is on the docket for hearing and committee discussion. The House will meet today to discuss and hear ...
Restored to full strength, Alaska House of Representatives will begin to move legislationJuneau Empire
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"The war is over."
— Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in Afghanistan (April 2002)
"I believe victory is closer than ever before."
— Vice President Mike Pence in Afghanistan (December 2017)
WASHINGTON — With metronomic regularity, every thousand days or so, Americans should give some thought to the longest war in their nation's history. The war in Afghanistan, which is becoming one of the longest in world history, reaches its 6,000th day on Monday, when it will have ground on for substantially more than four times longer than U.S. involvement in World War II from Pearl Harbor to V-J Day (1,346 days).
America went to war in Afghanistan because that not-really-governed nation was the safe haven from which al-Qaeda planned the 9/11 attacks. It was not mission creep but mission gallop that turned the intervention into a war against the Taliban who had provided, or at least not prevented, the safe haven. So, the United States was on a mission opposed by a supposed ally next door — Pakistan, which through Directorate S of its intelligence service has supported the Taliban.
This fascinating, if dispiriting, story is told in Steve Coll's new book "Directorate S: The CIA and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan." There cannot be many secrets about this subject that are not in Coll's almost 700 pages.
He reports when Gen. Stanley McChrystal went to Afghanistan in May 2002, "A senior Army officer in Washington told him, 'Don't build (Bondsteels),' referring to the NATO base in (Kosovo) that Rumsfeld saw as a symbol of peacekeeping mission creep. The officer warned McChrystal against 'anything here that looks permanent. … We are not staying long.' As McChrystal took the lay of the land, 'I felt like we were high-school students who had wandered into a Mafia-owned bar.'" It has been a learning experience. After blowing up tunnels, some almost as long as a football field, that were thought to be created by and for terrorists, U.S. officials learned that they were an ancient irrigation system.
A decade ago, seven years after the war began on Oct. 7, 2001, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the U.S. objective was the creation of a strong central government. When he was asked if Afghanistan had ever had one, he answered without hesitation: "No." Which is still true.
Years have passed since the time when, years into the war, U.S. military and civilian officials heatedly debated "counterinsurgency" as contrasted with "counterterrorism," distinctions that now seem less than crucial. Coll says of military commanders rotating in and out of Afghanistan annually, "The commanders starting a rotation would say, 'This is going to be difficult.' Six months later, they'd say, 'We might be turning a corner.' At the end of their rotation, they would say, 'We have achieved irreversible momentum.' Then the next command group coming in would pronounce, 'This is going to be difficult. … '" The earnestness and valor that Americans have brought to Afghanistan are as heartbreaking as they are admirable.
For 73 years, U.S. troops have been on the Rhine, where their presence helped win the Cold War and now serves vital U.S. interests as Vladimir Putin ignites Cold War 2.0. Significant numbers of U.S. troops have been in South Korea for 68 years, and few people are foolish enough to doubt the usefulness of this deployment, or to think that it will or should end soon. It is conceivable, and conceivably desirable, that U.S. forces will be in Afghanistan, lending intelligence, logistical and even lethal support to that nation's military and security forces for another 1,000, perhaps 6,000, days.
It would, however, be helpful to have an explanation of U.S. interests and objectives beyond vice presidential boilerplate about how "We will see it through to the end." And (to U.S. troops) how "the road before you is promising." And how the president has "unleashed the full range of American military might." And how "reality and facts and a relentless pursuit of victory will guide us." And how U.S. forces have "crushed the enemy in the field" (or at least "put the Taliban on the defensive") in "this fight for freedom in Afghanistan," where Bagram airfield is "a beacon of freedom." If the U.S. objective is freedom there rather than security here, or if the theory is that the latter somehow depends on the former, the administration should clearly say so, and defend those propositions, or liquidate this undertaking that has, so far, cost about $1 trillion and 2,200 American lives.
Iditarod volunteers, race officials and locals packed the bustling checkpoint building Sunday morning as residents Aurora and William "Middy" Johnson flipped sourdough pancakes, cooked bacon and brewed coffee.
"As you can see in our checkpoint, we have a lot of people, a lot of noise, a lot of visiting which is great," Middy said. "It's great for us. It kind of brings the community together."
Read more: Iditarod leaders arrive in Unalakleet
President Donald Trump's new steel tariffs could add half a billion dollars to the cost of a natural gas pipeline in Alaska, Sen. Lisa Murkowski warned at an oil conference in Houston on Friday.
"This is a big deal up north. … The back-of-the-envelope numbers is that with these tariffs, we might be in a situation where it's not only hundreds of millions, it might be as much as a half a billion dollars added on to the most expensive infrastructure project that we have seen in this country. … This has real impact," Murkowski said while speaking on a panel at the CERA Week energy conference, alongside Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
Murkowski was talking about Alaska's ongoing efforts to build an 800-mile liquefied natural gas pipeline, as well as infrastructure for potential drilling projects. "Where are we going to get that pipe?" she said.
On Thursday, Trump signed off on a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and 10 percent tariff on aluminum imports, with exemptions for Canada and Mexico.
Murkowski, who said she was surprised by Trump's quickly announced decision, joined other Republicans and many economists who worried about the impacts of a trade war that could result from imposing steep tariffs, particularly on U.S. allies.
"And at a time when again we're trying to build out on that energy promise that we have, whether it's up north or elsewhere around the country – this is not coming at a good time for us," Murkowski said.
Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan cast similar warnings earlier in the week. He also joined with six Republican colleagues in a letter to Trump on Thursday urging him to reconsider the tariffs, citing "international stability and the national security of the United States."
Murkowski said that the "great news coming out of the U.S. energy sector" is "just being overshadowed by the news of these tariffs," and that it sends "a confusing message to some of our friends and our allies that we want to encourage and we want to bolster."
The concerns come on the heels of a proposed gas line deal inked in November by the state of Alaska, the state's gas pipeline agency, the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. and Sinopec, China's state-owned bank, among others.
The plan is for Sinopec to help design and build the project, and for 75 percent of the Alaska gas to be sold in China, as early as 2024.
The parties signed the deal in Beijing on Nov. 8, when Alaska Gov. Bill Walker joined Trump on a trip to visit China's President Xi Jinping.
NEW YORK — With the current in the East River between Manhattan and Queens running south at about 3 knots and the downed helicopter lashed to a tugboat, rescue divers Sunday night had only one option.
They told the tugboat captain to cut the propellers and resigned themselves to drifting with the current as they tried to cut five passengers out of the helicopter, their bodies underwater and cinched with harnesses heavy enough to let them lean over and snap photographs of the New York City skyline.
By the time the divers plucked them out, it was too late. The five passengers — four men and a woman — all died. The crash revived calls for helicopter tours to be restricted over Manhattan and raised questions about the safety of amateurs being allowed on so-called photo flights, in which people are strapped in to helicopters with their doors off and given only knives to escape in an emergency.
The pilot, Richard Vance, 33,climbed out quickly and survived. New York City police and firefighter divers appeared to free the female passenger soon after submerging, but it may have taken until the helicopter drifted from 86th Street to a pier at 34th Street for the divers to free the rest of the passengers, a law enforcement official said.
The helicopter, owned by Liberty Helicopters and flown by FlyNYON, a company that specializes in doors-off helicopter photo tours, had just taken off from New Jersey when it encountered trouble, the official said.
The pilot made a desperate "mayday" call, in which he said there was "engine failure."
"He pointed away from the city and toward the river," the official said. "He didn't want to go down in Manhattan, so he went toward the river, because it seemed like the best option for a landing."
Once it splashed into the East River, the helicopter flipped over and began sinking.
The official said it was not clear exactly when yellow inflatable pontoons on the helicopter began inflating and why they did not keep the helicopter afloat.
The tugboat, the Foxy 3, was returning to its base on Staten Island when the men aboard apparently heard the mayday call, the official said. They helped rescue the captain and tied off the helicopter to keep it from sinking 50 feet to the bottom of the river.
Law enforcement officials lauded the men aboard the tug for their quick response.
A passenger on another FlyNYON helicopter tour taking place at the same time as the crash said on Twitter on Sunday night that he had been with the victims during a safety briefing and as they boarded.
He said passengers were strapped in from the rear, making it difficult to wriggle out of the harnesses.
"They provide knives to slice harnesses but didn't physically point out where they were once we had them on," he said on Twitter. "We had flotation devices too."
Liberty Helicopter and FlyNYON did not respond to requests for comment Monday morning.
The first 911 call came in at 7:07 p.m., as startled onlookers along the East River promenade and in their apartments watched the helicopter descend.
Within a minute the call was routed to an ambulance, the law enforcement official said, and soon Fire Department and Police Department sea rescue experts were working to respond.
By 7:11 p.m., a 911 caller reported seeing the Police Department's harbor unit on the scene, and five minutes later the harbor unit came on the police radio and said it had arrived.
A helicopter with divers and a second harbor unit boat were also at the scene by 7:16 p.m., the official said.
They could not dive in with the tugboat's propellers still whirring, so the tugboat shut down its motor and, with the helicopter attached and the divers going under, began floating south.
The National Transportation Safety Board said Monday that 14 of its employees were en route to investigate the crash.
The police have not yet officially identified the victims.
Restored to full strength, Alaska House of Representatives will begin to move legislation - Juneau Empire
Restored to full strength, Alaska House of Representatives will begin to move legislation
That bill contains $26 million in funding to keep the Alaska Marine Highway System operating past April 16, plus money for various other state programs. Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, said he expects to amend the bill on the House floor to include money ...