Alaska Dispatch News
George Divoky at his poster at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 13, 2018. (Photo by Ned Rozell)
“So, you get to write the obituary for Alaska,” George Divoky said.
The seasoned biologist with the quick-twitch brain had spotted me, notebook in hand, standing near his poster at the December 2018 meeting of the American Geophysical Union in Washington, D.C.
Divoky’s greeting left me without words, but I knew what he meant. I had read enough posters in that session to see that walrus, clams, spectacled eiders and other creatures suffered greatly when an Idaho-size swath of sea ice went missing from the Bering Sea one year ago due to melting thin ice and stormy winds.
I shook Divoky’s hand, one that has wrapped around hundreds of hungry seabird chicks, and then put my pen to paper.
Every summer since 1975, Divoky has spent a few months living on Cooper Island, a crescent of gravel 25 miles southeast of Utqiagvik. He has gotten to know a few generations of Mandt’s black guillemots, sleek seabirds that hunt the edge of the sea ice.
The Cooper Island colony of breeding guillemots would probably not be there without Divoky’s help. In the early 1970s, he found 10 pairs of birds nesting beneath wooden boxes left there by U.S. Navy sailors after a 1950s expedition. Divoky propped up more boxes. He checked back, and the birds were using them. The colony of black guillemots expanded.
Over the years, Divoky upgraded the nest sites. Now, each June, the birds lay eggs in black plastic camera cases Divoky placed on the island to enable chicks to fledge without being eaten by polar bears.
After all this care, and all these years, Divoky and the birds had their worst summer together in 2018.
“It was very depressing,” he said. “The Arctic used to be white; now it’s all gray (the color of the open ocean). “Birds that I knew for a long time didn’t come back. It feels like a ghost town.”
Last June through early September 2018, Divoky lived in a hut on Cooper Island and performed the same work he has done since the summer after Richard Nixon resigned.
A pair of black guillemots nesting on Cooper Island. (Photo by George Divoky)
First, he notes the birds’ return to the island for the breeding season from their winter wanderings on the northern ocean.
In 2002, he installed a metal roof on the small cabin that replaced the tents he used to live in. Since then, the birds would announce their arrival with the clatter of their feet as they landed on his roof. This year, he didn’t hear that racket for a long time.
“It felt really dead,” he said.
In time, some birds came back. Many did not.
“Adult survival is always around 90 percent (from the year before),” he said. “This year, it went down to 70 percent. Almost tripled the mortality.”
Of the 75 pairs of black guillemots that came back to Cooper Island in 2018, 25 pairs did not lay eggs. Of the 50 pairs that laid eggs, half did not sit on the eggs. Those eggs did not hatch.
“Those three things all point to a food issue,” Divoky said.
A few birds wear geolocator transmitters, which allow Divoky to see where his black guillemots spent the winter.
For the past four decades, they have wintered at the southern edge of the ice in the Bering Sea, often as far south as the Aleutian Islands. In 2018, the birds stayed well north of Bering Strait, some not far from Cooper Island.
“They’ve never wintered in the Arctic Basin before,” Divoky said. “They were 1,000 kilometers north of where they usually are in late April.”
About a year ago, in February 2018, warm winds came up and shoved thin sea ice out of the Bering Sea and melted a lot of it. This seems to have caused a northern migration of cold-loving fish that linger beneath the ice, which may be why birds that eat those fish, like black guillemots, remained so far north.
Though February 2018’s almost-ice-free Bering Sea had never been recorded in the era of satellites, February 2019 is on track to have the second-lowest ice extent that scientists have witnessed. It may be a new state of sea ice, due to warmer ocean temperatures in autumn that cause less ice to form. A mostly open Bering Sea in late winter is something creatures there have never seen.
“I don’t know how birds adapt to this sort of change,” Divoky said.
In June 2019, Divoky, who lives in Seattle, will return to Cooper Island for his 45th consecutive summer. At his poster last December, his finger slid downward on a graph showing yearly numbers of breeding pairs of birds.
“It really does look more like the end of the train wreck,” he said. “What happens next?”
A couple of years ago, Sage Cohen wanted to go to South America. So, she called Alaska Airlines to use her miles. “I didn’t quite have enough miles, so I bought some miles and topped off my account. The net result was I got a first class ticket from Anchorage to Buenos Aires for $450,” she said.
There was a long layover in Lima, so she bought a one-time lounge pass for $75. "I was able to shower and stretch out on a big recliner while waiting for my connecting flight. It was marvelous,” she said.
So when it came time to travel once again, she called up the partner desk again. “The folks on the phone were really nice,” she said. “But we couldn’t book these LATAM Airlines tickets on the website. The partner desk had to check each individual day for two months. In the end, there were no seats available in first class, business class or even coach,” she said.
I think Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan is the best airline loyalty scheme in the market, particularly since other carriers like Delta, United and American have worked hard to devalue their offers. Alaska’s competitors now have minimum dollar amounts you have to spend in order to qualify as an elite traveler for upgrades and perks. Alaska does not have that requirement. Delta, United and American all calculate your frequent flier miles based on the dollars you spend. Alaska still offers one mile for each mile that you fly.
So, to get the most for your Alaska Airline miles, I recommend that you earn and burn your miles on Alaska Airlines flights. It starts to get tricky when you want to earn or redeem miles on Alaska’s many partner airlines. Each one, it seems, has its own special formula.
For example, if you’re flying nonstop from Anchorage to Frankfurt on Condor, you’ll earn between 50 and 75 percent of the actual miles flown, depending on the “class of service.” Typically, the more expensive tickets will result in more miles. If you elect Condor’s “Premium Economy” you’ll earn 125 percent of the actual miles flown. If you want to redeem miles on the nonstop, it costs about 40,000 miles. If you don’t mind taking two or three flights via the Lower 48 to get there, you can get a one-way ticket for as little as 25,000 miles. Further, you can book your Condor award tickets online at Alaskaair.com .
If you want to fly Icelandair’s nonstop to Reykjavik this summer, one-way tickets in coach are available for as little as 22,500 miles. But I couldn’t find a single seat all month in June or July in first class. If you want to earn miles on Icelandair, you’ll receive between 25 and 100 percent of the miles flown, depending on your class of service.
Alaska Airlines and other carriers have been tweaking the frequent flyer game for more than 30 years now. Frequent flyer points are an alternative currency the airlines use to build brand loyalty and fill up their planes. Most Alaskans are vested in the Alaska Airlines plan. Many travelers play the game with one or two other airlines, a hotel chain or a credit card.
Because American, Delta and United have devalued their programs, Alaska’s plan has become more valuable during the past couple of years. It’s relatively easy to gain “MVP” status by flying 20,000 miles with no “qualifying dollars.” Then there are the extra benefits affiliated with the Alaska Air Visa card, issued by Bank of America. Right now, you can get a 30,000-mile bonus for signing up for the card. Two months ago, I got an offer for 40,000 bonus miles, which I accepted. Now I have three Alaska Air Visa cards, for which I received 100,000 bonus miles.
Travelers can earn miles while they shop, while they’re dining in restaurants and when they’re buying anything with credit cards.
With all of these extra opportunities to earn massive amounts of frequent flyer miles, there’s more pressure on Alaska when it comes time to cash them in.
The “pressure” results in higher redemption rates on Alaska flights—and more sold out flights on partner airlines. Three years ago, you could get a first class ticket on Emirates for as little as 90,000 miles. Then, overnight, Alaska Airlines doubled the amount of miles required. When I checked on first class tickets from Anchorage to Johannesburg in July, it was 200,000 miles in each direction.
Alaska Air has an impressive list of partner airlines, including Qantas, Cathay Pacific and British Airways. The airlines always are re-jiggering their relationship. For example, American Airlines has backed off of their partnership with Alaska, in part because of Alaska’s acquisition of Virgin America. So, unless you are booking an Alaska Airlines flight that is operated by American, you won’t earn miles within the U.S.
If you want to use your Alaska Airlines miles on Alaska flights, there are some great deals. You can fly to Juneau, Kodiak, Fairbanks or Nome for 5,000 miles each way. A ticket to Adak is available for just 7,500 miles. The trick is you have to book the tickets 21 days in advance.
Do you want to go to Hawaii? It’s a little more, but I found tickets for 17,500 miles starting on Mar. 14.
Are you headed from Anchorage to Seattle? I found seats for 10,000 miles each way starting Mar. 13. The bad news is that the cheapest seats require a stop in Juneau. The best flights cost 20,000 miles each way.
Is it still worth it to collect the miles? I think so. But just like the tickets you buy with real money, mileage tickets are priced to react to the demands of more mileage junkies with more miles to spend. That means redemption levels for the best flights are going up.
iStock / Getty Images (Getty Images/iStockphoto/)
As if the Permanent Fund was not under enough impossible pressure to generate earnings for state spending, dividends, and inflation-proofing, now there is a new stress: Investing within the State of Alaska.
Last September, the Permanent Fund Board of Trustees agreed for the first time for the Fund to target investment in Alaska (Resolution 18-03). The goal is to initially invest $200 million and have 5 percent of the Fund invested in the state by 2023. At the current market value, this would exceed $3 billion. They are now seeking an investment manager for the initiative.
The trustees are invoking AS 37.13.120(c)(1), passed in 2005: “The board shall invest the assets of the fund in in-state investments to the extent that in-state investments are available and if the in-state investments have a risk level and expected return comparable to alternate investment opportunities.”
Shortly after the inception of the Fund in 1978, many Alaskans realized the political risk of investing it in Alaska. A major argument for the dividend program was to create a strong constituency to defend the Fund by maximizing returns. Perhaps the divorcement in recent years of the dividend amount from earnings results has weakened this link.
The Fund has been successful explicitly because it steered clear of economic or infrastructure development. Maximizing returns, rather than politics, drove investment. This also meant not investing in Alaska.
Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global was established in 1998 for a very similar purpose to the Permanent Fund: to save petrodollars by maximizing investment returns. It now has more than a trillion dollars in assets. It has a simple rule to minimize chicanery: no investing in Norway.
Most important, it is hard to see how the criteria in the statute - that the in-state investments have a risk/return level “comparable to alternative investment opportunities” - can be met, or is even necessary. If it were, private capital (which is ample) would be available and would be drawn to the investment. If a venture cannot attract capital there is something wrong with the venture.
The Trustees’ resolution also touted the “positive multiplier effects” from the initiative. This is exactly the jargon that allows the objective of maximizing returns to slip into trying to foster economic development. And there is, of course, in Alaska history, a litany of failed quasi-public attempts to spur private investment by picking winners and losers. For public investors there is a lack of incentive to guard against risk where one is protected from its consequences. The more than a billion dollars spent in the last several years trying to commercialize North Slope natural gas is a case in point.
Moreover, there is already another state agency whose task is exactly this: the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority. AIDEA’s mission statement is to “promote, develop, and advance economic growth and diversification in Alaska by providing various means of financing and investment.”
The Fund assets aimed at Alaska could be invested elsewhere, where they have historically performed first-rate. Sub-par returns would mean smaller dividends and less money for potential state spending. Nevertheless, it is not difficult to imagine how lobbyists and bankers will soon be lining up.
Roger Marks is an economist in private practice in Anchorage. He formerly served as a petroleum economist with the Tax Division in the Alaska Department of Revenue.
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.
Sixth-graders take cover under their desks at the beginning of an earthquake drill at Pasadena Christian School in 2014. (Michael Robinson Chavez/Los Angeles Times/TNS) (Michael Robinson Chavez/)
MENLO PARK, Calif. –– Earthquake early warnings can come as false alarms — but it’s better to be safer than sorry, researchers concluded in a new study.
Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of Southern California and the California Institute of Technology worked on a research project to determine the limits of the accuracy of seismic warnings. They conducted a statistical simulation to determine what strategy would be the best to save lives and protect the economy _ is it better to get more warnings but also more false alarms? Or is it better not to receive an alert unless it's certain there will be shaking, even though that might cause you to miss a warning?
People might have their own answers. But the scientists decided to take a different tack to address the dilemma: math.
In research detailed in the journal Scientific Reports, the scientists simulated tens of millions of hypothetical earthquakes in California. They imagined how forecasts made by an earthquake early warning system would compare with how shaking might be felt.
First, they found no way to have an earthquake early warning system that is 100 percent accurate. It’s scientifically impossible. Earthquakes that produce the same amount of overall energy _ those that have the same magnitude _ can produce much different shaking.
Shaking may feel different depending on whether the energy is aimed toward or away from you. One earthquake could produce intense shaking for a short time; another of the same magnitude could shake slower, resulting in a less severe roll. And the earth's movement could feel less intense on solid bedrock but worse on soft soil.
Second, the scientists calculated that any particular California location had the chance of feeling an earthquake — a minimum of light shaking — just twice in a decade.
Their key finding: An early warning system that gives you an excellent chance of being alerted to those twice-in-a-decade earthquakes will likely deliver four warnings that turn out to be false in that same time.
"It's a small price to pay if you're talking about something where there's a lot of benefit to be had," said research geophysicist Sarah Minson. For example, a potentially deadly derailment could be avoided by slowing a train before the predicted shaking will arrive, said Minson, lead author of the study.
On the other hand, if your priority is that any warnings you receive are almost certain to precede shaking, you're far more likely to get no warning at all.
For some, the choice will be obvious.
There are costs to inaction before a big earthquake: You don't drop, cover and hold on and an unstrapped bookcase tips over and flattens you. A dentist is unable to remove the drill from a patient's mouth before to the shaking. A butcher doesn't have the chance to move away from the deli slicer. Power company workers aren't warned in time to hang on to a utility pole.
In those cases, it’s an easy call to choose an early warning even if it means no shaking comes.
When shaking is relatively light, seconds of warning still may provide a sense of comfort for some.
There are situations in which it may not be prudent to act on a seismic warning, given the high cost of action during a false alarm.
Starting an emergency shutdown at a nuclear power plant when an alarm sounds probably doesn't make economic sense "because an emergency shutdown costs more than $250 million, not including other costs such as the resulting decrease in the lifetime of the reactor," the study said.
Seismic warnings can be difficult to calculate because earthquakes all start the same _ tiny. Although many stay small, a few do end up being monsters.
Consider the hypothetical example of an earthquake that begins moving along the San Andreas fault near Eureka and heads toward San Francisco, about 200 miles south.
Four seconds after the shaking begins, the earthquake is measured at magnitude 6. If the quake stopped there, San Francisco likely wouldn't feel a thing.
But if the quake lasts at least 20 seconds or so, becoming a magnitude 7, San Francisco could feel at least light shaking and would have maybe 48 seconds to prepare for it, Minson said.
But say someone wanted to get a warning for only very strong shaking in San Francisco. That kind of quake would have to last at least 67 seconds, meaning it has produced enough energy that it has become a magnitude 7.7 earthquake. Waiting for that level of certainty and severity before an alert is sent would give San Francisco only eight seconds to prepare.
The USGS has been building an earthquake early warning system on the West Coast for years, and the system is most advanced in the urban areas of California, particularly in the Los Angeles region and San Francisco Bay Area. After an influx of federal and state funding, officials hope that by 2021 all 1,115 seismic sensor stations intended for California will be online.
The study was co-authored by Annemarie Baltay, Elizabeth Cochran, Thomas Hanks, Morgan Page, and Sara McBride of the USGS, Kevin Milner of USC, and Men-Andrin Meier of Caltech.
Sixth-graders take cover under their desks at the beginning of an earthquake drill at Pasadena Christian School in 2014. (Michael Robinson Chavez/Los Angeles Times/TNS) (Michael Robinson Chavez/)
LOS ANGELES — As an earthquake warning system becomes a reality for more Californians, a big question arises: What can you do if you know shaking is coming to you?
You may only have a few seconds to act. You want to make yourself as protected as possible.
And you don't want to be thrown to the ground where something could fall on you, like a brick wall outside a doorway or next to a glass window.
For now, the government's suggestions are the same as what you'd do when you feel an earthquake, said U.S. Geological Survey scientist Robert de Groot.
1. In a high-rise building, office or school
Move away from windows. Drop on your hands and knees, cover your head with your arms and hold on to your neck. Hold on to a table if you can, while keeping your other arm over your head. If there's no desk, crawl to an interior wall and cover your head and neck.
2. While driving
Pull over to the side of the road. Stop. Set the parking brake. Avoid overpasses, bridges, power lines, and signs. Remain in the car until the shaking stops. Drive carefully to avoid fallen debris and damaged pavement.
3. In bed
Don't get out of bed. Lie face down to protect your body from falling objects. Cover your head and neck with a pillow. Keep your arms as close to your head as possible.
4. In a store
Get next to a shopping cart, under a clothing rack, or in the first level of a warehouse rack. That may help protect you.
Move away from power lines, buildings and vehicles. Then drop, cover and hold on. That protects you from anything thrown sideways at you, even if nothing is above you.
6. At the beach
To protect against the threat of tsunami, as soon as shaking ends, walk quickly to high ground or inland. Don't wait for an official warning. Get at least 50 feet to 100 feet above sea level. If that's not possible, stay in a sturdy concrete or steel frame building at least 50 feet to 100 feet high; a two-story wood-frame home will not be strong enough to withstand a tsunami. Review California's official tsunami maps and find out if your favorite beach or your home is in a tsunami flood zone.
7. At a theater or stadium
Drop to the ground in front of your seat, or lean over as much as possible. Cover your head with your arms. Hold on to your neck with both hands until the shaking stops. Exit the venue slowly. Watch for anything that could fall during aftershocks.
8. Beneath a dam
Get to high ground.
9. With an infant
An adult should hold the child against their chest, drop, cover and hold on. This provides more protection above and on both sides of the baby.
10. With one or more young children
Either carry, or instruct them to drop, cover and hold on. If there's no desk, drop to the ground and move to an inside corner of the room if possible. You and your children should be in a crawling position to protect vital organs. Practice this drill before the earthquake.
11. In a wheelchair
Lock the wheels, bend over and cover your head with your arms if possible, and hold on to your neck.
12. Beware the risks of running
Many people are hurt while trying to move during shaking. It is generally safer to drop, cover and hold on until the shaking is over, authorities say. Things just outside the exits of buildings can be at risk of falling on people near doorways.
13. The doorway is not the safest place to be in an earthquake
It’s a myth that a doorway is a safe place to be in an earthquake. (That’s only true for old, unreinforced adobe houses.) In modern homes, you’re actually at risk of the door swinging into you while you’re shaken.
C & M Used Books at 215 E. Fourth Ave. in Anchorage on Feb. 22, 2019. (Annie Zak / ADN)
This is an installment of an occasional series in the Anchorage Daily News taking a quick look at the comings and goings of businesses in Southcentral Alaska. If you know of a business opening or closing in the area, send a note to reporter Annie Zak at firstname.lastname@example.org, with “Open & Shut” in the subject line.
203 Kombucha: This kombucha business opened a brick-and-mortar location earlier this month in Palmer, after owner David Boortz spent about a year wholesaling his product around Alaska.
Boortz has been making kombucha in Alaska since 2017, when he started brewing it out of a cabin he was living in in Sutton. His new retail spot, 203 Kombucha, is located at 105 S. Valley Way, where he makes and serves the fermented beverage.
“I drove by the current spot in Palmer and saw it was for lease and thought, ‘What if we had a kombuchery?’” Boortz said. “I need some more space and I’ve been in Palmer now long enough and I feel like there’s something missing.”
The vision is to make 203 Kombucha into a community space, Boortz said. So far that includes open mic night on Wednesdays, vinyl record night on Thursdays, and plans for a trivia night.
Roscoe’s Soul Food: A downtown Anchorage eatery has expanded with a takeout-only location on the east side of town next to the Cabin Tavern.
Roscoe’s Soul Food has a dine-in restaurant at 120 E. Sixth Ave. The business opened a spot at 240 Muldoon Road in January and has all the offerings of the downtown location — ribs, pulled pork, catfish and more — for to-go orders.
The Sixth Avenue spot is also staying open, said manager Roscoe Wyche III, but a slow economy has had a noticeable impact there.
“Basically what we’re experiencing is a lot of people passing by and not stopping in,” he said. He wanted to open a location where it’s easy for people to stop and grab food as they’re heading out of town.
He also wanted to bring soul food to the east side of town, he said. The new spot is in a small building in the parking lot of the Ace Hardware that’s located at the same address.
Roscoe’s used to serve up its food at the Aviator Hotel, too, but doesn’t anymore, Wyche said.
Family Flea Market: Building damage from the 7.0 Southcentral Alaska earthquake on Nov. 30 forced this family business to relocate from one spot in South Anchorage to another, an owner said.
Family Flea Market’s new location at 12401 Gander St. opened in early January, in a building the business bought in 2016 with an eye on moving in the future. The flea market’s old spot at 12020 Old Seward Highway, where it had been located for six years, is now closed.
“The earthquake hit and that threw our plans for a little while, but at least we had somewhere to move," said Matt Drebert, one of the owners.
The plan for the new location is to launch what will be called the Gander Barn Community Event Center, to promote small businesses. Drebert hopes that might be ready in the spring.
“The flea market is going to be in it, but it’s going to take a back seat,” he said. “Our whole goal is to have a place for families to come have a good time.”
Miso Japanese Restaurant: This eatery opened about a week ago in a spot where Sushi Ya used to be located, at 1111 E. Dimond Blvd.
Kevin Min, the manager, said the owners wanted to bring a new restaurant to South Anchorage, and a busy traffic area at Dimond and Old Seward Highway was appealing. Miso serves sushi dishes and more.
Sushi Ya relocated last year to 3501 Old Seward Highway.
C & M Used Books: This used bookstore at 215 E. Fourth Ave. in downtown Anchorage appears to have shut its doors for good.
Big red letters painted in the window of the store read “Going out of business” as of Friday afternoon, and the door was locked. Another sign taped on a door said “Cash only — all books must go!” There was still furniture and shelves full of books inside.
The store’s phone number was not in service when a reporter called Friday.
In the dead of winter, Kotzebue is shrouded in darkness for much of the day. December 2015. (Kirsten Swann / ADN archive)
Budget pain this year was inevitable. Whether in the form of service cuts, reduced dividends or taxes, Alaskans and their representatives faced a hard choice about what Alaska’s path forward looked like. But in his choice of methods to bring state revenue in line with spending, Gov. Mike Dunleavy has chosen a plan that puts a disproportionate burden on some of the state’s most vulnerable residents — rural Alaskans — and that’s not right. “It it appears to me that he’s declaring war on rural residents in particular,” said Sen. Donny Olson soon after the governor’s budget was released.
Whether intentionally or through inattention, Gov. Dunleavy and Office of Management and Budget Director Donna Arduin have chosen to cut spending in areas that hurt rural Alaskans more than those in urban communities. Fully one-quarter of the revenue — $400 million — to cover the state’s budget gap comes from taking oil and gas property tax revenue away from municipalities, and $372 million of that would come from the North Slope Borough, where all communities are off the road system.
The total impact of the more than $300 million cut from K-12 education isn’t yet clear, as school districts have yet to draft budgets that reflect the sharply lower proposed allocation. But it doesn’t take an Alaska Scholar to realize that it’s hard to envision how those cuts won’t result in reneging on one of Gov. Dunleavy’s signature campaign promises — to keep rural schools open while at the same time enhancing services at schools in rural “hub” communities. With many rural schools having fixed operating costs and relatively minimal staffing, there’s no way to keep the 20 percent system-wide cut out of classrooms.
Also exacerbating matters for rural communities is a $3 million cut to the Village Public Safety Officer program. While $3 million in a multibillion-dollar budget might seem like chump change, its significance in rural communities is considerable: Without Alaska State Troopers in many small rural communities, VPSOs are sometimes the only real law enforcement presence. And unlike those of us in communities large enough to have tax bases that can support local police, there aren’t enough people in most rural communities to fund a law enforcement presence themselves. The result, in the absence of VPSOs, will be that Alaska’s justice system will feel further away and less in touch with the communities it serves.
As is the case with VPSOs, a dollar cut in rural Alaska often has outsize impacts not felt in urban centers. The zeroing-out of state funds for public media, for instance, will mean curtailment of services at public radio and TV stations in Anchorage, making offerings more limited. In many rural communities, however, public radio is the only source of local news. Those cuts will mean elimination of stations vital to serving broad swaths of the state where a competitive media environment isn’t economically possible.
Another budget impact that, if passed, will fall disproportionately on rural Alaskans: The proposed end of the hold-harmless provision that lets low-income Alaskans continue to receive aid such as food stamps or disability benefits when they might otherwise be disqualified by Permanent Fund dividend income. Ending the provision, which would save an estimated $17.7 million, could impact 36,000 Alaskans, many of them rural residents. The cut earned a sharp rebuke from the Alaska Federation of Natives: “The governor’s budget appears divisive by design, pitting Alaskans against each other and against industry at a time when just the opposite is needed," said Julie Kitka, president of AFN.
In rural communities along Alaska’s coast, there are other cuts that will make life even more difficult. In small communities inaccessible by road, the effective termination of the Alaska Marine Highway System will make travel for residents far more difficult and expensive. And the planned termination of fish tax revenue sharing will have a similar effect for small fishing communities as the oil and gas property tax revenue loss will for the North Slope Borough - a gaping municipal budget hole and no way to fill it without serious tax hikes on residents.
The elimination of the Power Cost Equalization fund that helped stabilize and reduce exorbitant costs for rural energy could also have serious impacts for rural residents. Without the fund, unless legislators specifically allocate general fund money for the same purpose, power bills in Alaska’s smallest and most remote communities would jump up well more than 100 percent in many places.
Given the magnitude of Alaska’s deficit, a cuts-only approach would result in significant pain for all Alaskans regardless of how those cuts were allocated. But Gov. Dunleavy’s chosen mix of cuts falls heavier on the backs of rural residents whose communities are already grappling with the worst rates of domestic violence and sexual assault in the nation, high costs for energy, transportation, food and material goods, limited or nonexistent law enforcement, and challenges that have depressed educational attainment for K-12 students. A more sensible approach would have been to pare down the budget gradually, using a portion of Permanent Fund earnings as a revenue bridge, allowing the process to be more thoughtful and its impacts more fairly distributed.
“I do hope that in addition to looking at how the dollars line up, that there is some appreciation that the answer is not to allow rural Alaska to collapse, and move everybody into the city. I think that we would be a much poorer state for that,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski said about the budget on Friday.
She’s right. Our budgets reflect our values, and our values should not abide taking away more from those who are most vulnerable and least able to afford it.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The wisdom of past Alaska leaders gave us the Permanent Fund, which generates enough yearly revenue to fund a modest dividend and maintain services at a level that won’t endanger Alaska’s economic recovery or send us careening off the path toward a brighter future for our children. Legislators and Gov. Dunleavy should find the courage to admit this is what’s necessary and chart an economic course that’s more beneficial to all Alaskans, rural and urban alike.
The views expressed here are those of the Anchorage Daily News, as expressed by its editorial board, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. Current editorial board members are Ryan Binkley, Andy Pennington, Julia O’Malley, Tom Hewitt and Andrew Jensen. To submit a piece for consideration, email email@example.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to submit via any web browser.
A man in South Anchorage was taken to the hospital early Saturday morning after being stabbed by a family member who had been threatening to kill himself, police said in an alert.
Anchorage police said officers responded to the stabbing just after 6 a.m. at a home on the 500 block of West 90th Avenue. A man inside the home had reportedly been making suicidal threats with a knife when his relative tried to intervene.
The man who had been making the threats stabbed the relative with the knife, police said. The relative walked to a neighbor’s house to get help.
Both men were taken to a hospital. The man who was stabbed suffered injuries police described as “life threatening.”
Officers have taken the suspect into custody for questioning, police said.
Investigators believe the incident is “isolated” and are not looking for any other suspects.
Check back for updates on this developing story.
Bolivarian National Guard troops man a barricade blocking access to the Francisco De Paula Santander international bridge in Urena, Venezuela, on the border with Colombia, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Venezuela's National Guard fired tear gas on residents clearing a barricaded border bridge between Venezuela and Colombia on Saturday, heightening tensions over blocked humanitarian aid that opposition leader Juan Guaido has vowed to bring into the country over objections from President Nicolas Maduro. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano) (Fernando Llano/)
CUCUTA, Colombia — Venezuela’s National Guard fired tear gas on residents clearing a barricaded border bridge to Colombia on Saturday, heightening tensions over blocked humanitarian aid that opposition leader Juan Guaido has vowed to bring into the country despite President Nicolas Maduro’s defiant refusal to accept assistance.
The opposition is calling on masses of Venezuelans to escort trucks carrying the nearly 200 metric tons of emergency food and medical supplies sent largely by the United States over the last two weeks across several border bridges.
But clashes started at dawn in the Venezuelan border town of Urena, when residents began removing yellow metal barricades and barbed wire blocking the Francisco de Paula Santander bridge. Venezuela's National Guard responded forcefully, firing tear gas on the protesters, some of them masked youth throwing rocks, who demanded that the aid pass through.
Meanwhile, Colombian migration authorities said four National Guardsmen at another crossing deserted their posts and asked for help.
There was no immediate word on their rank, but a video provided by Colombian authorities shows three of the men wading through a crowd with their assault rifles and pistols held above their heads in a sign of surrender. The young soldiers were then ordered to lay face down on the ground as migration officials urged angry onlookers to keep a safe distance.
"I've spent days thinking about this," said one of the soldiers, whose identity was not immediately known. He called on his comrades to join him in abandoning their support for Maduro's socialist government. "There is a lot of discontent inside the forces, but also lots of fear."
The potentially volatile moment for both Venezuela's government and opposition comes exactly one month after Guaido, a 35-year-old lawmaker, declared himself interim president based on a controversial reading of the constitution before a sea of cheering supporters. While he has earned popular backing and recognition from over 50 nations, he has not sealed the support of the military, whose loyalty to Maduro is crucial.
A girl is wrapped in a Venezuelan national flag at the border in Pacaraima, Roraima state, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. On Friday, a member of an indigenous tribe was killed and 22 others injured in clashes with security forces who enforced President Nicolas Maduro's orders to keep the aid out at a crossing with Brazil. (AP Photo/Ivan Valencia) (Ivan Valencia/)
Demonstrators run during clashes with the Bolivarian National Guard in Urena, Venezuela, near the border with Colombia, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Venezuela's National Guard fired tear gas on residents clearing a barricaded border bridge between Venezuela and Colombia on Saturday, heightening tensions over blocked humanitarian aid that opposition leader Juan Guaido has vowed to bring into the country over objections from President Nicolas Maduro. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano) (Fernando Llano/)
A demonstrator throws rocks during clashes with the Bolivarian National Guard in Urena, Venezuela, near the border with Colombia, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Venezuela's National Guard fired tear gas on residents clearing a barricaded border bridge between Venezuela and Colombia on Saturday, heightening tensions over blocked humanitarian aid that opposition leader Juan Guaido has vowed to bring into the country over objections from President Nicolas Maduro. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd) (Rodrigo Abd/)
Before daybreak Saturday, national guardsmen in riot gear forced people to move away from the road leading to the Simon Bolivar bridge connecting Venezuela and Colombia. The Venezuelan government had said that it was closing three of its bridges on the border.
"We're tired. There's no work, nothing," Andreina Montanez, 31, said as she sat on a curb crying from the tear gas that was used to disperse the crowd.
A single mom, she said she lost her job as a seamstress in December and had to console her 10-year-old daughter's fears that she would be left orphaned when she decided to join Saturday's protest.
"I told her I had to go out on the streets because there's no bread," she said. "But still, these soldiers are scary. It's like they're hunting us."
Guaido and the presidents of Colombia and Chile gathered early Saturday at the Tienditas bridge where they are expected to address the media before setting out to deliver the aid loaded onto trucks.
International leaders including U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres are appealing for the sides to avoid violence.
But on Friday, a member of an indigenous tribe was killed and 22 others injured in clashes with security forces who enforced Maduro's orders to keep the aid out at a crossing with Brazil.
In previous waves of unrest, citizens have been tear-gassed and killed.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said the military would "never have orders to fire on the civilian population" and likened the aid push to a media spectacle.
"We can only hope that sanity and good sense prevail in Cucuta, in Colombia, and that it will remain as a big show, a big party, and that they don't try to open the doors to a military intervention," he said at U.N. headquarters in New York Friday.
The push comes on the heels of a giant concert organized by British billionaire Richard Branson aimed at pressuring Maduro to accept the aid. Tens of thousands of Venezuelans gathered in a field to hear pop stars like Juanes sing beneath a scorching sun. Guaido made a surprise appearance toward the end.
"Juan arrived! Juan arrived!" people shouted as they spotted him smiling near the stage.
"Here is a Venezuela in search of freedom," he said at an aid storage facility. "Thank you, to the people of the world, for opening your doors to us."
The opposition is planning to hold three simultaneous aid pushes on Saturday. Aside from the events in Colombia, they also hope to get humanitarian assistance delivered by sea and through Venezuela's remote border with Brazil. Protests are also planned in the capital, Caracas.
Venezuela's military has served as the traditional arbiter of political disputes in the South American country and in recent weeks top leaders have pledged their unwavering loyalty to Maduro. However, many believe that lower-ranking troops who suffer from the same hardships as many other Venezuelans may be more inclined to now let the aid enter.
Opposition leaders are pushing forward in belief that whether Maduro lets the aid in or not, he will come out weakened. They also contend that if the military does allow the food and medical gear to pass, it will signify troops are now loyal to Guaido.
Analysts warn that there may be no clear victor and humanitarian groups have criticized the opposition as using the aid as a political weapon.
"I don't know that anyone can give a timeline of when the dam might break, and it's quite possible that it won't," said Eric Farnsworth of the Council of the Americas and Americas Society, a Washington-based think tank.
Fearful of what they might encounter, some Venezuelans in Cucuta said they planned to stay away from the border crossings, while others said they'd face the risks and go.
"For my son, I'd risk everything," Oscar Herrera, 25, a Venezuelan man who took an 18-hour bus ride to Colombia to buy his infant medicine for a skin irritation earlier this week.
Hernan Parcia, 32, a father of three, said he planned to go with his entire family.
“I’m pained by what’s happening to my country,” he said. “They can count on me.”
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.
The Jago River flows north to the Arctic Ocean and its ice pack visible in the distance in the 1990s. Geologist Gil Mull said the yellowish gray weathering bluffs on the left had a strong gassy, oily odor on a warm day. (Gil Mull / Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys) (Gil Mull / Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys/)
On Monday, Feb. 11, I had the privilege of watching democracy in action, right here in Anchorage. The draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, or ANWR, was released, and public comments were taken at the Dena’ina Center in Anchorage. The Bureau of Land Management furnished us with maps of the different development scenarios, impacts on the indigenous people and animal species, and a strong education on the process. Hats off to the agency for sitting through six straight hours of public comment by stakeholders from both inside as well as outside of the protected region, with a wide spectrum of coherence.
Many of the comments were spot-on, but many others diverged widely from the scope of the report. I was struck by a conspicuous lack of discourse on the specific threats that development poses to the Porcupine Caribou Herd, which is central to the controversy surrounding the development of ANWR. Despite its minimal appearance in the public comment period, the actual draft EIS addressed this issue very well.
However, opponents of the leasing program did not allow a lack of education on the issue to stand in the way of holding the microphone hostage. They used the airwaves to discuss many issues, one common thread being the potential greenhouse gas emissions. One activist was bold enough to implore the BLM to consider the carbon created during the end-use of the hydrocarbons.
Of course, had this activist read the draft EIS, they would find that use-phase CO2 impacts were actually addressed very well. I thought it would be interesting to provide a bit of color and more technical detail around this hot subject.
The draft report recognizes (correctly) that additional upstream hydrocarbon development does not have a one-for-one impact on oil and gas demand. Developing ANWR to its full potential will not actually add 390,000 barrels per day to the world’s oil consumption. It will almost displace that much oil already on the market, and then add a fraction of that as a result of bringing the price down. Between the direct emissions generated by the development itself and the indirect emissions generated by the modest increase in global demand, the report ultimately arrives at the conclusion that ANWR development would increase global emissions by between 0.76 and 5.38 million metric tons of CO2 over the field life. This is 11 to 77 thousand metric tons per year, or about 0.5 kilograms per barrel produced.
It’s hard to picture what this means in real life, so in context – the average barrel of North Slope crude oil produces 564 kilograms of CO2 throughout its life. Augmenting this by 0.5 kilograms for the barrels produced by the ANWR development is a 0.1 percent increase.
If anything, the report was too fair. Alaska North Slope crude is typically refined in California, meaning that ANWR development is likely to offset declining California barrels as a refinery feedstock. California, despite its green image, produces the dirtiest crude in the nation at 725 kilograms of CO2 per barrel. With this in mind, we are likely offsetting dirtier crude with cleaner crude, should we develop ANWR.
The reality is that the North Slope has a legacy of environmental responsibility that shines among the prolific oilfields in the world. This great corporate citizenship is not being left behind in the age of climate change. BP recently announced the purchase of 9.3 million metric tons of carbon offsets from Ahtna. My employer, ASRC Energy Services, has seen a strong trend of clients asking for greenhouse gas reduction solutions. It’s an exciting time to be a part of a changing industry.
The carbon-footprint impact of ANWR development pales in comparison with the potential in demand reduction. People who care about climate change should work to change their habits. Boeing 737s make an astonishing 11 metric tons of CO2 for a short 575-mile flight. An electric vehicle can take 4.5 metric tons of CO2 per year out of the atmosphere. Tesla, therefore, sold enough cars in 2018 to solve the worst-case ANWR carbon emissions scenario 11 times over. People can truly affect greenhouse gas emissions on the demand side by changes in their everyday life.
To conclude – carbon emissions may be the defining issue of the decade, but they are far from the most important issue related to ANWR development. We will continue to develop and produce oil on the North Slope with world-class corporate responsibility, and drive hard toward a low-carbon future.
Proponents of ANWR leasing are open to constructive input on responsible development scenarios. This should be seen as an unprecedented opportunity to collaborate between industry, regional stakeholders, and concerned Americans to reach a plan that benefits everyone. People engaging in the process would be advised to learn more about the issues, the proposal and the process itself. In this way, the discussion can be elevated and constructive outcomes achieved.
I want to again thank the BLM for a great presentation, an excellent report (which was delivered despite a government shutdown), and for great patience shown throughout these hearings. I hope the conversation in the future can remain focused on the relevant elements, such as the impact on coastal plain wildlife. Finally, I hope that the needs and wishes of the regional stakeholders are met, especially the Iñupiat people of the village of Kaktovik, as they have the greatest at stake.
Liam Zsolt is the Director of Technology at ASRC Energy Services. He is originally from Canada, obtaining his Bachelors of Chemical Engineering from McGill University in Montreal.
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.
Alaska reached an important milestone when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers published the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Pebble Project, a copper and gold mineral resource on State of Alaska land. I believe that for the first time in the Pebble dialogue, Alaskans have an opportunity to review a credible document from a regulator based upon the proponent’s actual mine plan for developing the Pebble resource.
We encourage anyone who is interested in Pebble to review the draft EIS and to submit comments. Public and stakeholder input are an important and critical part of this regulatory review and planning process. In fact, the project we brought forward to the Corps in 2017 was the result of listening to key issues of stakeholder concern such as the size of the mine, the use of cyanide, and ensuring safe construction of our tailings facility following the failure at Mount Polley.
As a result, our plan is smaller, will not use cyanide, keeps major mine facilities out of Upper Talarik Creek and has made safety improvements to our tailings storage design. Most importantly, we believe our plan can successfully and safely operate without affecting the fish and water resources in the Bristol Bay watershed.
Our preliminary review of the draft EIS found these key findings:
The draft EIS says impacts to fish and wildlife would not be expected to affect harvest levels because there would be no decrease in resource and abundance. (Executive Summary, page 31)
The project would not reduce returning adult salmon to the Nushugak or Kvichak river systems as a result of project operations. Therefore, the project would be expected to result in a long-term change to the health of the Bristol Bay or Cook Inlet fisheries. (Executive Summary, page 54)
No population level impacts would be expected for fish from tailings release scenarios (Executive Summary, page 71) and that a catastrophic failure of the tailings facility is highly unlikely (draft EIS at 22.214.171.124)
Downstream impacts from the pit in post closure would not be expected. (Executive Summary, page 41)
It emphasizes that Pebble’s approach is in line with best management practices (Executive Summary, page 5)
There will be positive economic impacts on local communities for the life of the project. (Executive Summary, page 32)
We have long said that a mine at Pebble must successfully co-exist with the fish and water resources in the region. Our review of the draft EIS convinces us that our plan meets this test.
Our smaller footprint keeps major mine facilities out of Upper Talarik Creek and out of the Kvichak River watershed. This is a big deal in terms of reducing the potential risk to sockeye salmon escapement in that stream, even though it represents about 0.4 percent of Bristol Bay sockeye escapement. And, as the Draft EIS notes, there will be no reduction in fish productivity in nearby watersheds.
We will not use cyanide for gold recovery, and we have a sophisticated approach to water management at the project. The proposed approach strategically releases water, after it has been filtered through a sophisticated water treatment plant, into each of the three nearby streams and will meet Alaska’s criteria for water quality. The draft EIS notes that there will be negligible or no impact to water via this approach.
The draft EIS states that the communities around Pebble face significant socioeconomic challenges and a mine at Pebble could bring life-changing jobs and economic activity. The draft EIS says the project could reduce the high cost of living in communities closest to the project. It calls the economic and health benefits associated with improvements in economic status to be “substantial.” It goes on to state:
“Economic benefits would likely have positive effects on helping to stem the current trend of out-migration, increasing or maintaining the number of schools in the region, and other indirect economic benefits (e.g. taxes, sales/revenue, and other fiscal effects to the regional and local economies). The benefits would be more apparent in the small, rural communities closest to the mine site (Lake and Peninsula Borough communities), where even small changes in their economies could have a measurable impact on their overall health and well-being." (draft EIS at 4.10-8)
For me, this is what our plan is really all about. In addition to providing copper and other critical metals to support our modern way of life, we can provide life-changing improvements for the people of Southwest Alaska.
This is not to diminish or marginalize legitimate concerns people have about the potential development of a mine at Pebble. Rather, I believe it is time to move beyond the rhetoric about Pebble to the real work of ensuring a world-class project like Pebble can be developed safely and in a manner that benefits all Alaskans.
The Pebble team is energized and excited about reaching this important milestone for this asset for Alaska. Now is the time for all interested stakeholders to get involved in the public review and planning process to ensure concerns are heard and meaningfully addressed and to make certain the benefits that could accrue from this project are realized across the state.
Tom Collier is the president and CEO of the Pebble Project.
India orders ‘staggering’ eviction of 1 million indigenous people. Some environmentalists are cheering.
NEW DELHI - India's Supreme Court has ordered its government to evict a million people from their homes - for the good of the country's wildlife.
The ruling, issued Wednesday, was a startling conclusion to a decade-long case that has pitted the rights of some of India's most vulnerable citizens against the preservation of its forests.
The court told the government to evict over a million people - mostly members of indigenous tribes - from their homes in public forest land because they had not met the legal criterion to live there.
With over 700 tribal groups, India is home to over 100 million indigenous people. While the forest land is legally controlled by the government, people have lived in such areas for centuries.
A landmark law passed in 2006 gave legal rights over forest land and its produce to tribes and forest-dwelling communities provided they could prove that their families have stayed there for at least three generations.
The battle for mineral-rich forest land is not new in India. The ruling is the latest flash point in the competing interests of industry, wildlife conservationists and forest communities.
In the last 30 years, the government has diverted 5,400 square miles of forest land, the size of Connecticut, for industrial projects - many of which were opposed by the indigenous people. Wildlife groups contend that granting "wide-ranging" rights to people on forest land leads to fragmentation of forests at a time when the country's forest cover is shrinking. Critics, however, say that neither accounts for the rights of the indigenous people who rely on the forest for daily needs and for their livelihood.
Now the court says that those whose claims were rejected must go - by July 27. The number of affected people is estimated to go up to 1.89 million when more states comply with the order.
Human rights groups and activists were stunned by the ruling. Nicholas Dawes, the acting managing director of Human Rights Watch, wrote that it had "staggering" implications for India's most marginalized.
Forest Rights Alliance, a grassroots advocacy group, called the judgment "draconian." Another group advocating for the rights of forest dwellers, the Campaign for Survival and Dignity, called the order a "major blow." It also noted that thousands of claims for land rights under the law - the Forest Rights Act - get "wrongly rejected."
Wildlife groups first challenged the law back in 2008, arguing that it threatened "long-term conservation of forests and biodiversity." Praveen Bhargav of Wildlife First issued a statement on behalf of the petitioners welcoming Wednesday's ruling as an "extremely important order." The statement noted that "ineligible" and "bogus" claimants under the Forest Rights Act "continue to occupy a huge area of forestland."
C.R. Bijoy of the Campaign for Survival and Dignity fired back. He said that the environmental groups which brought the case represent a "vanishing" way of thinking about conservation which excludes people from the process.
The ruling comes just weeks before India is slated to begin national elections, putting state governments in the highly awkward position of being instructed to evict voters from their homes. As a result, few believe the order will be carried out in the mandated time frame - plus it will almost certainly face an additional legal challenge.
One big question mark is the Indian government's own position on the issue. It failed to defend its own law in the current court case. The result was a lopsided proceeding where judges heard arguments in favor of the wildlife groups.
Rahul Gandhi, leader of the Indian National Congress, the country's main opposition party, criticized Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government last week for being a "silent spectator" in court. Gandhi also asked three states governed by the Congress party to re-look at cases where land claims had been rejected.
Back in 2002, the government had ordered evictions of unauthorized dwellings on a similar directive from the top court, sparking large-scale protests by indigenous people and forest rights groups.
Special counsel Robert Mueller departs after a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington in 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) (J. Scott Applewhite/)
WASHINGTON - The Justice Department and Democratic lawmakers are bracing for a fight over access to the evidence uncovered by Special Counsel Robert Mueller during his nearly two-year investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether President Donald Trump obstructed justice.
Mueller's investigation is winding down, according to people familiar with the matter, and Justice Department officials expect to receive a report from him in March. Democrats on Friday demanded that the report be made public.
A senior Justice Department official said Friday that the report will not be delivered next week, as appeared might be the case just days ago.
The agency's regulations call for Mueller's report to be a confidential account of who was charged, as well as who was investigated but not charged. Then, according to the regulations, the attorney general - William Barr - will summarize the work for Congress.
Lawmakers already are pressing for the Justice Department to turn over any additional underlying investigative documents produced during Mueller's investigation.
The task of wresting those materials away from the Justice Department is likely to fall to the House, where Democrats are in the majority. On Friday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., joined the chairs of five other House committees in stressing to Barr, "in the strongest possible terms, our expectation that the Department of Justice will release to the public the report Special Counsel Mueller submits to you - without delay and to the maximum extent permitted by law," according to a letter lawmakers sent to the attorney general.
Democrats said they are watching for how quickly Barr delivers his summary to Congress after he receives Mueller's findings, warning that any delay could be interpreted as a reason to fear that Barr is covering up certain revelations. Democrats also plan to instruct the Justice Department to preserve all records related to Mueller's probe, telling Barr in their letter that he should be prepared to furnish information upon request "regarding certain foreign actors and other individuals who may have been the subject of a criminal or counterintelligence investigation" plus other investigative materials, "including classified and law enforcement sensitive information."
The House committee chairs also asked Barr to detail his reasoning for withholding any sections of Mueller's report that the attorney general might choose to omit from the summary he submits to Congress.
Justice Department officials have worried that they will have a weak argument for withholding such materials, given how much information was turned over to Congress after the FBI's investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.
When that investigation ended in 2016, then-FBI Director James Comey made public the reports of agents' interviews with witnesses, gave public briefings to Congress and supplied additional information to lawmakers in private meetings.
Justice Department officials who cringed at that level of information-sharing and the disclosure of sensitive investigative documents did much the same after Trump fired Comey in May 2017. When Republican lawmakers demanded additional materials about both the Clinton and Russia probes, the White House squeezed the agency to comply. At one point, in early 2017, then-Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, refused to allow the nomination of Rod Rosenstein for deputy attorney general to go forward unless Grassley was provided a detailed briefing from the FBI about the Russia investigation.
Grassley got the briefing.
The trend continued after Rosenstein became the Justice Department's second-in-command. For instance, when the president declassified a sensitive surveillance warrant, a redacted version of the document was made public. That was unprecedented, and it could affect how the notoriously tight-lipped Mueller deals with future demands for information.
"The rules for what the department turns over to Congress are based almost exclusively on precedent, and now that Republicans have established these new precedents, they're about to find themselves hoisted on their own petard," said Matthew Miller, a Justice Department spokesman during the Obama administration. The department, he said, "just has no good argument why it shouldn't provide the same transparency for the Mueller probe that it did for the Clinton investigation."
Senior Justice Department officials, however, do not think that the path set by Comey after the Clinton probe is one they should follow when Mueller completes his work. Barr said as much in his confirmation hearing.
"If you're not going to indict someone, you don't stand up there and unload negative information about the person," Barr said during his Senate hearing. "That's not the way the department does business."
That raises a challenge for the Justice Department, which has long held the view that a sitting president cannot be indicted.
Miller said the Justice Department must turn over to Congress any incriminating information Mueller found about the president. "The Justice Department has made very clear that it is not the arbiter of presidential criminality - that is Congress' job," he added. "If that's true, that means any evidence of presidential misconduct or potential criminality, they need to turn over to the branch of government they have said polices that conduct."
If Barr were to resist such requests, lawmakers have a few options in how they respond. They can subpoena everything, from Mueller's full report to the FBI's summaries of their witness interviews. They can call Mueller to testify about the substance of his probe and fill in any gaps.
House Judiciary Committee Democrats believe no information from Mueller's probe should be concealed. But for now, they are shying away from committing to a court fight for every last document, saying they want first to see whether Barr is planning to withhold anything.
They say they expect that Barr will follow the precedent set when special prosecutor Leon Jaworski provided a "road map" to Congress in 1974 of the investigation he pursued against President Richard Nixon. At that point, Democrats think, they should be able to speak with witnesses to whom access was being denied during Mueller's probe, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn and the former deputy chairman of Trump's presidential campaign, Rick Gates.
Depending on Mueller's findings, several Democrats said, ongoing congressional investigations may benefit more from interviewing those witnesses than from waiting while lawyers seek to compel Barr to release Mueller's notes - especially on the Senate Intelligence Committee, the one panel that has not closed its investigation of Russia's election interference. That probe began shortly after Trump's inauguration.
On the House side, Democrats are reluctant to spend much time waiting for a full handing over of Mueller's documents that may never happen before they forge ahead with their own investigations. There is even some resistance to taking much direction from Mueller if such materials are fully disclosed, as the limits of the special counsel's probe - it was restricted to looking for criminal activity - do not apply to lawmakers, who can probe any suspected misconduct or potential abuse of power.
What Democrats will be looking for most closely in Mueller’s report, aides said, is any hint he uncovered evidence that could have led to an indictment of Trump. In their letter to Barr on Friday, the House Democratic leaders warned of “the particular danger” of withholding any evidence of misconduct by Trump. “To maintain that a sitting president cannot be indicted, and then to withhold evidence of wrongdoing from Congress because the President will not be charged, is to convert Department policy into the means for a cover-up. The President,” they wrote, “is not above the law.”
John Erhart of Tanana leads James Wheeler of Clam Gulch around a tight corner near the Alaska Native Medial Center during the first day of the 2019 Fur Rendezvous Open World Championship Sled Dog Race. (Bob Hallinen photo) (Bob Hallinen/)
Driving a team of 12 dogs, Fur Rendezvous rookie Amy Dunlap of Salcha outran a host of bigger teams to seize the first-day lead in the Open World Championship Sled Dog Race.
Dunlap finished the 25-mile race across Anchorage in 1 hour, 24 minutes, 18 seconds. She was 42 seconds ahead of second-place John Erhart (1:25:01), who drove a team of 16.
In third place with 15 dogs was Ricky Taylor (1:25:12). Defending champion Blayne Streeper and his team of 18 dogs were fourth in 1:25:18.
Blayne Streeper of Fort Nelson, British Columbia, drives his dog team past the Alaska Native Medial Center campus on the first day of the 2019 Fur Rendezvous Open World Championship Sled Dog Race. (Bob Hallinen photo) (Bob Hallinen/)
Though Dunlap is a Rondy rookie, she is no stranger to sled dog racing. She is a veteran of the Open North American in Fairbanks, and she competed in the 2016 Fur Rondy Invitational, a replacement event staged when poor trail conditions led to the cancellation of that year’s Open World Championships. Mushers that year did three-mile runs on three straight days.
Dunlap’s husband Jason placed fourth in the 2017 Rondy and was 11th last year. He’s not racing this year.
Dunlap was one of only four mushers in a field of 23 to run with 12 or fewer dogs. Don Cousins had 12 and Wendy Callis and Todd Whitcomb both had 11, and all but Dunlap finished near the back of the pack.
Racing continues Saturday and Sunday, with mushers leaving the start line at Fourth Avenue and D Street beginning at noon each day.
1) Amy Dunlap (12 dogs) 1:24:18;
2) John Erhart (16) 1:25:01;
3) Ricky Taylor (15) 1:25:12;
4) Blayne Streeper (18) 1:25:18;
5) Courtney Agnes (16) 1:26:04;
6) Guy Gerard (14) 1:26:10;
7) Ken Chezik (16) 1:27:01;
8) Michael Tetzner (16) 1:27:08;
9) Lina Streeper (14) 1:27:31;
10) Marvin Kokrine (14) 1:27:38;
11) Carl Knudsen (13) 1:28:16;
12) James Wheeler (14) 1:29:02;
13) Nikki Seo (13) 1:29:39;
14) Jeff Conn (14) 1:30:13;
15) Rejean Therrien (18) 1:30:20;
16) Brent Beck (14) 1:32:01;
17) Armin Johnson (16) 1:32:21;
18) Bill Kornmuller (16) 1:36:21;
19) Don G. Cousins (12) 1:36:25;
20) Wendy Callis (11) 1:37:22;
21) Colby Evensen (14) 1:41:00;
22) Todd Whitcomb (11) 1:42:05;
23) Matt Paveglio (14) 1:54:53.
Fans cheer for Marvin Kokrine of North Pole. (Bob Hallinen photo) (Bob Hallinen/)
Alyeska’s sun-drenched headwall backlights Utah's Addison Dvoracek, who posted his fifth win of the season Friday. (Photo by Bob Eastaugh) (Bob Eastaugh/)
Alyeska Resort and Kincaid Park both delivered a gorgeous day Friday for skiers in the NCAA Western Regional championships.
UAA took full advantage by producing seven top-10 finishes, including five in the giant slalom race at Alyeska.
Giant slalom wins went to Andrea Komsic of Denver and Addison Dvoracek of Utah, who are among several world-class skiers competing in two NCAA meets this week in the Anchorage area. A handful of the alpine skiers came to Alaska after competing in last week’s World Championships.
“It’s a world-class group of athletes. We can walk away from today with our heads high," UAA head coach Sparky Anderson said in a release from the school.
UAA put three women in the top 10 of the giant slalom – fifth-place Georgia Burgess, sixth-place Li Djurestad and 10th-place Kristina Natalenko. In the men’s GS, Sky Kelsey and Liam Wallace tied for seventh place and were right in the mix for podium finishes.
“Our women had a great day,” Anderson said. “It’s one of the most demanding hills we’ve competed on this season. It’s nice to see good results in front of a home crowd.”
Andrea Komsic, a Croatian skiing for the University of Denver, deflects a hinged gate at the top of Alyeska's Waterfall on her winning giant slalom run Friday. The snow looks blue because windshield fluid is used to improve depth perception on shady courses. (Photo by Bob Eastaugh) (Bob Eastaugh/)
At Kincaid Park, cross-country skiers enjoyed an ideal day for classic-technique races.
“The conditions at Kincaid don’t get any better with the clear skies and new cold snow,” UAA cross-country Andrew Kastning said.
New Mexico skiers went 1-2 in the men’s race, with Kornelius Groev nipping teammate Ricardo Izquierdo-Bernier by half a second in the mass-start 20-kilometer race.
For UAA, Toomas Kollo placed 10th for his best classic result of the season and Sigurd Roenning was 15th.
In the women’s 15K, Anchorage’s Hailey Swirbul set the pace, finishing two minutes ahead of the top NCAA skier. Swirbul trains with the Alaska Pacific University nordic team, which isn’t an NCAA program.
Julia Richter of Utah topped the college skiers. Casey Wright continued a strong week of skiing for UAA by placing ninth, one spot behind Anchorage’s Emma Tarbath, who skis for Montana State. Michaela Keller-Miller was 13th for the Seawolves.
Friday’s race was the last one in Alaska for college cross-country skiers, but racing continues Saturday and Sunday at Alyeska with slalom races.
NCAA Western Regional
Friday’s alpine results
Women’s giant slalom -- 1) Andrea Komsic, Denver, 2:33.69; 2) Norbye Tuva, Denver, 2:34.45; 3) Eirin Linnea Engeset, Utah, 2:34.69; 4) Sona Moravcikova, New Mexico, 2:35.01; 5) Georgia Burgess, UAA, 2:37.44; 6) Li Djurestaal, UAA, 2:37.97; 7) Mia Henry, Montana State, 2:37.98; 8) Andrea Louise Arnold, Colorado, 2:38.76; 9) Kathryn Parker, Utah, 2:39.20; 10) Kristina Natalenko, UAA, 2:39.54.
Men’s giant slalom -- 1) Addison Dvoracek, Utah, 2:25.06; 2) Joachim Bakken Lien, Utah, 2:25.84; 3) Max Luukko, Colorado, 2:26.31; 4) Filip Forejtek, Colorado, 2:26.57; 5) Tobias Kogler, Denver, 2:27.03; 6) Aage Solheim, Montana State, 2:27.22; 7) Sky Kelsey, UAA, 2:27.24; 7) Liam Wallace, UAA, 2:27.24; 9) Vegard Busengdal, New Mexico, 2:27.30; 10) Florian Szwebel, Montana State, 2:27.33.
With a 3-2 loss Friday night in Houghton, Michigan, the UAA hockey team was mathematically eliminated from the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs.
The Seawolves occupy last place in the 10-team league, which sends its top eight teams to the WCHA tournament. They are 14 points out of eighth place, and with only three regular-season games left, the most points they can score between now and the end of the season is nine.
Coming into the game, UAA trailed eighth-place Alabama Huntsville by 11 points. Catching Huntsville was possible, but only if the Seawolves won their final four games and Huntsville lost its final four. Neither of those things can happen now, because UAA lost and Huntsville won on Friday.
Jonah Renouf and Drayson Pears each scored and Kristian Stead made 39 saves for UAA, but the Seawolves were outshot 42-14 and gave up two power-play goals.
UAA (3-25-3 overall, 2-20-3 WCHA) led 1-0 in the second period and forged a 2-2 tie early in the third period. Michigan Tech (13-16-4, 12-10-3) scored the game-winning goal on a power play with 11 minutes left.
“I thought our effort was there, but we never seemed to get things rolling the way we are able to,” UAA coach Matt Curley said in a release from the school. “We struggled to get pucks to the net and gave up a lot against on the other end, ultimately costing us the game.”
After a scoreless first period, Renouf scored about five minutes into the second period on an assist from Nicolas Erb-Ekholm. Two minutes later, Tech tied the game.
The Huskies went up 2-1 a little more than four minutes into the third period, only to see UAA tie it 70 seconds later with Pear’s goal, assisted by Trey deGraaf and Carmine Buono.
UAA had no answer when the Huskies’ Jake Jackson scored a breakaway power-play goal for the game-winner.
The Seawolves were 0-for-2 on the power play and Tech was 2-for-4. UAA hadn’t allowed a power-play goal in its previous five games.
“Kristian Stead was outstanding tonight and kept us in it,” Curley said. “Hopefully tomorrow we will be able to generate some more presence in the offensive zone.”
Race winner Kendall Kramer of West Valley gets a hug from West's Ivy Eski after the girls 7.5-kilometer freestyle race Friday at the Birch Hill Recreation Area. (Danny Martin / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner)
Masters of the ski trails for a second straight day, Kendall Kramer of West Valley and Zanden McMullen of South claimed Skimeister titles Friday at the state high school cross-country ski championships at Birch Hill Recreation Area in Fairbanks.
It was the second straight Skimeister crown for Kramer, a junior who on Friday won the girls 7.5-kilometer freestyle race by nearly 50 seconds over runnerup Garvee Tobin of Service.
It was the first title for McMullen, a senior who topped the boys 10K freestyle race by nearly a minute over West’s Everett Cason.
Tobin and Cason both finished second in the Skimeister standings. The title of Skimeister is awarded to the boy and girl with the fastest combined times in the two individual races at the state championships.
The meet concludes Saturday with relay races at Birch Hill. Team titles are at stake, although the West girls appear to be in great position to win a fifth straight state championship.
The Eagles lead the West Valley girls by nearly four minutes heading into the race. Even with Kramer on their team, the Wolfpack will be hard-pressed to make up that much time in the 4x3K relay.
In the boys competition, West’s three-year reign as state champs could come to an end. Going into the 4x5K relay, West Valley leads second-place Service by 53 seconds and third-place West by 98 seconds.
ASAA/First National Bank state skiing championships
Friday’s individual results
Girls 7.5K freestyle
1) KRAMER, Kendall, West Valley, 23:37.0; 2) TOBIN, Garvee, Service, 24:25.5; 3) ESKI, Ivy, West, 24:33.8; 4) LECLAIR, Aubrey, West, 24:55.9; 5) HANESTAD, Annika, Colony, 25:06.7; 6) DONLEY, Quincy, West, 25:17.6; 7) GONZALES, Annie, West, 25:30.3; 8) PROFFITT, Adrianna, Chugiak, 25:36.1; 9) JEROME, Emma, West Valley, 25:36.3; 10) HOUSER, Katey, Palmer, 25:41.5; 11) WALSH, Emily Eagle River, 26:06.4; 12) WITTER, Tatum, Service, 26:10.5; 13) FLORA, Marit, Service, 26:21.3; 14) BRUBAKER, Neena, Service, 26:29.7; 15) WILSON, Helen, Eagle River, 26:39.1; 16) DRUCKENMILLER, Maggie, West Valley, 26:39.3; 17) HAAS, Abigail, Lathrop, 26:44.2; 18) WHITAKER, Maggie, West Valley, 26:57.3; 19) MITCHELL, Ellie, West, 27:18.1; 20) PERSONIUS, Hjelle, West Valley, 27:23.3; 21) NELSON, Claire, Eagle River, 27:35.7; 22) SALZETTI, Maria, Kenai, 27:44.6; 23) YOUNG, Lucy, South, 27:52.4; 24) LATVA-KISKOLA, Tarja, Dimond, 27:55.5; 25) CVANCARA, Maria, Dimond, 27:58.3; 26) BERRIGAN, Aila, Palmer, 28:03.8; 27) EARL, Ava, South, 28:16.1; 28) DAIGLE, Autumn, Homer, 28:19.0; 29) CONIGLIO, Morgan, West, 28:20.4; 30) KILBY, Elizabeth, South, 28:24.2.
Boys 10K freestyle
1) MCMULLEN, Zanden, South, 25:56.1; 2) CASON, Everett, West, 26:53.2; 3) EARNHART, Michael, Chugiak, 26:53.7; 4) MEYERS, Kai, South, 26:55.8; 5) DIFOLCO, Eric, West Valley, 27:15.6; 6) MAURER, Alexander, Service, 27:33.4; 7) WALLING, Joseph, Palmer, 27:53.3; 8) CVANCARA, George, Dimond, 28:03.2; 9) LAKER-MORRIS, Jordan, West Valley, 28:04.9; 10) MARTIN, Kelly, West, 28:06.8; 11) BEIERGROHSLEIN, Max, Chugiak, 28:11.1; 12) BURRELL, Jonathan, Lathrop, 28:13.7; 13) DELEMARE, Sam, West Valley, 28:17.4; 14) CONNELLY, Michael, Chugiak, 28:21.2; 15) BAURICK, Josh, West Valley, 28:22.4; 16) DENNIS, Miles, Chugiak, 28:48.7; 17) MAVES, Aaron, West, 29:03.2; 18) POWER, Joel, Service, 29:11.0; 19) BAURICK, Dale, West Valley, 29:15.2; 20) ULBRICH, Hayden, Service, 29:18.8; 21) FRTIZEL, Luke, Grace Christian, 29:32.4; 22) TAYLOR, Kaj, Palmer, 29:33.4; 23) CLAPP, Sean, South, 29:36.0; 24) RENNER, Torsten, Chugiak, 29:41.9; 25) REIGER, Matthew, West, 29:51.1; 26) RENNER, Konrad, Chugiak, 29:57.3l; 27) RYGH, Martin, Dimond, 30:02.3; 28) WALTERS, Bradley, Soldotna, 30:09.8;29) ESPINOSA, Daryn, Lathrop, 30:13.4; 30) BIERMA, Joshua, Service, 30:17.1.
When does the 2019 Iditarod start? (And 10 other questions about Alaska’s most famous sled dog race)
Dogs in Mitch Seavey's team howl in anticipation of the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage in 2015. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Alaska Dispatch News/)
The ceremonial start for the 47th annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is Saturday, March 2. The first team will leave downtown Anchorage at 10 a.m., but the streets will come alive a couple of hours earlier with the sound of barking dogs as mushers prepare for their departure.
The restart is Sunday, March 3, when teams will leave the Willow Community Center beginning at 2 p.m. That’s when the race clock starts ticking.
The ceremonial start takes teams on a festive 11-mile journey through Anchorage. Snow stored over the winter is trucked downtown and spread onto the city streets to give the sleds something to glide on.
Teams leave the start line at Fourth Avenue and D Street in two-minute intervals. They turn onto Cordova Street and drop down the hill to Mulcahy Stadium, where they leave the streets for the trails. The run ends at Campbell Airstrip in Far North Bicentennial Park.
How many teams are in the race, and who are they?
A field of 52 is signed up for the race – the smallest since 1989, when there were 49 teams.
Six mushers are from the Lower 48, four are from Canada, four are from Europe and the rest are from Alaska.
Ten are rookies. Five are past champions -- defending champion Joar Leifseth Ulsom, four-time winners Jeff King, Martin Buser and Lance Mackey, and three-time winner Mitch Seavey.
Aliy Zirkle acknowledges cheers as she winds through parties situated along the course at 16th Avenue during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race ceremonial start in 2017. (Erik Hill / ADN) (Alaska Dispatch News/)
Women make up nearly a third of the field -- there are 17 of them. And although there have been more women in a handful of other races -- there was a record 26 in 2016 -- there’s never been a higher percentage of women. Women make up 32.7 percent of this year’s field, a slight increase from 2015, when 25 women made up 31.3 percent of the field.
How many dogs are on a team? Are there substitutes?
A new rule this year reduced the maximum number of dogs per team to 14. The previous maximum was 16.
A musher must have at least 12 dogs on the tow line when the race begins and must have at least five in harness at the finish line. In last year’s race, 60 of the 68 teams started with 16 dogs; the others started with 15 or 14.
The only time a musher can add dogs to a team is between the ceremonial start and the restart. A musher can drop a dog at any checkpoint, for any reason -- because they are sick or injured, or as part of a race strategy. Dogs left behind at checkpoints are cared from by Iditarod volunteers until they are flown back to Anchorage.
Any other new rules this year?
Yes, and one of them is a big one.
Mushers who have a dog die during the race will not be allowed to continue racing unless the death "was caused solely by unforeseeable, external forces," according a rule adopted in June by the board of directors.
Stuart Nelson, the Iditarod’s chief veterinarian, said he could think of only two occasions when a dog’s death was “caused solely by unforeseeable, external forces” – in 2016 when a drunk snowmachiner crashed into Jeff King’s team on the frozen Yukon River and killed 3-year-old Nash, and in 1985 when a moose stomped Susan Butcher’s team, killing two dogs and injuring 13.
One dog died during last year’s Iditarod. Blondie, a 5-year-old on Katherine Keith’s team, died of “aspiration pneumonia” after being dropped at a checkpoint. Race officials said Blondie was indoors and under a veterinarian’s care when it died.
When will the race end?
Probably late Tuesday or early Wednesday (March 12-13).
In 2017, when Mitch Seavey set the race record of 8 days, 3 hours, 40 minutes, 13 seconds, he reached Nome at 3:40 p.m. Tuesday. That year, the race started in Fairbanks on a Monday, a day later than usual, because of open water and too little snow on the route out of Willow.
In 2018, when deep snow slowed dogs a bit, Joar Leifseth Ulsom reached Nome at 3 a.m. Wednesday.
Joar Leifseth Ulsom drives his dogteam down Front Street in Nome for the 2018 Iditarod win. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Only seven races have ended in less than nine days. Martin Buser was the first to break the nine-day barrier in 2002, but there wasn’t another eight-day winner until 2010 when Lance Mackey did it with 51 seconds to spare.
Six of the last nine champions, dating back to Mackey’s 2010 run, have finished in less than nine days. The record has been broken four times during that stretch (John Baker in 2011, Dallas Seavey in 2014 and 2016, Mitch Seavey in 2017).
The winners of the first two Iditarods, in 1973 and 1974, needed 20 days to finish. Last year’s Red Lantern winner, Magnus Kaltenborn, finished in 12 days, 20 hours.
What’s the Red Lantern?
It’s the award given to the last musher to finish the race. The slowest Red Lantern time came in 1973, when John Schultz finished in 32 days.
Many mushers enter the Iditarod with the sole desire to get their dogs safely to Nome, so there is no dishonor in winning the Red Lantern.
Iditarod musher Christine Roalofs with her 2013 Iditarod red lantern on Friday, February 27, 2015. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Don’t confuse the Red Lantern with the Widow’s Lamp. The Widow’s Lamp is a small lantern lit on the day of the restart. It hangs on the burled arch that marks the Nome finish line, where it burns until the last musher finishes. The Red Lantern winner is given the honor of extinguishing it.
The Widow’s Lamp pays homage to the days when sled dogs carried freight and mail through Alaska, according to Iditarod.com. A musher would travel from roadhouse to roadhouse, where a kerosene lamp burned outside to guide him to his destination through the darkness.
What’s the age limit for the Iditarod?
You must be 18 or older the day the race begins. There is no age cutoff. As long as you run the necessary mid-distance races to qualify, you can enter.
The Seavey family owns the Iditarod’s two age-related records.
Dallas Seavey holds his leaders, Diesel, left, and Guiness after he arrived at the finish line to claim victory in the Iditarod in 2012. (Marc Lester / ADN)
Dallas Seavey became the youngest Iditarod champ in 2012, when he turned 25 during the race. Until then, the record belonged to Rick Swenson, who was 26 when he won the 1977 race.
Mitch Seavey, Dallas’ dad, became the oldest Iditarod champ in 2017, when he won at age 57. He broke his own record, set when he won the 2013 race at age 53.
The oldest finisher in Iditarod history is Norman Vaughan, who was 84 when he drove a team of 11 dogs under the burled arch in 60th place -- one spot ahead of last place. Vaughan, who lived till he was 100, finished four Iditarods, the first in 1978.
Has there ever been a tie in the Iditarod?
In 1978, Dick Mackey edged Rick Swenson by one second to win the 1,000-mile race. Their teams were side-by-side as they raced down Nome’s Front Street.
Dick Mackey runs in front of Rick Swenson in a sprint to the Iditarod finish in Nome in 1978. (Rob Stapleton / ADN archive 1978) (Unknown/)
Mackey won by a nose -- the nose of a lead dog. Though Swenson was the first human across the finish line, Mackey’s lead dog crossed the finish line a heartbeat ahead Swenson’s lead dog to claim the victory.
Years later, the two mushers told the story of their photo finish.
“For years,” Swenson told the Daily News, “the only trophy that we had in the house any place where you could see was my second-place trophy from 1978, to remember that a second counts.”
Who are those people in the sleds during the ceremonial start in Anchorage?
They’re called Idita-Riders, and they are the winners of the race’s annual online auction, which raises money for the race.
Bids open at $850. An instant purchase costs $7,500, and this year eight mushers were claimed with instant purchases -- Martin Buser, Jeff King, Lance Mackey, Nic Petit, Aliy Zirkle, Matthew Failor, Blair Braverman and Shaynee Traska.
The auction for this year’s race ended last month.
Who has won the most Iditarods?
Rick Swenson is the race’s only five-time champion. He won in 1977, 1979, 1981, 1982 and 1991 -- the only musher to win in three separate decades.
Six mushers have won four races apiece, and three of them are signed up for this year’s race -- Martin Buser (1992, 1994, 1997, 2002), Jeff King (1993, 1996, 1998, 2006) and Lance Mackey (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010).
Four-time winner Dallas Seavey (2012, 2014, 2015, 2016) is skipping the Iditarod for the second straight year in favor of running the 744-mile Finnmarkslopet in Norway. He finished third in that race last year.
Susan Butcher and one of her lead dogs at the finish line after winning the 1990 Iditarod Sled Dog Race. (Bill Roth / ADN) (ADN/)
Doug Swingley (1995, 1999, 2000, 2001) is retired from sled dog racing, and Susan Butcher (1986, 1987, 1988, 1990) died of leukemia in 2006 at age 51.
Those seven mushers have won all but 17 of the 46 Iditarods. Add three-time champion Mitch Seavey (2004, 2013, 2017), and you have eight mushers who have won 70 percent of the races.
What does the top musher win?
For his victory last year, Joar Leifseth Ulsom won a new truck and a check for $50,612.
The size of the purse varies from year to year, depending on sponsorships, entry fees and fundraising. This year’s purse is $500,000, about the same as last year. The bulk of it will be paid to the top 20 finishers, but every finisher from 21st place to last place will collect $1,049.
While $50,000 buys a lot of dog food, the new Dodge truck awarded to winners can be every bit as precious. A new truck couldn’t have come at a better time for Ulsom last year -- he said his 1999 pickup broke down right before the race.
ADN reporter Tegan Hanlon contributed.
JUNEAU — U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she is likely to support a resolution of disapproval over President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to secure more money for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
In an audio recording provided by an aide late Friday, Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, noted concerns she has raised about the precedent that could be set if the declaration stands.
House Democrats introduced a resolution Friday to block the national emergency declaration. If it passes the Democratic-controlled House, it would go to the Republican-held Senate. Trump on Friday promised a veto.
"I want to make sure that the resolution of disapproval is exactly what I think it is, because if it is as I understand it to be, I will likely be supporting the resolution to disapprove of the action," Murkowski said.
When pressed on her position during an appearance on Anchorage TV station KTUU Friday evening, she said: "If it's what I have seen right now, I will support the resolution to disapprove."
Earlier in the week, Murkowski told reporters she supports efforts to bolster border security but worries about an erosion of government checks and balances.
"I'll be very direct. I don't like this. I don't like this," she said. "I think it takes us down a road and with a precedent that if it's allowed, that we may come to regret."
Congress recently approved a border security compromise that included about $1.4 billion for border barriers, which is less than Trump wanted. But Murkowski said it is "certainly as much as the administration can spend in this fiscal year" to advance Trump's priorities.
Alaska’s other U.S. senator, Republican Dan Sullivan, on Thursday called the border situation a crisis but said he didn’t think a national emergency declaration was needed because of the money just approved and other resources identified by the White House.
Downtown Juneau, including the Alaska State Capitol (background left) is seen Friday morning, Feb. 22, 2019. (James Brooks / ADN)
JUNEAU — Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget for the state Department of Health and Social Services is based upon as-yet-unreceived federal permission, members of the Alaska Senate Finance Committee were told Friday, causing Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel to deem the governor’s approach a “serious gamble.”
“It seems as though we’re taking a major gamble here, and I don’t believe that people’s health care in the state of Alaska should be gambled with. This is a very, very serious issue,” he said.
Friday was the first time legislators have been formally presented with the governor’s proposal for the Department of Health and Social Services, the state’s largest department by budget, according to figures from the nonpartisan Legislative Finance Division.
The governor has proposed cutting the health budget from $3.25 billion to $2.47 billion, according to figures from the Office of Management and Budget. Those cuts are part of the governor’s plan to pay a larger Permanent Fund Dividend without new taxes or spending from savings.
Most of the health department’s cuts are in the division that handles the state-federal Medicaid program. According to OMB documents, the Medicaid services portion of the budget is cut from $2.27 billion to $1.55 billion. Medicaid is primarily funded by the federal government, but the state paid $661 million this year, a figure that would drop to $412 million under Dunleavy’s plan.
More than one-quarter of Alaska’s population is covered by Medicaid, according to state figures, and in order to participate in Medicaid, the state is required to provide a certain amount of coverage.
Federal law allows states to vary from the standard funding formula and practice if they receive official permission. One of the most common variations is what’s known as a “1115 waiver” after the appropriate section of federal law. The governor’s health budget takes for granted that the state will receive such a waiver, allowing it to reduce spending below normal levels.
“The department is working with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to explore the possibility of another 1115 demonstration project,” Sana Efird, administrative services director for the Department of Health and Social Services, told lawmakers.
Lacey Sanders, budget director in the Office of Management and Budget, said after the hearing that the state is also “exploring other options” than the 1115 waiver.
The problem is that the fiscal year begins July 1, and obtaining federal waivers takes time. Last year, it took the state nine months to receive an 1115 waiver for a behavioral health program, according to data from the federal government.
“I don’t think many of these things can occur (by) July 1,” said Sen. Natasha Von Imhof, R-Anchorage.
If they don’t, the budget contains contingency language allowing the state department to spend the last $172 million remaining in the Statutory Budget Reserve as a “backstop,” Efird said.
Efird also told lawmakers that the health department is working on “many initiatives” that will not require federal approval.
“The intention is not to harm current Alaskans, if possible, in any way,” she said. “We want to provide the most sustainable Medicaid program to cover our low-income Alaskans, but with the policy direction of the current administration, we need to match our revenues to expenditures, and as you know, Medicaid is one of the largest general fund spends for the state.”
There’s a difference between intention and actual action, Hoffman said.
“You said it may not affect people’s lives, but it may affect people’s lives. That is the other flip side of your equation, and you are, with this proposed budget, playing with people’s lives,” he said.
Von Imhof is co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee and will be chairing the subcommittee in charge of the health budget. Speaking during Friday’s hearing, she said the governor didn’t explain why he cut what he did.
“Right now I sort of look at it, and for some of (the cuts), I think it’s just a Zorro cut. I don’t really see a rationale,” she said.
She later clarified what she meant: “Broad cuts with less thought behind them and less policy — less thought behind consequences.”
Those consequences matter, Von Imhof said, and she expects to spend time on them when her subcommittee meets.
“I think it’s one of the biggest cost drivers in the state of Alaska today, and I think it’s important to understand it,” Von Imhof said of the health budget.