A skier heads out onto the Beach Lake Trails in Chugiak on Thursday. (Matt Tunseth / Chugiak-Eagle River Star)
The pickings are slim, but there are options for nordic skiers in the Anchorage area this weekend.
According to the Nordic Ski Association of Anchorage, trails at Beach Lake Park in Chugiak were groomed Wednesday — though skiers should proceed with care.
"More rocks are surfacing so ski with caution," reads the NSAA grooming report for the trails.
Beach Lake got about five inches of snow Oct. 30, which allowed groomers to begin building a base. Check the association's website (anchoragenordicski.com) for up-to-date information on trail grooming and conditions.
Trails at Eagle River High School have also been compacted and are skiable. Trails at Bartlett have not been groomed.
As of Wednesday, Kincaid Park and the Hillside trails had yet to be groomed, though the Hillside trails have enough snow cover for rock skis, according to online reports. NSAA will continue to monitor the trails and groom if enough snow falls later in the week.
"At this point we are trying to develop a sustainable base layer," the NSAA trail report read Thursday.
At Kincaid Park, Thursday's temperatures were low enough for snow-making, but there's still not yet enough snow for the association to recommend skiing.
Skiers venturing north to Hatcher Pass may have more luck. Trails at Independence Mine were groomed Wednesday, according to a report posted to snowio.com by Mat-Su Ski Club groomer Mark Strabel. Strabel reported both skate trails and classic tracks were groomed.
Twenty-one victories weren't enough to send the UAA volleyball team to the West Region tournament for a sixth straight season.
But at least the Seawolves picked up a consolation prize.
Eve Stephens, a true freshman from Colony High, was named Freshman of the Year in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference and was a unanimous first-team pick on the all-GNAC team.
Stephens, a 6-foot-1 outside hitter, led UAA with 3.18 kills per set — an impressive achievement considering she didn't play in the back row, which means she only played in half of the rotations in any given match. She was the team's No. 3 blocker with .76 per set.
Joining Stephens on the all-GNAC team were a pair of UAA seniors. Chrisalyn Johnson, an outside hitter from Dimond High, and Tara Melton, a middle blocker from Glendale, Arizoan, both received honorable mention notice.
Stephens is the third straight UAA player and the fifth in seven years to be named the GNAC's Freshman of the Year. She joins a list that includes Julia Mackey (2012), Erin Braun (2013), Diana Fa'amausili (2016) and Casey Davenport (2017).
The Seawolves finished the season with a 21-7 record. They were in playoff position heading into the final couple of weeks of the season but lost two of their last four matches to tumble out of contention.
Trey deGraaf, center, and Malcolm Hayes, right, try to get the puck past Bowling Green goalie Eric Dop last weekend at Sullivan Arena. The Seawolves, who have been shut out three times in their last four games, play the first of 10 straight road games on Friday at Northern Michigan. (Bob Hallinen / ADN)
College is hard. Kimani Fernandez-Roy will tell you that, as soon as she's done rubbing her sore arm.
Fernandez-Roy is a freshman on the UAA women's basketball team, and she still is a little shell-shocked about the difference between the high school and college games.
"I probably never shot a 3-pointer in high school," she said. "Here we're required to make 300 a day."
As a 5-foot-10 forward, Fernandez-Roy was never expected to put up shots from long range for her high school team in Hawaii.
But at UAA, nearly everyone feels comfortable shooting triples — last season, the Seawolves shot 711 in 32 games, 128 more than their opponents (they made 232, or 32.6 percent). Even 6-1 center Hannah Wandersee operated behind the arc at times, shooting 31 treys (although she only made four).
UAA's queen of 3s is senior Tara Thompson, who buried a team-high 49 on 38 percent shooting last season. The first time the Seawolves were assigned to sink 300 during practice this season, no one completed the assignment faster than Thompson.
"For Tara Thompson, it took 45 minutes," Fernandez-Roy said. "For me it took over two hours."
She's gotten faster, she says. Now it takes her about 70 minutes.
"It was definitely hard at the start," she said. "My body's kind of used to the motion (now). It was a little sore to begin with."
Fernandez-Roy has yet to shoot a 3-pointer during a game, but two games into the season she has played some productive minutes nonetheless. She is averaging 5.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 14.5 minutes per game.
She said she took more than 700 shots en route to her first 300 3-pointers. "I think I won in that category," she said.
Hoops, hoops and more hoops
Let's play four. But let's not play the Nanooks.
A pair of basketball quadruple-headers are on tap at the Alaska Airlines Center on Friday and Saturday. Games are scheduled for noon, 2:30 p.m., 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. each day, with the UAA men playing each day at 5 and the UAA women playing at 7:30.
The men are 3-1 after a road trip to Hawaii during which they edged Hawaii Pacific and lost a close one against Chaminade.
Coach Rusty Osborne said he's still experimenting with lineups as the teams works to blend in eight players who weren't on last season's 15-14 team. So far eight players have been in the starting lineup.
"It's a fun group to coach," he said. "We're nowhere near our ceiling, and I think it'll be a fun team to watch."
Each game and practice is a learning experience, Osborne said: "You find out new things, good and bad. I'd be worried if we were at our ceiling, but we're not."
Newcomers Tyler Brimhall (21.5 points, 8.3 rebounds per game) and Nico Bevens (16.8 points) have made an instant impact coming in as junior transfers.
A trio of Alaska freshmen — Travis Adams of Utquigvik, Tobin Karlberg of Grace Christian and Austin White of Nikiski — are all getting minutes too. White was a redshirt last season; Adams and Karlberg are true freshmen.
Brimhall, Bevens and veteran guard Jack Macdonald (13.5 points per game) are all shooting close to 50 percent from the field to give UAA three players averaging double figures.
As a team, the Seawolves are shooting 46.8 percent through four games — a promising stat considering last season's team shot 39.9 percent.
"When you're coming off a shooting year like we (are), you never think you're going to make another shot," Osborne said. This season the shots are falling to the tune of 75 points per game. Last season, UAA averaged 61.2.
Hockey team’s goal: Goals
The hockey team begins a stretch of 10 games on the road this week when it heads to Northern Michigan for a two-game Western Collegiate Hockey Association series in Marquette.
The Seawolves are coming off a good news/bad news weekend against 10th-ranked Bowling Green.
The good news: They ended a four-game losing streak by playing the Falcons to a scoreless draw on Friday before losing 3-0 on Saturday.
The bad news: They didn't score a goal all weekend and have been shut out in three of their last four games (they lost 2-0 to Bemidji State on Nov. 2).
Scoring is a concern and a priority at practice, first-year coach Matt Curley said.
"We try a million different things," he said. "We do a lot of skills stuff every practice. "It looks like a U10 practice — a lot of shots."
The goal is to increase productivity player by player, a little at a time.
"I use this analogy all the time: You're not going to take a 5 points-per-game basketball player and turn him into a 20-point scorer, but you can turn 5 points-per-game into 7 points-per-game," Curley said. "It's a lot of repetition, and putting guys in positions where they feel comfortable."
Curley said an early goal against Northern Michigan on Friday would be an excellent way to start the long stretch away from Sullivan Arena, where the Seawolves don't play again until Jan. 4-5.
"I hope we can get one early and get the gorilla off the back," he said.
Bound for more glory?
The UAA cross-country team will race for trophies and championships Saturday at the West Region championships in Billings, Montana.
And while more hardware for the trophy case is always nice, the Seawolves are running for more than that. At stake at the championships are berths in the NCAA Division II national championships.
The top three teams, men and women, will qualify for the Dec. 1 championships. Both UAA teams are ranked seventh nationally, and both are coming off victories at the GNAC championships. The Seawolves swept the team titles and got individual wins from Emmah Chelimo and Welsey Kirui.
This weekend at the Alaska Airlines Center
Seawolf Hoops Classic (women)
2:30 p.m. — UAF (2-0) vs. Cal State Dominguez Hills (2-0
7:30 p.m. — UAA (2-0) vs. Cal State East Bay
2:30 p.m. — UAF vs. Cal State East Bay
7:30 p.m. — UAA vs. Cal State Dominguez Hills
Seawolf Jamboree (men)
Noon — UAF (0-3) vs. Lake Superior State (0-0)
5 p.m. — UAA (3-1) vs. Northwood (0-2)
Noon — UAF vs. Northwood
5 p.m. — UAA vs. Lake Superior State
New election results could change control of Alaska House
"I don't think they jumped the gun, but I do believe all votes should be counted," Glenn Clary, chair of the Alaska Republican Party, said in a joint interview with the Democratic Party's executive director Jay Parmley Thursday morning. "I think they ...
WASHINGTON - Daniel Gorman knows what it’s like to return from war, and he wants to help fellow veterans come home, too: The former sailor turned New York National Guardsman is finishing a graduate degree in social work at Fordham University.
But the Department of Veterans Affairs has thrown his fall semester into chaos by underpaying him without notice or explanation - making him one veteran among potentially tens of thousands on the GI Bill who have watched their bank accounts dwindle because of the agency's ongoing technology failures.
"I can't afford rent. I can't afford groceries. It's a lot of emotional strain and aggravation," Gorman, an Iraq War veteran, said. He added: "I'm supposed to graduate in May 2019, but I don't know if that's feasible if this persists."
The problems began this summer when VA's benefit processing system buckled under complex new formulas for GI Bill students. As a result, scores of veterans waited weeks or months to be paid, and have fallen victim to the agency's decades-old technology that advocates and lawmakers have warned for months would do precisely what it did - fail.
Now some veterans are still struggling to overcome financial straits after they took out loans or put expenses on credit cards. And advocates are concerned veterans are taking on financial burdens on top of other challenges, such as mental health and balancing school with family.
The House Veterans' Affairs Committee on Thursday raked VA for "massive failures" as agency officials struggled to articulate what progress they made since the problems materialized in August.
Paul Lawrence, VA's top benefits official, told lawmakers it was a "mistake" to provide earlier estimates for completing the fixes, and said that VA would not provide another timetable for when its technology issues would be resolved.
"Dr. Lawrence, not very encouraging," Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas, said. "You failed to account for the scope of the problem and minimized the problem . . . not having a deadline going forward is a recipe for disaster if I ever heard one."
Lawrence challenged the veracity of the veterans' complaints cited in this story, which first appeared on the Washington Post's website Thursday morning, before the hearing. He declined to elaborate, citing privacy issues.
VA has sought to downplay the issue, saying it has returned to a normal workload processing GI Bill benefit claims. But the number of veterans waiting more than 60 days for their payments - 1,000 - ballooned 10 percent since Wednesday, according to updated figures the agency presented to lawmakers. VA has said it focused on addressing older claims first.
About 10,000 student veterans have waited between one and two months to receive payments, VA said.
Other student veterans, like Gorman, have been underpaid. He was set to receive $631 a month while studying full-time. Just $269 arrived Nov. 1 - a hard hit in New York City, given that his course load and unpaid internship make it difficult to work even part time.
Daniel Gorman in Iraq. Photo: Daniel Gorman (Daniel Gorman/)
"We've spent all this money time and we can't get a paycheck out to somebody," Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., the committee's chairman, said Thursday.
In October alone, 1,000 students under financial hardship called a VA hotline for immediate help, said Curt Cashour, VA's spokesman.
The issue stems from two changes to how claims are processed, Cashour said. Payments are now tied to campus Zip codes, eliminating many overpayments. Other recalculations were designed to offset costs of additional education programs.
But those formulas proved too much for VA systems to handle.
"Essentially, the law requires a 50-year-old IT platform that was designed to do the equivalent of basic math to instead perform something akin to calculus in short order," Cashour said.
About 450,000 veterans have been affected, though VA hasn't explained the depth of their issues.
"I'm asking myself, are we destined to live with these IT problems regardless of how much taxpayer money we invest? It's embarrassing. It's shameful," Lou Correa, D-Calif., told VA officials during Thursday's hearing.
In July, VA noted a series of technology challenges but it appeared confident its systems could handle the new, complicated rules. "We have a handful of defects left," Robert Worley, the VA official who oversees veterans education benefits, assured the House VA committee at the time.
Worley is being reassigned, NBC News reported Thursday. He is relocating from the agency's central offices in Washington to become executive director of VA's regional office in Houston, a move that's expected to take place in January. "Rob chose to take this opportunity," Cashour said.
The title of the July hearing - "Is VA Ready for August 1st?" - reflected a concern over the hundreds of thousands of veterans heading to school.
It was also a question.
"The resounding answer was no," said Kristofer Goldsmith, the assistant director of policy at Vietnam Veterans of America.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie acknowledged the widespread failures in a Sept. 27 hearing, telling lawmakers that "even something as simple as changing the percentages broke the system."
VA, which received nearly $200 billion in funding this year, delayed implementation until it could solve its issues.
Problems have persisted. Roe told Wilkie in a Nov. 5 letter that his staff's visit to a VA processing center yielded disturbing findings. Crashes and latency problems over six months wasted 16,890 man hours, according to the letter.
That totals nearly two years.
When asked why VA relies on ancient computer systems, Cashour pointed to the Veterans' Affairs committees, suggesting it was a funding issue.
"It's laughable that VA is blaming Congress for its IT issues, especially given the fact that Congress just passed the largest VA budget in history," said Molly Jenkins, a House VA committee spokeswoman, calling the agency's IT failures "inexcusable, decades long, and well documented."
VA was allotted $30 million to improve its system, Jenkins said, adding that VA was six months late with a required progress update.
"[VA] sounded no alarms in their May 2018 report that there would be any delays at all," Jenkins said.
Consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton helped implement the processing system. Richard Crowe, a senior vice president at the firm, told lawmakers the company has not invoiced VA for its work on the project.
Associated costs have soared. VA marshaled a battalion of 202 additional employees to process education claims at a cost of $4.5 million since August, Stars and Stripes reported, though the problems remain unsolved.
Veterans have left scores of angry messages on VA social media channels.
"How long can this take to fix?" Jon Shirah asked on the agency's GI Bill Facebook page on Nov. 5. ″It's been over 2 months without pay."
A staffer for the American Legion, rather than VA, contacted Shirah to help.
Advocates have criticized VA for waiting months to alert veterans of the problem and suggest VA could have warned veterans to prepare for financial challenges.
VA issued an alert on Oct. 10, apologizing for delays and conceding it caused "financial hardship" for veterans. The bulletin also included a plea to universities not to penalize veterans for late payments.
VA's announcements were news to former Navy helicopter pilot Stephanie Erwin, now a doctoral candidate at George Washington University. She first heard from her school - not VA - that massive problems were occurring.
Her housing payments of around $2,300 did not show up for two months. She relied on savings to stay afloat. "A lot of veterans are hesitant to raise their hand and ask for help," she said.
But her savings dwindled, and grants awarded to her were locked by the school because VA had not paid her tuition. Those grants helped pay for food and medical insurance. Erwin asked for help from the American Legion on Nov. 5.
VA issued her payments around Veterans Day.
Officials told lawmakers VA was confident they could solve its technology issues by the spring. Veteran advocates remain skeptical.
“I don’t have indication VA is ready at all,” Goldsmith said, frustrated with the potential with more uncertainty. “I don’t think the American people intended the GI Bill to feel like a deployment.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks during the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco on Sept. 13, 2018. Bloomberg photo by David Paul Morris (David Paul Morris/)
WASHINGTON - An unbowed Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi insisted on Thursday that she has the votes to become the next House speaker despite the emergence of a possible challenger who claimed party dissidents can block her historic bid.
In a flurry of one-on-one meetings, Pelosi courted wavering lawmakers, paying particular attention to the incoming, majority-making class of freshmen. She appeared to make headway as leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus described their session with her as a "productive and successful conversation" that they would share with their 70-plus membership.
The veteran Democratic leader is also relying on an aggressive outside campaign to lobby lawmakers, made up of liberal interest group leaders and high-profile Democrats, including one of former President Barack Obama's closest advisers - former chief of staff Denis McDonough.
The powerful liberal organization, MoveOn, endorsed Pelosi while civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., said she has "demonstrated the proven, tested leadership we need to confront the issues before our nation."
Pelosi remains short of the votes necessary, with solid opposition from at least 19 Democrats. Her first critical test is Nov. 28 in a secret-ballot contest among Democrats and then again in the higher-stakes public roll call of the entire House on Jan. 3.
Publicly, Pelosi has grown defiant, and annoyed, at questions about her hold on power. "I have overwhelming support in my caucus to be speaker of the House," Pelosi told reporters at her weekly press briefing. "I happen to think at this point, I'm the best person for that."
Pelosi, already the first woman to serve as speaker, would be the first lawmaker to reclaim the gavel since 1955.
The anti-Pelosi faction received a potential lift Thursday when a veteran member of the Congressional Black Caucus said she would consider challenging Pelosi, helping rebut one of the central criticisms of this rump caucus of agitators: that they had no plan other than toppling Pelosi.
Marcia Fudge speaks during the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on July 26, 2016. Bloomberg photo by Daniel Acker (Daniel Acker/)
The CBC, which represents about 20 percent of the Democratic caucus, would likely be divided if Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, follows through with the challenge. At least a dozen of its members have publicly endorsed Pelosi. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., a member of the CBC, said that his bid for majority whip, the No. 3 position, is a unified trifecta with Pelosi for speaker and Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., for majority leader.
"She would be a threat to me, as well," Clyburn told reporters after a two-hour meeting of Democrats. "Because we put together a team, I'm supporting that team, and that team is Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn."
But Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., signaled Thursday that he is willing to consider Fudge.
"I'd probably be for it," Richmond said, declining to suggest he would vote against Pelosi but in support of a friend. "Whatever Marcia does, I'm very pro-Marcia."
When all the votes are tallied from last week's midterm elections, Democrats will emerge with a likely majority of 15 to 17 votes. That gives Fudge and the other anti-Pelosi Democrats the rough estimate of how many Democrats they would need to deny her a majority in the January vote.
Outside advisers to Pelosi believe that the anti-Pelosi wing needs more than just the bare minimum of votes to prevent her from securing 218 votes, with the far greater threat coming from the freshman class that is dominated by female political stars. If many of them announced opposition to Pelosi, it could be a politically mortal wound.
In an interview with The Washington Post on Thursday, Fudge said she has been taken aback by the support from many of her colleagues for her possible bid.
"Over the last 12 hours, I've been overwhelmed by the amount of support I've received," Fudge said, adding "probably closer to 30" Democrats have privately signaled they are willing to oppose Pelosi.
"Things could change rapidly," she said.
Fudge, 66, a former CBC chair, said she is building a diverse coalition as she considers a run, talking with allies in the CBC, moderate Democrats and newly elected members.
In a significant boost for Pelosi on Thursday, Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., a CBC member whom some have touted as a potential replacement for Pelosi, said in a tweet that she is backing Pelosi, 78, for the top leadership post.
Former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr., who is contemplating a 2020 presidential bid, also voiced support for Pelosi, praising her in a tweet as "an architect of the recent midterm success."
McDonough, Obama's top aide in his second presidential term, has begun making calls to shore up support for Pelosi, according to an adviser.
The speaker's vote used to be a perfunctory valedictory moment in which Republicans backed their nominee and Democrats their choice, the gavel going to whichever party had the majority.
But in this era of decentralized political forces, more rank-and-file feel free to oppose their party's leader. These Democratic dissidents are following the footsteps of Republicans who chased one Republican speaker, John Boehner, out of office and made life difficult for House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
Pelosi could potentially draw votes from some moderate Republicans who have complained about how Boehner and Ryan ran the House.
"I'm open to crossing over," Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., said. As chairman of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, Reed sits in a potential swing district and is working with moderate Democrats on ambitious rules changes.
But Pelosi, the leader of the Democratic caucus for almost 16 years, said she has no interest in getting a few extra votes from Republicans. "I intend to win the speakership with Democratic votes," she said.
Pelosi has deputized the incoming chairman of the Rules Committee, Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., to try to produce a new rules package designed to open up the House so that more junior lawmakers can have input through their committees, an olive branch to the incoming freshmen and dozens of ambitious younger Democrats who have felt underutilized in recent years.
McGovern presented those proposals at a closed-door meeting Thursday afternoon but noted afterward that the process had just begun and he needed to hear from the nearly 60 incoming freshmen. "The new members just got here, so they haven't had time to really have any input on any of this stuff," he said.
Pelosi convened a meeting of her whip team for the race: 43 members met in her conference room just before noon Thursday in the Capitol, according to her allies.
There were signs some undecided Democrats would fall into line behind Pelosi.
Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., an incoming congresswoman who called for new leadership during her campaign, said she would meet with Pelosi on Friday to talk about committee assignments.
"We can celebrate that diversity, that rainbow of women coming in," said Tlaib, who will be one of the first Muslim women in Congress. "But I think it's really important that we also honor it by putting [women] on some really critical committees."
Asked what she wants to hear from Pelosi, Tlaib said: "That working families are important and that me being here and celebrating that I'm a first is important but that she'll honor it by putting me on critical committees where decisions are made."
The Washington Post’s Robert Costa, Erica Werner and Elise Viebeck contributed to this report.
Search-and-rescue team volunteer Harry Halterman, of the Kern County unit, crawls out of a shed on Thursday in Paradise, California. Washington Post photo by Ricky Carioti (Ricky Carioti/)
PARADISE, Calif. - Wendy Bailey, a widow and retired stay-at-home-mother, hunched over a charred bathtub, surrounded by ash, looking for any trace of human remains.
It was her second day searching for victims of the ferocious wildfire that destroyed this city of about 26,000 residents last week, an effort that authorities say has become the largest search operation in California history.
As Bailey shifted her fingers through the rubble, in a subdivision where every house was leveled by flames, the scale of the task facing her and hundreds of other search-and-rescue volunteers began to sink in.
That charred piece of glass. Is it a tooth? The fingernail sized piece of stucco. Is it a bone?
"We have never had anything of this magnitude," said Bailey, 58, whose team had found the remains of two victims the previous day. "I have seen burned bodies before, but never just disintegrated. It's usually not like this."
A week after the Camp Fire was sparked in northern California, the death toll from the state's deadliest wildfire in its history continues to grow. At least 56 people have died in the fire, officials said Thursday. But search teams continue to sift through an estimated 10,000 destroyed structures for signs of the 130 people who remain unaccounted for, an ever-changing list of names amid the frenzy of new and canceled missing persons reports.
Some remains may never be recovered, said Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea.
With this hilltop community still smoldering, California authorities are leaning on volunteers such as Bailey for what is being called the largest body-recovery mission in state history, and one of the largest in the United States since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
After Honea put on a statewide appeal for help earlier this week, more than 450 members of California search-and-rescue teams have come here offering to help. They represent nearly all of California's 58 counties, highlighting the effectiveness of a state law that mandates each county sheriff maintain volunteer search-and-rescue teams.
Mike Delannoy and Journey look for remains in Paradise, California. Search teams are combing through thousands of fire-destroyed structures for signs of 130 people who are still missing. Washington Post photo by Ricky Carioti (Ricky Carioti/)
The volunteers are a variety of ages, both male and female, "a cross-section of our community," as Ben Ho, who coordinates cadaver-dog teamsfor the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services, put it.
Bailey joined the effort eight years ago, as a volunteer in an aquatic search-and-rescue unit in Southern California. Her unit, based in Kern County, usually responds to water rescues in the Kern River or missing hikers in the lower Sierra Nevada mountains, but has been called in to other areas with large-scale disasters.
Even here in California,where the concept of search and rescue dates back to efforts to rescue settlers who went missing while crossing the Sierra Nevada mountains in the 1800s, the scale of the Camp Fire response is testing first responders. As the number of state fire disasters continues to grow, state emergency officials say communities here and nationwide need to step up drills and training for how to effectively use volunteer search-and-rescue teams in natural disasters and other mass-causality events.
Many cadaver dogs are not as prepared as they should be to work safely in ash, officials said. California emergency managers also continue to refine how volunteer search and rescueshould be deployed, and under what command.
"Each one seems to be much more intense, and also the expectation of the public, the families, the agencies, is that we can do a number of tasks that are very challenging," said Ho said. "This is daunting - both physically and mentally."
Ho said the modern-day search-and-rescue team can be traced back to the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which devastated parts of San Francisco Bay area. At the time, Ho was a search manager for the Oakland, California, Fire department. After both San Francisco Bay area communities and federal officials struggled to respond to the earthquake, President George H.W. Bush pressed Ho and other regional emergency managers to develop a more effective plan for search and rescue, including more cadaver dog teams.
"He said we need to have the SWAT teams of rescue teams throughout the country and go to big disasters," Ho said.
After a few years of planning, including the formation of committees Ho participated in, modern-day urban search-and-rescue teams were formed. States and localities also greatly expanded use of cadaver dog units.
Those teams, which often operate in conjunction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, have been front-line responders to disasters, such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
There has also been a proliferation of volunteer wilderness search-and-rescue teams, especially here in California. Christopher Boyer, executive director of the National Association for Search and Rescue, said wilderness teams are better suited to respond to the Camp Fire due to the scope of the disaster, which has charred about 140,000-acres - nearly the size of Chicago.
"The FEMA teams are designed around finding live people, and their dogs find live people," said Boyer, whose organization has about 16,000 members. In Paradise, "we are talking about finding human remains, and in some cases, cremains that have been burnt."
Many of the responders to the Paradise fire say they were stunned by the devastation they now must work in.
David Freeman, a search volunteer from El Dorado County near Sacramento, compared his task to working on the moon.
"It doesn't even seem real," said Freeman, 75. "We are basically looking for anything that looks like it could be a body, but the fire was so hot, there may not be a lot left there."
Each morning, the volunteers are broken up into teams of eight to 10 people. If they find suspected human remains, the volunteers have access to anthropologists who help differentiate human remains from animals. Coroner teams are then responsible for removing the bodies.
On Wednesday, Bailey's team discovered half of a human skull and several bone fragments, roughly the size of a knuckle, she said.
But Honea, who is also the Butte County coroner, has been warning this grief-stricken community that some victims may not be found. The fire was so hot, he said, "its possible that some remains were completely consumed by fire."
"We will continue our search but at some point, ultimately, with the passage of time and circumstantial evidence will lead us to the conclusion they've perished," Honea said.
The scale of the disaster is even posing problems for cadaver dogs. Although the dogs are trained to sniff out human remains, even those that have been badly burned, public safety officials say the dogs are encountering challenges working in rough terrain that many here fear could be toxic.
"We can't put booties on their paws because that is like a rock climber with gloves on," Ho said. "You can't put masks on them, because they need their noses."
Mike Delannoy, a volunteer dog handler from Riverside County, spent Thursday morning running his 6-year-old border collie, Journey, through a destroyed house. A woman who lives there had been reported missing, but Journey onlygave fleeting signals that any remains were located the property, and ultimately none were found.
"The takeaway for us will be we need to focus more on training for large areas with cadaver dog teams," Delannoy said. "This is an environment where I want to minimize the time he is active in an area."
But Yerania Molina, a search-and-rescue volunteer from Kern County, said she's not sure any amount of training could have prepared first responders for what they are encountering in Paradise.
Molina, 37, has a full-time job as an information technology specialist. Since joining Kern County's rescue team three years ago, Molina has helped recover nine bodies, mostly from the Kern River.
On Thursday, as she prepared for her daily assignment, Molina said she and her fellow teammates approach their jobs with a mix of adrenaline and anxiety.
“You hope you don’t find anybody today because you don’t want any more deaths,” Molina said. “But you also know you that you have to find them because you know they are out there.”
A polar bear walks along the edge of Arctic Ocean sea ice in Alaska's Chukchi Sea in 2014. (Brian Battaile / USGS) (AP/)
The first formal count of polar bears in waters between the United States and Russia indicates they’re doing better than some of their cousins elsewhere.
Polar bears are listed as a threatened species because of diminished sea ice due to climate change. But university and federal researchers estimate a healthy and abundant population of nearly 3,000 animals in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s northwest coast, according to a study published Wednesday in Scientific Reports.
"It the near-term, it's absolutely good news," said lead author Eric Regehr, who began the project more than a decade ago as a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist and last year joined the University of Washington's Polar Science Center.
In the longer term, it doesn’t mean the Chukchi Sea polar bear population will not be affected.
"Polar bears need ice to hunt seals, and the ice is projected to decline until the underlying problem of climate change is addressed," Regehr said.
The study shows there is variation around the world in the effects of sea ice loss on polar bears, he said Thursday.
"Some subpopulations are already declining while others are still doing OK," he said.
Polar bears are classified as marine mammals because they spend most of their lives on sea ice. Less sea ice means less productive time to hunt ice seals, more time on shore and longer, energy-sapping swims.
The world's polar bears are divided into 19 subpopulations, including two in U.S. waters. Besides Chukchi bears, the United States shares the southern Beaufort Sea population with Canada.
Stress in southern Beaufort bears from a loss of sea ice was partly why the United States in 2008 declared polar bears a threatened species.
Fewer cubs were surviving into their second year and adult males weighed less and had smaller skulls, the U.S. Geological Survey found. Researcher Steven Amstrup at the time said the trends were consistent with changes in nutritional status likely associated with declines in sea ice.
A more recent study by USGS researcher Karyn Rode found that Chukchi bears spend more time on shore and have almost 30 fewer days to hunt seals on ice than 20 years ago, Regehr said. However, that doesn’t appear to have affected the population, he said.
Polar bears have an amazing ability to build fat reserves, Regehr said, and the Chukchi's abundant seal population apparently allows bears to compensate for the loss of hunting time. The difference with the southern Beaufort was obvious from an airplane, he said.
"It's visually striking to me, the difference, having worked in both places," Regehr said.
When ice melts, many Chukchi bears rest on Russia's Wrangell Island, where they occasionally can find a whale or walrus carcass.
The Chukchi population study used data collected by sampling about 60 polar bears between 2008 and 2016. Some were fitted with GPS transmitters. The data was used in a model designed to estimate population size for highly mobile large carnivores.
Blaine Griffen, an associate professor of biology at Brigham Young University, said the study was good news.
"It's nice to see that there's at least one population that's doing better than others," he said.
The difference may be geography, he said. The Chukchi Sea has a more extensive continental shelf area with primary productivity that enables the food chain to support seals.
The research agrees with previous studies that suggested Chukchi bears would do better than bears elsewhere, Griffen said.
Researcher Jon Pratt next to the watt balance at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Washington Post photo by Salwan Georges (Salwan Georges/)
Humanity is on the verge of a weighty achievement. On Friday, representatives of more than 60 nations will convene in Versailles, France, to approve a new definition for the kilogram.
Since the 19th century, scientists have based their definition of the fundamental unit of mass on a physical object - a shining platinum iridium cylinder stored in a locked vault in the bowels of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) in Sevres, France. A kilogram was equal to the heft of this aging hunk of metal, and the cylinder, by definition, weighed exactly a kilogram. If the cylinder changed, even a little bit, then the entire global system of measurement had to change, too.
With Friday's vote, scientists will redefine the kilogram for the 21st century by tying it to a fundamental feature of the universe - a small, strange figure from quantum physics known as Planck's constant, which describes the smallest possible unit of energy.
Thanks to Albert Einstein's revelation that energy and mass are related, determining exactly how much energy is in that unit can let scientists define mass in terms of Planck's constant - a value that should hold up across space and time - rather than relying on an inconstant metal cylinder. (Mass determines something's weight, and for most purposes mass and weight are interchangeable.)
The redefinition is the result of a decades-long, worldwide quest to measure Planck's constant precisely enough that the number would stand up to scientific scrutiny.
Though the newly defined kilogram won't affect your bathroom scale, it will have practical applications in research and industries that depend on meticulous measurement.
Friday's vote is mostly a formality; everyone involved says the resolution will pass. But to Jon Pratt, one of the leaders of that global effort, the event is about more than symbolism, bigger than business and beyond even physics.
In this era of violence and vitriol, when it seems there's so little on which people can agree, Pratt said, the redefinition represents something sublime.
It is an acknowledgment of an immutable truth - that nature has laws to which all of us are subject. And it's one more step toward a lofty dream - that, in understanding nature's laws, scientists can help build a better world.
The scientist grinned, sheepish. "It's an emotional moment," he said. "I'm just really proud of our species."
The U.S. national kilogram, made in 1879 and kept at NIST. Washington Post photo by Salwan Georges (Salwan Georges/)
At the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Maryland, where Pratt works, measurement is often described as the "invisible infrastructure" of the modern world. Everything a person does - whether it's checking a clock, forecasting the weather, cooking a meal, building a rocket, signing a contract, waging a war - requires measurements of some kind.
The International System of Units, or SI, is what allows us to communicate measurements around the globe. This system, which has its origins in the heady days of the Enlightenment, was meant to end the bickering over the number of Spanish vara in a British furlong and ease the anxieties of a merchant who bought goods in the Netherlands, where the unit of weight was based on the amount of fish that could fit in a ship's hold, and sold them in France, where weight was tied to the heft of a wheat grain.
The motto of one of the system's creators, "for all times and for all people," is among Pratt's favorite phrases.
"It's such an optimistic view," Pratt said. "He just imagined this business of science . . . was going to be a great force for freedom and a great force for moving the world forward."
In 1875, the signing of the Treaty of the Metre made the system official. Two platinum and iridium prototypes - a meter-length bar and a kilogram-mass cylinder - were forged to serve as the standard units for the whole world. The BIPM distributed copies of each prototype to the signatory nations; the century-old U.S. national kilogram still sits in a glass case in a locked room down the hall from Pratt's lab.
As science and commerce advanced, the SI expanded to include units for other kinds of measurements and the definitions were revised to allow for greater and greater precision. The meter prototype was ditched in favor of the distance light travels in a vacuum in one 299,792,458th of a second. The length of a second was pegged to the rate of radioactive decay of the element cesium. The candela, used to measure luminous intensity, was tied to the brightness of a particular wavelength of green light.
These values - the speed of light, the behavior of atoms, the nature of electromagnetism - are fundamental features of nature that do not change whether the observer is on Earth or Mars, whether it's the year 1875 or 2018.
But the kilogram prototype, known as "Le Grand K," was made by humans and is subject to all our limitations. It is inaccessible - the safe containing the cylinder can be opened only by three custodians carrying three separate keys, an event that has happened fewer than a dozen times in the object's 139-year history. And it is inconsistent - when Le Grand K was examined in the 1980s, it weighed several micrograms less than it was supposed to. This meant that anyone who made products based on the standards had to reissue their weights. Manufacturers were furious. Lawmakers were called. Metrologists, people who study measurements, were accused of incompetence.
So, in a 2014 meeting at the BIPM, the metrology community resolved to redefine the kilogram. But the value of Planck's constant was still uncertain, and scientists couldn't redefine the kilogram without it.
A watt balance instrument is seen at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Washington Post photo by Salwan Georges (Salwan Georges/)
It has been more than 100 years since the quantum physicist Max Planck discovered that energy is expressed in discrete units - that is, it's "quantized." But his constant - a figure that describes the size of these energy packets - has been hard to pin down.
There are only two experimental setups that allow scientists to calculate this number, and both require rare and expensive tools.
One technique involves counting all the atoms in a perfectly round silicon sphere.
The second option uses an exquisitely accurate weighing machine known as a watt balance, which measures an object's mass by calculating the force needed to lift it. This is no ordinary scale; it took a pair of British scientists several decades to invent and refine the instrument, and there are only two in the world powerful enough to meet the BIPM's high standards for precision.
One is in Canada. The other sits inside Pratt's lab in the NIST basement.
"It really is a beautiful instrument," Pratt said during a visit this week to the steel-encased room where the balance is stored. "I like to just come here and stare at it."
The enormous metal machine, which took five years to build, is as tall as a professional basketball player and shiny as a disco ball, with a tungsten carbide fulcrum on which the balance hinges and a one-ton magnet that helps generate a force. While experiments are run, the entire balance is placed inside a vacuum chamber. Anyone who operates the instrument must wear a hairnet, a lab coat and bootees. Pratt and his colleagues measure every factor that could possibly affect their result, from the temperature of the room to the strength of Earth's gravity.
"In a physics sense, we're really chasing perfection here," Pratt said. "We really need things to behave just as their idealized versions."
The 2014 resolution required that at least one instrument would need to calculate Planck's constant to an uncertainty of just 20 parts per billion - or within 0.000002 percent of what is thought to be the correct number.
On June 30, 2017, the day before the deadline to submit a value to the BIPM's weights and measures committee, Pratt and his team finally published a result that met this standard.
Planck's constant is equal to 6.626069934 x 10−34 kg∙m2/s, they said. And their uncertainty was just 13 parts per billion.
That number may be barely intelligible to the casual observer. But to Pratt, measuring it felt for a moment like some cosmic curtain had been lifted, revealing the innermost workings of the universe.
Researcher Jon Pratt is seen next to the watt balance instrument at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Washington Post photo by Salwan Georges (Salwan Georges/)
Here in the echoing basement of an obscure federal agency, he and his crew of hair-netted nerds had gotten as close to one standard for perfection as any human has ever been. They had transcended their human biases and earthly flaws to make an observation so precise it will work "for all times and for all people" - or at least, until the day when scientists are able to pull back another fold of the curtain, eliminating one more degree of uncertainty about this fundamental fact of physics.
Pratt and his colleagues are not the only scientists who have spent the better part of the past decade in pursuit of Planck's constant. Researchers using the watt balance in Canada have achieved a measurement with even less uncertainty than NIST's. Teams in Germany and Japan produced similarly precise measurements using the silicon-sphere technique.
But not all the measurements agreed. In the metrology community, where careers can be staked on quibbles over decimal points, this discrepancy could have been catastrophic. "There was a lot of hemming and hawing, and at one point there were questions about whether [the vote] would even happen," Pratt said.
But that debate, too, was an important part of the process. Only through repeated observations, refutations and confirmations does an idea become a globally accepted fact. It's what makes science bigger than scientists; it's how we establish that something is true.
Still, Pratt didn't wait for the debate to end to get NIST"s value for Planck's constant tattooed on his forearm - the 10-digit number and an illustration of a statue clutching a meter bar and a kilogram cylinder. And above it, in French, were the words that have guided metrologists since the beginning: A tous les temps, a tous les peuples.
For all times, for all people.
A moose walks down the park road in Denali National Park and Preserve on Thursday, May 19, 2016. (Bob Hallinen / Alaska Dispatch News) (Bob Hallinen/)
It’s hard to know which sourdough or pioneer first said, “You can’t eat the view.” Facing raw, wild nature, early settlers often blamed their hunger on the scenery. Like them, generations of Alaska politicians have blamed our “locked up” public lands for a bottomless economic hunger.
Yet we eat the view all the time in Alaska. Take salmon, for instance. There is a direct connection between abundant wild land and abundant wild salmon. Salmon thrive where rivers run through vast tracts of wild land. When you eat salmon, you eat the scenery.
Moose and caribou need lots of room to roam, and Alaska is one of the few places on the planet where that still exists. A moose backstrap is a tasty chunk of raw wild land.
Same for the berries, ducks, hooligan, mushrooms, clams and deer that fill Alaskan freezers. Without wild scenery, these foods wouldn’t be there for us. Abundant public land means that we can access these foods, and access is one of the first things lost when land is developed. Alaska is the last place left on earth where subsistence is still a viable lifestyle, thanks to our wild scenery. Wild foods are the least expensive and most nutritious available to us.
On a recent trip around Lake Iliamna, I was mesmerized by endless lines of sockeye salmon streaming past our beach campsites. Threading the woods and islands of Iliamna country are what my friend Roman Dial calls “BMW trails” (bear, moose and wolf), a sure sign of healthy wild scenery. I grew up on a tributary of the Connecticut River, where the last salmon now beat their heads against impassable dams. I’ve tramped the remaining wild corners of the planet and never seen anything approaching the density of Alaska’s game trails. What we still have is precious and rare - why would we trade that for anything?
Millions of Alaska visitors are coming to see things they don’t have in Ohio, Texas or China. They are not here to admire our cities or our pipelines. They want to eat our scenery, and we in turn benefit from the money they spend gorging on our beauty.
Wild nature is our market advantage, Alaska’s special sauce, what sets us apart. Yet it is the rare Alaska politician who extols our intact wildness, instead highlighting what we don’t have and hastening the loss of what every other place has already lost. This poverty mindset dominates our politics at all levels. It’s as if we are trying to become New Jersey with mountains.
While Alaska has so far avoided the worst mistakes that have marred wild scenery worldwide, the story is still being written. Wildness is slowly eroded by thousands of small cuts that aim to improve our quality of life. By trying to make ourselves financially richer, however, we become impoverished when we lose the land and foods that sustain us.
Salmon are the perfect economic system: for very little investment, they provide infinite returns. Yet across history, we have failed to act, out of greed, ignorance or indifference, and each time, salmon have blinked out, from Scotland to New England to the Pacific Northwest. In 1991, Bill Frank, Jr., chairman of the Northwest Indian Fish Commission, said, “If the salmon could speak, he would ask us to help him survive.”
Help didn’t arrive in time in the Northwest, and now Alaska is the last stand for wild salmon. Good will and the best of intentions have never been sufficient to protect salmon. In the absence of moral restraint, we need legal restraint to keep us from stealing off the plates of our grandchildren. Will we leave them the same smorgasbord of wild scenery that feeds us today, or an empty platter?
Brad Meiklejohn is a senior representative in conservation acquisition with The Conservation Fund. He opened the Fund’s Alaska office in 1994.
The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to email@example.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.
A drill rig works for Repsol at its Colville Delta operations in 2014. Repsol won a dozen leases at the annual state North Slope lease sale with bids released Nov. 15. The company along with Armstrong Energy discovered the promising Pikka prospect in 2014 that's now under development. (Photo/Courtesy/Repsol)
Exploration interest remained high in the state’s North Slope and Beaufort Sea annual lease sales held Thursday morning, which netted $28.1 million for the state treasury.
Winning bids for the North Slope portion of the sale totaled about $27.3 million, the third highest amount since 1998, according to Division of Oil and Gas Director Chantal Walsh.
Successful bidders spent about $848,000 for near shore Beaufort Sea leases, which is in line with historical averages, Walsh said.
The state received bids on 133 tracts covering 223,680 onshore North Slope acres, and eight Beaufort Sea tracts totaling 20,270 acres garnered bids, according to division officials.
“We have a lot to be happy about — a very good lease sale,” Walsh said.
A new player to Alaska, Lagniappe Alaska LLC, dominated the sealed-bid sale by winning rights to approximately 120 leases over a large area south of Deadhorse along the Dalton Highway. State officials present at the sale knew little about Lagniappe and audience members speculated among themselves how to spell it (pronounced lan-yap) as the bids were read aloud.
Lagniappe Alaska LLC was formed in the state on Nov. 7 and is based in Lafayette, Louisiana, according to filings with the state Division of Corporations, Business and Professional Licensing.
No one came forward when Deputy Oil and Gas Director Jim Beckham asked if a Lagniappe representative was present at the bid opening.
“We appreciate our new player,” Walsh said.
Not to be outdone, Italian major Repsol, which along with Armstrong Energy discovered the large Pikka prospect, spent between $175 and $586 per acre on the few remaining available leases just to the south and east of the Pikka Unit.
“Repsol is definitely here to play,” Walsh commented.
Caracol Petroleum and ASRC Exploration also bid on several of the dozen leases Repsol won.
Papua New Guinea-based Oil Search, which recently took over as operator of the Pikka Unit and is advancing the Nanushuk project, won several Beaufort Sea leases just offshore from Pikka.
The one minor disappointment for state officials was a lack of interest in the three Special Alaska Lease Sale Areas, or SALSAs, that the Division of Oil and Gas put up for bid for the first time.
Despite coming with publicly available geologic data, the SALSAs — each covering multiple lease tracts — garnered no bids.
Walsh said she is still happy the division took the time to compile and advertise the areas as it directed more traffic to the division’s website than ever before and gave officials insight into how to better direct interested parties to publicly available oil and gas geologic and well data.
She added the concept of selling multiple leases in blocks is something the state will continue to evaluate but it’s too soon to tell if the current SALSAs will be put up for bid again in their current form.
The Bureau of Land Management’s annual lease sale for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska is scheduled for Dec. 12 and will cover 2.8 million acres, according to a BLM release.
Elwood Brehmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alaska Gasline Development Corporation president Keith Meyer, left, and Alaska Gov. Bill Walker speak at a press conference about the state’s liquefied natural gas joint development agreement with China on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)
The dust is settling from the Nov. 6 elections, and many people are wondering whether Gov.-elect Mike Dunleavy will take a wrecking ball to Gov. Bill Walker’s signature priority, the Alaska LNG Project.
I don’t think he will. The state has invested about half a billion dollars since 2011 in this project, and three major North Slope producers have ponied up about the same, or even a bit more. That’s more than a billion dollars that shouldn’t be wasted, and I don’t believe it will.
I’m encouraged that Gov.-elect Dunleavy has asked former Gov. Sean Parnell to take a look at Alaska LNG as it currently is, which is much different than it was when Parnell was governor.
Parnell is careful, and no wrecking ball. He’s familiar with the gas project (he was the architect of the former industry-led consortium that led Alaska LNG) and no doubt has qualms about the state now leading his huge project, as does Dunleavy. That’s understandable.
Alaska LNG has come a long way in the past four years, two of those under state leadership. It is now closing in on a key regulatory achievement, a draft and then final Environmental Impact Statement. This builds on previous technical work by the industry-led group, of which the state was a part.
Negotiations are now well along with three major Chinese companies that could be major customers and investors. The current U.S. trade battle may cloud that, but the state gas corporation, Alaska Gasline Development Corp., said there are no signals as yet of problems in meeting a Dec. 31 goal for the deals to be agreed.
But we’ll see. If the Chinese don’t show up, AGDC will have to refocus on other potential customers it is talking with, such as Japan and Vietnam. But that might also be a point where the new governor could take a pause and consider some other alternatives for marketing North Slope gas.
My favorite potential alternative is gas-to-liquids, converting the gas into a synthetic diesel that can be shipped through the existing trans-Alaska oil pipeline. But in any event, it’s important to finish the regulatory work and not waste a billion dollars on sunk investment.
There is, of course, understandable discomfort with the state leading Alaska LNG. But let’s remember that the three industry partners that withdrew from the project in early 2016 encouraged the state to continue work, mainly on the critical regulatory effort.
The companies withdrew because as a privately-led venture, it didn’t meet their minimum return on investment. It didn’t help that oil (and LNG) prices cratered at the same time.
The producers encouraged the state to pursue alternative models for the project, such as public ownership, to attract investment. Aside from certain tax advantages, there is also the possibility that long-term institutional-type investors might be willing to accept a lower minimum return than ExxonMobil or BP, for example.
We’ll know by the end of December if this idea is workable — if the Chinese show up.
However, the state leading a major Alaska industrial project is nothing new. The best example is the Red Dog Mine port and road in Northwest Alaska, where the state industrial finance corporation, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, funded and constructed a port and road to help Cominco, the mining company, develop what is now one of the world’s largest zinc mines – Red Dog. AIDEA still owns and road and port. The initial debt is long paid and AIDEA is still making profits.
Alaska LNG is many times the size of Red Dog, of course, but the principle of state investment and construction of infrastructure to enable resource production is the same. However, given the size and complexity of Alaska LNG, it would be a good idea to have the producers help manage construction.
This brings me to another point. If we do wind up taking a pause with Alaska LNG, why not use AGDC’s capabilities with another pipeline project that will help the state’s economic development?
I’m thinking of the Donlin Gold mine on the middle fork of the Kuskokwim River, 350 miles west of Anchorage. The owners, Barrick Gold and NovaGold Resources, have received major federal permits for the mine and for a 315-mile, 14-inch gas pipeline that would bring Cook Inlet gas to the mine to provide energy.
The cost of building the mine is estimated at more than $6 billion, and the company is worried that at current gold prices, it doesn’t pencil. However, if another party were to own the pipeline ($1 billion of the $6 billion) as well as the power plant for the mine (several hundred million dollars), much of the financial pressure would be eased.
That’s because this arrangement lowers the front-end cash the mining companies have to raise and would allow the pipeline and power plant to be paid for over time as operating expenses.
Precisely this happened with Red Dog. Cominco, the mining company (now Teck), was unable to finance the road and port along with the mine. The state stepped in, through AIDEA. It was a win-win.
Donlin Gold would be a similar exercise. The 315-mile pipeline has much of the engineering done, is permitted and has its federal right of way. Most important, it has customers, one being the world’s largest gold producer, Barrick.
If Donlin Gold were built, it would be a big economic stimulus to the state and particularly Southwest Alaska and the Yukon-Kuskokwim region, now one of the state’s most economically depressed areas.
Tim Bradner is co-publisher of the Alaska Legislative Digest and is the 2018 Atwood Visiting Professor of Journalism at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to email@example.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.
Sisters Angela Omoareghan and Genevieve Osayame, from Nigeria, are in Anchorage, AK on a mission on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018. (Bob Hallinen / ADN) (Bob Hallinen/)
Three Nigerian nuns taught me something about wealth and poverty on a recent dark, icy evening at their convent in South Anchorage. The sisters don’t have much, but they came to Alaska to bring us something we were missing.
“There are a lot of people who are struggling from loneliness,” said Sister Angela Omoareghan. “Because of that individualistic way of life. I come from a culture where we have communal life.”
In her village in Nigeria, homes didn’t have water or electricity. Rather than using electronics for entertainment, families visited.
Sister Angela was astonished to learn that Alaskans call ahead before visiting their own parents.
“In Africa, I don’t have to make a call before I visit,” she said.
“Sometimes, there is no phone,” said her colleague, Sister Genevieve Osayame.
“In our poverty, we share, and there is that joy and contentment,” Sister Angela said. “Here, I discover, there are people who have a lot of things, yet that loneliness is there.”
Sisters Angela Omoareghan and Genevieve Osayame, from Nigeria, photographed in the chapel, are in Anchorage, AK on a mission on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018. (Bob Hallinen / ADN) (Bob Hallinen/)
The nuns took a vow of poverty as members of the Sisters of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus. The money they earn at Providence Alaska Medical Center pays for the simple housing and chapel where they pray four hours a day.
Sister Genevieve said their work is to be present and to listen.
She pioneered the mission to Alaska after she came here for a retreat. The inspiration came above the mountains on a plane headed north. Sister Angela and Sister Mary John Oworu (whom I didn’t meet) followed her.
The move from Africa to Anchorage was as big as it sounds. After almost a decade in Alaska, Sister Genevieve still misses food from home.
Sister Angela said her family feared she would die of the cold.
“It is so cold, it is the land of no return,” she recalled them saying.
The first time Alaska friends took her hiking, she was confused. She was excited to try a new activity. But when they arrived at the trailhead, she didn’t want to get out of the car. All she could see was a path into the bushes like where she used to collect firewood.
She told that story on herself with a huge smile and laughter. Sister Angela said much of her mission is accomplished with her smile.
But the differences from life in Africa go deeper than wealth or food. Worship there is filled with singing, dancing and joy.
Sister Genevieve said leading African children in spiritual education was spontaneous and open. “They lived their youthfulness,” she said.
Sister Genevieve Osayame. (Bob Hallinen / ADN) (Bob Hallinen/)
But here children spend much of their time in the car going between planned activities, she said. Teens who want to climb a mountain with their youth group first need a series of phone calls and permission slips.
“That’s really stifling. It is stifling on so many stratas of life. It sometimes makes life unnatural,” she said. “If, as a young person, you don’t know how to be spontaneous, I don’t know who you will be.”
The sisters are troubled by the prevalence of drug use and suicide in Alaska society.
Sister Angela said, “That actually spoke to my heart. That made me have compassion for these people.”
Her helping work is in the hospital, where she meets with people who are sick or alone.
“I go about and smile with people, and sometimes I dance. I sing with people. Just to be living joy and hope. Let them know there is hope,” she said.
The nuns wear traditional white habits through their days around town. They said people stop them to say they have never seen a nun before.
Some greet the nuns with anger. Sister Genevieve said she has talked with Alaskans who were angry about the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal or were angry with God about family deaths. One directed a racist epithet against her.
When that happens, she listens and tries to help the person understand his or her anger.
“It takes grace to just hold the person,” she said. “So there is that aspect of just being present. Our life isn’t so much about talking and doing. There is so much doing in the world. It is just being present for people.”
I listened to a few moments of their prayer as photographer Bob Hallinen took pictures of the two nuns in their chapel. They read a psalm with singing voices, in harmony. They use drums in their services to recreate the joyful worship they remember from Africa.
The nuns seem truly happy to have given their lives to the work they do. In large part, their work is simply to show that happiness.
Sister Genevieve said Alaskans need to see devotion in a way most Africans already recognize. Back home, a sense of awe and reverence for life is ingrained in culture, she said.
“You rationalize everything, and you do not have the sense of mystery,” she said. “The kind of feedback we get, ‘Oh you’re so spiritual.’ But it is not just because we get down and pray.”
“We believe in a celebration of life from birth to death,” Sister Angela said. “We believe everything is celebration, and we give thanks to God.”
Sister Angela Omoareghan. (Bob Hallinen / ADN) (Bob Hallinen/)
I asked a question—perhaps a foolish, materialistic one—but it’s one that counts in our world. How will they know if their mission is a success? What is the measure of this work?
“There is no measuring. Sometimes you do not even know you have made any difference, or if you have touched someone,” Sister Genevieve said. “If you go by human standards, some people would say, ‘What a wasted life.’ People have different ways of measuring. ‘What a waste that you have not married.’”
She continued, “We do what we do believing we have done the best we could, and let God do the best with it.”
Their way is not the way for everyone. But the need is real.
The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.
WASHINGTON — Amid scrutiny stemming from fresh revelations of rampant discrimination, bullying, retaliation and sexual misconduct at the U.S. Forest Service, the agency’s new chief pledged Thursday that she will “do everything in my power to put us on a path to no harassment.”
Vicki Christiansen acknowledged to a congressional panel that the Forest Service is in need of a culture change. She pledged to enact new systems and overhaul existing processes to ensure a safe and functional work environment.
"I know our actions past and present are not enough, we must do more," said Christiansen, who was named interim chief in March and took over the position permanently just a month ago. She was appearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
The Forest Service is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The agency's struggles date to at least the 1970s, when a class-action lawsuit was filed alleging discrimination against women in hiring and promotions. In December 2016, the oversight panel held a hearing to address reports of systemic discrimination, bullying and harassment within the Forest Service.
The matter has gained renewed attention as female Forest Service employees recently stepped forward with tales of harassment, retaliation and even rape. In March, the USDA Office of Inspector General released a report that showed widespread mistrust in the complaint reporting process, prompting the agency to change the way it handles sexual harassment and misconduct allegations.
Earlier this month, Oversight Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., sent a letter to Christiansen and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue requesting information and documents related to recent misconduct claims.
"Despite taking some steps to address the problem, "alarming reports of misconduct and retaliation at the USFS persist," Gowdy wrote.
Prior to becoming Forest Service chief, Christiansen spent more than three decades as a forester and wildland firefighter.
"I know what it means to encounter harassment and discrimination in my workplace," she said. "I know the deep anguish it causes. I know how it feels to fear retaliation."
Those experiences, she said, "fuel my commitment to the Forest Service."
Vicki Christiansen is shown in this 2012 photo when Christiansen served as interim regional forester for Region 1, based in Missoula, Mont. Christiansen, the U.S. Forest Service’s new chief is pledging to rid the agency of sexual harassment and discrimination amid fresh revelations of misconduct within its ranks. Christiansen acknowledged to a congressional panel on Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, that the Forest Service is in need of a culture change. She pledged to enact new systems and overhaul existing processes to ensure a safe and functional work environment. (John Crepeau/The Missoulian via AP) (John Crepeau/)
Christiansen on Thursday discussed progress made, and laid out her plans to further reform the agency. She said the agency has updated its anti-harassment policy and hired outside contractors to investigate allegations of sexual harassment. Additionally, Christiansen said the agency has created a Work Environment and Performance Office and plans to establish a victim advocacy and support structure.
It also launched a call center to handle harassment and abuse allegations, formed a new employee advisory group, hired case managers and is requiring all 25,000 permanent Forest Service employees to attend "listen-and-learn sessions" to discuss workplace conduct.
Shannon Reed, who said she was harassed and assaulted, then fired after she reported the abuse, shared her story at Thursday's hearing. She said Christiansen's plan to reform the agency doesn't go nearly far enough.
"Chief Christiansen's action plan is merely a check-the-box process to make the agency appear as if it is addressing sexual harassment, gender harassment, bullying and retaliation," Reed said. She told the panel that she was forced to attend a listening session with her harassers.
"The agency is telling us to stand up and report harassment, but when we do, we are retaliated against. Chief Christiansen has not made it a safe environment for us to report harassment," she said.
Gowdy asked USDA Inspector General Phyllis K. Fong, who also testified at the hearing, why victims and abusers would ever be in the same session.
"How in the hell can you have the perpetrator in the room with the victim?" Gowdy said. "I can't think of anything that has a more chilling effect on someone being able to tell their story."
"I understand your concern," Fong said. "We want to send a very clear message in our office that if people have concerns or issues they would like to bring forward, we have multiple ways and avenues where we can help people."
Christiansen admitted there is still "big work to do."
"I'd like to say I could change it in six months. But to be absolutely honest, I don't think you change the culture of an organization that's existed for 113 years and has 40,000 people overnight," she said.
Prior to working for the Forest Service, Reed worked for the National Park Service, where she said she also experienced bullying, harassment and assault.
"Little did I know that transferring from the Park Service to the Forest Service was jumping from the frying pan to the fire," she said.
At the same time in a separate hearing room on Capitol Hill, President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the park service — also under fire for its handling of sexual harassment and assault claims — faced demands from senators to confront what park employees have told lawmakers is rampant abuse at national parks.
"This is really a dark cloud over our National Park Service," Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican and chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, told David Vela at a committee hearing on his nomination to lead the agency. Murkowski cited a "long-term pattern of sexual harassment and hostile work environment" at the park service.
Vela, currently park chief at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, said he would hold "people and processes accountable" in dealing with widespread allegations of male colleagues and bosses preying upon and bullying female co-workers, including complaints at iconic national parks such as Grand Canyon and Yosemite.
"The scourge of sexual and workplace harassment ... at the National Park Service must stop," Vela told lawmakers.
A Park Service preliminary report in 2016 concluded "the environment is indeed toxic, hostile, repressive and harassing."
Ellen Knickmeyer contributed from Washington.
Webster Hall stands on the campus of Dartmouth College, the smallest school in the Ivy League, in Hanover, N.H. (Bloomberg photo by Cheryl Senter) (Cheryl Senter/)
Seven women accuse Dartmouth College in a lawsuit of allowing three prominent professors to harass and sexually assault students in a “21st-century Animal House” atmosphere.
For more than a decade, the lawsuit contends, female students in the school's Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences "have been treated as sex objects by tenured professors Todd Heatherton, William Kelley, and Paul Whalen. These professors leered at, groped, sexted, intoxicated, and even raped female students."
The lawsuit describes a culture in which well-regarded professors who helped build a powerhouse department at the Ivy League school acted with impunity and repeatedly mistreated students. It asserts that professors regularly held professional lab meetings in bars, invited students to late-night hot-tub parties, and conditioned academic support on participation in a hard-drinking party culture and tolerance of unwanted sexual attention.
Kristina Rapuano, one of the six named plaintiffs, alleges that while she was a graduate student at Dartmouth in 2014, Whalen sent her a text message summoning her back to his office after they had finished grading exams. When she arrived, he closed the door, the complaint alleges, turned the light off and began trying to touch her. When she tried to leave, the lawsuit says, Whalen pinned her to the wall and repeatedly tried to put his hands down her pants despite repeated demands that he stop, until she forcefully removed his hands.
"Sexual misconduct and harassment have no place at Dartmouth," Justin Anderson, a spokesman for Dartmouth, responded in a written statement. "As a result of the misconduct we found earlier this year" by the three faculty members, Anderson said, Dartmouth "took unprecedented steps toward revoking their tenure and terminating their employment." The former professors are banned from campus and from all Dartmouth-sponsored events.
Anderson said the college applauds the courage displayed by those who brought the allegations to Dartmouth's attention last year. "And we remain open to a fair resolution of the students' claims through an alternative to the court process.
"However, we respectfully, but strongly, disagree with the characterizations of Dartmouth's actions in the complaint and will respond through our own court filings." He wrote that the school's board of trustees and leaders are dedicated to maintaining a safe and inclusive campus, and remain committed to improving the school's culture.
Over several months in 2017, more than two dozen complainants participated in a Title IX investigation, according to the suit. Last month, the New Hampshire attorney general opened a criminal investigation into the allegations against the professors. A spokeswoman for the attorney general did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
The lawsuit claims that even after serious complaints were lodged, Dartmouth encouraged the women to continue working with Heatherton, Kelley and Whalen. "Dartmouth warned the victims that the accused professors would likely retaliate against students who discontinued working with them by disparaging them and revoking their academic support, actions which could result in the victims being expelled or placed on academic probation," the lawsuit said. "Thus, at Dartmouth's suggestion, the victims continued working with their harassers for nearly four months."
One woman was sexually assaulted 20 days after a group of women had filed a complaint, the lawsuit alleges.
The former professors could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday morning. An attorney for Heatherton did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Mail call. Lots of questions with general application here, starting with why do you need to keep plants where there is good air circulation. A great question. I always talk about air circulation, but a reader wants to know a bit of the science behind it.
There is usually a microclimate around plant leaves, created by a thin layer of still air. It is called the boundary layer. If it's too thick, at least two things can go wrong.
First, CO2, which is needed for photosynthesis, has trouble getting through this layer to enter the leaves. The plant can't make as much energy as it may need. It doesn't operate at full capacity. Second, the plant doesn't take up as much water because the vapors released during photosynthesis are still inside the leaves, which messes up the plant's "drinking" system. This system involves pulling nutrients into the plant.
As a result of this layer, then, plants don't get the nutrition or energy they need. What a shame, when all it takes is a bit of air movement from a cheap fan to move this microclimate aside so the plant can operate properly.
Next, a question I get every year at this time: Do you fertilize houseplants during the winter? The standard advice has always been that you do not because supposedly plants stop growing in the winter, but that is wrong. You fertilize plants (actually you feed the microbes and they fertilize the plants) when they need it. And that could be at any time of the year, especially since I know all of you readers have set up light systems for winter growth!
The better question is what to use on your plants. For my money, a quarter-inch layer of compost keeps our houseplants in good shape without needing any supplemental fertilizers. Kelp meal is also a great microbe food that helps keep plants healthy.
If you buy fertilizer, make sure it is organic. If your plants are flowering types, you want to have a bit more of the second number on the package trilogy, phosphorous, than on the first number, nitrogen. If your plants do not flower, you want a slightly higher first number.
Next, what is the best way to grow paper whites? Paper whites, a type of narcissus used for indoor forcing, are always easy to grow. Pot them in well-draining potting soil. Their necks should stick out of soil. The big tip here is to then keep your pots for a couple of weeks in a dark spot where the temperature is between 50 and 60 degrees. This will allow them to develop some roots before they are exposed to light. Once this is over, the heat from the top of the refrigerator or a seed heating mat will speed up growth and blooming.
Of course, you don't have to use soil for paper whites. If you can support bulbs above water, so the base is just touching it, the plants will develop roots and top growth. Don't worry about bulbs that have crooked growth developed during storage. This will straighten out once they start getting water and better light. By the way, don't store these plants in the refrigerator as it is too cold. On top of the refrigerator is a much better spot as they like the warmth.
OK, an urgent call for help, which others might need: "Which is the Thanksgiving cactus and which is the Christmas or the Easter one, no Latin names, please, just an easy answer." (As if!)
The simple answer is that the Thanksgiving varieties of Schlumbergera have leaves with jagged edges. The Christmas varieties of Schlumbergera have rounded edges. However, you should be able to tell by blooms. They are named for a holiday for a reason, right?
The reason you may be having confusion, however, is because they are induced to bloom by both diminishing day length and cooler temperatures. Normally 55 degrees or so will trigger them for their individual holidays. However, if they get below 50 for a while, they can decide to celebrate early.
Alaska Garden Calendar
Turn plants: Plants grow toward light. Turn them once a week or so to make sure you get even growth.
Thrips: Are these little flies still annoying you? Try putting one of those Mosquito Dunks — the kind you can put into ponds to kill larvae — into the water you use on your plants. Or place newsprint on the soil surface to make it difficult for the adults to fly in and out. Also, cut back on watering so the surface dries.
Family Wreath Making: Alaska Botanical Garden, 6 to 7:30 p.m. Nov. 20, fee required. More information online or call the garden at 907-770-3692.
iStock / Getty Images (Getty Images/)
Nov. 15 is the day we celebrate recycling. It’s a good time to focus on what’s working and what needs improving in our recycling system. After all, managing our waste responsibly is everyone’s business and every business has to take inventory and make adjustments to be successful.
We can take stock of the environmental and economic benefits of recycling, including saving energy, conserving natural resources, and reducing the need for landfill space. As important, recycling creates jobs, and many of them: according to the Recycling Partnership, over 500,000 direct and indirect jobs contribute to $34 billion in annual wages and benefits.
Communities across Alaska continue their efforts to improve recycling options for both residents and businesses, while adjusting to a challenging market for the materials they collect. We have more recycling operations here than ever before. Anchorage is served by Westrock’s Anchorage Recycling Center for household recyclables, Central Recycling Services for construction and demolition debris recycling, and Total Reclaim for electronics recycling. Metal recycling is also available from several companies. For residents, we have curbside recycling for single-family households through Muni Solid Waste Services or Alaska Waste. Food and green waste composting pilot programs have begun and are growing. The drop-off areas at the Anchorage Recycling Center and the landfill are busy!
Key to our recycling success is Alaskans for Litter Prevention and Recycling’s shipping program, which continues to support Alaska’s recycling system through the contributions of our shippers who move materials to buyers and processors in Seattle. Railbelt communities have free and low-cost recycling thanks to the donations of Matson Navigation Co., TOTE Maritime and Lynden, Inc. Last year, these companies shipped more than 1,000 containers of recyclables weighing more than 25,000 tons. In addition, Lynden Transport, Alaska West Express, Weaver Brothers, United Freight and the Alaska Railroad donate trucking and rail services to move recyclables within the state. Without the ongoing support of all these shipping companies, freight costs would be a barrier to recycling in our state.
In 2018, U.S. recyclers grappled with a worldwide disruption in the marketplace, the likes of which many in the industry have not seen. Beginning in 2017 and continuing through this year, China’s Green Sword action virtually closed the door for U.S. exports of recovered paper and plastics, in part due to high levels of contamination. In 2016, China imported about 30 percent of the materials generated in the nation.
Alaska’s recyclers are feeling the pressure of significantly lower prices and market disruptions. Most programs are still able to take the materials they have in the past, but revenues have fallen, especially for mixed paper and some plastics. Collecting recyclables that are free from contamination is the name of the game to retain their value.
Many in the industry think the China action will eventually be positive for our recycling system. Processors are focused on better sorting and installing new technology that will help clean up the stream. U.S. mills are gearing up to take a wider range of materials, and new mills are being built in the U.S. and Mexico.
Here in Alaska, we are weathering the storm and renewing our efforts to educate the public about what is taken and what is not. The message is more recycling and no “wish cycling.” That’s when one hopes something is recyclable, so they throw it in the bin. Too many times, that material is a contaminant. For example, a plastic bag mistakenly put in curbside carts causes sorting equipment shutdowns, slows processing and raises costs.
It all starts with putting more of the right recyclables in the right place and committing to do so into the future.
Through the simple act of recycling (and buying products made with recycled content), we can continue to build momentum for recycled materials that are used to manufacture new products, giving our garbage another life. That plastic bottle can become a pair of jeans, and that aluminum can becomes a new aluminum can.
As we celebrate Alaska and Anchorage Recycles Day, ALPAR wants to thank you for your efforts to recycle – at home, at work or school, and on the go. Join us in our effort to make Alaska environmentally and economically healthier by recycling more and recycling right. For more information regarding what to what to recycle in Anchorage, go to www.alparalaska.com or https://www.muni.org/Departments/SWS/Recycling/Pages/Default.aspx.
Mary Fisher has served as executive director since 2001 for ALPAR – Alaskans for Litter Prevention and Recycling. Founded in 1983, ALPAR is a nonprofit organization supported by Alaskan businesses.
ORFOLK, Va. — Two U.S. Navy SEALs and two Marines have been charged in the 2017 death of an Army Green Beret while they were stationed in the African country of Mali.
The Navy said in a statement Thursday that the unidentified service members face charges that include murder, hazing and obstruction of justice. Army Staff Sergeant Logan Melgar died June 4, 2017, in Bamako, Mali.
In this Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018 photo, a charred rabbit that survived the fast moving Woolsey wildfire sits still in the Simi Valley Recreation Center and Park in Simi Valley, Calif. The Woolsey fire has charred more than 83 percent of National Park Service land within the Santa Monica Mountain National Recreational Area. Officials announced Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018, that all trails were closed. (AP Photo/Jason Ryan) (Jason Ryan/)
Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar
Authorities say in charging documents that the service members broke into Melgar’s bedroom while he was sleeping, bound him with duct tape and put him into a choke hold that strangled him.
The service members are also accused of lying to Navy commanders and investigators about what happened.
The SEALs are based in Virginia. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Dec. 10 at a base in Norfolk.
Council picks judge nominees — but which governor will have the say?
Among the finalists selected in the November lists are Daniel Schally and Julie Willoughby, who will be considered for the new Superior Court seat created by the Alaska Legislature earlier this year. Willoughby was rejected by Walker earlier this year ...
A man suffered life-threatening injuries after a car he was riding in turned in front of a dump truck early Thursday on East Tudor Road, police said.
The driver of a westbound Buick LeSabre sedan tried to turn onto Wright Street "directly in front" of the eastbound truck, according to an Anchorage Police Department alert. The crash was reported just before 2 a.m.
The dump truck struck the Buick on its passenger side and drove partially on top of the car, police said. The car's driver suffered serious injuries but is expected to survive.
The passenger had to be extricated by the Anchorage Fire Department and suffered injuries described as life-threatening.
The dump truck driver was cooperative and uninjured, police said.
The truck is privately owned, according to APD spokeswoman Renee Oistad.
There is no stoplight at the intersection of Tudor and Wright.