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Updated: 1 hour 26 min ago

Israel, militants trade fire as Gaza death toll climbs to 24

Sat, 08/06/2022 - 13:53

Rockets fired by Palestinian militants toward Israel, in Gaza City, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022. The latest confrontation between Israel and Gaza militants is in its second day, as Israeli jets hit targets in Gaza and rocket fire persists into southern Israel. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair) (Fatima Shbair/)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israeli airstrikes flattened homes in Gaza on Saturday and Palestinian rocket barrages into southern Israel persisted for a second day, raising fears of another major escalation in the Mideast conflict. Gaza’s health ministry said 24 people had been killed so far in the coastal strip, including six children.

The fighting began with Israel’s killing of a senior commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group in a wave of strikes Friday that Israel said were meant to prevent an imminent attack.

So far, Hamas, the larger militant group that rules Gaza, appeared to stay on the sidelines of the conflict, keeping its intensity somewhat contained. Israel and Hamas fought a war barely a year ago, one of four major conflicts and several smaller battles over the last 15 years that exacted a staggering toll on the impoverished territory’s 2 million Palestinian residents.

Whether Hamas continues to stay out of the fight likely depends in part on how much punishment Israel inflicts in Gaza as rocket fire steadily continues.

The Israeli military said an errant rocket fired by Palestinian militants killed civilians late Saturday, including children, in the town of Jabaliya, in northern Gaza. The military said it investigated the incident and concluded “without a doubt” that it was caused by a misfire on the part of Islamic Jihad. There was no official Palestinian comment on the incident.

A Palestinian medical worker, who was not authorized to brief media and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the blast killed at least six people, including three children.

Earlier on Saturday, Israeli warplanes struck four residential buildings in Gaza City, all locations apparently linked to Islamic Jihad. There were no reports of casualties. In each case, the Israeli military warned residents ahead of the strikes.

Another strike Saturday hit a car, killing a 75-year-old woman and wounding six other people.

In one of the strikes, after the warnings, fighter jets dropped two bombs on the house of an Islamic Jihad member. The blast flattened the two-story structure, leaving a large rubble-filled crater, and badly damaged surrounding homes.

Women and children rushed out of the area.

“Warned us? They warned us with rockets and we fled without taking anything,” said Huda Shamalakh, who lived next door. She said 15 people lived in the targeted home.

Among the 24 Palestinians killed were six children and two women, as well as the senior Islamic Jihad commander. The Gaza Health Ministry said more than 200 people have been wounded. It does not differentiate between civilians and fighters. The Israeli military said Friday that early estimates were that around 15 fighters were killed.


Smoke rises after Israeli airstrikes on a residential building in Gaza, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Adel Hana) (Adel Hana/)

The lone power plant in Gaza ground to a halt at noon Saturday for lack of fuel as Israel has kept its crossing points into Gaza closed since Tuesday. With the new disruption, Gazans can get only 4 hours of electricity a day, increasing their reliance on private generators and deepening the territory’s chronic power crisis amid peak summer heat.

Throughout the day, Gaza militants regularly launched rounds of rockets into Israel. The Israeli military said Saturday evening that nearly 450 rockets had been fired, 350 of which made it into Israel, but almost all were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system. Two people suffered minor shrapnel wounds.

One rocket barrage was fired toward Tel Aviv, setting off sirens that sent residents to shelters, but the rockets were either intercepted or fell into the sea, the military said.

Sunday could be a critical day in the flare-up, as Jews mark Tisha B’av, a somber day of fasting that commemorates the destruction of the biblical temples. Thousands are expected at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, and Israeli media reported that the Israeli leadership was expected to allow lawmakers to visit a key hilltop holy site in the city that is a flashpoint for violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

On Friday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a televised speech that “Israel isn’t interested in a broader conflict in Gaza but will not shy away from one either.”

The violence poses an early test for Lapid, who assumed the role of caretaker prime minister ahead of elections in November, when he hopes to keep the position.

Lapid, a centrist former TV host and author, has experience in diplomacy having served as foreign minister in the outgoing government, but has thin security credentials. A conflict with Gaza could burnish his standing and give him a boost as he faces off against former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a security hawk who led the country during three of its four wars with Hamas.

Hamas also faces a dilemma in deciding whether to join a new battle barely a year after the last war caused widespread devastation. There has been almost no reconstruction since then, and the isolated coastal territory is mired in poverty, with unemployment hovering around 50%. Israel and Egypt have maintained a tight blockade over the territory since the Hamas takeover in 2007.

Egypt on Saturday intensified efforts to prevent escalation, communicating with Israel, the Palestinians and the United States to keep Hamas from joining the fighting, an Egyptian intelligence official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

The latest round of Israel-Gaza violence was rooted in the arrest earlier this week of a senior Islamic Jihad leader in the West Bank, part of a monthslong Israeli military operation in the territory. A teen Islamic Jihad member was also killed in a gunbattle.

Israel then closed roads around Gaza and sent reinforcements to the border, warning of retaliation. On Friday, it killed Islamic Jihad’s commander for northern Gaza, Taiseer al-Jabari, in a strike on a Gaza City apartment building.

An Israeli military spokesman said the strikes were in response to an “imminent threat” from two militant squads armed with anti-tank missiles.

Israel has approved an order to call up 25,000 reserve soldiers if needed. Authorities closed schools and imposed limits on other activities in communities within 80 kilometers (50 miles) of the border.

Hamas seized power in Gaza from rival Palestinian forces in 2007, two years after Israel withdrew from the coastal strip. Its most recent war with Israel was in May 2021. Tensions soared again earlier this year following a wave of attacks inside Israel, near-daily military operations in the West Bank and tensions at a flashpoint Jerusalem holy site.

Iran-backed Islamic Jihad is smaller than Hamas but largely shares its ideology. Both groups oppose Israel’s existence and have carried out scores of deadly attacks over the years, including the firing of rockets into Israel.

___

Goldenberg reported from Tel Aviv, Israel.

1 found dead in house fire on Chena Hot Springs Road near Fairbanks

Sat, 08/06/2022 - 12:55

A person was found dead Friday inside a home that caught fire near Fairbanks, Alaska State Troopers said.

Troopers received a 911 call around 4:15 a.m. Friday related to a house fire at the 5100 block of Chena Hot Springs Road, the agency said in an online report. The home was located outside of a fire protection area.

When responding troopers arrived at the scene, they found the single-story home “heavily engulfed” in flames, troopers said.

“A preliminary investigation of the origin and cause revealed that the fire appeared to have originated in the living room and spread throughout the structure,” troopers said.

Troopers interviewed neighbors and friends, and found that the owner and only occupant of the home — an adult male — had been seen the previous evening, and his vehicles were still parked in the driveway “with a high probability that he was inside the structure,” according to troopers.

A deputy fire marshal with the Alaska Department of Public Safety responded to the scene from Fairbanks to investigate, with assistance from the North Star Volunteer Fire Department, troopers said. They discovered the remains of a deceased human adult inside, troopers said.

The remains were transferred to the state medical examiner, who will conduct an investigation and identify the body, according to troopers.

Nonstop flights are almost always preferable. Here are the best options out of Anchorage.

Sat, 08/06/2022 - 12:29

Is it best to take a nonstop flight when you’re traveling?

In almost every case, the answer is a resounding yes.

Aside from cutting down on travel time, taking a nonstop flight decreases the chances of lost or delayed luggage and of trip interruption because of delayed or canceled connecting flights.

Given the problems with airline cancellations, delays and customer service meltdowns, securing a nonstop flight is one of the best things travelers can do to improve their odds of a successful trip.

More interstate nonstop flights operate during the peak summer travel season, that’s for sure. Some of them are stopping next month. But more of them are remaining throughout the fall or winter — and that means more options for travelers.

Let’s take a look at the nonstops from Anchorage and how long they’ll operate this season. Nonstops are not always the cheapest, though.

Anchorage-Seattle: Both Delta and Alaska operate year-round, nonstop schedules. Plan ahead and get flights for as low as $117 one-way.

Anchorage-Vancouver, British Columbia: Air Canada offers a daily nonstop between Anchorage and Vancouver between now and Sept. 17.

Anchorage-Portland: Alaska Air offers a single nonstop flight each day. Prices are super-charged, between $230-$318 one-way in August. Prices cool down starting in late October, for $157 one-way.

If you’re looking for a bargain, fly via Seattle on Delta for $105 one-way, starting Sept. 24.

Anchorage-San Francisco: Both United and Alaska offer a daily nonstop through Labor Day weekend, Sept. 5. The remaining nonstop dates are spendy — between $280 and $370 one-way.

Flying to San Francisco via Seattle costs less, starting around Sept. 21. The fare to San Francisco drops to $180 one-way on Delta. Or, fly Delta to nearby San Jose for $140 one-way, starting Sept. 24.

Anchorage-Los Angeles/LAX: Alaska Air offers a daily red-eye nonstop from Anchorage, departing at 11:45 p.m., arriving the next morning at 6 a.m. The cost is between $368 and $499 one-way through Sept. 6. After that, Alaska drops back to three to five flights a week. Prices drop, too, to around $288 one-way.

But it’s still cheaper to stop along the way. Starting Sept. 24, fly Delta from Anchorage to L.A. for $178 one-way via Seattle.

[Airfares are creeping down slowly, but late-season cruises for Alaska residents are still a great value]

Anchorage-Las Vegas: Alaska Air flies twice a week, on Thursdays and Sundays. Prices range from $228-$518 one-way.

Even if you take a connecting flight, prices from Anchorage to Las Vegas are high until late September. Starting on Sept. 24 you can fly on Delta for $147 one-way.

Anchorage-Phoenix: Alaska Air is flying four times each week, nonstop. Prices range from $248-$468 one-way through Sept. 23. Then, prices go up and down until Thanksgiving, when Alaska starts flying the route every day. Prices still vary each day, but they’re as low as $181 one-way.

More Anchorage-Phoenix seats are available from Sept. 25 on Delta for $180 one-way, via Seattle.

Anchorage-Salt Lake City: Delta flies a nonstop each day through Sept. 11. Alaska Air flies nonstop on Saturdays through Sept. 3. The nonstops are very expensive, between $307 and $507 one-way.

Delta returns on Nov. 6, offering four nonstops a week, priced from $267 one-way.

Travelers can save a little, but not a lot, by changing planes in Seattle. Fares start to drop a little bit in late September, to $230 one-way on Delta.

Remember: all fares are subject to change without notice.

Anchorage-Denver: United flies nonstop year-round to its hub in Denver from Anchorage. Alaska Air flies through Sept. 5. Fares are high, between $268 and $398 one-way.

It’s cheaper to stop and change planes in Seattle. Delta charges $185 one-way, starting on Sept. 24.

Anchorage-Houston: There’s nothing cheap about the United Air Anchorage-Houston nonstop. It only operates through Sept. 5 and runs about $417 one-way.

Anchorage-Dallas: American Air is flying nonstop each day — and it also costs a fortune, between $420-$548 one-way through Sept. 24. But American has scheduled the daily nonstop flight all the way through to Jan. 2, 2023. There are quite a few dates between Oct. 7 and Dec. 13 when seats are available for $188 one-way.

Anchorage-Chicago: Three airlines are flying nonstop Anchorage-Chicago — American, United and Alaska. And they’re all expensive, between $250 and $798 one-way. It’s not until late October when fares come down to around $160 one-way. But it’s just for a few days.

More dates are available on either Delta or United for around $168 one-way when travelers change planes along the way.

Anchorage-Minneapolis: This is another route where three airlines fly nonstop: Delta, Alaska and Sun Country. Fares are high, though, typically around $300 one-way. Sun Country ends on Sept. 3 and Alaska’s last flight is Sept. 17.

Changing planes to Minneapolis saves you a little, but not a lot. It wasn’t until Oct. 29 that I could find a $175 one-way fare on Alaska Air. On that date, Delta’s nonstop costs $297 one-way.

Anchorage-Newark: United flies this nonstop in the summer, through Sept. 5. Prices range from $520 to $954 one-way.

Changing planes will save you a lot of money on this route. Fly Delta to New York’s JFK airport for $230 one-way, starting Sept. 24.

Anchorage-Atlanta: Usually this is a summer-only route route with Delta. But this year the airline has scheduled five flights per week through the fall and winter. It’s not cheap, though. In late August, the cheapest tickets are $547 one-way. On Oct. 6, the rate goes down to $497 one-way.

Delta flies a Boeing 767 between Anchorage and Atlanta. It’s the only domestic route from Anchorage featuring lie-flat seats in First Class, or “Delta One.” The cost? $1,270 one-way.

It’s definitely cheaper to change planes flying to Atlanta. Fares start at $291 one-way on Delta, starting Aug. 26.

There are two routes where nonstops are a real plus: to Hawaii and to Europe.

Alaska Air will bring back Anchorage-Honolulu flights mid-November. Flights to Maui and Kona will start mid-December. Around Jan. 4, 2023, the prices to all three airport will start at $198 one-way.

Condor’s last flight to Frankfurt is Sept. 24. Eurowings’ service ends on Sept. 1. The least-expensive flight on Condor in September cost more than $800 roundtrip.

Will your nonstop flight be the cheapest option? Maybe not. But if you’ve got the money, it might be the best choice.

Stepping outside the box on a hike or hunt may not always be smart, but it could prove worthwhile

Sat, 08/06/2022 - 12:24

Hugo finds wonder no matter how ridiculous his people might be. (Photo by Steve Meyer)

“Must feel good to be stupid again,” said Christine from her perch in a depression secreted on the steep slope 10 feet up the rain-soaked mountain behind me.

The sing-song in her voice brought a smile to my face, knowing she, too, reveled in my stupidity. For the second time in a few days, we found ourselves in places that didn’t allow taking a real break because gravity insisted on trying to pull us over.

During a previous outing we started up a shale slide, and Christine commented that it was steep. I told her it wasn’t that bad as I dislodged a good-size chunk of granite. The jagged rock accelerated rather quickly and disappeared over the edge of a rocky gorge a thousand feet below.

“That made me a little nauseous,” Christine said. “Did you notice Rigby didn’t try to fetch it?”

“Yeah,” I replied. “He doesn’t want to go all the way down there, which will take him a while, and he might miss a treat.”

“Well,” she said, “it seems like there should be a route into the valley that isn’t so steep.”

“Maybe so, but we don’t have time to find it today so let’s go.”

A few minutes later I turned to check her progress as we scrambled up the slide. She was frozen in place, clinging to a little stub of rock, while Rigby danced around her, as if he thought it was a new game.

Christine hollered over the wind, which blew a steady 40 mph, and gusted to 50 or 60, “Please call Rigby away from me before he knocks me off the mountain.”

Later, after telling friends about my behavior, one of them said, “You should have punched him in the throat.”


Christine Cunningham negotiating the slope for which her partner may deserve a throat punch. (Photo by Steve Meyer)

Evidently the friend had no appreciation for the rapid approach of the Aug. 10 upland hunting season opener, or the importance of scouting new territory when familiar haunts hadn’t shown much promise.

We had spent most of the summer visiting our usual hunting spots, which were not showing much for bird numbers. Over the past three to four seasons, the setters had been finding fewer birds, and we hadn’t taken more what you could count on one hand over that time.

It happens. While a mountain valley may look the same year after year, unless one can be there to observe all that happens, it isn’t easy to know for sure why things have changed. There have been some harsh winters and late springs, that no doubt, contribute to declines. Predator numbers also seem to be down, further evidencing the area’s game birds might be in distress.

The presence of songbirds is a barometer for the health of an ecosystem, and their numbers also seem to be considerably reduced from several years ago.

The lack of insects to grow birds doesn’t seem to be a problem, although a reduction in the bee population is evident. Rigby, with his swollen eyebrows after a climb into the high country, attests to a healthy population of biting bugs.


Rigby is thinking if he only had a longer tongue he could have these bugs for snacks. (Photo by Steve Meyer)

In any event, we had been looking at a few promising places, but recent circumstances had prevented the kind of exploring that involves bushwhacking from the road to the alpine.

Over the years, I’ve done it a lot, and since Christine and I partnered up, she has done some of it. The first time she did, she commented that only someone desperate or stupid would do that. And yet, every time I mention it, she’s all in. And, she still believes some of what I predict when we head up, and sometimes not.

As we continued up the shale slide, I had a full-time job keeping Hugo and Rigby from terrorizing Christine. Normally, Hugo doesn’t want anything to do with being around either of us while we explore the mountains. He is much too busy hunting and will only take a break if we make him sit and rest a moment.

For whatever reason, perhaps because Rigby told him how much fun it was, Hugo would run over and try to climb in her lap whenever Christine would be stuck in a particularly treacherous spot. Rigby wouldn’t stand for it. He acts as though his people belong to him and uses his enormous body to assert his right to be closest to his people, no matter how poor their footing.

While laughing at their antics, I thought that Christine might really whack me. She didn’t, and our journey did not reveal what we had hoped for, which was abundant sign of whitetail ptarmigan.

A few days later I reminded Christine we had time to check one more spot, another bushwhacking job. This is why she is my soulmate: No matter what, she is always up for whatever, even knowing that it will barely rate as type “B” fun.

“Looks steep,” Christine said when we pulled up to the spot.

“Maybe a little,” I replied, tongue-in-cheek, “but at least the brush won’t be above our waist.”

Forty-five minutes later, on hands and knees, pulling ourselves up by grasping the base of the head-high grass and fireweed, Christine said, “Sure happy the brush isn’t above our waist.”

“Me too,” I laughed.

“You’re lucky you are wearing cowboy boots, they are perfect for this shallow slope.” Sarcastic wit is a favorite, and Christine never disappoints.

We could hear Rigby somewhere above us, coming down. “Better hold on, we won’t see him before he is on us,” I said a moment before he burst through the brush and knocked me over.

An hour and a half later, we broke into the sub-alpine, soaked to the skin under our rain gear. “These moments are what makes it worth it,” Christine said.

Most people we know who bushwhack to the high country share the same feeling we have when we finally get there. It’s like a supercharged adrenaline dump that flows through the body, instantly relieving one of the stress and fatigue of the climb.

Climbing another 1,500 feet, to reach around 3,500 feet, we found the view was fabulous. The ridge we stood on separated two valleys of classic whitetail ptarmigan country. We found some sign of Dall sheep, mountain goat and caribou. Not much bird sign, but enough to bring us back later, when the chicks are full grown.

We decided putting our rain gear on and sliding down the steep slope we came up on would work great for the descent.

We were near the bottom when Christine commented on my intellect and then asked, “Is the butt torn out of your rain pants? Mine are shredded.”

“Yep,” I replied, about the time the giant ruffian Rigby burst through the brush and knocked Christine over where she sat.

As the saying goes, “if you’re gonna be stupid, you better be tough.” The saying misses the point of wonder and excitement that comes from stepping outside the box and enjoying the country no matter what the smart folks think.

Spinning rides, fried food but no chickens: Big fun at the Tanana Valley Fair

Sat, 08/06/2022 - 12:17

From the top of the Ferris wheel I could see the dog agility demonstration. It was the only spot at the Tanana Valley Fair where you could escape the crowds. Fairs are pretty strange places. It boggles the mind why you’d want to be outdoors amid a thousand other people who are feeling woozy from the spinning rides. The few who can handle losing their equilibrium appear to be almost comatose from high fructose, over-spiced fried fair food.

Kids can handle it. There is always a high percentage of the 8 and younger crowd. They are hauled to the fair by savvy parents who know that a fair, almost any fair, can be used to bribe their children into several days of decent behavior by threatening not to take them to the fair. Teenage boys take girls to the fair because, even though it is expensive, the rides are worth it. The girls will scream and hang on to the guys. Boys like girls hanging on them.

Adults, why do they go? The folks over 30 that were walking around the Tanana Valley Fair were there to eat. There a few yuppies wandering through the vegetable displays, wishing there was a booth that sold broccoli. No such luck. Fried food of various varieties ruled the walkways. Spend a day at the carnival, and it will take a week chasing caribou to burn off the extra pounds.

Who ever heard of a fair without poultry? The Tanana Valley version had no chickens. Seems the powers in charge were worried about monkeypox ... I mean bird flu — tough to keep the pandemics straight these days. There have been a couple cases of bird flu over at Creamer’s Field so maybe that virus would waft over to the fairgrounds a mile distant? The livestock barn had a mess of goats — don’t call a bunch of goats a herd; goats are a mess. There were some really unrecognizable rabbits. If you have never seen an Angora rabbit, they are worth a look.

[Poultry exhibits canceled at Alaska State Fair in Palmer over bird flu concerns]

The merry-go-round is still the most popular ride of all time — good to know I haven’t yet aged out. The Chainsaw, or Zipper, was easily the favorite ride on the Fairbanks fairgrounds. There is not a ton of repeats on that particular ride. It was fun watching grown men hop out of the cars and try to act like they were not about to throw up. Little girls seemed to be unfazed. Either that or they have a sadistic bent. A number of them dragged their dizzy boyfriends back for another go at spinning upside down.

The Ferris wheel, my favorite because of the great view and its ability to rise above the crowds was invented for those very reasons. The forerunner to the wheel we have today was used in 17th century Bulgaria. It was constructed from wood and turned by man-power. The major modification of the Ferris wheel was put together for World Fair in Chicago in 1893. The wheel, the brainchild of George Ferris, was 264 feet tall and had 36 gondolas capable of holding 60 people each. Remember — there were no airplanes back then. So 264 feet in the air was as high as most had ever been. A million and a half souls paid 50 cents each to ride George Ferris’ wheel. This amazing contraption wasn’t around for long. After being disassembled and moved a few times, the wheel was blown up in 1906 with a couple hundred pounds of dynamite and sold for scrap.

In spite of the spinning rides, unhealthy food, suffocating crowds and no chickens, the Tanana Valley Fair was great fun. I say “in spite of,” but maybe it is really “because of?” Where else can one achieve all of those things in the same place and not feel guilty about it?

Alaska’s unique lexicon sinks in over the years

Sat, 08/06/2022 - 10:37

People call them snowmobiles elsewhere, but Alaskans use the term snowmachine or sno-go. (Photo by Ned Rozell)

When my little Ford pickup chugged into Alaska 36 years ago this month, I didn’t know a wheel dog from a dog salmon. You could have told me the North Slope was connected to the Panhandle by the Chain and I would have believed you.

Back then, I mispronounced the name of my new home river — Tanana — because a pitcher for the California Angels spelled his name the same way.

I could have avoided that awkwardness if I had possessed the “Dictionary of Alaskan English.”

In it, former University of Alaska Fairbanks English professor Russell Tabbert included hundreds of terms he found unique to Alaska. He compiled them in a volume published in 1991 that he considered “a linguistic natural history museum, providing a view of the land and the peoples’ lives there.”

Over time, I stopped saying snowmobile. “Snowmachine” and “sno-go” described the same device and were more fun to say.

[Curious Alaska: Why do Alaskans call it a snowmachine instead of a snowmobile?]


A cache, at right in photo, is an elevated structure northerners use to keep food and other supplies away from dogs and wild animals. (Photo by Ned Rozell photo)

I settled to live in the hot-and-cold “Interior,” which is the middle of Alaska just like it sounds, and have visited the treeless “North Slope” beyond the Brooks Range and the rainforests of “Southeast.” I once sailed on a research boat to the end of the “Aleutian Chain,” almost to Russia.

In the Interior, super-insulated white “bunny boots” are a common sight within the “arctic entry” of a home, waiting to protect the owner’s toes from air colder than minus 35 Fahrenheit. That’s the temperature at which “ice fog” forms, because the dry, cold air can’t hold any more moisture.

Some of my favorite times have happened while moving through “the Bush,” wild places far from big cities in Alaska. The Bush includes more than 200 Native villages, most of them on the banks of rivers. In one of those communities, I might sweat in a wood-heated “steam” (sauna) or — if so honored with an invite — attend a “potlatch,” where Native people share food, often in memory of someone who has died.


Alaska cotton refers to several species of cotton grass that grow in Alaska’s boggy areas, like the one Ned Rozell walks through here. (Photo by Jay Cable)

While traveling the middle Yukon River country, I have listened to stories of the “woodsman,” a creature with the mystique of Bigfoot.

“Woodsmen are as real as any other creature in the Koyukon (Koyukuk-and-Yukon-rivers) environment, but they are extremely shy and quick to vanish when people come near,” anthropologist Richard Nelson once wrote. “Woodsmen take special delight in harassing people, which they do by whistling, throwing sticks, rustling the brush, or emitting evil laughter nearby.”

Somewhat easier to see than a woodsman as they now swim up Alaska’s big rivers are “chinooks” (king salmon), “dogs” (chums), “cohos” (silvers), “humpies” (pinks) and “sockeyes” (reds).

When the water freezes and snowmachiners fire up their rigs and pack in trails, dog mushers follow. Along “ganglines” extending from the front of a sled, they station “lead dogs” at the head of the team. A good leader knows her “gee” — right — from her “haw” — left. “Swing dogs” are hitched in a pair right behind the leader or pair of leaders. “Wheel dogs” are hitched closest to the sled. Mushers borrowed all these terms from horse drivers.


Ice fog, a phrase in Russell Tabbert’s "Dictionary of Alaskan English," is not uttered in many other places because to form it takes a sustained temperature of 35 degrees below zero, Fahrenheit. (Photo by Ned Rozell)

It took me a while to learn the terms “honeybucket,” a 5-gallon pail used in lieu of a toilet; “push-up,” dark vegetation shoved onto pond ice by a muskrat; and “washeteria,” a building with hot showers and washing machines in a place with no system of water pipes, but I’m now familiar with almost all of the Alaska-centric terms Tabbert documented.

Maybe that’s a sign that I have — as they might have said in the old days — “missed too many boats.”

Craft brewers’ latest challenge: carbon dioxide shortage

Sat, 08/06/2022 - 10:08

(iStock / Getty Images) (LoveTheWind/)

IPAs and lagers aren’t the only thing brewing at craft beer manufacturers this summer - there’s trouble in the making, too, with a shortage of carbon dioxide causing rising prices and slowdowns in production.

The culprit is the dreaded phrase “supply chain problems,” a familiar pandemic-era woe that in this case covers a range of problems, from increased seasonal demand to contamination of a key supplier.

To veterans of the industry, the CO2 shortage is nothing new. Last year, Alewerks Brewing Company had to shut down production for a week because of a limited supply of the gas, said Michael Claar, operations director at the brewery based in Williamsburg, Virginia. Claar wasn’t sure what caused that shortage.

Alewerks has been able to get CO2 this year, but it comes with a cost: a 20% surcharge on deliveries of the gas, Claar said. It’s one more price increase among many for breweries, which are dealing with across-the-board inflation on everything needed to produce and package beer: barley, hops, bottles, labels … you name it. Alewerks has been trying to absorb many of the costs, though the brewery expects to raise its prices this year.

“Just for right now, we try to weather it,” Claar said.

Breweries rely on CO2 not just for those bubbles that beer-drinkers expect, but for moving beer between tanks or to kegs and canning lines, and to purge oxygen from tanks. “Warm and flat is not where it’s at,” noted Bob Pease, the president and CEO of the Brewers Association, which represents small and independent craft breweries. “It’s a key ingredient.”

Shortages began in mid-2020, he said, when production of ethanol - of which carbon dioxide is a byproduct - slowed as more people stayed home. This summer, though, the problem is more acute, he says.

Adding to the problem is the contamination of a site in Jackson Dome, Mississippi, which is one of the country’s largest CO2 producers, the Brewers Association wrote in its July newsletter. There, raw gas from a mine reduced the amount of food-grade CO2 available. Another factor is planned and unplanned maintenance shutdowns at several ammonia plants that are key producers of CO2, the association said, as well as the usual higher demand in summer months. That’s in part because of higher sales of beer and soda in warmer temperatures, and also because of butterfly-wing-like effects such as a need for more dry ice - which also uses CO2 in its production.

Many breweries are reporting spikes in the cost of CO2, Pease said, and some aren’t able to get as much as they need. “We’re hearing from people that their CO2 supplier called saying, ‘We were supposed to deliver 100 pounds, but we’re only going to be able to deliver 40,’ " he said. “So they might have to alter their production schedule and the end result of that could be shortages of beer if this persists.”

Still, he hopes the supply problem will be resolved in 30 to 90 days.

The shortage hasn’t impacted all breweries, however. Some smaller producers have, so far, remained immune. Warren Stanko, head brewer at Chattanooga Brewing Co. in Tennessee, has not seen any interruption to his supply of CO2, though he produces only about 2,000 barrels of beer per year compared to, say, the 9,275 barrels produced annually at Alewerks.

For microbreweries, however, even small price increases can be hard to absorb during this stage of the pandemic. Christopher Gandsy, the founder, chef and head brewer at DaleView Biscuits and Beer in Brooklyn, says he was proud that he had no debt when he opened his business in 2018. But when the pandemic hit, Gandsy had to take out an Economic Injury Disaster Loan from the Small Business Administration. The $90,000 loan only adds to the economic pressures he already faces, including the rising costs of water and electricity.

Gandsy hasn’t had to refill his 200-pound CO2 tank since the shortage hit the industry. But even then, he had to pay about 10% more than he did a few months earlier. He’s sort of bracing for the price of CO2 come September, when he will have to refill the tank.

“Most raw material disruptions have a disproportionate impact on a segment’s smallest players so yes, the CO2 shortage is disproportionately affecting small/craft brewers,” Pease told The Post. “Large brewers also may have a technology called carbon capture at their breweries that helps insulate them from supply disruption.”

The recurring carbon dioxide shortage has at least one smaller brewery looking at ways to capture the CO2 naturally produced during the fermentation process. Alewerks is studying the possibility, said Claar, the operations director. It’s a not a cheap process, he said, but it could help offset Alewerks’s CO2 needs.

“Based on everything that’s happening now, we have to dive in,” Claar said.

The Brewers Association issued guidelines for brewers to help them get the most out of their carbon dioxide, including making sure there aren’t leaks in their lines. Pease says brewers have gotten used to being dealt setbacks: earlier this year, Ball Corp., the biggest supplier of cans, increased its minimum order fivefold, causing many breweries to seek out different suppliers, often at a higher cost. Other hits have included increased costs for labor, transportation, and other ingredients.

“Our members have faced a long string of challenges, and we have found ways to overcome most of them,” he said. “We will try to help our members overcome this one.”

OPINION: Alaska is chipping away at its deferred maintenance backlog

Sat, 08/06/2022 - 09:45

The Wildwood Correctional Complex in Kenai, seen in a file photo. (From Alaska DOC)

The Wildwood Corrections Complex in Kenai needs security fencing upgrades and a new phone system; the Mat-Su Pretrial Facility needs the slider doors fixed. The state medical examiner’s office in the Anchorage public health lab needs a fire alarm panel replacement. There are armory projects in Kodiak and Ketchikan and bunkhouse overhauls needed in Bethel and Emmonak. The list of upgrades needed in state facilities is robust. These projects, and many others will be completed due to the steady stream of deferred maintenance funding that the state received in the FY23 budget.

The State of Alaska has more than 1,800 structures in its inventory, including armories, ferry terminals, hangers, sheds, sand storage buildings and yes, offices. And they are spread throughout the state — from Homer to Haines and Kivalina to King Cove. As these facilities age, the need for additional maintenance increases to keep them in good working order. We’ve all seen it in the houses in which we live, or the buildings in which we work.

It is the state’s responsibility to safeguard and protect state-owned property. This means performing maintenance, operation, repairs, utilities, security and any other owner responsibilities until the property is no longer owned by the state.

Why defer the maintenance? Much like any property owner, the state’s to-do list often exceeds available resources. We must plan repairs and upgrades over some period of time. Like any property owner, unexpected circumstances may even bump planned upgrades further out on the schedule. For these reasons, it’s important to keep a steady stream in deferred maintenance funding over many years to address life cycle issues.

Recently there has been some criticism over the level of deferred maintenance approved in the FY23 budget — even though it is at the historic normal level. Gov. Mike Dunleavy initially proposed $42.1 million, and the final budget ended up higher, at $45.7 million — an additional $23 million supplemental appropriation was signed into law but effective for the previous fiscal year, FY22. The FY23 budget gives us the funding we need to address our high-priority needs and matches the capacity we need to execute these projects.

Why not even go with an even higher level of funding? Great question. Right now, the marketplace is under a great deal of stress with inflation, supply chain issues and an exceedingly tight labor market. We’re cautious about overextending what we can execute, and we certainly don’t want our investment gobbled up by an unexpected surge in building material prices. We are applying a measured approach — repair and replace what is needed this year and plan for future needs.

This summer we are constructing several needed upgrades, including the Ketchikan Pioneer Home Structural Upgrades for the Alaska Department of Health, the Bethel Hangar and Office Improvements, for the Alaska Department of Public Safety, replacing the Yakutat boilers and making electrical upgrades at the Atwood Building in Anchorage for Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

In FY22, the State of Alaska consolidated the management of many of our state-owned structures in the Division of Facility Services (DFS). Housed in the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. DFS includes Statewide Public Facilities (Design and Construction), Maintenance and Operations, and Statewide Leasing. We’re working on the effectiveness and efficiency issues that come with such a consolidation, and looking for ways to maximize service to our partner agencies, and with our private sector partners, keep quality upgrades coming for years to come. With a steady, reliable stream of deferred maintenance funding like what was in FY23, we should be able to upgrade our buildings, and extend the life of the state’s facilities.

Ryan Anderson, P.E., is the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

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 letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Biden tests negative for COVID, isolating until 2nd negative

Sat, 08/06/2022 - 09:42

President Joe Biden speaks before signing two bills aimed at combating fraud in the COVID-19 small business relief programs Friday, Aug. 5, 2022, at the White House in Washington. Biden tested negative for COVID-19 on Saturday morning but will continue to isolate until a second negative test, his doctor said. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, Pool, File) (Evan Vucci/)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden tested negative for COVID-19 on Saturday but will continue to isolate at the White House until a second negative test, his doctor said.

Dr. Kevin O’Connor wrote in his latest daily update that the president, “in an abundance of caution,” will abide by the “strict isolation measures” in place since his “rebound” infection was detected July 30, pending a follow-up negative result.

Biden, 79, came down with the virus a second time three days after he had emerged from isolation from his initial bout with COVID-19, reported on July 21. There have been rare rebound cases documented among a small minority of those, who like Biden, were prescribed the anti-viral medication Paxlovid, which has been proved to reduce the risk of serious illness and death from the virus among those at highest risk.

O’Connor wrote that Biden “continues to feel very well.”

Biden’s travel has been on hold as he awaited a negative test. He plans to visit Kentucky on Monday to view damage from catastrophic flooding and meet with families.

Biden was “doing great,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Saturday when asked about his health during her appearance in Las Vegas at a joint conference of the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. She said that when she speaks to the president, he tells her to “tell folks I’ve been working eight-plus hours a day.”

During his first go-around with the virus, Biden’s primary symptoms were a runny nose, fatigue and a loose cough, his doctor said at the time. During his rebound case, O’Connor said only Biden’s cough returned and had “almost completely resolved” by Friday.

Regulators are still studying the prevalence and virulence of rebound cases, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in May warned doctors that it has been reported to occur within two days to eight days after initially testing negative for the virus.

“Limited information currently available from case reports suggests that persons treated with Paxlovid who experience COVID-19 rebound have had mild illness; there are no reports of severe disease,” the agency said at the time.

Associated Press writer Darlene Superville in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

Senate rules referee weakens Dem drug plan in economic bill

Sat, 08/06/2022 - 09:40

FILE - In this June 15, 2018, file photo, pharmaceuticals are seen in North Andover, Mass. The Senate parliamentarian narrowed Democrats' plan for curbing drug prices but left it largely unscathed Saturday, Aug. 2, 2022, Democrats said, as party leaders prepared to start moving their sprawling economic bill through the chamber. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, file) (Elise Amendola/)

WASHINGTON — The Senate parliamentarian on Saturday dealt a blow to Democrats’ plan for curbing drug prices but left the rest of their sprawling economic bill largely intact as party leaders prepared for first votes on a package containing many of President Joe Biden’s top domestic goals.

Elizabeth MacDonough, the chamber’s nonpartisan rules arbiter, said lawmakers must remove language imposing hefty penalties on drugmakers that boost their prices beyond inflation in the private insurance market. Those were the bill’s chief pricing protections for the roughly 180 million people whose health coverage comes from private insurance, either through work or bought on their own.

Other major provisions were left intact, including giving Medicare the power to negotiate what it pays for pharmaceuticals for its 64 million elderly recipients, a longtime goal for Democrats. Penalties on manufacturers for exceeding inflation would apply to drugs sold to Medicare, and there is a $2,000 annual out-of-pocket cap on drug costs and free vaccines for Medicare beneficiaries.

Her rulings came as Democrats planned to begin Senate votes Saturday on their wide-ranging package addressing climate change, energy, health care costs, taxes and even deficit reduction. Party leaders have said they believe they have the unity they will need to move the legislation through the 50-50 Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote and over solid Republican opposition.

“This is a major win for the American people,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said of the bill, which both parties are using in their election-year campaigns to assign blame for the worst period of inflation in four decades. “And a sad commentary on the Republican Party, as they actively fight provisions that lower costs for the American family.”

In response, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Democrats “are misreading the American people’s outrage as a mandate for yet another reckless taxing and spending spree.” He said Democrats “have already robbed American families once through inflation and now their solution is to rob American families yet a second time.”

Dropping penalties on drugmakers reduces incentives on pharmaceutical companies to restrain what they charge, increasing costs for patients.

Erasing that language will cut the $288 billion in 10-year savings that the Democrats’ overall drug curbs were estimated to generate — a reduction of perhaps tens of billions of dollars, analysts have said.

Schumer said MacDonough’s decision about the price cap for private insurance was “one unfortunate ruling.” But he said the surviving drug pricing language represented “a major victory for the American people” and that the overall bill “remains largely intact.”

The ruling followed a 10-day period that saw Democrats resurrect top components of Biden’s agenda that had seemed dead. In rapid-fire deals with Democrats’ two most unpredictable senators — first conservative Joe Manchin of West Virginia, then Arizona centrist Kyrsten Sinema — Schumer pieced together a broad package that, while a fraction of earlier, larger versions that Manchin derailed, would give the party an achievement against the backdrop of this fall’s congressional elections.

The parliamentarian also signed off on a fee on excess emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas contributor, from oil and gas drilling. She also let stand environmental grants to minority communities and other initiatives for reducing carbon emissions, said Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Thomas Carper, D-Del.

She approved a provision requiring union-scale wages to be paid if energy efficiency projects are to qualify for tax credits, and another that would limit electric vehicle tax credits to those cars and trucks assembled in the United States.

The overall measure faces unanimous Republican opposition. But assuming Democrats fight off a nonstop “vote-a-rama” of amendments — many designed by Republicans to derail the measure — they should be able to muscle the measure through the Senate.

House passage could come when that chamber returns briefly from recess on Friday.

“What will vote-a-rama be like. It will be like hell,” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, said Friday of the approaching GOP amendments. He said that in supporting the Democratic bill, Manchin and Sinema “are empowering legislation that will make the average person’s life more difficult” by forcing up energy costs with tax increases and making it harder for companies to hire workers.

The bill offers spending and tax incentives for moving toward cleaner fuels and supporting coal with assistance for reducing carbon emissions. Expiring subsidies that help millions of people afford private insurance premiums would be extended for three years, and there is $4 billion to help Western states combat drought.

There would be a new 15% minimum tax on some corporations that earn over $1 billion annually but pay far less than the current 21% corporate tax. There would also be a 1% tax on companies that buy back their own stock, swapped in after Sinema refused to support higher taxes on private equity firm executives and hedge fund managers. The IRS budget would be pumped up to strengthen its tax collections.

While the bill’s final costs are still being determined, it overall would spend more than $300 billion over 10 years to slow climate change, which analysts say would be the country’s largest investment in that effort, and billions more on health care. It would raise more than $700 billion in taxes and from government drug cost savings, leaving about $300 billion for deficit reduction — a modest bite out of projected 10-year shortfalls of many trillions of dollars.

Democrats are using special procedures that would let them pass the measure without having to reach the 60-vote majority that legislation often needs in the Senate.

It is the parliamentarian’s job to decide whether parts of legislation must be dropped for violating those rules, which include a requirement that provisions be chiefly aimed at affecting the federal budget, not imposing new policy.

Associated Press writer Matthew Daly contributed to this report.

Masked, vaccinated students didn’t catch COVID-19 in classrooms

Sat, 08/06/2022 - 09:28

In this file photo, a lone jogger runs past Royce Hall on a nearly empty UCLA campus in Los Angeles on Aug. 13, 2020. Vaccinated and masked college students had virtually no chance of catching COVID-19 in the classroom last fall, according to a sweeping 2022 study of 33,000 Boston University students that bolsters standard prevention measures. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times/TNS) (Genaro Molina/)

Vaccinated and masked college students had virtually no chance of catching COVID-19 in the classroom last fall, according to a sweeping study of 33,000 Boston University students that bolsters standard prevention measures.

The researchers screened the college’s health records to find nine sets of students who developed COVID-19 at about the same time, were in class together without social distancing and had no known contact outside school, suggesting that they might have transmitted it in the classroom. However, genome analysis of coronavirus samples from the groups showed that all of them more likely were infected in other places.

“When we looked at the genomes and compared them to one another, they were cousins but not closer than that,” said Boston University School of Medicine virologist John Connor, a co-author. He said the study in the journal JAMA Network Open provides an answer to a nervous question common last fall: “I just walked into a class with 80 people in it. How do I know I’m not going to catch disease from them?”

The university was able to perform the study because of its comprehensive, in-house testing program that includes DNA analysis of virus samples. The semester under study included 140,000 class meetings with a mean size of 31 students, virtually all of whom were vaccinated as required. Classrooms were well ventilated, the researchers said.

In-class masking was mandatory at the time the samples were taken, in contrast to this coming fall, when many colleges will have lifted requirements. Another difference between then and now: the delta variant dominated last fall, while more contagious omicron variants like BA.5 now reign.

Those differences surely matter, Connor said, but the study’s finding that in-class transmission among masked and vaccinated students was negligible can still inform future decisions about measures to take during outbreaks.

OPINION: New 4th Avenue destroys Anchorage history with demolition downtown

Sat, 08/06/2022 - 08:58

Workers began dismantling the iconic sign on the front of the 4th Avenue Theater on August 4, 2022. The owners of the property, Peach Holdings, plans to redevelop much of the downtown block on which the theater sits. Developers say they hope to incorporate the characters of the original sign in the future structure. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

The 4th Avenue Theatre was acquired by Peach Investments at the 2009 foreclosure sale when Northrim Bank closed the bidding with no bids; those of us attending breathed a sigh of relief. Then, Joe Fang asked the bank if bidding could be reopened. The bank reopened bidding, which we believed was unethical. The Fangs bid low, around $790,000, and bidding was closed.

Peach claimed that they “... invested heavily to maintain and repair the aging structure.” I requested from the Acting Building Official of the Anchorage Building Department that any building permit applications for claimed work be emailed to me. Based on what I received, there have been two instances in the past 13 years when that’s occurred. Under Demolition Permit C16-2170, there was a boiler inspection by the Municipality on May 26, 2017. According to the Municipality, “There is no record of a permit to replace the boiler.” Under the same permit, a status inspection was performed on Nov. 17, 2017. The Municipality stated, “There are no inspection comments under the other two demo permits C18-2375 and C22-1003.”

In an ADN article on Dec. 2, 2017, “Joe Fang, whose family owns Peach Investments, said at a December work session with the Assembly that he wanted to ‘assure everybody … we have no intention of demolishing the theater.’” He said the company needed the permit to replace a boiler, which he said would require demolishing some parts of the building’s interior.” The reason for the permit was to remove the boiler, which was apparently never done. The previous owner of the theater, Robert Gottstein, has confirmed that he replaced the main boiler prior to the Certificate of Occupancy in 1992 and the tandem boiler later. Since there were apparently no other permits applied for by Peach and the maximum amount one can complete maintenance on a commercial building is $5,000 without a permit, it’s questionable if the claimed heavy investment and/or “… water intrusion repairs, mechanical upgrades and a new roof membrane …” occurred. If they did, they appear to have been completed without a permit.

Referring to the Nov. 14, 2006 Condition Inspection Report, Peach claimed that “… initial cost estimates to restore the building were too expensive for any interested parties to bear.” The actual cost estimate from a “Rehabilitation Cost Analysis” dated Nov. 13, 2006, by the municipality, stated the total budget to completely restore the theater would be $6 million, with a possible $2 million contingency for a total of $8 million. That is a very reasonable amount and not “too expensive.”

The claim that the basement encroaches into 4th Avenue is true, only under the sidewalk, but the theater has “grandfather rights” — it’s been there 75 years — and Historical Building waivers should allow this to remain.

Peach’s claim that they “… explored numerous “adapt-and-reuse” method s…” seems to fly in the face of reality, and their claim that “Peach engaged and worked with an esteemed historic preservation consultant (with presences throughout the U.S.) …” makes one wonder. I was the leader of the Historic Preservation Team for the “Professional Capital Improvement Plan for the 4th Avenue Theatre” in 2006 for the Anchorage Downtown Partnership and the municipality. Why did Peach ignore the fact that we had decades of experience on our local team? I presented Joe Fang with a letter at the auction by Northrim Bank offering our Historic Preservation Team’s expertise in the restoration of the theater. We never heard from anyone at Peach.

Our team had a plan to preserve/restore the theater as a multi-cultural, multi-arts facility with the vacation of the alleyway behind the theater to allow backstage circulation and a green room for a playhouse theater and/or movie theater, the basement a black-box theater, Sydney Laurence Room on the second level as a dance studio, offices for the many theatrical and arts companies in Anchorage, and the connection of the PAC/Egan Convention Center to the Key Bank to the theater with a sky bridge. The 4th Avenue Theatre would be a place for visitors and Alaskans during all seasons. As I stated on the HGTV show “Restore America with Bob Vila” on the Oscar Anderson House restoration in 2000, people don’t come to a place to see shiny new buildings, they come to see the history of the place they are visiting.

The claim that “Peach remains committed to a vigorous effort to salvage and preserve portions of the distinctive interior features in the lobby, mezzanine and murals” must be proven. As far as I know, the two large murals have not been removed to date. It is questionable if they can be removed without destroying them, because Robert Gottstein said they are “three-dimensional plaster with gold leaf that is mounted on chicken wire (lath?)”. Gottstein said he would be willing to donate the first $1,000 of what he imagines would be no more than $10,000 to remove them as long as they were for public use.

The claims of hazardous material mitigation is questionable. Gottstein has stated that he had removed all hazardous material, i.e., asbestos, except for some duct areas that are not accessible to the public. The municipality granted a Certificate of Occupancy back in May 1992 and would not have granted that unless the building was safe to occupy. Any remaining asbestos is limited and could be easily either abated or encapsulated. Any code issues can either be solved or waived, since this is a historic building that is on the National Register of Historic Places and the IEBC directly addresses these issues. The Condition Inspection Report of 2006 did not address lead-based paint, but any found can be mitigated by containment and is not required to be removed since this building is commercial and no one occupies the theatre. The handwringing by Peach and the mayor as to hazardous materials is not justified as a reason to demolish the building and doesn’t ring true.

Peach claims to have fully documented the building to Historical American Building Survey standards and “To date, most of this information has been collected.” I and many others would like to see proof of said documentation. I possess a copy of the “4th Avenue Theatre Historic Building Report” written by a local firm in the late 1980s that has a wealth of information on the theater. Peach claimed for 13 years that they would not demolish the building and now they are doing so. This demolition will destroy Anchorage’s historical center, and no amount of fake facade and/or fake sign will make up for this destruction. To place a fake as a historical facade and sign is an insult to the people of Anchorage and Alaska and a slap in our faces of what once was. I’ve always believed in honesty in my restoration of structures, and this is dishonest. I along with many others would prefer it not be placed in the maw of what appears to be an alien bug about to consume the 4th.

Peach has allowed the theater to decline over the past 13 years. Their lack of responses to viable offers from Alaskans to purchase the theater to restore it, the inability for anyone to view the interior of the theater and their now-broken promise to not demolish the theater have caused the lack of trust from our community.

Contact the Anchorage Assembly today to encourage them to stop the demolition until there is an actual building permit in place for the new building. Otherwise, who knows how long there’ll be just a void where the beautiful, historic 4th Avenue Theatre once stood, and we will have lost our historical center.

Samuel Duff Combs, AIA, NCARB, is a Historic Preservation Architect. He lives in Anchorage.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

EDITORIAL: When it comes to historical preservation, what do we value?

Sat, 08/06/2022 - 08:57

Work began on taking down the 4th Avenue Theater sign on Thursday, August 4, 2022. (Anne Raup / ADN)

Anchorage has been wracked for the past week by a paroxysm of collective grief over the pending loss — finally, it appears, for good — of the historic 4th Avenue Theatre. Despite essentially no public access to the building’s interior for the past decade and a half, the art deco landmark and its iconic edifice loomed large in our community consciousness. To many, the building seems to have been a symbol of a time when Anchorage was more hopeful, more wholesome and more united in a common purpose. Through those eyes, each letter removed from the theater’s facade looks like a step away from the qualities we value and toward a divided, unimaginative, complicated present.

Divorced from nostalgia, the reality isn’t that simple or unambiguous. If we want to understand why the saga of the 4th Avenue Theatre came to be where it is, and why that outcome is far from a worst-case scenario, we’d be well served to take off our rose-colored glasses.

The 4th Avenue Theatre, opened in 1947 by Alaska entrepreneur Austin E. “Cap” Lathrop, was the largest and most visually distinctive of the art deco theaters in the territory, alongside Fairbanks’ smaller Lacey Street theater and a pair of theaters each named the “Empress” in Anchorage and Fairbanks. As others have eloquently noted, the 1,000-seat theater, along with its modern styling and intricate inside artwork, was an expression of optimism — in Alaska’s potential, its future growth and where it was heading. Those expressions of hope were deeply felt by the community, and still are.

Given all of that, why is the 4th Avenue Theatre headed for a renovation that will drastically change the look and feel of the building and the block it sits on? The answer, simply, is that although there are all kinds of different visions for what should happen to the theater, there wasn’t sufficient community will nor funding to fix it up and maintain it in perpetuity — and there hasn’t been for decades.

It’s not easy to confront the fact that although so many people have fond memories of the theater and what it stands for, no one who wants it to remain a theater has been willing or able to rally an effort to preserve it. It’s not as though such a campaign was beyond the means of a community-based effort — when Peach Investments purchased the theater at a foreclosure auction in 2009, the group paid $791,000 for the building and about $850,000 in back taxes. The purchase of the theater had actually come before voters in 2006 as a bond measure that would have allocated $2 million to that purpose; Anchorage residents rejected it by a 16% margin. Like it or not, that was when we made our decision about whether we valued the theater enough to keep it as-is.

The reality is, that was a rational decision by voters. With the Performing Arts Center and the Egan Center a block away, downtown Anchorage has no shortage of performance and event space. Private operators had been unable to keep the theater in the black, hence the massive back-tax bill. Moreover, decades of sparse maintenance meant keeping the then-60-year-old building in usable shape going forward would have required a substantial ongoing commitment of resources — one that residents ultimately said no to. Just to keep the building in its present, unrestored state, Peach says it’s spent $2 million since acquiring the property.

It’s not as though Alaskans tend to completely disregard our history or the spaces the public values. Anchorage’s crown jewel, the public greenbelts and trail system, have been preserved and thoughtfully developed over decades with broad, continual public support and funding. In Fairbanks, the preservation of the former Creamer’s Dairy and its reinvention as a migratory waterfowl refuge is a similar success story, with members of the public banding together to fund the purchase and maintenance of the site. But efforts like that take major, ongoing infusions of public effort and funding, and that means a broad swath of the community needs to support and be able to benefit from the vision for the space. There was never a plan for the 4th Avenue Theatre that cleared that bar.

We should remember, too, that there is great value in new development downtown. Other Peach-owned projects have been steps forward for Anchorage, such as the 188 Northern Lights office tower and the ongoing, multimillion-dollar renovation of the downtown Key Bank building. There are few other private entities making such significant investments into our community and its infrastructure. Although Peach’s project bears a different visual aesthetic than the 4th Avenue Theatre, it represents the same optimism for Anchorage’s future.

Although it’s tempting to write off Peach Investments’ plans for the block as garish or insufficiently deferential to the theater’s history, it’s important to remember that the vision for the theater in the first place was about looking forward. Peach’s operators have made pledges to preserve the building’s facade and artwork in some form; given the circumstances, that’s more than they’re obligated to do, and more than voters opted to do themselves. At present, the block is an unused, derelict structure with no real hope of returning to its former state. Whatever you think of its design, Peach’s plans for the block represent a sorely needed investment in the rehabilitation of downtown. With the loss of mainstay retailers like Nordstrom, that’s more important than ever. If he were here to redesign the block today, Cap Lathrop might not have chosen the shape of the new building, but he would recognize the inclination to make bets on Alaska’s future. Wonderful memories of the 4th Avenue Theatre should be treasured — but they shouldn’t preclude our ability to make new ones.

Alex Jones is the latest big defamation case, but here are 5 others you should know

Sat, 08/06/2022 - 08:54

E. Jean Carroll in the New York State Supreme Court on March, 4, 2020. (Alec Tabak/New York Daily News/TNS) (Alec Tabak/)

The trial of Alex Jones, in which the InfoWars host was ordered to pay $4.1 million in compensatory damages to Sandy Hook parents and $45 million in punitive damages for claiming the massacre was staged, stemmed from the same claim that Johnny Depp brought against Amber Heard: defamation.

The parents claimed Jones defamed them by claiming they were actors who had never really lost their children in a mass shooting. Depp claimed Heard defamed him by writing a column accusing him of domestic abuse.

Jones’ trial wasn’t actually about whether he defamed the parents or not. He didn’t respond to a number of court filings so he had already lost by default, and the jury was just deciding how much to make him pay. But if he had contested the claim at trial, he would might have tried to argue he was exercising his free-speech or free-press rights. Opinions, even wild or ill-informed ones, are largely protected by the First Amendment, but wrong or misleading factual statements can be defamatory.

The Supreme Court’s 1964 ruling in New York Times v. Sullivan established the so-called “actual malice” standard for defamation cases by public figures against media outlets: The plaintiff must show the outlet knew a story was false when it published it or recklessly disregarded the possibility that it was false. That’s a tough standard that’s made it very hard to sue the media in the U.S.

Here are a few recent cases that illustrate the arguments parties put forth in big defamation cases and how they can turn out:

Palin v. New York Times

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin sued the Times over a 2017 opinion piece that incorrectly suggested a map published by her political action committee helped incite a 2011 mass shooting in Tuscon, Arizona, in which six people were killed and 14 wounded, including then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. The Times corrected the piece within a day and claimed it was an “honest mistake,” but Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, accused the paper of deliberately or recklessly inserting the falsehood to harm her reputation. While the jury was deliberating, the judge announced he was going to dismiss the case because Palin had failed to present evidence that the newspaper’s conduct met the Sullivan standard. Palin is appealing the ruling and has suggested the case could be a vehicle for overturning Sullivan. Some conservative judges and commentators have said they believe that legal protection has fostered liberal bias in the media, and Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch have said it’s time to reexamine the standard and possibly make it easier to sue the press.

Dominion Voting Systems Inc. v. Fox News

Supposedly liberal media outlets aren’t the only ones claiming protection from defamation claims. Fox News is facing a $1.6 billion suit by Dominion Voting Systems filed for broadcasting false claims by allies of then-President Donald Trump that the company’s voting machines were rigged to flip votes for him to Joe Biden. The conservative network claims it was merely reporting the news by interviewing those making the claims, like former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who are also being sued for defamation. Dominion has highlighted evidence suggesting Fox knew the claims were false — including an alleged phone call by Rupert Murdoch a few days after the election in which the Fox Corp. chairman told Trump he had lost. Dominion also recently subpoenaed former Attorney General Bill Barr, who publicly pushed back on Trump’s election fraud claims. In its suit, Dominion suggested Barr’s statements put Fox on notice that the fraud claims were false.

Unsworth v. Musk

Among the more notable times Elon Musk got into trouble on Twitter was his exchange with British cave diver Vernon Unsworth, who participated in the rescue of a youth soccer team that became trapped in cave by floodwaters. Unsworth sued Musk for defamation, seeking $190 million damages, after the billionaire called him a “pedo guy” in a tweet. The tweet had been in response to Unsworth’s criticism of Musk’s proposal to rescue the team using a miniature submarine. After the children were rescued without Musk’s help, Unsworth said on CNN that the Tesla chairman’s proposal was a “PR stunt” and suggested he “stick his submarine where it hurts.” Though Unsworth testified that he felt he had been “branded as a pedophile,” the jury sided with Musk in finding that the insult wasn’t intended to be taken seriously.

Beef Products Inc. v. ABC News

South Dakota-based meat processor Beef Products Inc. sued ABC News in 2012 over news reports that described their “finely textured beef product” as “pink slime.” Beef Products claims the reports led customers to mistakenly believed the product wasn’t meat and wasn’t safe to eat, and sales plummeted from about 5 million pounds per week to less than 2 million pounds after grocery chains around the country said they’d stop carrying products that contained it. Beef Products sought $1.9 billion in damages, but that amount might have tripled under a South Dakota law against disparaging agricultural products. The suit went to trial in June 2017, but the Walt Disney Co., the parent company of ABC News, announced it had agreed to pay $177 million to settle the case before the jury rendered a verdict.

Carroll v. Trump

New York advice columnist E. Jean Carroll, said in a 2019 article that Trump sexually assaulted her in the 1990s in a Manhattan department store dressing room. The then-president subsequently told reporters that Carroll’s account wasn’t true and she wasn’t his “type.” Carroll responded by suing him for defamation for calling her a liar. Trump’s lawyers have advanced a series of arguments to stall or dismiss her suit, the most intriguing of which has been the claim that his statements about Carroll fell within his official duties as president and are therefore immune from civil suits. Trump got some surprise backing for this position when Biden’s Justice Department took up the previous administration’s attempt to end Carroll’s suit. Though Trump’s remarks were “crude and disrespectful,” the Justice Department said in a court filing last June, “speaking to the public and the press on matters of public concern are undoubtedly part of an elected official’s job.” The trial judge rejected that argument but it’s now under appeal.

Indiana becomes 1st state to approve abortion ban post Roe

Sat, 08/06/2022 - 08:10

Abortion-rights protesters fill Indiana Statehouse corridors and cheer outside legislative chambers, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022, as lawmakers vote to concur on a near-total abortion ban, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Arleigh Rodgers) (Arleigh Rodgers/)

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana on Friday became the first state in the nation to approve abortion restrictions since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, as the Republican governor quickly signed a near-total ban on the procedure shortly after lawmakers approved it.

The ban, which takes effect Sept. 15, includes some exceptions. Abortions would be permitted in cases of rape and incest, before 10-weeks post-fertilization; to protect the life and physical health of the mother; and if a fetus is diagnosed with a lethal anomaly. Victims of rape and incest would not be required to sign a notarized affidavit attesting to an attack, as had once been proposed.

Under the bill, abortions can be performed only in hospitals or outpatient centers owned by hospitals, meaning all abortion clinics would lose their licenses. A doctor who performs an illegal abortion or fails to file required reports must also lose their medical license — wording that tightens current Indiana law that says a doctor “may” lose their license.

“I am personally most proud of each Hoosier who came forward to courageously share their views in a debate that is unlikely to cease any time soon,” Gov. Eric Holcomb said in the statement announcing that he had signed the measure. “For my part as your governor, I will continue to keep an open ear.”

His approval came after the Senate approved the ban 28-19 and the House advanced it 62-38.

Indiana was among the earliest Republican-run state legislatures to debate tighter abortion laws after the Supreme Court ruling in June that removed constitutional protections for the procedure. But it is the first state to pass a ban through both chambers, after West Virginia lawmakers on July 29 passed up the chance to be that state.

“Happy to be completed with this, one of the more challenging things that we’ve ever done as a state General Assembly, at least certainly while I’ve been here,” Senate President Pro-Tem Rodric Bray told reporters after the vote. " I think this is a huge opportunity, and we’ll build on that as we go forward from here.”

Sen. Sue Glick of LaGrange, who sponsored the bill, said that she does not think “all states will come down at the same place” but that most Indiana residents support aspects of the bill.


Indiana Republican Senate President Pro-Tem Rodric Bray, left, and Sen. Sue Glick of LaGrange, speak with reporters, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022, in Indianapolis, after the state becomes the first in the nation to pass an abortion bill in its Legislature after the U. S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. (AP Photo/Arleigh Rodgers) (Arleigh Rodgers/)
People watch from the gallery before a vote is held on Senate Bill 1 during a special session Friday, Aug. 5, 2022, at the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis. The bill bans abortions at zero weeks except in the cases of rape, incest or to protect the life of the pregnant person. (Jenna Watson/The Indianapolis Star via AP) (Jenna Watson/)

Some senators in both parties lamented the bill’s provisions and the impact it would have on the state, including low-income women and the health care system. Eight Republicans joined all 11 Democrats in voting against the bill, though their reasons to thwart the measure were mixed.

“We are backsliding on democracy,” said Democratic Sen. Jean Breaux of Indianapolis, who wore a green ribbon Friday signifying support for abortion rights, on her lapel. “What other freedoms, what other liberties are on the chopping block, waiting to be stripped away?”

Republican Sen. Mike Bohacek of Michiana Shores spoke about his 21-year-old-daughter, who has Down syndrome. Bohacek voted against the bill, saying it does not have adequate protections for women with disabilities who are raped.

“If she lost her favorite stuffed animal, she’d be inconsolable. Imagine making her carry a child to term,” he said before he started to choke up, then threw his notes on his seat and exited the chamber.

Republican Sen. Mike Young of Indianapolis, however, said the bill’s enforcement provisions against doctors are not stringent enough.

Such debates demonstrated Indiana residents’ own divisions on the issue, displayed in hours of testimony lawmakers heard over the past two weeks. Residents rarely, if ever, expressed support for the the legislation in their testimony, as abortion-rights supporters said the bill goes too far while anti-abortion activists expressed it doesn’t go far enough.

The debates came amid an evolving landscape of abortion politics across the country as Republicans face some party divisions and Democrats see a possible election-year boost.

Republican Rep. Wendy McNamara of Evansville, who sponsored the House bill, told reporters after the House vote that the legislation “makes Indiana one of the most pro-life states in the nation.”

Outside the chambers, abortion-rights activists often chanted over lawmakers’ remarks, carrying signs like “Roe roe roe your vote” and “Build this wall” between church and state. Some House Democrats wore blazers over pink “Bans Off Our Bodies” T-shirts.

Indiana’s ban followed the political firestorm over a 10-year-old rape victim who traveled to the state from neighboring Ohio to end her pregnancy. The case gained attention when an Indianapolis doctor said the child came to Indiana because of Ohio’s “fetal heartbeat” ban.

Religion was a persistent theme during legislative debates, both in residents’ testimony and lawmakers’ comments.

In advocating against the House bill, Rep. Ann Vermilion condemned fellow Republicans who have called women “murderers” for getting an abortion.

“I think that the Lord’s promise is for grace and kindness,” she said. “He would not be jumping to condemn these women.”

Arleigh Rodgers is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

Family says police didn’t listen to witness account of prelude to Buckland man’s death

Sat, 08/06/2022 - 08:01

Dozens of people marched from the Delaney Park Strip to the Anchorage Police Department headquarters on 4th Avenue, Friday, August 5, 2022 calling for police to reopen the case on Fred Lee's death. (Anne Raup / ADN)

About 50 people marched to Anchorage Police Department headquarters Friday to demand police reopen the case of a 41-year-old man from Buckland who was found dead on Kincaid Beach in June, naked and with visible injuries.

Police maintain that the June death of Fred Lee, a father of four and heavy equipment operator, was not a criminal act.

Under public pressure from a growing campaign by friends and family of Lee, the APD this week even took the unusual step of releasing the cause of death as determined by the medical examiner: “Per Medical Examiner’s Report, the cause of death is ‘Acute ketoacidosis and bronchopneumonia due to acute toxic effects of methamphetamine,’” wrote APD spokeswoman Sunny Guerin in an email. “Because this is a non-criminal death, we have no further information to share.”


Ida Norton, left and Alexis Savage, right and dozens of other protesters yell in front of the police department Friday, calling for justice for Fred Lee. Dozens of people marched from the Delaney Park Strip to the Anchorage Police Department headquarters on 4th Avenue, Friday, August 5, 2022 calling for police to reopen the case on Fred Lee's death. (Anne Raup / ADN)

But family members say police botched the investigation and there are still plenty of unanswered questions about the circumstances Lee died in — made more urgent by a witness, an Anchorage man named Stephen Fisher who says he heard a loud conversation or scuffle in the woods just minutes before Lee’s body was found on the beach below.

The man said he has tried repeatedly to tell police what he observed, to no avail.

“It bothers me that they weren’t curious enough,” Fisher said.

The police department says it took audio-recorded statements from all witnesses, including Fisher.

Lee’s family is pushing police to reopen the case, saying evidence suggests Lee’s body was placed at the site where he was found. A “Justice for Fred Lee” petition had garnered more than 1,600 signatures as of Friday evening.

At Friday’s march, some carried signs saying “Witness Statement Matters,” “Do the Right Thing” and “Reopen This Case.”

Missing in Anchorage

Lee, a heavy equipment operator, father of four and basketball coach from the Northwest Alaska village of Buckland, was found on a remote stretch of the Kincaid Park beach on July 15. He’d gone missing a day earlier at the end of a trip to Anchorage to visit family. His family said he barely knew his way around Anchorage, and puzzled over how he had ended up more than six miles away from where he was last seen without his clothes or belongings, on a lonely stretch of beach.


Fred Lee's body was found on the Kincaid Park beach June, 15, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Shaylin Thomas)

Police quickly determined that Lee’s death was “non-criminal in nature” but family members, troubled by unanswered questions, have pushed for further investigation.

Lee’s death was ruled accidental by the medical examiner, which is a medical determination. The medical examiner’s office doesn’t determine whether a death is criminal in nature or not, said Alaska medical examiner Gary Zientek.

Methamphetamine toxicity, ketoacidosis, a metabolic problem, and pneumonia can arise in combination to people with already weakened bodies due to drug use, all contributing to death, said Gary Zientek, the Alaska medical examiner. Zientek was speaking generally and not about the Lee case specifically.

Lee’s daughter, Shaylin Thomas, still has questions about what that cause of death means, and how Lee got to the beach naked and with injuries that included scratches all over his back and a broken nose.

She said she’s heard from a witness who was among the first people to discover Lee’s body on the beach. He reported observations that she thinks police should have investigated further.

A voice in the woods

Stephen Fisher, a retired engineer, was on his regular walk down the Kincaid Beach starting at about 3 p.m. on June 15 when he heard a loud voice coming from the dense brush and forest above the Kincaid beach, he said in a phone interview this week. The spot is about a 10 minute walk south of the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail access to the beach. Directly above it is a popular bluff trail, but the voice wasn’t coming from all the way up there, he said.

A few hundred feet up from the beach, on a sloped embankment trail, he heard an aggressive voice – maybe two. He couldn’t quite discern what was being said, but the voice was agitated.

“My initial thought was ‘Oh no, someone is getting attacked by a moose.’ So I stopped there for a minute. It would start up and stop again.” He said he also heard crashing through the brush.

“The voice sounded angry at times, agitated and aggressive,” he said. “I thought there were maybe two voices.”

He said he continued to listen for about 20 minutes, hearing what he thought was a man lapse into long passages of what sounded to him like an Indigenous Alaska Native language, though he said he wasn’t sure which one.


The body of Fred Lee was found on the rocky beach in Kincaid Park on June 15, 2022. Family members left a cross and flowers near the base of the bluff. Photographed Tuesday, July 19, 2022. (Anne Raup / ADN)

Finally, Fisher said, he continued on to his usual turnaround point. No more than 45 minutes later, he had turned around walking back by the same spot when he encountered a woman who told him she’d just found a body and had called police, Fisher said. He walked over – the body was directly below where he had stopped to listen to the voice or voices up the embankment, he said.

The man was naked and face down in the sand. He touched his arm to see if he should try CPR and found it warm, but rigid. To Fisher, it seemed clear that the man was dead and rigor mortis had already set in.

Fisher said he saw the body. “Every square inch” of Lee’s back was scratched, with evenly-sized three to four inch scratches, he said. But his legs and feet showed no signs of injury at all, he said.

“Not like somebody who even walked through the brush,” Fisher said.

Fisher doesn’t know whose voice or voices he heard coming from the dense woods of the hillside. But it didn’t sound like someone who was minutes away from dying.

“I wasn’t listening to a dying man,” Fisher said. “And I thought I was listening to a struggle, at first.”

Fisher, the woman and another man all waited for police to arrive. When police did arrive they asked for the witnesses to share their names and phone numbers, but beyond that only cursory statements were taken, Fisher said.

“I stop”

Later, he waited for a police investigator to call. It seemed to him like “they’d want to get right on this.” When no one called, Fisher tried reaching out to police himself. He thought the information about the voices he heard on the hillside would be worth investigators knowing.

“I called over the next couple of days,” Fisher said. “Several times, you know. And nobody ever called me back.”

After the Daily News published an article in late July calling attention to the mysterious circumstances of the death, Fisher called police again.

The officer he spoke to was not interested in hearing what he had to say, he said.

“”I said ‘Don’t you want any of my information? She said no,’” he said. “And I said you don’t want to know any of my story? And she said no.”

The conversation “didn’t end friendly,” he said. “I said, I’ll just talk to the family then.”

Fisher got in touch with members of Lee’s family, and took them to the spot on the beach where the body was. Shaylin Thomas, Lee’s daughter, says she still doesn’t have clarity on exactly what the cause of death determined by the medical examiner means. But she believes that Fisher’s testimony suggests someone else was involved.


The body of Fred Lee was found on the rocky beach in Kincaid Park on June 15, 2022. Photographed Tuesday, July 19, 2022. (Anne Raup / ADN)

“His body was definitely placed there,” said Thomas. “He was already dead.’”

Fisher says he doesn’t know what happened to Lee. But based on what he heard and saw, he also doesn’t believe Lee ended up at the Kincaid Beach alone.

“That didn’t seem plausible to me.”

Fisher still walks the Kincaid Beach regularly, passing the spot where Fred Lee’s body was found.

“I stop,” he said. “Every time.”

Group begins effort to repeal Anchorage Assembly measure that codified mayor removal process

Fri, 08/05/2022 - 19:08

City Hall located in downtown Anchorage. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)

A group of Anchorage residents, including two former mayors, are trying to get a referendum on the ballot to repeal a newly enacted ordinance that codifies a process for removing a mayor from office for a “breach of the public trust.”

The group filed an application to petition for a referendum with the municipal clerk on Thursday.

The petition’s primary sponsor is former Anchorage Mayor George Wuerch, a Republican who held mayoral office, which is technically nonpartisan, from 2000 to 2003. Several other conservative Anchorage politicians have signed the application for a petition, which requires 10 voter signatures. That includes former Mayor Dan Sullivan, and former Assembly members Bill Starr, Crystal Kennedy, Ernie Hall, Debbie Ossiander, Dan Kendall and Erica Johnson, as well as former Assembly member and former Alaska Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell.

The municipal clerk must first review the application before approval of the petition process. Once approved, the group would need to gather at least 7,545 Anchorage voter signatures to get a referendum on a ballot.

On Monday, the Assembly voted to overturn Mayor Dave Bronson’s veto of the ordinance. Bronson has likened the measure to a “coup” and called it a “blatant attack on the office of the mayor.”

The measure added a process to city code by which the Assembly or municipal board of ethics could initiate removal proceedings over 12 different actions considered to be a breach of the public trust, such as perjury, falsifying records or “failure to faithfully execute the directives of a duly enacted ordinance.” The removal process is similar to those that already existed in city code for Assembly and school board members. Mayors can also be removed by voters via a recall effort.

The Assembly passed the legislation last month. The vote was preceded by lengthy and sometimes chaotic public testimony that stretched over two previous meetings and came largely from residents opposing it. Bronson had issued calls for residents to attend the meetings and voice their opposition.

In a Friday interview, Wuerch echoed the concerns that Bronson and many of his supporters have asserted during previous efforts to oppose and block the measure.

The group is applying to petition in an effort to protect the separation of powers between the Assembly and the mayor and to “defend our charter, which picked a strong mayor form of government and has in it procedures to remove a mayor through recall,” Wuerch said.

Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant, who proposed the legislation, said the code does not violate the city’s charter — it fulfills a charter directive that states the Assembly “shall” establish removal processes for elected officials.

“The recall power continues to exist, whether this code is in place or not,” Constant said. “The recall process, effectively, is an inherently political process. This process, as established, is inherently a civil law process.”

The process to remove a mayor begins when the Assembly holds a two-thirds majority vote on alleged grounds for removal. Those grounds would then be reviewed for legal sufficiency by the municipal attorney or a third-party attorney hired by the Assembly. If found sufficient, the mayor could then choose a legal representative to defend against the accusations. An agreed-upon officer would conduct a hearing and evaluate the case using a standard of proof of “clear and convincing evidence.” The hearing officer would then make a recommendation to the Assembly. The Assembly would then vote, needing a two-thirds supermajority to unseat a mayor.

“The idea that nine Assembly members — any nine Assembly members of any Assembly — could actually recall a mayor, elected by the citizens at large in Anchorage, is just unfathomable, it seems to me,” Wuerch said. “So that’s why I’ve weighed in on it.”

Assembly members have said the code sets clear boundaries on mayoral power. Constant has said that some of the mayor’s past actions — especially during a chaotic series of meetings over a mask mandate proposal — spurred him to draft the legislation, but he said he does not intend to use the process against Bronson over previous issues. Constant also said he believes the mayor has substantially ignored city code since taking office.

The conservative mayor and the moderate-to-liberal leaning Assembly supermajority have clashed over multiple issues since he took office, including conflict over who has the ultimate authority over city spending, acrid disagreements over the city’s homeless response and power struggles over other issues. Last month, Bronson won a lawsuit against the Assembly over the mayor’s right to fire the city’s chief equity officer without Assembly involvement.

With less than 2 weeks to go in Alaska’s U.S. House race, Palin went to the Lower 48

Fri, 08/05/2022 - 17:45

Nick Begich, left, and Mary Peltola, candidates for U.S. House of Representatives, appear at a forum in Kenai on Wednesday, Aug. 3. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

KENAI — Two of three U.S. House candidates faced voters in Kenai on Wednesday, less than two weeks before an election that will determine who will be the state’s next representative in Congress.

Republican Nick Begich III and Democrat Mary Peltola discussed their views on the economy, gun rights and abortion, among other issues, at a forum hosted by the Soldotna and Kenai chambers of commerce.

Conspicuously absent was their most famous opponent.

“I just think it’s great that we’ve got two actual Alaskans up here,” Begich told the audience of a few dozen Kenai Peninsula residents. “I don’t know where this third candidate is. I’d be happy to give her 30 seconds to respond, but she’s not here, so we’re not going to have to worry about that.”

Former Gov. Sarah Palin — who became a household name in 2008 when she ran for vice president — instead held a fundraiser in Minneapolis, according to photos she posted on her Instagram account, which showed her together with known Trump supporter and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell. On Thursday, she appeared in Dallas for a 20-minute onstage interview titled “She’s Back!”

Her Texas appearance was at the Conservative Political Action Conference, which draws notable Republican and conservative politicians, including former President Donald Trump and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.


Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin jokes about the size of the state of Texas compared to Alaska during her appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas on Thursday, Aug. 4. (AP Photo/LM Otero) (LM Otero/)

When Palin, 58, was running for vice president in 2008, Peltola was serving in the state House and Begich was running his relatively new software company. Some of Palin’s most famous phrases, like “drill, baby, drill,” have become staples in her campaign.

For Alaskans hoping to hear from her, she has been notably difficult to track down. Palin’s congressional campaign marks her first run for elected office since quitting as governor in 2009, and while she has marched in occasional parades and roused a crowd of more than 5,000 in an Anchorage Trump rally, she has turned down some candidate forums, including one hosted by the Anchorage Republican Women earlier this year. There, hosts left an empty chair for her at the table with the word “no” attached to her name.

Palin’s campaign manager, Kris Perry, said Palin was not available for an interview for this story despite multiple requests this week.

“Sarah Palin is Alaska’s ambassador, and her ability to leverage existing relationships with influential leaders from all over the country is one of the main reasons she is ready to hit the ground running,” Perry said in a written statement. “Sarah was invited to speak at CPAC because she is widely recognized as one of the most influential members of the conservative community — and while she was there, she was able to meet with some of the people she’ll be working with in Congress, including Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Scott Perry.”

Early voting has already begun ahead of the Aug. 16 special election that will determine who will carry out the last four months of U.S. Rep. Don Young’s term after the longtime congressional representative died unexpectedly in March. It is Alaska’s first ranked choice election. The top four vote-getters in the open June primary advanced to a ranked choice general election. Only three candidates are on the Aug. 16 ballot — Palin, Begich and Peltola — after the third-place finisher, independent Al Gross, dropped out of the race.

Begich, 44, is a millionaire businessman and the grandson of Nick Begich Sr., who served as Alaska’s U.S. representative until he disappeared in a plane crash in 1972. He is also the nephew of former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, and current state Sen. Tom Begich. The younger Begich says his biggest challenge in the campaign has been convincing voters that unlike his grandfather and two uncles, he’s not a Democrat.

Peltola, 48, served in the state Legislature for a decade, representing the Bethel area. As a Yup’ik woman, her victory would propel the first Alaska Native to Congress. In the Legislature, she headed the Bush Caucus representing communities off the road system. First elected at age 25, she said she went to the Legislature thinking she would “fight enemies.” But she quickly learned that she would be more effective if she turned the other 59 lawmakers into her best friends. Her friendliness has become a hallmark of her current campaign.

After the forum Wednesday, Peltola declined to criticize Palin for her absence.

“Maybe she needed to take one of her kids to the doctor? You never know why people can’t make an obligation.”

‘Running on her celebrity’

Still, Peltola and Begich recognize that Palin is a formidable opponent. The former governor garnered 27% of the vote in the 48-way special primary in June, and in some more conservative regions of the state, including Kenai and Soldotna, she commanded more than 40% of the vote.

“I can’t help but still see her as the clear front-runner. She’s an international celebrity. How can you not be the front-runner if you’re an international celebrity and a former sitting governor?” Peltola said in an interview after the Kenai forum. “I think Nick must feel like that too, since the negative comments that he makes are really just at Sarah.”

Begich has said he will rank Palin second on his ballot, but he launches regular, if veiled, attacks against her. “You will not see me on the news in a pink bear costume running around saying this is unity, using my position for personal enrichment, or attempting to gratuitously bash every person I don’t agree with,” Begich said in an interview Wednesday, alluding to a 2020 appearance by Palin on a TV show when she performed “Baby Got Back” in a fuzzy bear costume.

Palin is no stranger to running as an outsider. In the 2006 governor’s race, she defeated Republican incumbent Gov. Frank Murkowski in the GOP primary. Her victory came even as she ran on cleaning up corruption — including in her own party. Many establishment Republicans remember her for the moments when she wasn’t afraid to go against them.

While in Juneau earlier this month, Palin posted on Instagram pictures of herself at the front entrance to the governor’s mansion with her Canadian boyfriend Ron Duguay, captioned “My ol’ stomping grounds!” A spokesperson for Gov. Mike Dunleavy said he had not been in Juneau that day and had not met with Palin in the mansion.

After the Kenai forum, local residents lamented Palin’s absence — and some said it would change how they planned to vote.

“She has been a no-show for so much. I was really hoping that she would be here just to express her opinion. Because right now, I’m one of the believers that she is literally running on her celebrity only and has no real clue what the issues are,” said Larry Opperman, a Soldotna resident who plans to support Begich.

Don and Alice Heckert, who live in Kenai, said they planned to rank Begich first, but that forum would likely change who they rank second on their ballot.

“I think it was very good to see Mary Peltola. I didn’t know anything about her,” Alice said. “The third candidate, her not showing up just speaks for itself, because all of a sudden Kenai’s not important. These 47,000 people that live here aren’t important.”

April Hall, a pastor at the Kenai United Methodist Church, said she would vote for Peltola first and Begich second.

“To me, (Palin) doesn’t seem as grounded. We need someone who’s grounded and these two seem to be very grounded,” Hall said. “For her, it’s more of a show.”

In Dallas, Palin’s onstage appearance came two days before the keynote address from former President Trump. Trump and Palin appeared onstage together in Anchorage last month, when the former president traveled to Alaska to campaign for Palin and other Republican candidates. Trump called Palin “legendary.”


Sarah Palin and Donald Trump share the stage during a rally July 9 at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. (Bill Roth / ADN)

“I know your opponents, and I like you way better,” Trump said. One of those opponents — Begich — has said he voted for Trump twice. Begich also contributed $500 to Trump’s reelection campaign in 2020, though he didn’t give him money in 2016, according to records from the Federal Election Commission.

Palin’s stamp of approval from Trump has also translated to a lead in fundraising efforts during the latest reporting period, the last before the August election, according to filings due to the Federal Election Commission on Thursday. Palin raised $146,000 between July 1 and 27. In addition, she received more than $90,000 from the Alaska First Fund — a committee set up in conjunction with Trump’s rally in Alaska on July 9. But a large chunk of her support comes from the Lower 48. Less than half of the donors listed on Palin’s report have an Alaska address, while the majority of Peltola and Begich’s listed supporters are in-state.

Peltola raised the second-largest sum in the period, raking in around $136,000. That’s more than double the $64,000 that Begich raised.


U.S. House candidates, from left, Mary Peltola, Sarah Palin, and Nick Begich III participate in an Anchorage Chamber of Commerce "Make it Monday Forum" on June 27 at the Dena'ina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

But Begich still has much more in the bank — $655,000 to Peltola’s $124,000 and Palin’s $107,000 — after Begich loaned his campaign $650,000 earlier in the year. The candidates will need those funds not just for the current campaign, but for the next one, which will determine who will hold the seat for the full term that begins in January. The pick-one primary for that regular election will be held on the same day as the special general election, with the regular general election to be held in November.

‘A perfect bad storm’

As Alaska’s first ranked choice election draws closer, Palin has increasingly sowed doubt about the state’s new voting system.

At a candidate forum in Juneau on Monday, she falsely stated that the candidate who came in third could end up winning the race.

“You could be, say, the most popular candidate and you could actually not win the thing,” Palin said in Juneau. “The third-place vote getter on the surface could actually win this thing.”

In Dallas on Thursday, she said Alaska’s election laws have “elements of a perfect bad storm.”

“It doesn’t matter if you win by getting the most votes. Really it matters if you have more second and third place votes,” Palin said. “It’s bizarre, it’s convoluted, it’s complicated, and it results in voter suppression. It results in a lack of enthusiasm for voters to even want to participate, because it’s so weird.”


Sarah Palin, candidate for U.S. House of Representatives, greeted supporters at a rally at Mountain Coast Vineyard, a church in South Anchorage, on June 2. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

Palin’s remarks come as the Alaska Republican Party has told its voters to “rank the red,” a message meant to encourage Palin supporters to rank Begich second and vice versa. At the same time, the Alaska GOP sent out a mailer asking voters not to rank Peltola.

“Don’t rank Mary Peltola, leave her blank,” the mailer declared. The other side of the pamphlet read: “Mary Peltola and Joe Biden are two of a kind.” And then listed three things: “trillion dollar spending bills, worst inflation in decades, $5 a gallon gas.”

“I think it’s really just kind of a compliment,” Peltola told her supporters Wednesday. “Who is this lady who has been out of office for 14 years living 75 miles off of the Bering Sea who can pass trillion dollar bills? Let’s get her in office now.”

“The other funny thing about that is I’m really hoping that folks across rural Alaska are like, ‘$5 gas? Yeah!’ ” she added, referencing gas prices in her hometown of Bethel that have reached $7 per gallon.

The pamphlet arrived in voters’ homes just as early voting began this week across the state. After election day on Aug. 16, voting tabulation for the special election could last for more than two weeks, with final results expected to be certified — and the winner sworn into Congress — in early September. All three candidates on the August special election ballot are also running in the regular election for the two-year term that will begin in January.

According to a poll conducted earlier this month by Alaska Survey Research, Peltola — the only Democrat in the race — is expected to get the largest share of first-place votes, while Begich and Palin split the conservative vote. The poll, conducted after Trump stumped for Palin in Alaska, found that Begich and Palin are neck and neck. But the ultimate outcome could be different depending on how Begich and Palin perform. The takeaway from the poll is that any of the three candidates could end up winning the race, according to pollster Ivan Moore.

This all means that what happens in the campaign before Aug. 16 could be critical in determining the outcome of the election.

“The thing about ranked choice voting is that it’s possible for anyone to win with just a small shift,” said Moore. “Each one of them has an opportunity to win the thing and it’s a matter of who closes it out best.”

Anchorage Daily News journalist Marc Lester contributed to this story.

OPINION: Costly West Susitna Access Project will benefit foreign mining companies, not Alaskans

Fri, 08/05/2022 - 17:00

The west end of Ayrshire Road, located about 30 miles southwest of Wasilla, photographed on Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)

We support responsible development of Alaska’s roads and resources, but the West Susitna Access Road is a waste of money that will hurt Alaska businesses. The recent commentary by a group calling themselves Friends of West Susitna made claims about the road that sound compelling enough to the average person who’s not closely tracking the backdoor deals of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, or AIDEA. The problem is, they aren’t who they say they are. And they’re wrong.

The commentary touted public access to the road, but to date AIDEA and the out-of-state corporate interest groups backing it have refused to provide a clear answer of what that access will look like, or even confirm whether it will exist. To be clear, this road is being designed as a private road, only being built to provide access from Port Mackenzie to the Yentna Mining District. The only folks guaranteed to have access are the foreign mining interests that are attempting to quietly push through an expensive and unnecessary project, hoping we won’t notice what’s happening. But we do, and we’re calling on all Alaskans to pay attention.

The Friends of West Susitna group wants you to believe they’re just everyday folks like you and me, but they’re doing a sloppy job of hiding their ties to the largest trade association in Alaska. Links on their website will take you back to The Alaska Support Industry Alliance, perhaps because millions of dollars are on the line to be made from government insiders on this ill-advised project.

The cost of construction alone is cause for concern. Conservative estimates are that this road will cost Alaskans more than $350 million in funds we don’t have to spend, at a time when the politicians in Juneau can barely balance a budget. How many of us have driven on roads that are desperate for repair? Our neighbors across the Mat-Su agree that we need to be able to take care of the infrastructure we have before we spend millions of dollars of Alaskans’ money building roads that we can’t even use. With duds like the Alaska Seafood International plant and the Four Dam Pool that sunk hundreds of millions of dollars into failing projects, we should know better than to trust AIDEA with our investments.

We’ve raised our families to appreciate and explore Alaska’s beauty, and our livelihoods are vested in the ability to hunt, fish and fly with freedom. Building this road would decimate herd animal habitats and drive away the reason to visit in the first place. If you want to visit the wilderness of West Susitna you can hop on a bush plane, riverboat or snowmachine — we already have public access. A private road for a foreign mine simply does nothing to benefit Alaskans.

Despite overwhelming and vocal opposition to the project, AIDEA is attempting to fast-track it with half-baked plans and shoddy permitting information. Recently the state submitted a wetlands permit application for a federal-level environmental impact study required to move this project forward. Last week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, or USACE, notified AIDEA that its application was incomplete, just two weeks after receiving it. If the molasses-moving bureaucracy of the federal government can turn around a decision that quickly, we can see the writing on the wall: The application was incomplete and incorrect, a rush job.

As conservative small-business owners who are also hunters, fishermen and recreators in the Susitna Valley, we are not opposed to development. Our businesses depend on Alaska being the premier destination for those who want to experience the quiet wilderness of our great state. But we expect it to be done responsibly, thoughtfully and with adequate support from the public. This project has none of those.

Keep your eyes open, Alaska. We invite all Alaskans to write to AIDEA with their concerns on the project and make their voices heard.

Todd Rust is owner and director of operations for Rust’s Flying Service and K2 Aviation, a family-owned business in Anchorage, and has lived in Alaska with his family since 1959. Kevin Dana is a lifelong Alaskan and owner of Barney’s Sports Chalet. He lives in Chugiak with his wife, three kids and their dog.

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 letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Alaska’s health department confirms 2nd case of monkeypox in state, expands vaccine eligibility

Fri, 08/05/2022 - 16:55

Jonathan Parducho, a pharmacist, removes a tray of vials of of the Jynneos vaccine for monkeypox from a box containing 20 doses, in the vaccine hub at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, July 29, 2022, in San Francisco. (Lea Suzuki/San Francisco Chronicle via AP) (Lea Suzuki/)

A second case of monkeypox has been confirmed in Alaska about a week after the first case was reported.

Both cases have involved male residents of Anchorage who had recently traveled outside the state, and neither cases have been serious enough to require hospitalization, Dr. Joe McLaughlin, Alaska’s state epidemiologist, said Friday.

There also doesn’t appear to be an epidemiologic link between the two cases, McLaughlin said. In the most recent case, the man’s symptom began within the past week, and he tested positive late Wednesday afternoon. A total of 16 people have been tested for the virus in Alaska, and just two tests have come back positive.

This week, state health officials also announced they were expanding Jynneos monkeypox vaccine eligibility in Alaska to include men and transgender people who both have sex with men and have had multiple or anonymous sexual partners in the past two weeks. Anyone with a known exposure to someone with the virus is also eligible for a dose.

“If you believe you may be eligible for vaccination, please call your health care provider or local public health center,” Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, tweeted Friday.

“It’s basically at this point first come, first serve,” said McLaughlin, who said it was particularly important for immunocompromised Alaskans who also fit the eligibility criteria to consider getting vaccinated, due to higher risk of severe illness if they were to contract the disease.

Examples of immunocompromising conditions include AIDS, atopic dermatitis or eczema, leukemia, lymphoma, organ transplantation, generalized malignancy, radiation therapy or receipt of high-dose corticosteroids, according to new monkeypox treatment guidelines for providers released by the health department this week.

“The big thing with the vaccination is it’s most effective if given within four days of the exposure. It can be given up to two weeks after the exposure, but the sooner the better. And so we want to make sure that the people who are at the very highest risk have very prompt access to vaccine,” McLaughlin said.

#Alaska is currently vaccinating Tiers #1 and Tier #2 for #MonkeypoxVirus given the current risks associated with this virus.

If you believe you may be eligible for vaccination, please call your health care provider or local public health center. https://t.co/d0p3AQDaTW 1/4

— Anne Zink (@annezinkmd) August 5, 2022

While monkeypox does not spread easily between people, transmission can occur when a person has skin-to-skin contact with body fluids or monkeypox sores; through contact with items that have been contaminated, like bedding and clothing; or through prolonged face-to-face contact.

According to a CDC report released this week, the vast majority of monkeypox cases U.S. since May — 99% — have involved men, and 84% of patients have reported male-to-male sexual contact.

Within this community, the risk of transmission is highest among people who have had multiple sexual partners or are having anonymous sex frequently, McLaughlin said.

That’s why the state decided to open up eligibility to include Alaskans who are at a higher risk of contracting the disease, McLaughlin said.

Monkeypox vaccine and treatments have been in short supply around the globe, but McLaughlin said the state has been allotted 480 doses of the vaccine in addition to the 130 it already had, including a shipment that arrived in the state Wednesday.

“Although the amount of vaccine that we’re receiving is not as much as we would like, we do want to use this vaccine and get it in the arms of people who are at highest risk for monkeypox disease,” he said. “The more people we have vaccinated, the the lower the probability of transmission in social networks.”

Alaska’s latest case is part of a global outbreak that has spread to thousands of people in dozens of countries in just a few weeks, prompting the World Health Organization to declare a global emergency last month and the Biden administration to declare a national health emergency this week.

By Friday, the CDC had reported more than 7,000 U.S. cases in 49 states.

Monkeypox is a disease caused by an infection with a pox virus that belongs to the same family of viruses that cause smallpox.

The illness typically begins with flu-like symptoms including a fever, headaches, muscle and backaches, chills and “just general exhaustion” within one to two weeks of exposure, according to McLaughlin.

Within one to three days, the patient will develop a rash that often begins on the face and spreads to other parts of the body, but not always. The illness typically lasts two to four weeks.

While the current strain has a very high survival rate of about 99%, the WHO has reported seven fatalities from the virus, McLaughlin said.

More severe cases of monkeypox infection can involve “extremely painful” lesions that can spread to multiple parts of the body, McLaughlin said.

“A lot of the people who are hospitalized for monkeypox are hospitalized for pain control, because the pain can be so severe with this rash,” he said.

While it was important for Alaskans with a higher risk of contracting the virus or getting very sick from it to consider getting vaccinated, he said he also didn’t want Alaskans with much lower risk to panic.

“We don’t want people who are really at a very, very low risk of monkeypox disease to be worried about it. Because this is a disease that is much more difficult to transmit than COVID,” he said.

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