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On land of former slaves, a sturdy home gives shelter from the storm

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-10-11 17:00

The interior of Kindel Lanes in Marianna, Florida, after Hurricane Michael blew through, ripping the roof off a bowling alley. Photo by Charlotte Kesl for The Washington Post (Charlotte Kesl/)

MARIANNA, Fla. - The modest one-story brick house on Old U.S. Road meant more to Leroy Wilson and his family than a roof over their heads.

Their ancestors lived on this land as slaves before Wilson's grandfather acquired five acres here in 1874, right after emancipation. Over the next five generations, the family bought more acres, multiplying that small allotment of land into a huge stretch of property.

So as Hurricane Michael ripped the top off a 50-year-old dwelling next door, brought a tree down on Leroy's daughter's home and snapped nearby pine trees like pencils, the Wilsons stayed put in their brick house on Wednesday, opening the doors to neighbors whose homes were succumbing under Michael's powerful winds.

"I wasn't going anywhere," said Wilson, 74.

"We live on the land where our ancestors were once chattel," said his son, Lamar, who has traced their ancestry to the 1840s. "That's why they won't leave. They elected to stay largely because of that lineage."

Leroy Wilson outside his home in Marianna, Florida. His ancestors lived on the land as slaves before his grandfather acquired five acres in 1874, after emancipation. Photo by Charlotte Kesl for The Washington Post (Charlotte Kesl/)

Sixty miles from the coast in Jackson County, this city of about 10,000 rarely suffers through hurricanes. Known as "The City of Southern Charm," Marianna has experienced storms that have taken down trees and power lines, but it has been largely spared the devastation regularly wrought in coastal towns.

Hurricane Michael was different.

"It hit everybody hard," said Annell Wilson, Leroy's wife. "We prayed a lot."

Lamar, an assistant professor at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, said he dismissed class around 5 p.m. Wednesday after getting a text from his sister describing the devastation in his hometown and he began making frantic telephone calls to his relatives. He knew they would not leave their land.

"To be able to own several homes you built with your hands, to protect the home your mother built, that your grandfather toiled for, it's noble," Lamar said.

[‘Changed Forever’: Florida Panhandle devastated by Michael]

And in this case, dangerously noble.

His sister lost her home; his brother's house is barely habitable.

But the little brick house protected the Wilsons and the people they took in. It lost its water pump and its shutters, and the wind drove water in under the window panes. But the structure stayed intact - and by the end of the evening, more than a dozen members of five families were seeking shelter there.

"That's what we do. We all help each other," said Annell Wilson, 73, Lamar's mother and Leroy's wife, describing how she settled her unexpected visitors and got them fed, and then stuffed towels along the windows to mop up the water that seeped in.

The damage has transformed downtown Marianna, which consists of about three blocks centered by a courthouse, with memorials to a Civil War battle and the dead of World War II. Two giant oak trees, with leaves and limbs partly stripped by the storm, shade the front door of the courthouse. One of them is known as the hanging tree from the days of slavery. It still stands.

Belongings are left outside to dry off after a tree went through the roof in Marianna, Florida. Photo by Charlotte Kesl for The Washington Post (Charlotte Kesl/)

But across the main street, US 90, the stores are devastated. Bricks from one building tumbled to the street and its roof is gone. Glass windows shattered and shards littered the sidewalk and street. Away from downtown, the bowling alley lost its roof as did many other businesses.

"They said it was going to be fast moving, but it seemed liked it went on forever," Annell said. "That wind was coming, knocking down trees all around us."

Few people were out on the streets Thursday afternoon. A heavy stream of traffic, including many big trucks bearing portable toilets, emergency supplies and motorized tools such as backhoes, streamed by. Few, if any, stopped in Marianna.

Mindy Offhaus, 22, sat with a friend on a bench along one side street. Her family's trailer was crushed by a tree during the storm, so all five family members, including her 3-year-old daughter, are moving south to Orlando to stay with relatives while they wait for the power to come back on.

"I work three jobs," she said, at Baskin Robbins, Big Lots and a sports equipment store. "But without power, those businesses won't open."

"I don't even know how to describe how different the landscape looks," said Angie Cook, looking across at her 1992 black Jeep Cherokee pinned under a cinder-block barn, along with a couple of other cars.

Cook, 48, sought refuge during the storm with her mother and stepfather in one of the rare houses in Marianna that has a basement. Her sister also has a basement, and her husband's father, uncle and cousin all stayed with them.

"I've lived in Florida most of my life, my mom's lived here all her life," she said. "None of us seen anything like this ever."

Among the downed trees and tangled power lines were sudden pockets that had escaped the storm - "miracles, like flowers in a war zone," Cook said as she surveyed her unfamiliar new surroundings Thursday afternoon.

Robert Forester, the maintenance man at Marianna's bowling alley, still looked stunned more than 24 hours after the hurricane struck. He and five others, including owner Jeff Kindelspire, had taken shelter in the business during the storm and were playing a hand of canasta when the roof suddenly peeled away.

"My first instinct was to dive under the table," Forester said. The group moved to what they thought was a safer spot, they thought, between two concrete pillars and eventually to the women's bathroom. Forester hasn't left the site since.

"It's just demolished everything - it was just mind blowing," said Paula Kindelspire, daughter-in-law of Jeff Kindelspire, who rode out the storm at home with her two teenagers. "Downtown Marianna was just brick buildings that are totally rubble. It's just heart-wrenching."

Jeff Kindelspire said that he invited mobile home residents to ride out the storm with him, as he has been doing in hurricanes since the 1980s.

Pink insulation dripped from the ceiling, nails from the tin roof were scattered everywhere and electrical wires hung threateningly over the lanes. Bowling balls remained stacked neatly in rows.

"My place is probably gone," Forester told another employee who stopped in Thursday afternoon. "I'm not staying for another one. I'm not. I rolled my last ball down lane five."

The Wilsons, on the other hand, knew they were going nowhere. Cherise Wilson, Lamar's sister, lost her home, but said she had money to stay in a hotel if she needed to for the time being.

"There are some worse off than us," she said, "We are blessed."

But she still wondered where the power company was, and who they were supposed to ask for help, even as her brother calling in long distance, speculated that a predominantly white development about a mile from his parents house would get power first.

Their mother, Annell, chose to take the long view.

"We can wait a minute," she said. "It just happened yesterday."

- - -

Sellers reported from Washington. The Washington Post’s Emily Wax-Thibodeau in Washington contributed to this report.

Looking Back: Oct. 11, 2018 - Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

Legislative News - Thu, 2018-10-11 16:57

Looking Back: Oct. 11, 2018
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
Sarah Palin abused the powers of her office by pressuring subordinates to try to get her former brother-in-law, a state trooper, fired, an investigation by the Alaska Legislature has concluded. The inquiry found, however, that she was within her right ...

Eagle River statesman Ed Willis dies at 94

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-10-11 16:24

Ed Willis, a former Alaska legislator and Anchorage Assembly member who was an early advocate for special education and instrumental in bringing a high school to Chugiak in the 1960s, died Monday in Anchorage. He was 94.

Willis was a longtime Eagle River resident who spent the last decade living at the Veterans and Pioneers Home in Palmer, according to his family.

Former Chugiak-Eagle River Star Editor Lee Jordan said Willis was his best friend. On Thursday, Jordan remembered Willis as a warm, thoughtful man who was a passionate advocate for the community and always willing to listen with an open mind.

"I never heard him say a negative thing about anybody," Jordan said.

Willis was born in Barstow, California, on Nov. 29, 1923. He worked as a power plant operator and was very active in local politics, serving three terms on the Greater Anchorage Borough Assembly (twice as president) and representing Chugiak-Eagle River in the Alaska State Senate from 1975-78 and the State House from 1993-96.

Willis served as an independent in the Legislature and his politics often leaned to the left — an unusual thing for an Eagle River politician, said his son, Charlie Willis.

"Every now and then he swam against the tide because it was a pretty Republican area and he was not a Republican, but he loved everyone out there and he worked with everyone and listened to what others had to say," Willis said.

Former Republican legislator Bill Stoltze was Willis' campaign manager in the early 1990s. Stoltze said Willis was "a true gentleman" who had the ability to listen to all sides of a debate and keep conversations civil even with those he disagreed with.

"He could have strong philosophical differences and argue but still keep it incredibly civil," Stoltze said. "He was the kind of role model I wish I could have followed better myself."

Jordan said that when Willis was on the Anchorage Assembly, he was the Star's most reliable source.

"He would make it a point to tell me both sides of every argument I asked him about," Jordan said.

After serving as a boiler room mechanic in the Merchant Marines in World War II, Willis married his wife, Joyce, in 1949. They traveled to Alaska the following year via the Alaska Highway, according to Joyce's 2013 obituary. The couple had five children.

Willis' career in politics began when he lobbied for special education as president of the Eagle River Elementary PTA. The Willises' daughter, Linda, had Down syndrome, and Ed Willis worked tirelessly to bring special education classes to the Anchorage School District. Willis was also an early member of the group that would later become the Arc of Anchorage.

Jordan said Willis' advocacy for children with special needs was one of his lasting legacies.

"He wanted her to have an education and he really worked hard for it," Jordan said.

Willis served as chair of the Chugiak Advisory School Board and was a co-chair of Operation Chugiak High School, a group of local citizens that helped get the school built in 1963 and opened in 1964.

In 1970, Willis was awarded the Outstanding Public Service Award by the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce for his work in the community.

"He did so many things people don't even know about," Stoltze said.

Willis also worked hard to oppose efforts to incorporate Chugiak-Eagle River into the Anchorage Borough in the 1970s. Though ultimately unsuccessful, Stoltze said Willis embodied the area's independent spirit.

"He was just such a leading citizen, someone who was always fighting for community autonomy," Stoltze said.

After moving to Palmer, Willis remained active in politics, his son said. The former legislator would often write letters to Juneau hoping to get more funding for the facility.

"He never quit learning, never quit trying to reach out and learn more," Charlie Willis said.

The family is in the process of planning a celebration of life.

Jordan said Ed Willis will be remembered both as a major figure in Chugiak-Eagle River politics and as someone who was honest, friendly and kind.

"He was just an all-around great guy," Jordan said.

Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at editor@alaskastar.com or call 907-257-4274.

Eagle River statesman Ed Willis dies at 94 - Alaskastar

Legislative News - Thu, 2018-10-11 16:02


Eagle River statesman Ed Willis dies at 94
Ed Willis, a former Alaska legislator and Anchorage assemblyman who was and early advocate for special education and instrumental in bringing a high school to Chugiak in the 1960s died Monday in Anchorage. He was 94. Willis was a longtime Eagle River ...

Executives say they lost their jobs at one of Alaska’s largest hospitals for reporting improper billing of Medicare, Medicaid

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-10-11 15:18

The Alaska Native Medical Center on the Alaska Native Health Campus, photographed Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

In a federal whistleblower lawsuit, two former officials for one of the largest hospitals in Alaska claim they lost their jobs for trying to stop illegal billing practices and raising other concerns.

The former executives accuse the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium of engaging in potential billing violations that resulted in the nonprofit receiving millions of dollars of improper payments from Medicare and Medicaid.

The tribal health organization, which runs the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage, says the complaints are not true.

"Our staff and outside auditors routinely and thoroughly review our billing practices to ensure compliance and correct any inadvertent errors that are found," ANTHC wrote in a statement to the Daily News.

The hospital says the former employees' claims — which also allege problems involving security of health information — are misleading and incorrect.

The tribal consortium operates the 173-bed Alaska Native Medical Center, the third-largest hospital in the state. Both ANTHC and the medical center are named in the lawsuit.

Former ANTHC Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer Joan Wilson and former Chief Medical Officer Dr. Paul Franke assert the hospital double-billed for certain drugs and improperly billed for services delivered by ineligible providers, among other claims.

They accuse the tribal consortium and hospital of firing Wilson and failing to extend Franke's contract in retaliation for whistleblowing. ANTHC denies that accusation. Attorneys for the nonprofit would not say why Wilson and Franke lost their jobs but said ANTHC stands by those personnel decisions.

Based on their knowledge of day-to-day operations, Wilson and Franke say ANTHC and ANMC:

• "Improperly received" more than $20 million in federal information technology funds without taking required steps to secure electronic medical records of Alaska patients.

• Improperly billed for $7 million in services, as identified by Franke, that were not appropriately authenticated by providers.

• Declined to fix improper billing practices after Franke and Wilson flagged alleged problems between 2013 and 2016.

"(ANTHC executives) took no action to return funds received as a result of the improper billing," the complaint says. "These practices are still occurring today."

ANTHC has not yet filed a full response to the accusations because the judge is still considering a pending amendment. In a statement provided by an ANTHC attorney, the nonprofit said the former employees's claims are false.

"Our system like others can make mistakes in billing," the nonprofit said. "Whenever a mistake is discovered, we fix it, including any inadvertent over-payments."

Wrongful termination complaint

Wilson worked as chief ethics officer at ANTHC for 20 months. Dr. Franke worked there for 3 1/2 years, including a stint as interim administrator at the Alaska Native Medical Center.

Wilson and Franke filed the lawsuit in fall 2016 under the False Claims Act. Also known as "Lincoln's law," the act entitles whistleblower employees of federal contractors to file lawsuits on behalf of the government. It also protects against retaliatory firing.

If the lawsuits are successful, the whistleblowers may collect a portion of the fines. Last year, False Claims Act complaints involving health care fraud and the health care industry generated more than $2.4 billion in settlements and judgments, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

The two former executives initially asked for a federal jury to find that ANTHC and ANMC committed billing fraud and to award hundreds of millions of dollars in damages to the U.S. government.

But the Justice Department declined to intervene in the case, according to a December motion.

"The Department of Justice had the allegations for 18 months and declined to take the case," ANTHC emphasized in a statement to the Daily News denying the ex-employees' accusations.

Federal attorneys did not say why they did not pursue the case. The Justice Department asked the judge for an opportunity to be heard before the judge granted any approval to settle or dismiss the complaint.

A record number of False Claims Act lawsuits are being filed, straining government resources, according to a Jan. 10 memo from the Justice Department to attorneys in the Commercial Litigation Branch, Civil Fraud Section.

"A decision not to intervene in a particular case may be based on factors other than merit, particularly in light of the government's limited resources," wrote Michael Granston, director of the Civil Fraud Section.

The ANTHC case became public when a judge unsealed a portion of the filings earlier this year.

Those documents, discovered in a routine Daily News review of federal filings, show Wilson and Franke have continued the lawsuit with an amended complaint filed Aug. 15.

Wilson and Franke dropped the fraud accusations in the amended complaint but still allege they witnessed improper billing practices. The lawsuit now focuses on claims of wrongful termination.

"(ANTHC executives) fired Ms. Wilson on May 6, 2016, in retaliation for complaining internally about various violations of ANTHC policy and the law," the lawsuit says.

ANTHC said the hospital did not retaliate against the employees, calling the decision to end their employment "justified and proper."

The tribal health organization is simultaneously named in a lawsuit from Southcentral Foundation, which accused ANTHC of an illegal power grab that led to "lucrative" pay for top executives following a $153 million settlement from the federal government.

$283 million in Medicare, Medicaid reimbursements last year

ANTHC serves some 166,000 Alaska Natives and American Indians, with revenues of over half a billion dollars a year. Medicare and Medicaid are taxpayer-funded programs that provide health care to low-income and elderly patients.

In 2017, the Alaska Native Medical Center campus received about $283 million in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements, including about $204 million managed by ANTHC, the tribal health organization says.

The process for billing Medicare and Medicaid includes signing a form that certifies the services were medically necessary for the health of the patient and were personally furnished by the doctor or by the doctor's employee at the direction of the doctor.

As an example of "double billing," the Wilson and Franke say Alaska Native Medical Center and separate tribal health facilities both bill the federal government for the same radiology services. In another example, the pair say a problem with the ANTHC electronic records system causes certain services to be billed twice when a patient moves from one level of care to another within the same hospital.

"This practice is evidenced by the duplicate ventilator charges for the same patient on the same day or charges on days the service was not provided," the complaint says.

The lawsuit says Andy Teuber, the ANTHC president, and chief executive Roald Helgesen "are aware of these issues and have taken no steps to stop the improper billing practices."

ANTHC denies that claim.

"ANTHC has a great financial and compliance team. They work hard to keep on top of the constant changes in the health care rules and regulations that apply to our hospital," the consortium statement says. "We have full confidence in them and the job they are doing."

Lost jobs

The lawsuit also claims that ANTHC "diverted funds that should be available for tribal health care by allowing first-class travel and double and triple booking of flights" for executives and board members.

ANTHC attorneys said that allegation "indicates a lack of understanding" of the sources of revenue for the tribal health organization.

"ANTHC receives both non-profit and for-profit revenue through a diverse portfolio, including interests in commercial real estate and hotel investments. ANTHC does not pay for first class or other travel with funds that could be spent on health care," a spokeswoman wrote.

"ANTHC's travel policy is compliant with federal standards that allow ANTHC to pay for first class travel only in very limited circumstances. ANTHC enforces these rules through all levels of the organization, including with leadership," the the non-profit wrote. Generally, if an ANTHC employee or director fly first class, they pay for their own upgrade, the nonprofit said. 

Wilson said that in the days before her firing, she raised billing and data security concerns with Helgesen, the chief executive. Prior to the firing she told Helgesen and an ANTHC attorney that she objected to being excluded from a meeting that dealt with Medicaid billing. She said she also objected to plans to make a report related to data privacy concerns confidential under client-attorney privilege.

The following month, Franke learned he would not have his contract extended as chief medical officer, the complaint says.

ANTHC disputes the former employees' version of events.

"Identifying, reporting and correcting issues were important parts of Ms. Wilson and Dr. Franke's positions. ANTHC did not retaliate against either of them," the nonprofit said in a written statement.

"ANTHC stands behind its employment decisions," the nonprofit says.

The lawsuit seeks a jury trial.

Kanye West, in ‘MAGA’ hat, delivers surreal Oval Office show

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-10-11 15:06

President Donald Trump meets with rapper Kanye West in the Oval Office of the White House, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Evan Vucci/)

WASHINGTON — Live from the Oval Office, it's Kanye West with a jaw-dropping performance.

The rapper didn't rap. But, seated across from President Donald Trump at the Resolute Desk, the musician delivered a rambling, multipart monologue Thursday that touched on social issues, hydrogen planes, mental health, endorsement deals, politics and oh so much more.

Seizing the spotlight from the typically center-stage president, West dropped the F-word, floated policy proposals — and went in for a hug.

"They tried to scare me to not wear this hat," West said of his red "Make America Great Again" cap. But, he said, "This hat, it gives me power in a way."

“You made a Superman cape for me,” he told Trump.

It was a surreal scene even by the standards of a nonconventional White House. The unlikely allies spoke to reporters before a closed-door lunch that had been billed as a forum to discuss policy issues including manufacturing, gangs, prison reform and violence in Chicago, where West grew up. Spectators at the show included Trump's son-in-law and top adviser, Jared Kushner, former NFL star Jim Brown, the attorney for a gang leader serving time in federal prison, and a gaggle of reporters.

During one pause, Trump seemed to acknowledge the oddness of the moment, saying, “That was quite something.”

Rapper Kanye West speaks during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House with President Donald Trump, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Evan Vucci/)

West's mental health has been a question of speculation since he was hospitalized in 2016. In a bizarre performance last month on "Saturday Night Live" he delivered an unscripted pro-Trump message after the credits rolled.

Addressing the topic Thursday, West said he had at one point been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but was later told by a neuropsychologist he'd been misdiagnosed.

"So he said that I actually wasn't bipolar; I had sleep deprivation, which could cause dementia 10 to 20 years from now, where I wouldn't even remember my son's name," he said.

The conversation began with an exchange on North Korea among Trump, Brown and West. Trump said the region was headed for war before he took over, and West commended him for stopping it. Brown said he liked North Korea; Trump agreed.

From there, West discussed prison reform and violence in inner-city Chicago. He brought up Larry Hoover, the leader of the Gangster Disciples who is serving a life sentence for murder, claiming: "The reason why they imprisoned him is because he started doing positive for the community. He started showing that he actually had power, he wasn't just one of a monolithic voice, that he could wrap people around."

West said he "loved Hillary" Clinton, Trump's 2016 Democratic rival, because he loves everyone, but said he connected with Trump's "male energy." He also criticized the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, calling it a "trap door."

Holding out his phone, West showed Trump a picture of a hydrogen-powered plane that he thought should replace Air Force One.

Rapper Kanye West shows President Donald Trump a photograph of a hydrogen plane during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Evan Vucci/)

"This right here is the iPlane 1," he said. "This is what our president should be flying."

Added West: "If he don't look good, we don't look good. This is our president. He has to be the freshest, the flyest" and have "the flyest planes."

West also had a sartorial suggestion for Trump, proposing a hat that says just "Make America Great" — dropping the "again."

At the end of West's lengthy, sometimes-hard-to-follow dialogue, even Trump seemed at a loss.

"I tell you what: That was pretty impressive," the president said.

"It was from the soul," West replied. "I just channeled it."

West later told reporters of his verbal stylings: "You are tasting a fine wine that has multiple notes to it. You better play 4D chess with me. ... It's complex."

Taking questions from reporters, the rapper also voiced concern about stop-and-frisk policing. Trump this week called on Chicago to embrace the tactic, which allowed police to detain, question and search civilians without probable cause, though it was deemed unconstitutional in New York City because of its overwhelming impact on minority residents.

President Donald Trump meets with rapper Kanye West and former football player Jim Brown in the Oval Office of the White House, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Evan Vucci/)

Trump said they'd discuss the matter and he'd keep an open mind.

Asked about his comments in 2005 that President George W. Bush didn't "care about black people" after Hurricane Katrina, West said that "We need to care about all people" and that he "was programed to think in a victimized mentality."

Trump and West previously appeared together shortly after Trump’s 2016 election in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York.

FILE - In this Dec. 13, 2016, file photo, President-elect Donald Trump and Kanye West pose for a picture in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York. Kanye West will visit the White House on Thursday to meet with President Donald Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner talk about manufacturing in America, gang violence, prison reform and Chicago violence. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File) (Seth Wenig/)

Asked what the two had talked about during their December meeting, West responded briefly that time: "Life. We discussed life."

While Trump has been shunned by much of the Hollywood establishment, he has a fan in West, who tweeted earlier this year that the two share "dragon energy."

"You don't have to agree with trump but the mob can't make me not love him. We are both dragon energy. He is my brother," West wrote.

West is married to reality television star Kim Kardashian West, who successfully pushed Trump to grant a pardon to a drug offender earlier this year.

West himself has suggested he might be open to wading into politics, including a run for president in 2020.

Asked if West could be a future presidential candidate, Trump said, "Could very well be." West shot back, "Only after 2024."

After all that, the president brought the show to a close by suggesting, “Let’s go have some lunch, OK?”


Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

‘Apocalyptic:’ Inside a Florida town demolished by Hurricane Michael

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-10-11 13:19

Emergency workers Dr. Patricia Cantrell, left, and Ana Kaufmann, with the South Florida Search and Rescue Task Force 2, survey damage at the western edge of town in Mexico Beach, Fla., after Hurricane Michael swept through the area Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. (Douglas R. Clifford/Tampa Bay Times via AP) (Douglas R. Clifford/)

MEXICO BEACH, Fla. — The small Gulf Coast community of Mexico Beach was known as a slice of Old Florida.

Now it lies in splinters.

Hit head-on by Hurricane Michael, homes in this town of about 1,190 people were shattered or ripped from their foundations. Boats were tossed like toys. The streets closest to the water looked as if a bomb had gone off.

What the 9-foot storm surge didn’t destroy, the 155 mph winds finished off.

Now, rescuers and residents are struggling to get into the ground-zero town to assess the damage and search for the hundreds of people believed to have stayed behind.

[Hurricane Michael leaves a path of destruction across Florida Panhandle]

Mishelle McPherson and her ex-husband looked for the elderly mother of a friend on Thursday. The woman lived in a small cinderblock house about 150 yards from the Gulf and thought she would be OK.

Her home was reduced to crumbled cinderblocks and pieces of floor tile.

"Aggy! Aggy!" McPherson yelled. The only sound that came back was the echo from the half-demolished building and the pounding of the surf.

"Do you think her body would be here? Do you think it would have floated away?" she asked.

As she walked down the street, McPherson pointed out pieces of what had been the woman's house: "That's the blade from her ceiling fan. That's her floor tile."

The coastal township of Mexico Beach, Fla., lays devastated on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, after Hurricane Michael made landfall on Wednesday in the Florida Panhandle. (Douglas R. Clifford/Tampa Bay Times via AP) (Douglas R. Clifford/)

Drone footage of Mexico Beach on Thursday morning showed a stunning landscape of devastation. Few structures were unscathed.

John Humphress, a storm chaser and drone pilot, arrived in Mexico Beach around 5 p.m. Wednesday, a few hours after Michael slammed into the coastline. He had one word to describe what he saw: "Apocalyptic."

State officials said 285 people in Mexico Beach had refused to leave ahead of the hurricane despite a mandatory evacuation order.

A National Guard team went into the area and found 20 survivors overnight, and more crews were pushing into the area on Thursday. The fate of many other residents was unknown, authorities said.

Humphress, who spent the night in his truck on a bridge near Mexico Beach, said he didn't see anyone dead.

On Thursday, residents who evacuated tried to return.

The Rev. Eddie LaFountain, pastor at First Baptist Church in Mexico Beach, was one of them. He described the place as a "good family resort town" that attracts visitors seeking peace and quiet rather than the spring break-like atmosphere of other communities along the 200-mile Florida Panhandle.

Most of the full-time residents, he said, have some connection to the hospitality industry. Some operate vacation home rentals, while others work jobs cleaning and maintaining the homes. Others own or work in restaurants, rent out kayaks or operate charter fishing boats. LaFountain himself has a lawn-mowing business.

The coastal township of Mexico Beach, Fla., lays devastated on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, after Hurricane Michael made landfall on Wednesday in the Florida Panhandle. (Douglas R. Clifford/Tampa Bay Times via AP) (Douglas R. Clifford/)

Despite the widespread destruction, LaFountain said he believes most people will rebuild.

"I think the people here have a great heart and a lot of resilience. We call them stubborn and hard-headed. I think they will be back," LaFountain said in a phone interview while driving back to Mexico Beach.

A Florida hurricane expert said the footage of buildings in Mexico Beach stripped to their concrete foundations was no surprise.

"This is what we expect with storm surge and high wind events," said Craig Fugate, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and a former emergency management chief for the state of Florida.

Florida has some of the most stringent hurricane building codes in the country, but they apply only to new or retrofitted structures.

Mexico Beach is on the west end of what's called Florida's Forgotten Coast, so named because it is not heavily developed like many of the state's other shoreline areas, with their lavish homes and high-rise condos and hotels.

U.S. Route 98 runs right along the coast, where a few beachside restaurants offer oysters and other seafood, cocktails and a view of the Gulf of Mexico.

Other communities along the Forgotten Coast include Port St. Joe, Apalachicola, Eastpoint, St. Marks and St. George Island, all places where folks from nearby Tallahassee, Georgia and Alabama like to escape for quiet weekends.

As Republican Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted: "Mexico Beach is an old old #Florida town. It's charm is that it feels like a trip back in time to a place unspoiled by development. I was told this morning that is is 'gone.'"


Tamara Lush reported from St. Petersburg, Florida, Brendan Farrington from Tallahassee, Florida, and Jennifer Kay and Curt Anderson from Miami.

Putting scores of idling school buses next to an organic botanical garden is a bad idea

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-10-11 12:58

Alaska Botanical Garden. (Sarah Bell / ADN archive)

I should start with a reader alert. This column is what some will call "political." Others will call it a typical Lowenfels rant. For 42 years of answering questions, I get to do this sometimes. Still, if you are not interested in the intersection of Alaska gardening with Alaska politics, skip this week's column, and by all means please come back next week.

Let's start with the municipal official or officials who even thought to suggest acreage next to the Alaska Botanical Garden would be suitable for a new bus barn for the Anchorage School District. It is one of the suggested sites being recommended to the Planning and Zoning Commission on Dec. 10.

Really? What is wrong with our government when it thinks having 75 to 120 buses idling to warm up is good for soil and plants, not to mention visitors? Really? Right next to an almost fully privately funded institution that aims to give residents and visitors a horticulturally unique, peaceful, healthy (it is still the only organic botanical garden in the United States as far as I know) and relaxing experience?

Wow. That is some real thinking going on there. It is wrong thinking, of course, but government so often feels constrained by engineering studies that lack the slightest bit of sense when it comes to non-engineering factors. And, just in case any elected politician doesn't get where I am coming from, there are few institutions in Alaska that have more members (and members who are easily contactable and who vote) than does the Alaska Botanical Garden. Why would our own government think that such a large-membership organization would stand for this? Please do not ever try to put anything that even remotely resembles a bus barn near the Alaska Botanical Garden.

Next, perhaps, the bus barn location list comes from the same group of muni officials who think using glyphosate to kill all of the invasive mayday trees in and around Valley of the Moon Park is a good idea. Sure, it is a good idea to eradicate mayday trees, which are a terrible, invasive species that poisons moose and will lead to the loss of wildlife habitat. I am not suggesting that getting rid of them isn't a noble thing. This is an awful problem we created and one we must fix.

However, using glyphosate to get rid of these trees only compounds the mistake. It is a controversial herbicide that some very credible scientists and institutions claim possibly causes cancer and affects bees and other insects (among other things). Using it is not the answer to our mayday tree problems.

Glyphosate has its proponents, and there are studies that say it is not a cancer-causing agent. There are many who feel otherwise, however, and none of them are paid by the industry that produces glyphosate. Regardless, you and I have glyphosate in our bodies and I am sure we didn't ask for it and don't want any more. The human system may not react to it, but bacteria in our bodies do (and we contain more bacteria than human cells). Right or wrong? There is just too much controversy. I am a parent and grandparent. I believe in applying the cautionary principle until a controversy is resolved, when it involves the health of my family and neighbors.

I know spraying glyphosate (it will blow all over town, by the way) is the easiest way of getting rid of mayday trees. I know it is an extremely difficult operation to eradicate them and that the use of glyphosate is considered a last resort. However, glyphosate is the easiest herbicide to use for all manner of "problems" these days. There is a creeping incremental use of glyphosate by well-meaning Alaska public officials who, independent of others, insist it is the only way to solve their particular problem.

Right now it is the Anchorage Parks Department suggesting its use (and near a water body!). Sometimes it is the Alaska Railroad that insists glyphosate application is the only way to clear weeds on the tracks. We have to ask ourselves, how many more public entities in this state feel entitled to use glyphosate as an item of last resort because it is so easy to use (and I suppose cost-effective)?

Toss in a few extremely misguided Alaska farmers, landscapers and, shudder to think, too many gardeners using RoundUp and you can see why all of a sudden a state whose rivers and lakes are the only ones in the nation that do not have measurable amounts of glyphosate might soon start to.

I can tell you where this all leads me. First, it is time for the Anchorage Assembly to step up and ban glyphosate and other toxic herbicides and pesticides in Anchorage while we wait for the Legislature to do the right thing for the state. In a place as pristine as Alaska, we must start to treat toxic pesticides and herbicides just as we do invasive plants: Get them out and then keep them out. This is Alaska, not Florida or Texas or California. We must lead the way and spend what it takes to find the right answers.

And it is time for the municipal bureaucracy (please, this is not the mayor) to re-think how studies are put together and use more sense. You all represent more than just developers, bus companies and builders. It doesn't take much common sense to see that a working bus barn with 120 buses idling for hours a day, right up against the most popular garden in Alaska, is not a good idea in any instance. If a study's parameters made you consider it, then there is something wrong with those parameters because it is wasting money. Change them.

Let me assure you that Anchorage is a city of gardeners and the state has lots more. Gardeners, especially Alaska ones, lead the way in our own yards. We don't expect our government to do otherwise in our collective backyard.

Alaska Garden Calendar

Mayday trees, Prunus paduca: Let's make this a learning session. Did you know the Anchorage Assembly passed an ordinance banning their sale? Cut down ALL of yours. Mow over seedlings until they stop coming up. If you see seedlings in the wild, cut back as many as you can. Do not bring these trees to cabins, where it may still be legal to plant them. They are a real danger to the Alaska ecosystem.

Plant A Row for the Hungry: If you have extra food from your garden or yard, take it to someone who needs it or a food bank or soup kitchen.

Driveways and walks: Mark yours before snow sets in.

Outdoor plant containers: Make sure yours don't fill with snow and water this winter. This will freeze and can cause them to crack.

Question of the week: Better to rake if you can't mulch leaves? No! If you can't get to them, leave them (no pun there, or intended).

Alaskana recipe: Village-style doughnuts

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-10-11 12:56

Sunshine doughnut, adapted from the King Cove Women’s Club cookbook published in 1978. (Julia O’Malley/ADN)

In 2015, when I was just starting out my reporting on subsistence food and climate change, I decided to make a trip to Point Hope to attend the whaling feast. I thought I'd set up a place to stay, but then it fell through at the last minute. And I had to get on the plane anyway. And I'll never forget landing, getting out of the plane on a foggy runway, and realizing I had no idea how I was going to get to town from the airport.

But soon someone offered me a ride. And then, soon after that, Aanauraq Lane, or "Aana," adopted me and the photographer I was traveling with, found us a place to stay and invited us in to help her make doughnuts. I spent most of the rest of the trip in kitchens, making doughnuts and then helping with akutuq or akutuuq, and I learned that one way into the history and culture of a small community is through the kitchen.

Aanauraq Lillian Lane Johnson makes doughnuts on a Sunday morning in advance of the whaling feast in Point Hope in 2015. (Julia O’Malley/ADN)

After that, I started to keep track of the places where I encountered doughnuts as I traveled across the Arctic region. Flour, sugar and oil came to Alaska Native communities with contact. Doughnuts and fry bread were then adopted and adapted as Alaska Native traditional foods. They aren't all that healthy, but they are what celebrations taste like. The smell of them frying takes me back to many a village gym gathering.

One of the things I like about the many recipes that I've found in historic cookbooks and been given by readers on Facebook is that they are always for A LOT of doughnuts, like 80 or 100, because they are never made for one family alone, but instead as something to share with a community, which is a core subsistence value. The doughnuts are also an entrepreneurial opportunity in places with no bakery, where bakers are known to advertise on Facebook when they have a fresh batch.

Muktuk, Cool Whip akutuq or akutuuq, and doughnuts on a table in Gambell on St. Lawrence Island. (Julia O’Malley/ADN)

The hardest part about the recipe is getting the frying right. Doughnut-making is so second-nature to the people who write most of the recipes that there is usually no detail about how to fry. For novices, it's made much easier if you use a candy thermometer. If the doughnuts are getting brown on the outside super quickly, like within 20 seconds, your oil is too hot. Alternately, if they don't get pretty close to done on one side after a minute, your oil isn't at temperature. (I burned many in the process of making mine without a thermometer.) Oh, and if you're a newbie, don't forget to put the fan on high and keep a fire extinguisher nearby. Chopsticks, which I first saw being used to fry doughnuts in Adak, are great for fishing them out of the oil.

Doughnut served at a whaling feast in Point Hope with a plate of mikigaq, or fermented bowhead. (Julia O’Malley/ADN)

Sunshine Doughnuts

(adapted from King Cove Women's Club "Our Favorite Recipes" 1978)

Makes 40 doughnuts

1/2 teaspoon
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup hot water
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 tablespoons yeast
2 1/2 cup flour plus extra for kneading
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten until stiff
Zest of one lemon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
About 48 ounces of oil, preferably peanut or vegetable

Optional: Sugar and cinnamon

Equipment: Doughnut cutter, candy thermometer

In a large bowl, dissolve salt and sugar in hot water and milk. Sprinkle yeast over the mixture and allow to dissolve. Pour into a standing mixer with a paddle attachment.  With mixer at medium speed, add flour slowly and allow to combine until thoroughly mixed. Pour in butter, eggs and lemon zest. Scrape dough out onto a floured surface and knead, adding a little additional flour, until the dough ball is firm and only slightly sticky. Allow it to rise in a warm place for two hours. Gently roll dough on a floured surface and cut into desired shapes. Allow to rise for 20 to 30 minutes. Meanwhile, fill a large Dutch oven or heavy pot about a third of the way with oil. Heat it over medium heat to approximately 365 degrees. Fry the doughnuts roughly 1 to 2 minutes per side, until golden, turning with tongs or chopsticks and then, if desired, immediately roll in cinnamon and sugar.

U.S. stock losses deepen on tail of global selloff

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-10-11 12:53

U.S. stocks tumbled a second day, with major averages notching wild swings in heavy volume. Treasuries surged after a strong 30-year auction, the dollar fell with oil, and gold, that traditional safe haven, posted its biggest gain in more than two years.

The S&P 500 Index fell more than 2 percent for a second straight day and is now in its longest slide since 2016. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped more than 500 points. Tech shares that bore the brunt of the selling Wednesday fared relatively better Thursday, though the Nasdaq 100 Index's losses from an August record reached 8 percent.

"All of a sudden, you got that severe downturn because the results of the 30-year note auction were better than expected and people said 'We're going to shift now,"' said Donald Selkin, chief market strategist at Newbridge Securities. "It was asset allocation, it was a plunge. That's unusual. That's not a normal rate of decline. That's an accelerated rate of decline. It was an algorithm on the asset allocation because it took place after the bond auction which was better than expected."

The S&P 500 is at a three-month low after a 6 percent slide in what's the longest slump of Donald Trump's presidency. Energy shares bore the brunt of selling after oil plunged by more than 3 percent. Financial firms also contributed heavily to the losses, with banks and insurers down at least 2.5 percent. The tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 surrendered an earlier rally and added to its 4.4 percent decline on Wednesday. Trading was heavy with volume surging roughly 65 percent above average for this time over the past 30 days.

"This is just a normal run-of-the-mill correction that happens to be concentrated in some of the more expensive and most notable names in technology," said Jamie Cox, managing partner at Harris Financial Group. "But I think it's been precipitated by the uncertainty about global growth and whether or not Fed policy is going too far too fast."

In addition to energy, insurers and household products manufacturers weighed on the market, while media companies and software makers were among the few bright spots. The Cboe Volatility Index rose to its highest level since February.

"Volatility is back and it may require more active strategies on the part of investors to pursue their long-term goals," John Lynch, chief investment strategist for LPL Financial, wrote in a note to clients Thursday. "Volatility is also not to be feared, but embraced, as varying data points will cause bouts of market anxiety. But remember that fundamentals are still strong."

Earlier, Asian and European equities plunged as the market rout extended around the world. China's Shanghai Composite gauge closed down more than 5 percent and Taiwan's technology-heavy benchmark plummeted more than 6 percent. Europe's main equity index fell to the lowest since December 2016. The euro and the pound both advanced.

Investors seeking to pinpoint the cause of the equities rout have no shortage of culprits to choose from. U.S companies are increasingly fretting the impact of the burgeoning trade war, while the same issue prompted the International Monetary Fund to dial down global growth expectations. And in the tech sector, which was a key driver of the rally that pushed American equities to a record just a month ago, expensive-looking companies have been roiled by a hacking scandal.

Against this backdrop, the Federal Reserve has been trimming its balance sheet and raising interest rates, provoking Trump's ire and helping to force a repricing of riskier assets.

Elsewhere, West Texas Intermediate crude tumbled below $71 a barrel amid a broad decline in commodities as OPEC cut estimates for demand. Precious metals gained with gold. A Bloomberg index of cryptocurrencies dropped 10 percent.


- The S&P 500 fell 2.1 percent as of 4 p.m. in New York. The Dow Jones Industrial Average declined 2.1 percent, while the Nasdaq 100 slid 1.1 percent. The Stoxx Europe 600 Index sank 2 percent to the lowest since December 2016. The MSCI Asia Pacific Index plunged 3.3 percent to the lowest since May 2017. The MSCI Emerging Market Index dropped 3.1 percent to the lowest since April 2017 on the biggest decline in more than two years.


- The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index fell 0.5 percent. The euro increased 0.6 percent to $1.1586. The British pound added 0.2 percent to $1.3219. The Japanese yen rose 0.2 percent to 112.06 per dollar.

- Bonds:

The yield on 10-year Treasuries declined three basis points to 3.13 percent. Germany's 10-year yield decreased three basis points to 0.517 percent. Britain's 10-year yield dipped five basis points to 1.674 percent.

- Commodities:

The Bloomberg Commodity Index declined 0.6 percent. West Texas Intermediate crude decreased 3.5 percent to $70.58 a barrel. Gold rose 2.6 percent to $1,225.28 an ounce, its biggest gain since June 2016.

- - -

Bloomberg’s Carolyn Wright, David Ingles, Andreea Papuc, Adam Haigh and Samuel Potter contributed.

Air Force fighter with landing gear trouble lands safely at JBER

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-10-11 12:46

A F-22 Raptor takes off from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson near Anchorage on June 23, 2015. (Bill Roth / ADN)

The Air Force says a landing gear malfunction likely was the cause of an emergency landing of an F-22 Raptor fighter jet Wednesday at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.

The pilot was not injured.

Air Force spokeswoman Erin Eaton says the base launched in investigation after the emergency landing. A preliminary review pointed to the landing gear problem, the Air Force said Thursday afternoon.

The F-22 is a twin-engine, single-seat fighter produced by Lockheed Martin.

Two Raptors were scrambled last month to intercept and monitor Russian bombers in international air space west of mainland Alaska.

Photos: Bull moose are in their prime and ready for the rut in Kincaid Park

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-10-11 12:08

A bull moose trailed a cow and her calf through Kincaid Park in West Anchorage.

With the rut in full swing, bulls are staking out prospective mates and fighting off rivals. This time of year, bulls can be more aggressive than in the summer.

While the trio was bedded down, another cow moose wandered through, and a third cow and her calf also browsed the area.

Facebook purged over 800 accounts and pages pushing political messages for profit

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-10-11 11:27

SAN FRANCISCO - Facebook said on Thursday it has purged more than 800 U.S publishers and accounts for flooding users with politically oriented content that violated the company's spam policies, a move that could reignite accusations of political censorship.

The accounts and pages, with names like Reasonable People Unite and Reverb Press, were likely domestic actors using clickbait headlines and other spammy tactics to drive users to websites where they could target them with ads, the company said. Some had hundreds of thousands of followers and expressed a range of political viewpoints, including a page which billed itself as "the first publication to endorse President Donald J. Trump." They did not appear to have ties to Russia, company officials said.

Facebook said it was not removing the publishers and accounts because of the type of content they posted, but because of the behaviors they engaged in, including spamming Facebook groups with identical pieces of content and using fake profiles.

"Today, we're removing 559 Pages and 251 accounts that have consistently broken our rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior," the company said in a blog post. "People will only share on Facebook if they feel safe and trust the connections they make here."

But the move to target American politically-oriented sites, just weeks before the Congressional midterms, is sure to be a flashpoint for political groups and their allies, who are already attacking the tech giant for political bias and for arbitrary censorship of political content.

Ever since Russian operatives used Facebook to target American voters ahead of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Facebook has been under immense pressure to crack down on content that could disrupt the democratic process in the U.S. But the challenge of policing domestic content is even thornier than going after foreign interference because it harder to define what constitutes legitimate political expression. By removing the groups entirely, Facebook is effectively saying that they will not have an opportunity to redeem themselves.

One of the pages - "Nation In Distress" - pitched itself as the "first online publication to endorse President Donald J Trump." Founded in 2012, it had amassed more than 3.2 million likes and over 3 million followers, according to Washington Post review on Thursday. In recent posts and photos, it had criticized journalists for failing to report on Trump's approach to China and shared a link to a story that had called Rep. Maxine Waters "demented." The page affiliated itself with a website called "America's Freedom Fighters," which appeared to post its own content and duplicate press releases written by others about violent crimes and gun rights - all alongside a sidebar of ads.

Another page, Reverb Press, had over 700,000 followers. Posts attacked President Trump and referred to Republicans as “cheating scumbags.” A third left-leaning page, Reasonable People Unite, posted a screenshot from a Twitter user who said, “Somewhere in America, a teenage girl is listening to her parents defend Brett Kavanaugh and she is thinking to herself, if something like that happens to me, I have nowhere to go.”

Coming up: Howl for ‘Wolf Day’ at the zoo or howl with laughter at weekend comedy acts

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-10-11 11:18

Alaska Zoo education director Stephanie Hartman pets 10-year-old Alaska gray wolf Denali on Oct. 5, 2016. The Alaska Zoo will celebrate its annual Wolf Day on Saturday between noon and 4 p.m. where visitors will have the opportunity to get close and learn about wolves. (Bill Roth / ADN archive)

Wolf Day — Get ready to howl for the Alaska Zoo’s annual Wolf Day. The event educates visitors about Alaska’s wolves as they meet the zoo’s gray wolf pack. After that, visitors can also participate in a wolf-themed scavenger hunt, a canine tough table, wolf story time, kids crafts and a howling contest. The Alaska Zoo will also have other education stations that explain the wolf family structure and diet. Noon-4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13, Alaska Zoo, 4731 O’Malley Road. (alaskazoo.org)

Vusi Mahlasela — "The Voice" of South Africa, Vusi Mahlasela will share his music in Anchorage this weekend. His music was born during the struggle of apartheid, and his music has been prominent at political celebrations like Nelson Mandela's presidential inauguration in 1994. Mahlasela has shared the stage with music legends as well as political legends, and he's performed alongside the Dave Matthews Band, Sting and Josh Groban. $40.25-$56. 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12, Discovery Theatre, 621 W. Sixth Ave. (anchorageconcerts.org)

Tig Notaro  — This comedian pokes fun at life's awkward and absurd moments and makes them something to laugh about. Tig Notaro was named as one of the 50 best stand-up comics of all time by Rolling Stone and has performed on late-night talk shows and "This American Life." The comic also created the Amazon series "One Mississippi," and his style of comedy is perfect for fans of dry humor. $43.75-$66. 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13, Discovery Theatre, 621 W. Sixth Ave. (anchorageconcerts.org)

Comedian Eliot Chang — Chang has performed his stand-up performances on Comedy Central, E!'s "Chelsea Lately" and Showtime. Chang is originally from New York City but he brings his comedy all over the world and shares his upbeat tone and positive energy. 18 and older. $20. 7 p.m and 9:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12, Hard Rock Cafe 415 E. St. (brownpapertickets.com)

First Annual Alaska Native Book Fair — This inaugural event celebrates more than 20 Alaska Native authors and illustrators and allows members of the public to hear from publishers and writers as well as purchase featured works. Several panel topics will include discussions on how to write for children, how to tell a story and how to get published. Participating Alaska Native authors include Phyllis Adams author of "The Gingerbread Moose" and "A Mother's Tears for a Missing Son" author Dolly Hills. 1-7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12, ANTHC Consortium Office Building, 4000 Ambassador Dr. (alaskanativemedia.org)

Anchorage Concert Chorus strives to tell Alaska stories as we’ve rarely heard them before

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-10-11 11:05

The Anchorage Concert Chorus tour chorus performs in Pordenone, Italy, during a tour of the country in 2018. (Photo by Cindy Crewdson)

When Roland Rydstrom and Grant Cochran sat down to chart the course for the 2018-19 season of the Anchorage Concert Choir, they identified a few targets.

They wanted to develop an opening program that would be present, ambitious and most importantly, uniquely Alaskan.

With "One Voice: Music and Stories of Alaska," they believe they've hit all those touchstones.

The show, which opens Sunday, includes composer Emerson Eads' Fairbanks Four rumination "Mass for the Oppressed," a collaborative performance with Yup'ik group Pamyua and a commissioned piece based on John Muir's "Travels in Alaska."

"We did set out to do some stuff that's beautiful and important music and also relevant," said Rydstrom, the ACC executive director. "We wanted to look at some things we wouldn't normally look to program and focusing on Alaska was a priority."

Cochran, the ACC conductor and artistic director, knew Eads — but not as a composer.

"I started thinking of Alaska composers and I'd worked with a young man named Emerson Eads with the Anchorage Opera," Cochran said. "He was singing tenor. In my mind, Emerson was a singer from Fairbanks. I knew he'd done some conducting up there but I didn't know he was a composer. I listened to it on YouTube and got really excited about it."

Eads was completing a graduate degree at Notre Dame when he started work on the piece.

Emerson Eads (Courtesy Emerson Eads)

"Having been in Fairbanks, I'd been baptized by all the news about the Fairbanks Four," Eads said. "They had been put in prison the year I graduated from high school so we're about the same age. I was at Notre Dame my first year in grad school when they were released. I wrote the last movement immediately within a few days. It was written with a real irony with joy of their release but that awful realization things are not as they should be. Here I am finishing my degree at a great university and these guys are getting out after spending 18 years in prison wrongfully."

The text of the traditional Latin mass is based on diary entries from Pope Francis along as well as writings of Emerson's brother, Evan Eads.

The piece, which debuted at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival in July 2016, is unique from other masses in that it emphasizes four soloists who break out from the whole choir.

And while there is a heavy social theme to the mass, Eads believes there is also a more unifying message.

"There's a political aspect to the piece," he said. "There are people who still believe they're guilty.

"There are a lot of political ramifications around the piece, people really connected to the emotional arc and the message of the piece. Instead of getting hung up on the politics of the actual issues of the Fairbanks Four, more broadly addressing what it's like to be oppressed."

Cochran's graduate school connection to composer Eric Banks helped generate the work based on Muir's writings.

"To Have Been There Before," based on Muir's "Travels in Alaska," was commissioned by ACC with funding from the Atwood Foundation.

Eric Banks (Courtesy Eric Banks)

Banks' approach used some intricate processes.

He used Muir's words on a single pitch as sort of a chant, with the orchestral music swirling around to mimic the natural landscape Muir encountered.

"It's truly about the environment around the words," he said.

The performance will include up to 150 singers, which at some points will be split into three groups. Those three groups will be split into four parts for a maximum of 12 voice parts.

He superimposed those voices over a color wheel and the circle of fifths, using matching tonal locations when Muir describes the colors he sees.

"A lot of the composition is around colors," Banks said. "He goes into a forest and talks about layers of moss growing on the trees and in the forest, and it's all yellow. When he's in the Alexander Archipelago, there's a lot of green. He writes about a crimson sunrise."

A portion of the music will be sung in Tlingit, which made for some interesting translations along the color wheel, according to Banks. For instance, there is no Tlingit word for purple, he said, so they described the color as "blueberry juice."

The 11-chapter composition was delivered in three installments, which presented some challenges for Cochran and the singers.

"(With most pieces) there's a familiarity with the melody and the harmony," he said. "This is beyond anything we've ever done. Not knowing what to expect was really the single greatest challenge I faced getting things ready. There is probably more text per minute than in any other concert I've prepared."

To complete the opening program, Rydstrom and Cochran added Pamyua, an Inuit group formed over 20 years ago by brothers Phillip and Stephen Blanchett. Pamyua will perform some original material before teaming with the chorus and orchestra.

Pamyua (Photo courtesy Pamyua)

"It really is all about connecting with our heritage and having the group really embrace where we are and take advantage of the performers whose culture comes from the land," Cochran said.

Our Voice: Music and Stories of Alaska
4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14
Atwood Concert Hall
Tickets: $32-$48

Troopers: Napakiak tribal officer arrested for sexually abusing minor

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-10-11 10:48

The tribal police officer in a Kuskokwim River village near Bethel has been arrested for sexually abusing a minor.

The arrest was part of another investigation into a sexual assault on the job, Alaska State Troopers said.

The agency's Violent Offenders Unit on Monday arrested 22-year-old Napakiak tribal police officer William Smith for second-degree sexual abuse of a minor, according to a troopers dispatch Thursday.

The arrest was made during a separate investigation into charges Smith sexually assaulted a woman in his care for protective custody at the public safety office, troopers said. They described that as unrelated to the sex abuse case.

An investigation continues, and more charges are to follow, troopers said.

A man who answered the phone Thursday at the village tribal offices said, "No comment. Sorry," when asked about the arrest.

The village's tribal government never submitted Smith's name to the Alaska Police Standards Council as required by notification laws, Alaska Department of Public Safety spokesman Jonathon Taylor said Thursday.

A rarely followed state regulation says village and tribal governments are supposed to notify the council within 30 days of a new police hire.

A background check is performed to make sure the officer doesn't have any felony convictions in the past 10 years. Then, within a year of hire, the officer must complete 48 hours of training to be certified by the state.

Village police officers can be hired when they're 19, while village public safety officers and police officers generally must be 21. They also receive less training and aren't necessarily disqualified by prior convictions for misdemeanor-level domestic violence or drug use convictions.

Napakiak is about 10 miles downriver from Bethel and has roughly 350 residents.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates. 

Satisfy your cravings with this DIY In-N-Out burger, ‘animal-style’

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-10-11 10:07

Make-it-yourself In-N-Out burger, animal style. (Maya Wilson / Alaska From Scratch)

I grew up in the land of In-N-Out Burger. My early years were spent in Southern California, the birthplace of the iconic burger joint (founded in Baldwin Park, California, in 1948). The big yellow arrow with classic red lettering was as familiar to me in my childhood as the golden arches at McDonald's. The logo has never changed. The menu, too, has remained constant throughout the decades — hamburger, cheeseburger, double double. Milkshakes, hand-cut fries. The food is fresh, simple and inexpensive. Always consistent in flavor and quality.

By high school, when I lived in Northern California and the chain wasn't as widespread as it is today, I would drive eight or nine hours down the entire length of the state of California to stop at the first In-N-Out Burger in my path and sink my teeth into a cheeseburger (I was never there for the fries). My friends and I all had multiple In-N-Out Burger T-shirts we would wear as pajama shirts every night, cult followers to the core.

My order has been the same since high school: cheeseburger, animal style. "Animal style" is a not-so-secret off-menu customization that means grilled onions, extra sauce, and some sort of magical mustard pizzazz, described on the In-N-Out website as "mustard cooked beef patty." Here in Alaska, where it would require a passport and days of driving to get to the nearest In-N-Out Burger, I often try to replicate this nostalgic favorite at home. I come close, just close enough to touch the food memories of my youth and leaving me longing for more.

Cheeseburgers Animal Style
Serves 2

For the special sauce:
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoons sweet pickle relish
1/2 teaspoon distilled vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar

For the onions:
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

For the burgers:
1/2 pound ground beef, formed into two 1/4-pound patties
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
2 slices American cheese
8 dill pickle chips
1 tomato, thickly sliced
iceberg lettuce leaves, torn into bun-size pieces
hamburger buns (no seeds), toasted

To make the special sauce: Mix all the sauce ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside (or cover and refrigerate until ready to use).

To make the onions: Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the oil to the pan and add the onions. Season generously with salt. Cook, stirring and tossing often, adding small amounts of water (1 tablespoon at a time) whenever onions appear to be dried out (you'll need to add water several times). Cook 10-15 minutes until onions are very soft and browned. Set aside.

To make the burgers: Heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Toast the interior of the buns. Place the toasted buns into a 200-degree oven to keep warm. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season the patties with salt and pepper and add them to the hot pan. While they cook on the first side, spread 1 tablespoon of mustard onto the raw sides of the patties. Flip. Place a cheese slice on each patty. Remove patties from pan when cheese is well melted and burgers are cooked through.

To assemble the burgers:

On the bottom bun, spread a generous amount of the sauce. Top with 4 pickle chips followed by tomato and lettuce, then patty. Place the grilled onions directly on top of the cheese. Complete with the top bun and serve.

Recipe adapted from Serious Eats.

Melania Trump says she doesn’t trust some people working in the White House.

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-10-11 10:02

First lady Melania Trump pauses for photographs as she visits the historical site of the Giza Pyramids in Giza, near Cairo, Egypt. Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. First lady Melania Trump is visiting Africa on her first big solo international trip. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) (Carolyn Kaster/)

WASHINGTON - First lady Melania Trump said in an interview broadcast Thursday that there have been people in her husband’s White House whom she doesn’t trust, including some who still work there, and that she considers herself one of the most bullied people in the world.

During the interview with ABC News, conducted during her recent solo trip to Africa, Trump was asked by interviewer Tom Llamas whether the president has had people working for him she didn't trust.

"Yes," she replied, adding that she has let her husband know.

"Some people, they don't work there anymore," the first lady said.

Asked whether there are still people in the administration she cannot trust, Trump said yes.

"It's harder to govern," the first lady said. "You always need to watch your back."

Her comments come in the wake of an anonymous op-ed in The New York Times last month claiming that there is a “resistance” within the Trump administration. The Times said the piece was written by a senior administration official, whose identity has not become public.

Asked about his wife's assertions during an interview Thursday on Fox News Channel, President Donald Trump blamed being a newcomer to Washington for some of his picks and said he is happier with his team now.

"Are there some I'm not in love with? Yes, and we'll weed them out," he added.

During the ABC interview, Llamas asked Melania Trump whether she has the most control over her husband's decisions of those in the White House.

"Oh, I wish," she said, laughing.

"I give him my honest advice and honest opinions, and then he does what he wants to do," Trump said.

During the interview, Trump also discussed her child-welfare initiative, Be Best, which includes a focus on combating cyberbullying.

"I could say I'm the most bullied person on the world," she said.

Pressed on that assertion, she added: "One of them, if you really see what people are saying about me."

"That's why my Be Best initiative focuses on social media and online behavior," Trump added. "We need to educate the children of social, emotional behavior, so when they grow up and they know how to deal with those issues."

Asked for examples of the first lady being bullied, spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham pointed to comments her boss has received in response to Twitter posts.

Since her arrival at the White House, Trump’s appearance and clothing choices have been heavily scrutinized and her accent has been the source of jokes, including by late-night host Jimmy Kimmel. Her Be Best initiative also has been the target of heavy online criticism.

Steep drop in Alaska workers’ compensation rates to save employers $35 million, state says

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-10-11 09:49

Come 2019, Alaska workers' compensation insurance rates are expected to fall the most in 40 years, according to state managers.

Gov. Bill Walker's office announced Oct. 4 that workers' compensation insurance premiums should decrease an average of 17.5 percent statewide starting in January and worker's compensation voluntary loss costs similarly could drop 14.8 percent.

The proposed rate decreases for 2019 follow a 5.4 percent average rate decrease this year from 2017 and workers' compensation premiums are down roughly 25 percent since 2015, according to the governor's office.

Workers' Compensation Director Marie Marx said the reductions should save employers an estimated $35 million or so statewide.

State officials are attributing the favorable trend to fewer claims and medical cost reductions.

"These proposed rate reductions are welcome news for Alaska businesses — lower workers' compensation costs reduce the burden on the small businesses that strengthen our economy," Walker said in a formal statement. "Thank you to the Alaska state Legislature and the Department of Labor and Workforce Development for their work on payment reform, contributing to significant rate reductions for 2019."

The rates are proposed by the National Council on Compensation Insurance and subsequently reviewed and approved by the state Division of Insurance.

Marx said employers of oil and gas pipeline workers would see some of the most significant reductions at more than 26 percent versus current rates, while rates could drop for clerical workers — typically with fewer on-the-job dangers — in the 9 percent range if the proposals are approved. Automobile technicians should see rate reductions of about 13 percent, for example, she added.

Following approval by the Legislature in 2014, the Alaska Workers' Compensation Board approved new practices and fee structures for paying medical providers for procedures paid for through workers' compensation insurance in October 2015.

The fee structure changes put provider reimbursement rates more in-line with general group health insurance rates, according to Marx. It replaced a system of paying medical service providers at the 90th percentile of "usual and customary" fees in a given region.

Alaska was the 33rd state to adopt the new payment system, Marx said at the time. At the time, Alaska also had the highest workers' compensation rates in the nation, state officials said.

"Alaska has some of the highest medical, if not the highest, medical costs in the country and workers' compensation was right at the top and we're bringing it down with the reform over a number of years," Marx said in an interview.

Alaska Chamber CEO Curtis Thayer noted that the reimbursement rate revisions were based on Medicaid guidelines. He said that it's correct rates are going down — a very good thing — but stressed the credit should go to employers and their workers for not needing to file as many claims as in years past.

"It's just the fact that our employers are providing a safer working environment," Thayer said.

Reforming the state's workers' compensation program has been a major policy initiative of the Alaska Chamber for several years.

Last session the Legislature also took on other aspects of the workers' compensation system when it passed the governor's House Bill 79, which Walker signed in August. Among other things, the legislation clarified who is an independent contractor and who needs to be covered by workers' compensation insurance and eased the process for obtaining workers' compensation exemptions, reporting data and making payments.

Thayer said HB 79 "brought Alaska into the 21st century" but did nothing to address premiums.

He said the Chamber will continue advocating for caps on legal fees for workers' compensation cases and other changes, such as treatment guidelines.

"There's a lot of work that's been done but a lot of work that still needs to be done," Thayer said.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at elwood.brehmer@alaskajournal.com.

Permitting to start on Ambler copper prospect early next year

Alaska News - Thu, 2018-10-11 09:45

Trilogy Metals Inc., formerly NovaCopper, is moving toward engineering and permitting at the Arctic deposit in Northwest Alaska. (Photo courtesy Trilogy Metals Inc.)

More than 60 years after it was initially prospected, Trilogy Metals is almost ready to apply for the major environmental permits it will need for the first project in one of Alaska's premier areas with mining potential.

Trilogy Metals Inc. CEO Rick Van Nieuwenhuyse said Oct. 4 that the company has started pre-permitting work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for its Arctic copper, zinc and precious metals prospect in advance of an environmental impact statement that should be initiated in the first half of 2019.

The Clean Water Act Section 404 wetlands fill permit from the Corps — large enough to trigger an EIS — is likely the only federal permit the mine will need, Van Nieuwenhuyse said, noting the Environmental Protection Agency has oversight of the water and air quality permits issued by the State of Alaska.

The Arctic prospect is roughly in the middle of the extensive Ambler mining district. Stretching for about 75 miles along the southern flank of the Brooks Range, there are more than 30 known metal deposits in the district, but its remoteness has precluded significant development.

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority is leading development of a 211-mile industrial road to access the mining district. The Bureau of Land Management is writing a separate EIS for the road and the first draft of that document is expected in March 2019, with a final EIS following late next year, based on the current schedule.

"This project is in the middle of nowhere and this road has been studied, discussed, many, many, many times," Van Nieuwenhuyse said.

The road project, which is separate from Trilogy's mine work, has drawn stiff opposition from residents of the area and environmental groups who are worried the project will disrupt caribou migrations, which Van Nieuwenhuyse acknowledges is the most significant subsistence food source in the region.

The proposed mines have also drawn scrutiny for potential impacts to salmon and whitefish runs in the Kobuk River drainage.

The National Park Service is also preparing an environmental and economic analysis that is also expected to be finished next spring.

AIDEA estimates constructing the most basic single-lane gravel road would cost between $305 and $346 million. It would be financed by the authority with bonds that would be paid back through tolls paid by Trilogy Metals and any other companies that would develop one of the other prospects in the Ambler mining district.

The plan is very similar to the Red Dog mine-DeLong Mountain Transportation System — also an AIDEA-owned and financed mine access road —in far Northwest Alaska that development proponents have cited as a model for other isolated resource prospects in the road-scarce state.

At its core, the Arctic prospect is about as good as undeveloped metal deposits come these days, according to Van Nieuwenhuyse. With just more than 43 million metric tons of probable reserves averaging 2.3 percent copper, 3.2 percent zinc and smaller amounts of lead, gold and silver, it's "about 10 times the average grade being mined in open pit copper mines today," he said.

"It's not a huge mine, but it produces metal above its weight class because of the grade — 160 million pounds of copper annually, 200 million pounds of zinc, 33 million pounds of lead, over 3 million ounces of silver and 30,000 ounces of gold."

Those numbers are based on a short, 12-year mine life. According a pre-feasibility study released in February, Arctic would generate costs of $911 million to build and operate over that time but with roughly $450 million in annual free cash flow would have just a 2-year payback.

"We don't need higher metal prices to make this thing work," Van Nieuwenhuyse said. "We just need a road."

The mill and other facilities at Arctic could also be used for Trilogy's other, larger but less explored Bornite copper and cobalt prospect about 20 miles to the southwest or other undeveloped prospects in the area, he added.

The company currently estimates Bornite contains upwards of 6 billion pounds of copper, a figure that could grow this coming winter when the results from this year's drilling campaign.

The last two years of exploration at Bornite have been funded by $10 million annual payments from the Australian mining company South 32, which, after a third payment, will have the option of investing another $150 million in the project and forming a 50-50 joint venture with Trilogy, according to Van Nieuwenhuyse.

Trilogy has spent $122 million exploring its Alaska prospects overall.

The company also has a partnership with NANA Regional Corp., the Northwest Alaska Native regional corporation, which owns land at Bornite. NANA can receive up to a 2.5 percent royalty on the ore concentrates produced from Trilogy's mines under the partnership, according to a company presentation.

Another open-pit prospect, Bornite holds about 125 million metric tons of reserves with about 1 percent copper, but there is potential for an underground mine with 58 million tons of 3 percent copper, he noted.

Bornite was also discovered in the 1950s by a prospector well known in mining circles named Riney Berg, according to Van Nieuwenhuyse, who offered a brief anecdote about his work.

"He was out there looking for uranium; he had worked at the Kennecott mine so he knew what copper minerals looked like, found some on the surface, did some trenching and got the Kennecott guys all excited. They eventually wrote him a check for $6 million," he said, noting the value of that much money roughly 60 years ago. "Riney, being a good prospector, spent it all on prospecting. There's probably a dozen different prospects in Northern Alaska that have his name on it."

Trilogy is also finishing up an study to see if ore sorting systems used by recycling companies can be applied in mining Arctic. The process uses sensors similar to magnetic resonance technology that "recognize what rocks have copper, silver, lead and what rocks don't," Van Nieuwenhuyse said. "If we could just mine the stuff we want we could get 3 percent copper, not 2 percent," he said.

The sorting process is proven to work, it's just not proven to be economic yet, he added.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at elwood.brehmer@alaskajournal.com.