Alaska News

Fish Creek opens for dipnetting, drawing crowds

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-07-27 18:11
Dozens of fishermen dip their nets along the banks of Fish Creek. (Henry Leasia / Alaska Public Media)

Near Wasilla today, hundreds of salmon set to spawn in Fish Creek swam a gauntlet of dipnets after the Department of Fish and Game opened the sometimes sporadic personal-use dipnet fishery there.

Early counts and projections for the near future indicate a strong enough sockeye run.

For local fish biologists and dipnetters alike, Fish Creek is a hands on, full-spectrum salmon experience right in their backyard.

Alaska Public Media’s Casey Grove and Henry Leasia were there too, and have this audio postcard.

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The Fish Creek personal dipnet fishery is expected to remain open each day from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. until Monday.

The limit is 25 fish per head of household and 10 more for each family member.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Thursday, July 27, 2017

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-07-27 18:09

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via email, podcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn

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Alaskans weigh-in on Senator Murkowski’s role in the health care debate

Elizabeth Harball, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Anchorage

The Alaska Dispatch News is reporting that the Trump Administration threatened to target Alaska as retribution for Senator Lisa Murkowski’s stand against Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act this week.

Legislature divided as they pass a capital budget

Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO – Juneau

The Alaska Legislature passed the state’s capital budget today, allowing road projects and other construction to move forward.

Aircraft downed on north side of Lake Clark, recovery efforts underway

Dave Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham

Recovery efforts are underway Thursday evening for what is believed to be a fatal aircraft accident in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve.

Feds charge Utah man with wife’s murder aboard cruise ship in Alaska

Tripp Crouse, KTOO – Juneau and Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

Federal authorities are charging a Utah man in the murder of his wife aboard a cruise ship in Southeast Alaska.

When the lights went out – Alaska’s great recession

Elizabeth Jenkins, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Juneau

Less than ten years after oil started flowing, Alaska’s economy cratered. The recession was quick and deep. Ten banks failed, real estate values plummeted and tens of thousands of people fled the state. It was Alaska’s great recession, 20 years before the rest of the country went through almost the same thing.

Controversial Anchorage bathroom bill will go on April ballot

Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

Anchorage voters will decide next spring how public bathrooms are going to be regulated. According to the municipal clerk’s office, a citizens’ initiative has gathered enough signatures from supporters to go before voters on the April 3rd ballot in 2018.

Fish Creek opens for dipnetting, drawing crowds

Casey Grove and Henry Leasia, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

Near Wasilla today, hundreds of salmon set to spawn in Fish Creek swam a gauntlet of dipnets after the Department of Fish and Game opened the sometimes sporadic personal-use dipnet fishery there.

Categories: Alaska News

Controversial Anchorage bathroom bill will go on April ballot

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-07-27 17:44

Anchorage voters will decide next spring how public bathrooms are going to be regulated. According to the municipal clerk’s office, a citizens’ initiative has gathered enough signatures from supporters to go before voters on the April 3rd ballot in 2018.

The measure seeks to regulate bathrooms, locker-rooms and other “intimate spaces” on the basis of biological sex rather than gender identity, as is the current policy. If a majority of voters approve the item, it would amend a 2015 law passed by the Anchorage Assembly barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, employment and public facilities.

A large amount of organizing around the initiative has come from Alaska Family Action, which calls itself a “public policy ministry” standing for conservative values. Supporters say the policy change will protect their privacy in places like locker rooms, and give churches and private businesses the ability to regulate bathrooms in line with their beliefs.

The ballot measure has already sparked controversy and an opposition campaign among those who say it would discriminate against transgender residents. A coalition of groups opposed to the measure called Fair Anchorage said they will focus on a public education campaign over the next several months.

In a statement today, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz called the measure “divisive and distracting,” and said he opposes it.

The same election in April determines who will be the city’s next mayor. Berkowitz has not formally announced yet whether or not he’ll run for a second term.

Turn out in municipal elections with a mayoral race on the ballot tend to be slightly higher.

2018 will be the first year Anchorage switches to the new vote by mail system.

Categories: Alaska News

Aircraft downed on north side of Lake Clark, recovery efforts underway

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-07-27 17:07

Recovery efforts are underway Thursday evening for what is believed to be a fatal aircraft accident in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve.

Spokesperson Megan Richotte said that an NPS aircraft with rangers was launched to search after an emergency locator beacon signal was picked up around 9:30 a.m. Thursday.

“They did locate the ELT and found a downed and still burning aircraft in Miller Creek which is on the north side of Lake Clark itself,” Richotte said.

According to Richotte, Regal Air out of Anchorage reported that the pilot, whose name has not been released, was the only occupant onboard the Cessna 206.

“Alaska State Troopers are enroute to Port Alsworth with a helicopter, and park rangers and state troopers will be going to the site of the crash for recovery operations this evening,” Richotte said.

Richotte did not know Thursday what the Regal Cessna 206’s flight plan had been.

The NTSB will be investigating the accident.

Categories: Alaska News

Feds charge Utah man with wife’s murder aboard cruise ship in Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-07-27 13:11

Federal authorities are charging a Utah man in the murder of his wife aboard a cruise ship in Southeast Alaska.

Kenneth Ray Manzanares, 39, of Santa Clara, Utah, is charged in the death of his wife, Kristy Manzanares, in a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

According to the FBI’s criminal complaint, a witness watched Manzanares drag the woman toward a balcony. The release also said the witness then pulled her back into the couple’s cabin.

Emerald Princess security and medical personnel arrived at the cabin and found the victim inside, dead with a severe head wound. Blood was spread throughout the room on multiple surfaces.

Cruise ship security restrained Manzanares, who was arrested Wednesday.

Manzanares is scheduled to make an initial appearance at 2 p.m. today in federal court in Anchorage via video conference from Juneau. U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin F. McCoy is presiding.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced the federal charges during a news conference Thursday in Anchorage.

Categories: Alaska News

When the lights went out – Alaska’s great recession

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2017-07-27 12:09

Less than ten years after oil started flowing, Alaska’s economy cratered. The recession was quick and deep. Ten banks failed, real estate values plummeted and tens of thousands of people fled the state. It was Alaska’s great recession, 20 years before the rest of the country went through almost the same thing.

Eating out wasn’t just a quick bite for Pete Zamarello. It was a sacred time when dreams were sketched in notebooks. He amassed an empire over plates of Italian or Mexican — Pete’s favorite foods.

Zamarello liked to arrive at a restaurant with an entourage. And patrons would look up to catch a glimpse. This guy was an Anchorage celebrity. At least, that’s how Paul Gardner remembers it.

“When Pete walked into a restaurant, he didn’t wait for anybody to set him,” Gardner said. “He’d say, I don’t need your help, I can set myself!’ So he’d pick any table and they’d just have to deal with him.”

Gardner dealt with Zamarello for decades. First as an employee and later, a friend.

Zamarello died about three years ago and Gardner is now the trustee of his estate.

When Zamarello was alive, he owned this place. And back when oil was booming, he shaped the landscape of Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage. But he grew up on the island of Cephalonia, which is a part of Greece.

When Zamarello first arrived in Alaska in the 1960’s, he made money buying and selling oil leases. Then he sold a few houses. And by the 1970s, he turned his sights to strip malls. People called him ‘The Stripmall King. And Zamarello? He wasn’t offended

Pete Zamarello wore thousand dollars suits paired with cheap shoes. All bushy sideburns and big sunglasses. You could catch him driving around town in a blue Lincoln Continental.

But Zamarello built an extravagant lifestyle on top of a shaky foundation — the conviction that Alaska’s oil boom would never end.

“He was the first time I ever heard someone say I was too big to fail,” state economist Neal Fried said. “That term wasn’t invented just recently in that last Great Recession. He was saying, ‘I owe the banks so much there’s no way they’re going to close on me’.”

Alaska Mutual was just one of the financial institutions that loaned Pete Zamarello money. Kevin Tune worked there. He was in his late-twenties at the time — with a mustache and a rattail haircut. He tucked his eight inch tail of hair into the collar of his suits.

Tune wasn’t a lending guy. He was a bank auditor. But he saw some of the loans that went out the door. And he remembers by the late 70s, it was kind of bonkers.

“I actually saw loan documentation on bar napkins in files,” Tune said. “And I thought this is unbelievable. You’re lending on a financial statement created on a bar napkin from Chilkoot Charlies.”

Tune said more than a dozen banks in Anchorage were competing for customers. They cut deals, like allowing them to have no down payment.

In the heyday, Pete Zamarello was borrowing from at least 15 different banks.

Then in the first half of 1986, the price of oil crashed- it fell nearly 70 percent. That combined with the overbuilt real estate market in Anchorage, caused the state’s economy to suddenly fall off a cliff.

Newspaper articles from the time describe the housing market in freefall and condominium complexes as ghost towns, as owners abandoned their properties.

Paul Gardner said Zamarello’s strip mall empire was also emptying out.

“During that time it looked really, really bleak,” Gardner said. “Pete was telling me that he had tenants coming in and just dropping the keys on his desk and leaving because they couldn’t make it anymore.”

In 1986, Pete Zamarello filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. He was about $150 million dollars in debt — owing hundreds of creditors.

Kevin Tune saiid Alaska Mutual was also struggling. The bank relied heavily on real estate lending — loaning to commercial developers like Zamarello and also regular homeowners. It was a great business to be in during the boom years. But as business owners defaulted on their loans and homeowners started handing in their keys.

It was a busy time for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). The agency helped work out a deal for Alaska Mutual to merge with another bank in an effort to keep the bank’s doors open. But it was still at risk of being shut down by the FDIC. So at the end of each week, Kevin Tune sat back and waited.

“Every Friday everybody is going is this going to be the day? Is this going to be the day? Is this going to be day?” Tune said. “And I still remember sitting in the office of our vice president going OK, there’s the rental cars we’re expecting. And they came in. And you’re first kind of shocked even though you knew it was coming. But the fact of the matter is probably 300 people just lost their job effectively at 6 o’clock that night. Nobody knew what was going to happen.”

Tune and his colleagues were asked to return to the bank on a Saturday, while the FDIC went through the bank’s numbers. It was much worse than they thought.

“And they were absolutely shocked,” Tune said. “The first thing out of the one individual’s mouth was… ‘We’re going to have to go back. We’re going to have to get additional people’.”

The FDIC had a small office in town already. But this bank failure called for a much bigger presence in Anchorage. So the FDIC moved into a large glass office building in midtown. And there was a bright side.

“They hired virtually everybody back,” Tune said.

Tune and his colleagues had new jobs with the FDIC. Because who better to try to get rid of bad loans than the very people who helped create them?

“I don’t think that ended up being any sort of problem but its an interesting dynamic when you have people collecting on a loan that they did,” Tune said.

When it was all over, the FDIC ended up closing ten failed banks in Alaska.

The state economy started growing again in late 1988. But the real estate market took much longer to recover. Since those days, the economy chugged along, growing modestly for nearly 30 years. But things have changed. We’re now in our first recession since the 1980s.

In some ways it’s the same old story: The price of oil dropped dramatically in 2015, which meant billions of dollars in state revenue vanished. The oil industry has lost thousands of jobs.

But Neal Fried said what’s happening now is not the same.

“I mean there’s just monstrous difference between now and then,” Fried said.

In the early 80s, there were way too many condos and houses being built. Right now, Anchorage has a tight housing market. And nearly two years into the recession, prices are flat.

The population is also a lot more stable. Back then, the median age in Alaska was 26. When things got bad, people picked up and moved. That’s not as easy for most residents today.

Another key difference? Alaska has a lot more savings in the bank.

But here’s the thing: This time, it’s not a classic oil town bust. Alaska’s recession now is a lot less predictable. Even if the price of oil jumps again, it won’t save the state’s economy because there’s a lot less oil in the pipeline.

“And these are sort of uncharted waters, which does create uncertainty,” Fried said. “I mean if this is just a classic boom bust. I wouldn’t be worried about it at all.”

When he was going through the airport security line in Anchorage recently, a TSA agent pulled Fried aside and asked him if he should buy a house. It’s a question he gets a lot these days.

Fried told the man the same thing he tells everyone who asks — it depends on your situation.

“I’m generally a pessimist,” he said, “But what I do know, since I’ve been doing this long enough, is that the optimists typically have been right more often than the pessimists, and that gives me some optimism.”

Fried says it’s impossible to say what the future holds for Alaska’s economy. But the state learned a humbling lesson during the 80s bust. There’s a difference between being an optimist and believing you’re too big to fail.

Categories: Alaska News

Lawmakers agree on capital budget funding for oil and gas tax credits, Kivalina school

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-07-26 18:12
Kivalina, Alaska, in August 2009. Legislative leaders agreed to a capital budget that adds funding to build a new school for the community. (Creative Commons photo by Lt. Cmdr. Micheal McNeil/U.S. Coast Guard)

State lawmakers are scheduled to vote Thursday on a capital budget that will include $20 million in oil and gas tax credits. It would also add $8 million to assist municipalities and $7 million to complete a school in Kivalina.

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Those are among the details released Wednesday on Senate Bill 23, the capital budget for the fiscal year that started at the beginning of July.

Lawmakers plan to spend as little as one day in Juneau, as they meet for their third special session this year. The Legislature is scheduled to gavel in at 11 a.m. A conference committee plans to meet on the capital budget early in the afternoon. And both the Senate and House could pass it later in the day.

Associated General Contractors of Alaska Executive Director John MacKinnon said it’s important for the Legislature to act.

“All in all, I’m very pleased we’re going to get a capital budget,” MacKinnon said.

The state would forgo $1.18 billion in federal funding if it didn’t pass the $1.43 billion capital budget.

John MacKinnon’s wife is state Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River. She’s been negotiating the capital budget with Nome Democratic Rep. Neal Foster.

The capital budget would be the smallest since 2000.

This capital budget could affect a long-proposed megaproject in Juneau by moving money out of a major road extension toward other projects. Juneau Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Craig Dahl opposed the changes.

“Taking any money away from that, that would jeopardize it moving forward is not a good thing, in the state’s best interest,” Dahl said.

Gov. Bill Walker decided against pursuing the Juneau Access road last year, but project supporters continue to push for it.

The capital budget agreement doesn’t include $700 million that the House had passed to restore Permanent Fund dividends to the full amount set by state law. Instead of a projected $2,300, dividends would be $1,100 per Alaskan.

The capital budget agreement also includes $7 million for the Arctic Strategic Transportation and Resources project. It’s intended to improve transportation in nine North Slope Borough communities.

The $20 million for oil and gas tax credits would be added to $57 million for credits in the operating budget enacted in June. That brings the total to the minimum suggested by state law. But it’s a small fraction of $288 million passed by the Senate.

It’s not clear whether there will be a fourth special session later this year to pass a plan Walker proposed to balance the state’s budget in the long term.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Wednesday, July 26, 2017

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-07-26 18:05

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via email, podcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn

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Following health care vote, Trump singles out Murkowski with critical tweet

Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

Following yesterday’s narrow Senate vote to allow debate on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, President Donald Trump tweeted his disapproval toward Senator Lisa Murkowski.

Transgender Air Force Staff Sergeant reacts to Trump’s declaration against transgender service-members

Lori Townsend, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

This morning the president declared that transgender individuals will no longer be allowed to serve in the U.S. military, but thousands already do. That includes service members based in Alaska. Alaska Public Media’s Lori Townsend spoke with Air Force Staff Sergeant Emma Horner, who came out as transgender to her fellow military members in October.

Lawmakers to vote on capital budget on Thursday

Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO – Juneau

State lawmakers are scheduled to vote Thursday on a capital budget that will include 20 million dollars in oil and gas tax credits. It would also add money to assist municipalities and to complete a school in Kivalina.

FBI investigating death of woman aboard Southeast cruise ship

Tripp Crouse, KTOO – Juneau

The FBI is investigating the death of a 39-year-old Utah woman who died aboard the Emerald Princess cruise ship in Southeast Alaska.

‘Forward-deployed’ Coast Guard helicopter crews help rescue 6 people in two searches

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

Coast Guard personnel based out of Kotzebue helped rescue six people Monday in two emergency operations in Northwest Alaska.

Late state budget delays fall-winter-spring ferry schedule

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Alaskans have until the end of the month to tell the Marine Highway System what they think of its fall, winter and spring sailing plans.

Work starts on expanding Richardson Highway

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

Work began this week on a project to widen a stretch of the Richardson at the South Gate of Eielson Air Force Base. The project also will add turn lanes for the gate.

Green sponge discovered in Southeast could treat some cancers

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

A green sponge discovered in 2005 in Southeast Alaska waters has unique properties that could be used to treat certain types of cancer.

Entomologist tracks the year in Alaska bugs

Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

Bugs of various shapes and sizes are part of life in Alaska, and it can be easy for them to escape notice.

Ask a Climatologist: For summer in Alaska, 70 is the magic number

Annie Feidt, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Anchorage

Juneau has had very few days above 70 this summer. In contrast, Anchorage logged its warmest temperature of the year Sunday, 76 degrees.

Categories: Alaska News

Transgender Air Force Staff Sergeant reacts to Trump’s declaration against transgender service-members

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-07-26 17:36

This morning the president declared that transgender individuals will no longer be allowed to serve in the U.S. military, but thousands already do. That includes service members based in Alaska. Alaska Public Media’s Lori Townsend spoke with Air Force Staff Sergeant Emma Horner, who came out as transgender to her fellow military members in October, when the Department of Defense released a policy saying it would accept openly transgender people and help them transition. Horner says that coming out was a positive experience.

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HORNER: Honestly, I’ve become more confident in what I do. For me it’s been only good things as far as my career goes so far.

TOWNSEND: Did it change your job at all?

HORNER: As far as my job goes, I did get a different job, just because I was away for medical things here and there. However, I love the position that I’m in now. I feel like I do more there than out on the flight light itself.

TOWNSEND: How did people that you work with, other military service-members react when you did come out?

HORNER: Honestly, I didn’t get much of a real reaction, I guess. I was away on vacation after I officially came out, which was in October, whenever everything was starting to really change. But as soon as I got back to work, nobody really addressed it too much. I had a few people come up and ask me questions, which was a surprise to me, being in a male-dominated career field. That was kind of a pleasant surprise, as far as it goes.

TOWNSEND: How about the military structure? You mentioned that other service-members ask you how you were treated by the larger structure of the Air Force. What was that like?

HORNER: I mean, it was hard. There’s a lot of roadblocks for us to overcome that, to me, seemed unnecessary. However, according to the military, they were necessary things to do. I was able to get approval — I was already on hormones — but I did get my gender marker changed — I was actually the first person on JBER to get that done as far as the Air Force side goes, which was an exciting day, which meant I could go buy female standards now, and I don’t have to use male restrooms or anything like that, which was very exciting for me.

TOWNSEND: The announcement today, from the president… what did you think when you found out President Trump intends to ban transgender people from the military.

HORNER: I was pretty shocked that it would come out the way that it came out. It was hard to hear coming from a tweet. And to hear that my job and so many of my transgender military brothers and sisters could be out of a job, out of serving a country that we love and we want to take care of and be there for, in the hardest of times.

TOWNSEND: What’s the thing that’s most concerning you about this announcement right now?

HORNER: I guess just the fact that there’s so many people that this was what they wanted to do their whole lives — was join the military and serve their country. The fact that those people are up for being kicked out, there’s a lot of fear of the unknown at this point.

TOWNSEND: I know you had just part of a day to really think about this, but how will it affect you and what will you do now?

HORNER: That’s kinda hard to say at this point. I only have a couple more months before I’m scheduled to get out of the military, as far as active duty goes anyway. I was planning on going National Guard after my time was up here because my son’s up here, and I wanted to make sure I could still be with him. I mean, that’s not something I can do anymore, and even though the job that I do now is something that they’re needing people to do it. I guess we’ll see what happens.

Categories: Alaska News

Green sponge discovered in Southeast could treat some cancers

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-07-26 17:16
A green sponge found in the waters near Sitka could hold the key to curing pancreatic and ovarian cancer. (Photo courtesy NOAA Fisheries)

A green sponge discovered in 2005 in Southeast Alaska waters has unique properties that could be used to treat certain types of cancer.

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hosted a news conference Wednesday morning.

Bob Stone is a Juneau-based coral and sponge biologist with NOAA Fisheries, but he works all over Alaska’s oceans. He was in a submersible, conducting habitat surveys off Baranof Island south of Sitka when he saw it.

“The second I saw it, I thought I should collect it,” Stone said. “I didn’t know what it was, (and) I like to collect anything I’m not familiar with.”

It was a green sponge — unusual for the region, where sponges are more of a brownish color.

Stone said it looked like some sponges he had been collecting in the Aleutians for Mark Hamann, a cancer researcher for the Medical University of South Carolina.

Those Aleutian sponges contain potentially useful biomedical compounds, and Stone said he suspected this one might, too.

“This was an undescribed species of sponge, but in the same genus as the ones from the Aleutian Islands,” Stone said.

Sponges don’t move, so to survive, they produce special compounds that help ward off predators. And, according to NOAA, some of those compounds can be developed for human medical treatments.

Another cancer researcher, Fred Valeriote of the Detroit-based Henry Ford Cancer Institute said he investigates natural products for potential treatments, and has collaborated with Hamann in the past.

Valeriote said Hamann’s lab studied the chemical diversity of that green sponge and then sent an extract to the Detroit lab for them to take a look.

“We did that, and we found that this extract and eventually the pure compound that Mark discovered from the extract, had selective activity in our tissue-culture system for both pancreatic cancer and ovarian cancer,” Valeriote said.

The extract appears to target and kill tumor cells for those types of cancer, without also hurting normal cells. Those slow-growing cancers don’t typically respond to conventional treatments, such as chemotherapy.

Valeriote said he has looked at thousands of sponges and found only one other that contains a molecule with similar effects.

The next step is to obtain more of the green sponge’s special cancer-killing molecule.

Collecting more sponges is one option, but challenging because of their limited habitat. The sponge’s known range is about 1,000 miles, from Southeast Alaska toward the waters off Washington State.

“Not only is the sponge relatively rare, then it turns out that the molecule is actually in very small quantities in the sponge, and at times perhaps not even in detectable quantities,” Hamann said.

Hamann is working on synthesizing the molecule in the lab. This discovery is exciting, he said. He’s been doing this kind of research for more than two decades.

“We’ve been looking at sponges, plants, marine invertebrates, and bacteria,” Hamann said. “This is certainly, for us, the best and most exciting-looking candidate for the control of pancreatic cancer that we’ve come across in that 20-year period.”

The unique molecule likely developed in the sponge in response to its habitat.

NOAA Fisheries science director Doug DeMaster said the sponge is found in patches from depths of 230 to 720 feet.

“It’s pretty remarkable that while the ocean covers 70 percent of this planet, and nearly half the U.S. population lives within 12 miles of the ocean, less than 5 percent of the ocean has been explored,” DeMaster said during the news conference. “The discovery of this green sponge shows the promise of the untapped potential of the ocean, (and) the possibility that a life-saving medical discovery is within our reach.”

But not for at least a dozen years, if at all. The development process takes time.

Although it’s looking good, it’ll be a while before we know for sure whether a relatively rare green sponge from Alaska will help save human lives.

Categories: Alaska News

FBI investigating death of woman aboard Southeast cruise ship

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-07-26 17:10
The Emerald Princess is moored Wednesday, July 27, 2017, at the S. Franklin Street Dock in Juneau. (Photo by Tripp J Crouse/KTOO)

The FBI is investigating the death of a 39-year-old Utah woman who died aboard the Emerald Princess cruise ship in Southeast Alaska.

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According to a statement by Princess Cruises, the woman was involved in a domestic dispute that occurred about 9 p.m. Tuesday.

Today, the ship is moored in Juneau at the South Franklin Street Dock. The woman’s name has not been released.

The cruise line’s release said fleet security is coordinating with the FBI and other local authorities.

The FBI is investigating the incident because the death occurred in U.S. waters outside of state territory.

According to the release, the Emerald Princess is on a seven-day roundtrip cruise that departed Seattle on July 23rd.

Alaska State Troopers and the FBI’s Juneau division referred inquiries to the Anchorage FBI office, which did not respond to request for comment by deadline.

Categories: Alaska News

Late state budget delays fall-winter-spring ferry schedule

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-07-26 17:01
The ferry Malaspina is shown in drydock and the Columbia is tied up at the Ketchikan Shipyard in February 2012. Damage to the Columbia is delaying its return to service this fall and the Malaspina will help fill in. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Alaskans have until the end of the month to tell the Marine Highway System what they think of its fall, winter and spring sailing plans.

The schedule, which is similar to last year’s, came out later than usual and the comment period is shorter.

Last year, the fall-winter-spring ferry schedule was released in May. Residents had about a month to go through it and provide feedback.

This year, it wasn’t made available until mid-July, with a comment deadline two weeks later.

General Manager Capt. John Falvey said that’s because of the end-of-June resolution of the Legislature’s spending battles.

“We can’t put schedules out to comment on until we have a final budget figure,” Falvey said. “Being that we were running a little bit late this year, we just got a late start.”

Falvey said the ferry system wants a fast turnaround so it can begin taking reservations during the first week of August.

Written comments on the schedule are due by July 30 and a teleconference will be held the following day.

Marine Transportation Advisory Board Chairman Robert Venables doesn’t see that as a problem.

“It is a shorter public review and comment period,” Venables said. “But I think most folks are very familiar with the schedule and the system and their needs. So, it’s best to get that schedule published and open for reservations.”

One reason Venables isn’t worried is that the schedule is very much like the previous year’s.

Falvey said a few sailings have been added, but not many.

“Operating weeks is about the same, overall. Budget’s about the same, overall,” Falvey said. “What you saw last year is about what you’re going to see this year, overall, with a little bit of a different switch on the ships.”

That’s due to lengthy repairs to the ferry Columbia, which usually sails between Southeast and Bellingham, Washington. It’s been out of service since last September, because of a damaged propeller system.

“Those parts don’t exist. It’s all 1973 vintage and over the winter, that entire system had to be rebuilt in Germany,” Falvey said. “We’re still not there yet.”

The draft fall schedule shows the Columbia resuming service Oct. 1, but Falvey said that’s now pushed back about a month. Other ships will fill in.

The Columbia, the system’s largest ship, was damaged when it struck an underwater object.

Falvey’s not sure what it hit, but it wasn’t a rock.

“There was something floating under water. A lot debris could have been floating 10 to 15 feet under the water,” Falvey said.

This summer’s ferry schedule was published last fall, long before lawmakers decided how much money the system would get.

Officials committed to keeping that schedule, saying any funding cuts would be absorbed later in the fiscal year.

Venables said the system had no choice, since last-minute changes would hurt summer tourism. He said it’s not the best way to build a schedule.

“When you have very little notice on what the funding level’s going to be, then that uncertainty leads into the No. 1 revenue-generating month, which is July … it has ripple effects throughout the rest of the year,” Venables said.

The schedule, which covers October through April, uses nine of the marine highway’s 11 ships.

The fast ferry Chenega is out, in long-term storage, and the mainliner Taku is for sale.

Categories: Alaska News

‘Forward-deployed’ Coast Guard helicopter crews help rescue 6 people in two searches

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-07-26 16:57

Coast Guard personnel based out of Kotzebue helped rescue six people Monday in two emergency operations in Northwest Alaska.

A Coast Guard news release said the first operation began at 11 a.m. on Monday with a call from Alaska State Troopers for help rescuing four people who were reportedly aboard a small disabled vessel that was adrift in a lagoon about 150 miles southwest of Kotzebue.

A crew flying a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter located the four, stranded on the south shore of the Imuruk lagoon, near where they’d managed to run their 18-foot skiff aground after its engine malfunctioned. The aircrew landed on the beach, checked the condition of the boat passengers and waited until a volunteer search and rescue crew from Brevig Mission arrived.

At 8 p.m. on Monday, a second MH-60 Jayhawk crew joined a search and rescue operation to locate two people reported missing on a trip from Point Hope to Kivalina. The aircrew located the two in a cabin about 26 miles south of Point Hope. They were later evacuated by North Slope Search and Rescue and ground search-team personnel.

According to the news release, the two operations show how the Coast Guard’s “forward-deployed” contingent in Kotzebue can coordinate with state and local agencies and respond quickly during Arctic search and rescues. Forward Operating Location Kotzebue consists of two MH-60 Jayhawks from Air Station Kodiak, along with air and ground crews based out of the Alaska Army National Guard Hangar in Kotzebue. The aircraft and personnel will remain in Kotzebue through Coast Guard Arctic Shield 2017, an Arctic field-training exercise that runs through the summer.

Categories: Alaska News

Entomologist tracks the year in Alaska bugs

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-07-26 16:46
“Bumblebee @ wisteria lane” (Creative commons photo by Miroslav Fikar)

Bugs of various shapes and sizes are part of life in Alaska, and it can be easy for them to escape notice.

Anecdotally, this year seems light on one of Alaska’s most prolific insects, the mosquito. Despite the fact that Alaska is home to nearly forty species of the insect, there just don’t seem to be as many around as in some years. Derek Sikes is an Associate Professor of Entomology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Insect Curator at the Museum of the North. He said populations of various types of bugs can vary widely from year to year.

“The population cycles of some insects are really dramatic in Alaska,” Sikes said. “We sometimes get years with very little of seeing certain species, then huge outbreaks.”

While the specific causes for each boom or bust of bugs aren’t often known, Sikes said there are some general rules.

“When it’s a wet spring and lots of rain during the summer, you expect to have a lot more mosquitoes because they’re aquatic,” Sikes said. They need standing water for their larvae to develop. Conversely, a dry summer is usually very good for yellow jackets—a dry spring, in particular.”

Sikes said this year is a little odd since both mosquito and yellow jacket populations seem to be low.

One type of insect that does not seem to have population issues is Alaska’s 20-plus native species of bumblebees. Sikes said that sets Alaska apart from much of the Lower 48.

“Research that the museum was involved with, that was an international collaborative effort to look at bee populations over a hundred year time period in North America and Europe, found that bumblebees are moving northward on the southern parts of their range, but they’re not moving northward on the northern parts of their range,” Sikes said. “So, their range is just shrinking.”

In particular, one species of bumblebee being considered for endangered species status in the Lower 48 seems to be doing fine here, according to Sikes.

“The western bumblebee does occur in Alaska, and it seems to be doing fine here, whereas it’s practically nonexistent in the Lower 48, where it used to be more abundant.”

American Dog Tick – Dermancentor variabilis, Merrimac Farm Wildlife Management Area, Aden, Virginia” (Creative Commons image by Judy Gallagher)

Sikes said while current numbers seem steady UAF plans to continue monitoring the western bumblebee.

An abundance of pollinators like bumblebees is generally viewed a good thing. One type of bug whose increased presence is more concerning is ticks. Sikes said Alaska is home to seven native tick species, though most people are unlikely to encounter them.

“We’ve always had ticks,” Sikes said. “They’ve been on the snowshoe hairs, and on the seabirds and some other wildlife, but those native ticks almost never interact with people and our pets.”

That’s because the native ticks are host-specific, meaning they only feed on a single type of animal. The potential problem is with ticks not native to Alaska that can and do feed on dogs and humans. Sikes said recent research has shown that there are American dog ticks present in Alaska. While that’s not unusual for animals who have been outside of the state, he says it’s concerning that some animals who have not left the area have come up with the invasive ticks.

“What that means is we have evidence of ticks on dogs that have no travel history, meaning these ticks got onto the dog from Alaskan vegetation,” Sikes said. “They were probably breeding in Alaska and are establishing.”

Sikes advises that anyone traveling outside of Alaska with pets take precautions to prevent bringing ticks back home. In addition, he said it may become necessary in the future for Alaskan pet owners to take preventative measures for the parasites even for pets who will never leave the state.

Categories: Alaska News

Ask a Climatologist: For summer in Alaska, 70 is the magic number

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-07-26 13:31
(Graphic courtesy of Brian Brettschneider)

In other parts of the country, the temperature on a perfect summer day might land somewhere in the mid-80s. In most of Alaska though, the mid-70s are a more realistic target.

Alaska’s Energy Desk is checking in with Brian Brettschneider each week as part of the segment, Ask a Climatologist.

He said Juneau has had very few days above 70 this year. In contrast, Anchorage logged its warmest temperature of the year Sunday, 76 degrees:

Interview Transcript:

Brian:  It had been 75 on June 1st. And that’s actually typical. Normally the warmest temperature for any given year for Anchorage is 76. So if we don’t have any warmer day, we’ll be right on pace for that tally.

Annie: What’s normal for the number of days above 70 degrees around Alaska?

Brian: Well 70 is kind of a magic number. It’s a threshold that everyone keeps track of. So for Anchorage, about 14 to 15 days per year — we’re going to hit 70. In Juneau it’s a little bit higher, it’s 20 days per year. But then once you get to the Interior those numbers jump way up. In Fairbanks, it’s about 55 days a year and then once you get to Nome and Kotzebue, it’s about five days a year.

Annie: And what have we had so far?

Brian: Here in Anchorage, we’re up to nine 70-degree days through this last weekend and that’s just a little below where we should be for the season. We should have had about ten. And then we should have on average about four more for the year. So we’re pretty much right on track, if we have a warm week, we can blow past the average annual total. So we’re right in where we should be.

Annie: Are there outliers in the state?

Brian: There are winners and losers. Down in Southeast, they’re having a cooler than normal summer. Juneau’s about a degree and a half cooler than normal for the summer and 70-degree days are far below normal. So they should have had 13 through July 25th and they’re only at three, which is really low. The lowest they’ve ever had in any season is two, so if they don’t have another one, they’ll only miss that mark by one day. So they’re not basking in the warmth the rest of the state has periodically had this summer.

Categories: Alaska News

State’s cruise ship monitoring program shielded from budget cuts by tourists

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-07-26 13:24
A Celebrity Cruise Line ship sails into Juneau in 2012 with emissions coming out of its stack. Ed White with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation monitors cruise ship emissions. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Over a million cruise ship visitors are projected to land in Juneau this year. And the summer cruising season is a big boost for coastal retailers. But, it also brings all of the noisy traffic, haze and water quality issues of big cities — to small towns in Alaska.

Listen now

On a rainy weekday Ed White, and a team from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), walk down a busy sidewalk in Juneau.

They dodge tourists who stop to photograph ravens against a panoramic foggy, mountain backdrop or dip into one of dozens of retailers downtown.

“Sometimes .. often we try to get out earlier in the morning when traffic’s not as bad,” White said. “We can also start closer up on a hill there near where some of the stairways and apartments are and do our air readings there.”

White works for the state’s cruise ship monitoring program.

And money collected from the cruise ship passengers is the reason he can do his job. Each passenger pays a small fee to the state. It pays for things like air and water quality monitoring. It’s just a few dollars a ticket, but that money adds up. The state has collected more than $5 million this year.

White’s cruise ship monitoring team is one of the only bright spots in the DEC’s budget.

“Looking at the bigger long term picture. That’s probably, you know, the most reliable funding source that we have — those fees that fund that program,” DEC Budget Manager Ruth Kostik said.

Alaska has been struggling with a multi-billion dollar budget deficit, brought on by low oil prices. And most departments have taken big budget hits as the state tries to bring its spending down and its revenue up.

As lawmakers decide how to divvy up the state’s general fund money — state departments have seen deeper and deeper cuts.

In the last four years, DEC has seen a drop of more than one-third of the unrestricted money it usually gets from the general fund.

And those cuts mean state monitors aren’t able to keep an eye on a lot of things. Find bedbugs in your hotel room? Too bad, the state doesn’t do hotel sanitation inspections anymore. Rusty shears at your local salon? They don’t inspect barbers or hairdressers either. Even some small drinking water systems don’t get monitored anymore.

Kostik said DEC has lost 60 positions in the last few years.

But for now, the cruise ship monitoring program is shielded from those cuts as Alaska’s cruising industry is booming.

Back in downtown Juneau, Ed White heads down to the dock. Someone called his office to complain that the MV Noordam was belching smoke in the air as it motored into Juneau.

Now tied up. The Noordam towers over downtown. It has 11 decks and is about the same height as the tallest building in town.

White’s office gets these calls pretty regularly. He said they average about one a week during the cruising season.

“A lot of people here in Juneau grew up with ships. They’ve been here for years so people know what ships generally look like when they’re maneuvering…and often we get calls when something’s… out of the ordinary,” White said.

Clean air, clean water, responsible ships — it’s important for a lot of Alaskans. The state was the first to require a Coast Guard licensed marine engineer to ride along with the cruise ships. They’re independent observers — put there by a 2006 voter referendum that created the Ocean Ranger program. It’s paid for by a $4 fee levied against passengers.

In 2016, Rangers reported more than 170 separate incidents — alleging oil pollution, wastewater and air pollution violations and potential safety hazards.

The ships will call too, often self-reporting a problem as they’re fixing it.

And for now, that monitoring will continue. Shielded from the state’s shredded budget by out-of-state visitors.

Categories: Alaska News

Following healthcare vote, Trump singles out Murkowski with critical tweet

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2017-07-26 11:19
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski speaks with reporters in Juneau in February. (File photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Following yesterday’s narrow Senate vote to allow debate on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, President Donald Trump tweeted his disapproval toward Senator Lisa Murkowski — stating that she “let the Republicans and our country down.”

Senator @lisamurkowski of the Great State of Alaska really let the Republicans, and our country, down yesterday. Too bad!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2017

Murkowski and Susan Collins of Maine were the only Republican senators to vote no on the measure, causing a 50-50 split that required a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence.

In an interview with MSNBC today, Murkowski said she is isn’t very concerned about the president’s remarks, or their effect on her political future.

“I don’t think it’s wise to be operating on a daily basis thinking about what a statement or a response that causes you to be fearful of your electoral prospects,” Murkowski said. “We’re here to govern.”

Murkowski reminded the reporter that she isn’t up for reelection until 2022.

Meanwhile, senators are scheduled to vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act tonight.

Categories: Alaska News

Murkowski bucks party with health care vote

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-07-25 18:27
Disability rights advocates demonstrated against the health care reform at the U.S. Senate Tuesday. (Photo by Liz Ruskin)

It was a dramatic vote in the U.S. Senate on whether to open debate on a Republican health care bill. Alaska’s two senators split their votes and both said the final outcome is uncertain.

Listen now

Protesters in the gallery shouted “Kill the bill. Don’t kill us!” and “Shame! Shame!” before they were escorted out individually. It took a while. Their chants reverberated in the chamber. Inside, the senators sat grim-faced as the roll was read.

 -Moran.

-Aye.

-Murkowski.

-No.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s answer was barely picked up by the microphone but it was heard loud and clear across the Capitol. On whether to begin to debate a bill that would repeal and replace the Accordable Care Act, she and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine were the only Republicans to vote no. That meant a 50-50 tie, which the vice president broke, keeping the bill in play.

Murkowski said this isn’t the way to pass a health care bill, with no hearings and major elements of the bill still in flux.

“Look, we need to get the work done,” Murkowski told reporters later. “But it’s more important to get the work done right, that substance matters when it comes to health care reform.”

Murkowski said she knows Republicans back home are disappointed in her. Alaska Republican Party Chairman Tuckerman Babcock wrote a letter to both senators over the weekend, reminding them that repealing the ACA was central to the Republican agenda. Conservatives on social media have been less decorous.

Murkowski said she wants health care reform, too, but she said this bill isn’t ready for debate on the Senate floor.

“At the end of the day, I’m looking at it through the lens of what do I think of, what is best for Alaskans,” Murkowski said.

Her “no” vote was somewhat overshadowed by the return of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., fresh from surgery and a diagnosis of brain cancer. He arrived long after the voting had started, to applause from both sides of the aisle. With a raw scar over his left eye, McCain said the process the bill went through was wrong. It was crafted among Republicans behind closed doors, and McCain said they tried to convince skeptical colleagues it was better than nothing.

“‘Better than nothing?'” McCain said. “Asking us to swallow our doubts and force it passed a unified opposition – I don’t think that’s going to work in the end, and probably shouldn’t.”

McCain said it was wrong when Democrats pushed the Affordable Care Act through with no Republican votes, and it’s wrong to do the same to them now.

“Hold hearings,” McCain urged. “Try to report out a bill out of committee with contributions from both sides. ”

McCain’s stance on the process was the same as Murkowski’s, but he cast the 50th vote in favor of the procedural motion. He said he wanted debate to begin and to start amending the bill.

Sen. Dan Sullivan also voted yes, and he said it’s just a starting point. He said he’s been working behind the scenes to make the Senate proposal better for Alaska. Among other things, he said he’s working with other senators on an amendment to help people who would lose Medicaid coverage, and on providing treatment for opioid addiction and mental health.

“The status quo is unacceptable,” Sullivan said, referring to the Affordable Care Act. “In beginning the process – which is bipartisan now. You’re going to see amendments on both sides, and debate on both sides – is important. It’s what I committed to and it’s why I voted that way.”

Now the Senate will log 20 hours of debate.

Technically, they voted to debate the bill the House passed, but Tuesday night, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) submitted a substitute, a version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act. Sullivan voted for it, Murkowski against. The amendment failed, with Republicans from right and center voting it down. Debate continues.

Both Alaska senators say they don’t know what the bill will look like in the end.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: Tuesday, July 25, 2017

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-07-25 18:24

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via email, podcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn

Listen now

Murkowski bucks party with health care vote

Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media – Washington D.C.

It was a dramatic day in the U.S. Senate today with a vote to advance a Republican health care bill. Alaska’s two senators split their votes.

Walker signs opioid addiction prevention bill

Casey Grove, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

Today, Governor Bill Walker signed into law House Bill 159, which aims to help prevent opioid addiction before it starts.

Coast Guard works together with mariners on Kodiak rescue

Kayla Desroches, KMXT – Kodiak

A Good Samaritan vessel and a Coast Guard aircrew rescued four fishermen in Kodiak waters on Monday.

Reassigned climate official worries “nobody home” on village relocation

Elizabeth Jenkins, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Juneau

Before he was reassigned, Joel Clement was part of a working group focused on village relocation and coastal resilience in Alaska.

Top VA official in Alaska talks privatization, staffing challenges

Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

This summer, the Veterans Administration in Alaska is making is making an aggressive push to hold town hall meetings in across the state.

Fairbanks approves putting tax increase in hands of voters

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

On Monday night, the Fairbanks City Council approved an ordinance that puts a proposed property tax increase to public vote this fall. The hike is aimed at compensating for lost state revenue to due to low oil prices.

Slow gas deal causing problems for Interior Energy Project

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Slow progress securing a sufficient natural gas supply is causing problems for the Interior Energy Project. A gas contract is key to the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority lead project to provide a lower cost, cleaner burning fuel to the Fairbanks-North Pole area.

Hospitalized in Alaska, Maryland teacher wants to come home

Associated Press

A former Maryland teacher who’d gone on a cruise is now terminally ill and unable to leave an Alaska hospital.

Afognak Island elk study looks at balancing logging with game management

Kayla Desroches, KMXT – Kodiak

A study of elk and bears on an island in the Kodiak Archipelago will try to help balance game management and logging.

UAA celebrates 10 years of bringing writers together during summer reading series

Henry Leasia, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage

Every summer at the University of Alaska in Anchorage, distinguished authors from around the country come to read their work and offer advice to burgeoning writers. The university’s creative writing department recently celebrated the 10 year anniversary of its reading series.

Categories: Alaska News

Walker signs opioid addiction prevention bill

APRN Alaska News - Tue, 2017-07-25 18:22
The signing of House Bill 159 into law puts new prescription caps on opioids like oxycodone (pictured) (Photo by John Moore, Getty Images)

Today, Governor Bill Walker signed into law House Bill 159, which aims to help prevent opioid addiction before it starts.

Listen now

The law puts new limits on opioids like capping new prescriptions at seven days-worth of pills, and requires training about abuse for medical practitioners.

In February, Walker issued a disaster declaration for Alaska’s ongoing opioid epidemic.

On Tuesday, the governor was at a homeless youth center in Wasilla for the bill signing. He said the the multi-pronged legislation is a good first step.

“The most important step is the next step, whatever that is. This is something that, to get on top of the situation, you have to have an action plan and each day take a step you didn’t take the day before.”

Walker said more needs to be done, adding that at least 70 people have died in Alaska from overdoses attributed to prescription painkillers and heroin so far this year.

The state’s ongoing effort to prevent opioid addiction and overdoses falls under the purview of a team Walker assembled.

The state’s public health director, Doctor Jay Butler, leads that team and says prescriptions are only one part of the problem.

“Things that we still need to do address access to treatment for people with addiction, undoing some of the stigma that is associated with a variety of addictions, and then also getting into the more fundamental questions, such as how do we mitigate and prevent adverse childhood experiences, which we know is one of the drivers that puts people at risk for substance abuse and addiction,” Butler said.

When asked about the U.S. Senate’s vote on healthcare today, Walker responded by saying that repealing the Affordable Care Act without legislation to replace it would likely make it harder for Alaskans to get access to substance abuse treatment.

Walker said he will not support any move that will hurt Alaskans and is staying in close contact with the state’s congressional delegation.

“I don’t have a rear view mirror,” Walker said. “Today is the vote it is, but I want to continue to stay in close contact with them, which they’ve been very good about keeping in contact with my office, with me personally, about the legislation, because, you know, at the end of the day, the states are going to have to deal with this.”

Asked about how Alaska’s senators split on the vote and what his message is for the congressional delegation, Walker said he hopes to learn about what will be included in any upcoming healthcare legislation through his reports from the delegation.

Categories: Alaska News

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