Dunleavy to pitch Alaska mining at B.C. conference

Gov. Mike Dunleavy will be spending part of the first week of the legislative session in Canada to tout Alaska’s mining potential and hear from investors what the state can do to help grow the legacy industry. The governor will be attending the Association for Mineral Exploration Roundup conference in Vancouver Jan. 22-23, according to his spokesman Jeff Turner. Dunleavy’s commissioners of Natural Resources, Environmental Conservation and Fish and Game will accompany him on the trip as well. Turner said the governor would be in Juneau for the first day of the legislative session Jan. 21. In an interview Friday Dunleavy characterized the trip as a continuation of what he has been doing periodically through the first year-plus of his administration — meeting with key players in a host of industries to discuss investing in Alaska. “We want to highlight Alaska and be able to answer any questions investors may have about our regulatory regime and just make a pitch that Alaska’s got some tremendous opportunities because we’re trying to capitalize on our resource wealth and have it developed responsibly so we can create jobs for Alaskans and wealth and potentially revenue for local communities as well,” Dunleavy said. The conference will also give the governor and his cabinet officials a chance to clear up any misconceptions investors might have about Alaska’s mining industry and learn what under-the-radar impediments there might be to pursuing exploration projects in the state, he emphasized. “This visit for me and my team will show us what the perception (of Alaska) is for investors,” Dunleavy said. He compared it to going to the large CERAWeek oil and gas conference last March in Houston, where he and other administration officials were able to learn directly from industry players about their perception of Alaska. In recent years the state had sent geologists and economic development staff to the AME Roundup, but having the governor and three of his cabinet members attend the conference sends an important message about the state’s view of the mining industry, Alaska Miners Association Executive Director Deantha Crockett said. Former Gov. Sean Parnell was the last Alaska governor to attend the conference, she said. AME Roundup aims to pitch exploration projects in western provinces and states to regional mining investors. According to the conference website, it is attended by more than 6,500 people each year. According to industry analysts, there has been a resurgence in mining exploration in Alaska, with roughly $150 million spent on prospecting projects in the state the past two years. That is a sharp increase from the several years prior when just more than $50 million per year was spent searching for metals and minerals across Alaska. “There are lots of different mining conferences around the world but this is the one where companies are looking at where they are going to spend significant dollars exploring projects, which for us means new mining companies in the state of Alaska, new mining opportunities,” Crockett said. Dunleavy made his first public appearance the morning after his November 2018 election at the Alaska Miners Association trade show in Anchorage, which was also where he first proclaimed Alaska as being “open for business” under his leadership. Crockett described Dunleavy’s presence at the mining conference as a “huge deal” for an industry that regularly requires upwards of a billion dollars of investment to see a project through development. “To have the leader of our state say, ‘We want to make sure that you are comfortable making an investment decision in our state’ is a really big deal,” Crockett said. “Next week it’s a big deal, but it’s going to be a big deal for a long time after that.” The Alaska Miners Association is hosting an “Alaska Night” reception Jan. 22 in Vancouver to highlight exploration projects in the state to prospective investors that Dunleavy will be attending as well, according to Turner. Dunleavy added that the information he gathers in Vancouver should be helpful in policy discussions with federal officials. Dunleavy said he will be going back to Washington, D.C., in early February and he will taking what he learns at the conference back to the nation’s capital where he will continue to promote Alaska’s resources. He noted that a large graphite prospect near Nome and rare earth element prospects across the state could greatly help the U.S. reduce its dependence on other countries, namely China, for minerals critical to defense and clean energy technologies, among other uses. “We want to market ourselves as — this may sound strange — but as clean zinc and clean gold and clean rare earth (minerals); what that means is we want to produce these elements, these minerals, these metals in the safest way possible for the environment,” Dunleavy said. In addition to attending the mining conference, the governor will be meeting with British Columbia Premier John Horgan and Northwest Territories Premier Caroline Cochrane, he said, to hear their views in resource-related issues and discuss possible economic partnerships. Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang is traveling to Vancouver specifically to discuss the concerns many Southeast Alaska commercial fishing and conservation groups have with British Columbia mining operations with the watersheds of large, “transboundary” rivers that flow from the province through Alaska, according to Dunleavy. The downstream impacts some Canadian mines could have on Alaska salmon fisheries has been one Alaska’s congressional delegation and former Gov. Bill Walker’s administration highlighted for years with British Columbia officials. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: American energy dominance shields consumers from MidEast turmoil

Turn on the TV. Read the Daily News or other papers. Check out online media. All are inundated with story after story on the current turmoil in the Middle East. Iran. Iraq. Trump. Soleimani. It is hard to find anyone who doesn’t have an opinion on what is happening in the Middle East. However, in Alaska, the silence has been deafening from the radical environmental movement. Why are they so quiet when it comes to an energy situation that is so vital to America’s — and Alaska’s — way of life? Maybe it is good to look back at some history and see if we can uncover the reason for their muteness. Over the last 50 years, instability in the Middle East was met with a spike in oil prices that hit every family in America. Our country witnessed long lines for gasoline and higher prices at the pump nearly every time there was a hiccup thousands of miles away. In the most extreme example, when OPEC decided on an oil embargo in 1973 prices jumped 350 percent causing layoffs and a severe economic downturn. The paradigm caused both Republican and Democrat presidents alike to bemoan the situation and promise to work toward American energy independence. Today, we’ve finally achieved that promise, partially because of the efforts of Alaska’s energy workers. Not long after the killing of terrorist Gen. Qassem Soleimani, one Iranian military leader threatened an attack near the Strait of Hormuz — where almost 20 percent of the world’s oil travels. Senior Revolutionary Guards commander Gen. Gholamali Abuhamzeh said that “the Strait of Hormuz is a vital point for the West and a large number of American destroyers and warships cross there.” What is the early impact to the price of a barrel of oil? As of Jan. 7, it’s actually around the same price in the days following the threat as it was in the days before Solemani was killed. Alaska’s energy workers have historically played a key role in developing the oil and natural gas that continue strengthening the position of the United States against vulnerabilities that have crippled our economy in the past. For the first time in generations, American energy independence is protecting our economy from instability. Which brings us back to the silence from Alaska’s eco left. The ones protesting lease sales in the NPR-A and ANWR. The ones asking for public outcry when an oil producer begins exploration on its leased lands. The ones leading the climate strikes: taking Alaskan youth who already have some of the lowest academic performance in the nation out of school to protest an industry that provides approximately $2.4 billion a year in government funding and pays the majority of the cost of state government. Alaska’s energy workers help protect our economy and our national security; they deserve all the gratitude we can offer. As those same green groups think about driving to their next protest in gas-powered cars or sit comfortably in their offices warmed by natural gas, I hope they — and all of us — recognize their hypocrisy. Not only do they personally benefit from the energy sources they are trying to destroy, they are also working directly against the United States — and for foreign entities who seek to undermine our country’s economic stability in an uncertain world. ^ Rick Whitbeck is the Alaska State Director for Power The Future. Contact him at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: Hilcorp promotes safety on the North Slope

Safe work happens because people are committed to sending their friends and colleagues home in the same condition they showed up in. Hilcorp, along with other exploration and production companies in Alaska, have introduced new technology to expand training, improve comprehension and verify individual skill levels to protect the people, the environment and the communities where they live and work. Hilcorp understands there is no written rule for keeping people from getting hurt. To promote safety, the company implements best practices and engages the front-line leadership of the company who drive early reporting of even the most minor of incidents. Hilcorp Alaska’s total recordable incident rate was 37.5 percent lower than the industry-wide average in 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The company realized a dramatic 85 percent decline in incidents between 2012 and 2018. This is remarkable considering their workload has nearly quadrupled during the same time period. Most people don’t know this, but a broken finger, stitches, a chipped tooth, or even non-prescription medications administered at prescription strength are considered “recordable injuries” by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s recordkeeping standard. Hilcorp introduced the “Pause Program,” which asks people to intervene and pause a job in the event someone sees something they perceive as unsafe or at risk. They ask people to actually stop the job and find safer ways to conduct work. Let’s face it, you cannot engineer out the human factor. Contractors must also meet stringent requirements to win and conduct contract work. Hilcorp has implemented a Contractor Management Selection &Evaluation Procedure that provides guidance for selecting, evaluating and verifying service providers and vendors safety performance is acceptable enough to be considered for project work with their company. They’ve introduced a program called “Safety Watch” for all their vendors, third-party contractors, and suppliers that basically provides a framework of safety expectations which must be met in order to fully receive contract funds. As a long-time safety professional, I can attest to the level of professionalism and dedication the Hilcorp Alaska safety team has. Some of them are my former co-workers and past employees. I can tell you when an incident happens, it affects them personally. (Disclosure: I have a Master Service Agreement with Hilcorp, but have not performed any work under our agreement. I wrote this opinion piece based on my knowledge and experience with their safety team. As stated, some of their safety staff are my former co-workers (from ConocoPhillips contracts) or past employees (Udelhoven Oilfield System Services). As far as my work experience with Hilcorp, I have clients who do work for them, and I occasionally interact with their safety teams in different operating areas. I have seen all the negative commentary about them and decided to write my own opinion piece from my perspective as a safety professional.) It’s more than a job, because that team of safety professionals truly care about the people who are performing the work in the field. It doesn’t matter if you’re a drilling contractor, or an FCO technician, Hilcorp wants you to work as safely and efficiently as possible. They have been open to ideas and hold regular contractor meetings that are specifically designed to gain insight as to how they can help make the workplace safer. Hilcorp works hard to conduct its operations responsibly and communicate relevant operational information. Their mission is to protect life, enhance public safety, improve emergency preparedness, increase protection of the environment, and prevent damage to property and facilities. Working in some of the world’s worst weather conditions in some of the most remote locations in Alaska, safety is at the core of everything they do. Brian Walden is a Certified Safety Professional and owns a safety company called SLP Alaska, which stands for Safety, Leadership, Performance.

OPINION: Aarseth abdicates on judicial review

As it turns out, the only thing Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth struck from the petition to recall Gov. Mike Dunleavy was the only thing that was truly driving the effort in the first place. In a surprise ruling from the bench on Jan. 10, Aarseth reversed the Division of Elections decision not to certify the recall petition and ordered petition booklets to be distributed no later than Feb. 10. He allowed four of the five allegations against Dunleavy to stand, yet his reasoning to strike the charge that the governor improperly used his line item veto to “preclude the legislature from upholding its constitutional Health, Education and Welfare responsibilities” is at odds with his logic for upholding two other allegations regarding vetoes. Despite its vagueness, Aarseth did not strike the allegation that Dunleavy used his line-item veto authority to “attack” the judiciary and the rule of law, nor did he strike the allegation that he acted “incompetently” with a mistake in a Medicaid veto. Aarseth ruled that the charge Dunleavy precluded the Legislature from exercising its constitutional responsibilities was undermined by the fact that the remedy exists to override his vetoes and the mere fact that it is difficult to achieve a three-quarters majority was not enough to support the allegation. What that means is that according to Aarseth, had Dunleavy held firm on his original line-item vetoes of more than $400 million, it would still not rise to the level of a recallable offense. And yet Aarseth declined to extend that same logic to the court veto or the mistake on the Medicaid veto despite the Legislature having the exact same override remedy at its hands. (As an aside, Aarseth’s determination that the “attack on the judiciary and rule of law” met the particularity standard was a particularly egregious dereliction of judicial review. Even recall attorney Jahna Lindemuth acknowledged the lack of specificity with a defense of the charge that boiled down to “they know what we’re talking about.”) By declaring that recall is an inherently political process and that it isn’t for the judicial branch to apply much if any scrutiny to whether charges actually rise to the level of neglect, lack of fitness, incompetence or corruption, Aarseth shoved the needle away from the established “middle ground” for recall into the “at-will” edge of the spectrum that was expressly rejected by the constitutional framers. Judicial review is what gives Alaska a “middle ground” standard for recall, and Aarseth abdicated this responsibility nearly entirely. In the one area he exercised his power of review, he exposed his flawed reasoning on others. Hopefully the Supreme Court will give this weighty measure the true review and serious consideration it deserves as opposed to the slipshod bench ruling from Aarseth. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

Rockfish closure another blow to Southeast fleet

Southeast Alaska fishermen won’t get to target yelloweye rockfish in 2020, and that’s another notch in tightening belt for the area fleet. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced the full-year closure on Dec. 31, spanning both the commercial and recreational sectors. Targeted fishing for all nonpelagic rockfish, which includes species like yelloweye, quillback, tiger and china rockfish, will be closed across the region due to declining populations of the fish. Nonpelagic rockfish, particularly yelloweye, are popular among sport anglers and are regularly caught by the longline commercial fishing fleet in the region. The personal use fisheries for yelloweye in Sitka and Ketchikan will also be closed for 2020, according to the announcement. Biologists come up with an estimate for biomass of demersal shelf rockfish — another term for the nonpelagic rockfish species — by surveying yelloweye rockfish, the most populous and frequently harvested species, in given areas each year. They also take biological samples at ports when fish are landed. The population of yelloweye has been declining since the mid-1990s, despite conservative management measures. Biomass has declined by about 60 percent since 1994, according to the closure announcement from ADFG. “These concerns warrant further management action to allow for rebuilding of (demersal shelf rockfish) stocks and to ensure sustainable rockfish fisheries in the future. Further restrictions in other fisheries will be considered to reduce DSR bycatch.” The age classes are being truncated as well, said Andrew Olson, the groundfish and shellfish coordinator for Southeast Alaska with Fish and Game. Yelloweye rockfish are an extremely long-lived species; they can live to be about 120 years old, and don’t start spawning until they are 18 to 22 years old. In recent years, surveys have shown fewer older fish and fewer young fish entering the fishery, Olson said. “The older fish, those big females, have the most eggs,” he said. “At the same time, we’re not seeing as many fish coming into the fishery, so we’re narrowing our age structure.” The decline has been going on for more than two decades and restrictions have ramped up. Managers started implementing restrictions to the fishery in 2006, with the Board of Fisheries setting up an allocation system to control harvest and tighter limits being placed on sportfisheries. In the last few years, commercial fishery closures for demersal shelf rockfish have gone into place as well in various areas, Olson said. However, biomass has continued to decline, with the exact reasons not entirely clear. The closures are the next step as biologists, managers and stakeholders work on plans to rebuild the stocks, Olson said. During the last winter season, commercial fishermen in the northern and southern Southeast areas together took about 38,749 pounds of demersal shelf rockfish. While it’s not necessarily a major fishery compared to salmon and halibut, it’s an important fishery to some communities because it is open-access, Olson said. “Yelloweye rockfish makes up the majority of our (nonpelagic rockfish) harvest in the commercial fishery — (it) comprises about 95 percent, next largest is quillback, and pretty much everything else is miniscule,” he said. “It’s an important fishery in that it’s an open access fishery; it’s typically one of the few fisheries that are open when everything else is closed down.” Because rockfish is such a long-lived species, it will take time to rebuild. West Coast states have had to do the same, with their stocks depleted more severely than Alaska’s; the hope is to start reversing the problem sooner to help conserve the stock for the future, Olson said. The recreational fleet also often targets nonpelagic rockfish in Southeast: typically yelloweye, as they are one of the largest species, but also tiger, canary, and china rockfish, among other species. In 2018, anglers in Southeast harvested 163,822 fish, up from 149,927 in 2017 but down from a high of 193,098 in 2014, according to ADFG’s sport fishing survey. Fishermen have gradually seen more restrictions go into place on nonpelagic rockfish, particularly yelloweye, said Bob Chadwick, the sportfish coordinator for Southeast Alaska. Most recently, the annual limit for nonresident anglers in Alaska is a single yelloweye rockfish. Much of the effort for yelloweye rockfish comes from nonresident anglers, but residents do target them, he said. Nonpelagic rockfish will often occupy similar habitat to halibut, but avoiding fishing near rocky structures can help reduce the number of rockfish hooked by accident when fishing for them is closed, Chadwick said. “Fish in sandy areas, try to stay off rock structures,” he said. “That’s the main thing; if you’re fishing for halibut, some anglers find that fishing up in the water column, keeping it up off the bottom will reduce your harvest of rockfish.” The Southeast guide industry is increasingly losing options, with tighter restrictions on king salmon populations that are struggling to make escapement each year, a high likelihood of reduced halibut catch limits due to declining biomass, and now a complete nonpelagic rockfish closure. Lingcod, another popular species for sportfishing, is also fully allocated ad closely and is sustainable at present, Chadwick said. In a newsletter, the Southeast Alaska Guides Organization said it would ask ADFG to modify the emergency order closing the fishery to yelloweye only, allowing sportfishermen to target other nonpelagic rock species, given that it is the yelloweye abundance that has dropped so significantly. The organization will also petition the state to separate slope rockfish from the current “nonpelagic” definition in statute, according to the newsletter. While only Southeast has the complete closure, a new regulation went into place for sportfishing for rockfish statewide this year: deepwater release mechanisms. As of Jan. 1, every vessel headed out to sportfish — regardless of whether the anglers are targeting rockfish or not — must have a deepwater release mechanism on board. The devices allow rockfish brought up to the surface to be lowered back down to their native depths and released there, which has been shown to significantly improve survival rates; rockfish suffer from decompression when reeled to the surface, but if quickly lowered to depth and released, they show much better survival rates. Chadwick said the Southeast guide industry has been using the deepwater release mechanisms for years, so it’s nothing new for them, but the public is becoming more comfortable with them. A creel survey in Southeast Outside waters showed that about 80 percent of nonguided anglers polled had used a deepwater release mechanism at least once, he said. “We’re concentrating now on what (we missed) with those people who aren’t using them,” he said. “Really, an upside-down weight on a hook would work.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Traders shrug off US-Iran tensions as oil prices drop

Though the U.S.-Iran tensions of missile strikes and Twitter threats stirred up a world of uncertainty the first days of the new year, global oil prices ended the week down. The hostilities did not escalate and geopolitical anxieties seemed to ease, while oil supplies are so ample that buyers just weren’t worried enough about next week’s or next month’s deliveries to push the price outside of the narrow trading band of the past 90 days. In fact, oil prices last week recorded their largest drop in nearly six months. “There is no dearth of crude oil in the global market,” India’s minister of petroleum, natural gas and steel said on the sidelines of a manufacturing conference Jan. 11, as reported by the country’s news media. Brent crude, the international benchmark price, has held between $59 and $69 per barrel since the first week of October. U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate has held between $53 and $63 during that same period. Brent moved up $3 the day after a U.S. drone strike on Jan. 3 killed a top Iranian military leader, but then lost almost $4 the week of Jan. 6-10, settling around $65. WTI behaved about the same, closing at $59 on Jan. 10. The oil-price weakness continued with a further 1 percent slippage on Jan. 13. S&P Global Platts Analytics reported Jan. 5 that it expects Brent will be “capped at $70 per barrel, unless a major source of supply is significantly damaged.” Goldman Sachs thinks even last week’s $65 Brent may be too high. Without a major supply disruption, look for prices to settle back to the bank’s “fundamental fair value of $63 a barrel,” Goldman reported in a note Jan. 6. Alaska North Slope crude last week was selling at a couple dollars above Brent. Absent a military or political escalation that cuts off supplies, there is plenty of oil; and global demand just isn’t growing enough to put pressure on prices. Besides, new supplies continue coming to market, even as OPEC and Russia hold back on their production in a bid to boost prices. Russia, however, knows how to count barrels to its advantage. Its deal with OPEC allows Russia to exclude its growing gas condensate production from its share of the group’s voluntary cutback. Add back in the condensate, also called natural gas liquids, and Russia’s total liquids production hit a record-high 11.25 million barrels per day in 2019, beating the previous mark of 11.16 million set a year earlier, Energy Ministry data showed Jan. 2, as reported by Reuters. Unrestrained by anything other than economics, U.S. oil production has been on a nonstop steep incline for a decade. The United States was producing about 5 million barrels of oil per day just a decade ago. A little more than two years ago, the U.S. was close to 10 million barrels. Now, analysts forecast the U.S. will hit 13 million barrels per day in 2020 as it strengthens its position as the world’s No. 1 oil producer. Most of it is from shale formations. Output from just the country’s seven largest shale basins totaled more than 8.5 million barrels per day last summer — up from less than 1 million barrels 10 years ago. Offshore fields are joining the record-setting output too. Production in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico last August exceeded 2 million barrels per day for the first time in history, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement announced Jan. 7. Look for at least an additional 100,000 barrels a day added to that total in 2020, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in November. Several big offshore projects shifted into high gear last year. The Shell-led Appomattox project about 80 miles south of New Orleans began production last May, planned for 175,000 barrels per day when it reaches full production. China National Offshore Oil Corp. is a 21 percent partner in the project. In December, Chevron sanctioned Anchor, 140 miles offshore Louisiana in Green Canyon. It’s the industry’s first deepwater high-pressure development at 20,000 pounds per square inch to win a final investment decision, according to BSEE. The $5.7 billion project is designed for 75,000 barrels per day. As producers pump more than U.S. refiners can consume or need, all that oil has to go somewhere. The U.S. exported a record 4.46 million barrels of crude oil per day in the week ended Dec. 27, according to the Energy Information Administration. That would be enough to put the U.S. in second place in exports among OPEC nations. The numbers are up in Norway, too. The Johan Sverdrup oil field in the North Sea began operations in October and already is producing more than 350,000 barrels per day. Equinor, the field’s operator, expects Johan Sverdup to hit its target of 440,000 barrels per day by the summer of 2020, then rise further to 660,000 barrels per day after 2022. ExxonMobil on Dec. 20 said it had started up production at its Liza field offshore Guyana, expecting that the new operation will reach 120,000 barrels per day “in the coming months.” By 2025, ExxonMobil anticipates it will be up to 750,000 barrels per day from five floating, production, storage and offloading vessels operating in the block. It was a good year overall for offshore discoveries, said Norway-based research firm Rystad Energy. Rystad reported that companies discovered about 12.2 billion barrels of oil equivalent in 2019 — the highest since nearly 20 billion barrels in 2015 — from more than 25 discoveries of at least 100 million barrels each. Most of the new oil was found offshore, Rystad said. And Rystad believes that new discoveries in 2020 will exceed the volumes found last year. Larry Persily is a former Alaska journalist, state and federal official who has long tracked oil and gas markets and projects worldwide. He is the Atwood Chair of Journalism at the University of Alaska Anchorage School of Journalism and Public Communication.

2016 Medicaid reform bill generates huge savings

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration has made cutting Medicaid spending one of its top priorities and state Health officials briefed lawmakers on the progress of reform initiatives approved in 2016 that, once fully implemented, have saved the state more than $160 million per year. Division of Health Care Services Director Renee Gayhart told members of the House Health and Social Services Committee during a Jan. 9 hearing in Anchorage that one of the simplest directives in Senate Bill 74, the 2016 Medicaid reform legislation, has already saved the state more than $210 million in less than four years. According to Gayhart, efforts to make sure Alaska Natives receive more Medicaid-reimbursed care at Tribal health facilities are on pace to save the state more than $100 million of general funds in fiscal year 2020 versus pre-SB 74 Medicaid spending levels. In early 2016, as SB 74 was being debated in the Legislature, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services expanded what the federal government would fully reimburse to include services “received through” Indian Health Service Facilities and Tribal health organizations for Alaska Natives. Capturing the higher reimbursement rate requires care coordination agreements between Tribal and non-Tribal health organizations. While health costs for Alaska Natives are generally 100 percent covered by Indian Health Services, travel and other arrangements made through non-Tribal care providers had previously been covered half by the state and half by the feds. Gayhart said as soon as CMS changed its regulations in 2016 the state started to shift its internal procedures to maximize the capture of federal Medicaid funding. “In the beginning, we started out with, where are the high dollars going out of the Tribal system because they either just don’t provide those (services) or Medicaid beneficiaries are going to non-tribal settings,” Gayhart said. “Those were in high-dollar areas, residential psychiatric treatment centers, long-term care and transportation.” The state has since been meeting its savings targets set out in SB 74, she added, in large part because partnering with Tribal health facilities has been successful. According to Gayhart, the Department of Health and Social Services has signed roughly 1,700 care coordination agreements with Tribal health organizations and providers that allow health care services received by Alaska Natives at non-Tribal facilities to be 100 percent reimbursed by the federal government. She said some challenges with referrals and the electronic exchange of medical records between Tribal and non-Tribal facilities still exist. Also, the fact that Medicaid forms ask for a recipient to identify their race but do not require it can mean that Alaska Natives who do not identify themselves as such will have their care reimbursed at the general 50-50 state-federal rate, according to Gayhart. “We’ve done quite a bit of education with the Tribal health organizations and with the Medicaid beneficiaries through our Medicaid handbooks so we’re working on those,” she said. Still, those savings have grown substantially each year since the passage of SB 74. According to DHSS figures, Tribal health reclaiming efforts saved the state nearly $35 million in 2017 and those savings increased to $72 million in fiscal year 2019. Through the first half of 2020, the state has saved more than $57 million as a result of that work. “The fact that we’ve saved over $200 million to-date and we’re on track to save over $100 million in (general funds) this year for the State of Alaska is incredibly commendable,” said committee chair Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage. Gayhart said a steady increase in the use of the state’s telehealth system, which allows providers to evaluate patients remotely, has also helped the state avoid costly Medicaid transportation bills for recipients that historically needed to travel to receive care. The long list of Medicaid reform directives in SB 74 and other initiatives combined to save the state more than $166 million in fiscal year 2019, according to the department’s annual Medicaid Reform Report. According to the Legislative Finance Division, overall spending on Medicaid in Alaska has increased from $1.7 billion to more than $2.3 billion since fiscal year 2015, but the state’s portion of that has actually gone down from $724 million in 2015 to $677 million, overall. According to DHSS, expenditures for the state’s telehealth system increased approximately 35 percent from 2016 to more than $6.8 million in 2019. More than 60 percent of the telehealth Medicaid claims have been for treating mental, behavioral health or neurodevelopment disorders, according to DHSS, which Gayhart said is not surprising. “As you see people discharged, say, from a higher level facility or in-patient care, as they go back home particularly to outlying areas, they can use telehealth with someone at an office in any of the hub areas or even in other states,” she said. “So that’s been a really good thing for behavioral health.” Spohnholz noted that utilizing telehealth is a way for Alaska patients to receive care from — sometimes out-of-state — providers who otherwise would not have the patient base to support a medical practice in sparsely populated areas of the state. “We’re now learning it actually isn’t a substandard level of care,” Spohnholz said of telehealth services. “For many people it is absolutely an appropriate level of care.” ^ Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Hotly contested Cook Inlet board meeting looms

In less than a month, fisheries stakeholders from all over the Cook Inlet basin will get together to hash out how salmon should be split up in some of the most populated, heavily-fished streams and marine waters of the state. The Upper Cook Inlet Board of Fisheries meeting is the longest meeting in the Board of Fisheries’ regular cycle, lasting about two full weeks and addressing issues ranging from hook size in certain streams to management plan shifts for entire fisheries. They’re also notoriously contentious, with commercial and sport fisheries interests typically butting heads over how salmon are allocated and fishing time is provided. The Board of Fisheries will meet on Upper Cook Inlet proposals in Anchorage from Feb. 7-19 at the Egan Center. On-time public comments can be submitted through Jan. 23. The board will consider 171 different proposals related to commercial, personal use, sport and subsistence fisheries across the basin. Of those, 68 are directly related to sport or personal-use fisheries; 55 are directly related to commercial fishery management; a variety of others affect both, including changes to management plans or commercial fishery time and area regulations. Sportfisheries The Kenai River Sportfishing Association, or KRSA, is one of the most frequent visitors to board meetings. The organization, which advocates for salmon-related conservation projects on the western Kenai Peninsula and for policies affecting sportfisheries in Southcentral, submitted a number of proposals for the board, ranging from proposing increased sockeye salmon escapement goal numbers to a priority being established for fisheries that provide access for Alaskans to harvest salmon for personal and family consumption. After longtime executive director Ricky Gease stepped down to take over leadership at the Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation, Ben Mohr took over the Soldotna-based organization last March. The group’s proposals circulate around four main themes, he said: increasing access to personal-use fisheries in the Mat-Su Valley, strengthening the corridors to pass more fish north through Cook Inlet, increasing salmon passage into the freshwater systems, and strengthening the work of conservation across all user groups. Some of the group’s proposals overlap in purpose, Mohr said, as they aim at conservation and increasing access for anglers. One of the group’s proposals, No. 78, would set up a prioritization framework for the board to consider when making decisions, putting access to “the importance of each fishery to providing residents the opportunity to harvest fish for personal and family consumption” at the top. That lines up with the organization’s thematic goals, but isn’t the only one related to it, he said. “If you’ve got people that are putting in multiple proposals to the Board of Fish, they’re usually tied together,” he said. The personal-use priority proposal is a renewed version of a proposal the group supported during the Board of Fisheries’ statewide meeting this past March. The board shot the prioritization system down then, citing a lack of support from users. Mohr pointed out that the language of Proposal 78 does not specifically reference personal-use net fisheries, as Alaskans often use rod-and-reel fisheries to fill their freezers, too. That connects to another of the group’s proposals, No. 88, which would increase sockeye salmon in-river goal ranges, with varying levels based on the run strength. In the past, as more fish have returned to the river, the limiting factor has not been level of participation, Mohr said, it’s been access and bag limits. He pointed to the Russian River sportfishery, which boomed this summer and was limited by access along the Sterling Highway and parking. Several other proposals related to the sockeye salmon management plan make similar assertions, expressing frustration that commercial fishermen are allocated the majority of sockeye in Cook Inlet. Proposals 89, 90 and 96 ask for higher in-river sockeye salmon goal ranges and fewer commercial fishing hours available, and Proposal 94 asks for reduced commercial fishing hours in the Upper Subdistrict setnet fishery. Commercial fisheries Multiple sportfish-related proposals related to king salmon seek to pair closures in the Kenai River with closures in the commercial fisheries. At the 2014 Upper Cook Inlet meeting, the board passed a set of regulations that restricted commercial fisheries based on whether the in-river fisheries were allowed to retain, used bait or not fish for king salmon at all. In 2017, the board trimmed back some of those restrictions on hours of additional fishing allowed after the setnet fleet complained that they were too restrictive; multiple proposals now seek to strengthen those paired restrictions again. Multiple others seek to scale them back, asserting that they are unfair burdens on the commercial fleet and strangle their ability to operate under their permits. Like many other Upper Cook Inlet meetings, the proposals for the upcoming one are back-and-forth. For nearly every change proposed to increase restrictions on commercial fisheries, there is a competing proposal from commercial fisheries to loosen existing restrictions, tighten restrictions on sportfisheries or strike a compromise between them. A number of proposals submitted by setnet fishermen would modify the paired restrictions or allow setnet fishing in some areas while others are restricted during king salmon restrictions on the Kenai River. The KRSA proposal would establish an Optimum Escapement Goal, or OEG, separate from the existing goals, for late-run kings and reduce the number of hours available to setnets when king salmon fisheries are less than fully prosecuted, with tiers depending on the level of restriction. Mohr said the goal is to spread the burden of conservation of king salmon, which have been struggling on the Kenai River for more than a decade, across all user groups. A separate proposal, No. 195, would change the effective date of a rule for commercial fishermen known as the “1 percent rule” from Aug. 7 to July 31 and increase the percentage to 2 percent. Essentially, if the proposal passes, after July 31, the commercial fishery in the Upper Subdistrict would close if any single period’s catch was less than 2 percent of the season’s total catch was taken for two consecutive periods. The goal is to limit take of coho salmon bound for the Kenai River, according to the proposal document. The United Cook Inlet Drift Association, or UCIDA, a trade association representing drift gillnet fishermen in Upper Cook Inlet, submitted Proposal 187 to eliminate the 1 percent rule on the drift fleet entirely. UCIDA President David Martin said the proposal is based on the fleet’s longtime belief that the 1 percent rule is unscientific and unfairly closes the fleet early, while there are still pink, chum and silver salmon available to be harvested in the inlet. It’s difficult for the fleet to deal with, even if there are plenty of salmon coming in, in part because participation drops off in August, he said. “It has no place in the management of the fisheries for harvesting the surplus and abundance,” he said. “I could be the only “one out there fishing and I could load my boat up, but if it’s not 1 percent, that’d be it. Similarly, UCIDA submitted a Proposal 102 to decrease the late-run sockeye salmon escapement goals on the Kenai River. The group has long asserted that the escapement goals are too high and set to allocate more fish to the sportfishery, resulting in poorer returns due to too many fish being allowed to return to the Kenai River system. Proposal 102 would require the department to manage to the lower end of the escapement goal — which would be set at 700,000 fish — in years immediately following years when the estimated return exceeds 1.03 million spawners in the Kenai River. A number of the proposals for the commercial drift gillnet fishery, such as proposals 123 and 126, seek to increase restrictions on fishing area to promote passage of salmon to the Susitna River and other northern Cook Inlet systems. Contrasting them, UCIDA submitted two proposals, Nos. 134 and 135, to add additional fishing periods for the drifters in Area 1, near the center of the Inlet, during the season. Martin said the managers have been meeting escapement goals for sockeye in the Susitna system, and that the main stock in trouble in the Valley — king salmon — isn’t under pressure by the drift fleet. Mohr said KRSA was interested in improving access to fisheries there, as businesses have shuttered and anglers have seen season after season of closures in recent years due to a lack of salmon passage into the valley streams. “I think we’ve made some good progress on passing more fish north,” he said. “(Mat-Su residents) are longing for more fish up there.” Martin said he hoped the board members would consider scientific research when making allocative decisions at the upcoming meeting. “I’m hoping they use the most reliable scientific data that’s available and make decisions based on abundance so we can harvest the surplus and make it a viable fishery for everybody,” he said. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Marketing efforts paying off for Bristol Bay sockeye

In Alaska, Bristol Bay is nearly synonymous with sockeye salmon. But in the Lower 48, marketers are still trying to raise awareness for the brand and increase sales for the famously plentiful fish. So far, it seems like it’s been working. The Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, a fleet-funded cooperative focusing on promoting and improving Bristol Bay seafood products, launched a new marketing program in 2016 to boost sales and awareness in the domestic market. After three years, the numbers seem to bear out that it is working: the organization reported a 34 percent sales lift for the 20 retailers across the U.S. in 2019. That sales lift refers to volume sold, said Executive Director Andy Wink. Participating retailers include Costco, Earth Fare, H-E-B, Harris Teeter, Market Basket, New Seasons Market, QFC, Raleys, Rouses, Rosauers and Wegmans; all told, across the 20 retailers, the program and product includes 1,600 stores nationally. BBRSDA has long been focused on improving quality of product, but after helping the fleet modernize to refrigerating product and emphasizing fillets instead of canning, the organization identified a marketing program as the next step, Wink said. Between 2008 and 2018, the percentage of filleted fish in the Bristol Bay fleet increased from 18 percent to 86 percent, in part subsidized by BBRSDA’s distribution of ice for the fleet and the promotion of refrigerated sea water cooling systems. “The time was right to create a marketing platform that could tell the amazing Bristol Bay story and communicate the special aspects of sockeye salmon from the world’s most productive wild salmon fishery to consumers in a really efficient way for industry,” Wink said in an email. “In a world with more and more farmed salmon being produced every year, this is a really special wild fish which shouldn’t be sitting on shelves as a generic product. We needed to explain the story and value to consumers.” The marketing program includes a variety of approaches, including negotiated discounts with retailers, in-store demonstrations, point-of-sale assets, digital marketing support, media support and some visits from Bristol Bay fishermen to talk with customers and staff, Wink said. “Consumers get more information, access to resources (recipes, prep tips, etc.) and discounted sale prices,” he said. “Retail partners sell more product and illustrate a commitment to offering premium, sustainable wild seafood. And the industry gets to sell product into a marketplace with a growing customer base, which has come at a perfect time coinciding with large sockeye runs in the Bay.” Bristol Bay fishermen have brought in near-record harvests of sockeye over the past two summers, with just short of 43 million landed in 2019, with a preliminary ex-vessel value of about $303.9 million, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. That large supply, in combination with marketing efforts, may be supporting increased consumer awareness of sockeye salmon specifically, said Caleb Wardell, the wild salmon category manager for Oregon-based retailer Pacific Seafood. “From my perspective, the demand for sockeye salmon is driven by a consistent supply in the last few years, coupled with the variety (of) forms in which it’s available: refreshed in the service counter, tray-packed in self-serve areas, and portions in the freezer,” he said. Salmon consumption is generally ticking up across the U.S. over the past several years. In 2017, Americans consumed about 16 pounds of fish and shellfish per capita, up from the previous year, with the majority of that consumption being shrimp and salmon. On average, Americans ate about 2.41 pounds of salmon per person that year, slightly up from the previous year, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service’s 2017 Fisheries of the United States report. Though canned salmon consumption was up, fresh and frozen finfish still composed the greatest portion of the seafood Americans consumed, at 6.2 pounds. BBRSDA has commitments from retailers for 2020 already, according to a press release from the organization. So far, the Bristol Bay program has focused on promoting frozen sockeye, but in future expansions, it may expand to include more smoked sockeye, Wink said. It is also currently focused on domestic sales but will look to international sales, food service and other product forms in future years. BBRSDA will have a presence at Global Seafood Expo in Brussels this year and is working to coordinate with restaurants and other food service outlets in the future, Wink said. The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute generally markets all Alaska-produced seafood, but in some regions, smaller organizations have been adding additional marketing efforts. BBRSDA markets for Bristol Bay; the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association focuses on seafood produced in Prince William Sound; the Norton Sound Economic Development Association focuses on products like red king crab harvested in Nome. Wink said the BBRSDA supports ASMI’s efforts to market all sockeye but that its program provides an opportunity to tell a more specific story. Wardell said the stories told by partners like ASMI and BBRSDA, particularly with marketing materials and photographs of Alaska, have been successful for retailers. “These consistent efforts excite consumers, leading to increased purchase of Alaska seafood, in this case, Bristol Bay Sockeye,” he said. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Invoices reveal how federal grant was used on Roadless Rule work

How the Alaska Forest Association spent approximately $150,000 from a federal grant is under scrutiny after the money was used to help the state comment on the U.S. Department of Agriculture plan to repeal the “Roadless Rule” in the Tongass National Forest. The money was primarily spent on consultants and former State of Alaska foresters to study the opportunity for more old-growth timber harvests following the pending repeal of the oft-debated Roadless Rule in the Tongass, but thousands of dollars was also spent on travel, outfitting the hired help with computers and software, and a 12.5 percent administrative fee charged by the Alaska Forest Association, or AFA, according to invoices obtained through a public records request. On March 14, 2019, Alaska Division of Forestry officials approved a sole-source contract with AFA President Bert Burkhart for up to $250,000 funded through a repurposed federal wildfire assistance grant to analyze the volumes of economic old-growth harvests that would be made available under varying proposals for a Tongass-specific Roadless Rule. State officials said in interviews that they hired the industry trade group in part because years of state budget cuts and a severe 2019 Alaska fire season hampered their ability to do the work themselves. They also emphasized the work resulted in an economic resource evaluation and not policy recommendations. USDA officials on Oct. 15 announced the department’s preference to fully exempt the Tongass from the 2001 rule that prioritized conservation in the nation’s forests, a few days before the other options for an Alaska-specific Roadless Rule were released. In 2018, former Gov. Bill Walker requested the USDA and its Forest Service agency work with the state on exempting the Tongass from the rule — which largely prohibited new road building in undeveloped national forest lands — after numerous unsuccessful attempts through the courts to get the state exempted or the rule repealed entirely. A full exemption would open more of the 9.2 million acres currently classified as roadless in the nearly 17 million-acre Tongass to development activities, such as mining, logging, and energy development, all of which are made more economic with road access. The Roadless Rule exemption would only apply to the Tongass; the Chugach National Forest in Southcentral Alaska historically has not been used for large-scale timber harvests. Local and national conservation groups as well as several Southeast Tribal organizations have said the land-use policy reversal ignores the economic transformation that has occurred in Southeast Alaska over the nearly 20 years since the Roadless Rule was put in place. They contend fishing and tourism — industries boosted by intact wild lands — have largely filled the void left by the region’s dwindling timber industry. The money for the state’s contract with the AFA came via the Forest Service; it was part of a modified overall $5 million U.S. Forest Service grant to the State of Alaska. According to grant records, state Department of Natural Resources officials in August 2018 asked for $2 million to work on the Alaska-specific Roadless Rule in addition to $3 million requested earlier under a state fire assistance grant. Following congressional hearings on Tongass management and the Roadless Rule, Democrats Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona and Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan urged USDA Inspector General Phyllis Fong to investigate “the potential misuse” of the $2 million in a Nov. 18 letter to Fong. Grijalva chairs the House Natural Resources Committee and Stabenow is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee. Among other issues, the Grijalva and Stabenow question whether the state’s awarding of federal grant funds to the AFA, which supports a full repeal of the Roadless Rule, was appropriate given other Tongass stakeholders allegedly did not receive similar funding. They specifically asked the Inspector General’s Office to investigate whether using the $2 million on the Roadless Rule was appropriate for fire assistance grant program funding; whether any funding was available to other Tongass stakeholders; and if it is permissible for the a state to use Forest Service funds to help convince the USDA, of which the Forest Service is a subagency, to make a regulatory change requested by the state. The letter references a Sept. 24 Alaska Public Media news report that indicated at least some of the grant was used to offer input on the Forest Service’s work to develop an Alaska-specific Roadless Rule and not on fire suppression efforts. Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued a sharp rebuke to the federal lawmakers, arguing that “extreme environmentalists” distorted the facts of the situation to Congress in a Nov. 20 statement from his office. “The grant was appropriate and legal, all of the information anyone needs to reach the same conclusion is readily available to the public. I respectfully suggest Congressman Grijalva and Sen. Stabenow do their homework before asking a federal agency to conduct a costly, time-consuming and ultimately pointless investigation into a grant that will provide essential information about lifting the Roadless Rule,” Dunleavy said, adding that the potential repeal would help boost the region’s economy. Grijalva spokesman Adam Sarvana wrote in an email that the letter to Inspector General Fong came after USDA and Forest Service officials did not substantively reply to questions about the grant funding. Grijalva and Stabenow had not received a response to their investigation request as of Jan. 13, according to Sarvana. Contract costs Invoices from the AFA to the state Division of Forestry for the Roadless Rule analysis contract show Forestry Program Manager Jim Eleazer approved a request by AFA President Burkhart to wire a $100,000 advance to the industry trade group last March 28. Eleazer negotiated the contract with the AFA, according to DNR officials, and subsequently approved the related expenses on behalf of the state. Forestry Director Chris Maisch said in an interview the advance was meant to help the AFA jumpstart its work as the Forest Service was expected to publish draft Tongass Roadless Rule environmental impact statement, or EIS, July 1 when it was approved. As a cooperating agency on the Roadless Rule environmental review, the State of Alaska was privy to certain information prior to publication of the draft EIS. Maisch said it ended up being beneficial for his team that the draft Roadless Rule EIS wasn’t published until mid-October because state Forestry officials spent their summer consumed by dealing with Alaska’s severe wildfire season and did not have time to work on the state’s role in amending or repealing the Roadless Rule. The contract expires June 30, 2021. An invoice dated April 30 charged the state $41,990, of which $9,750 was billed for 78 hours of work by former Alaska state forester Jeffrey Hermanns at a rate of $125 per hour, according to the invoice. Another $1,898 was billed for Hermanns’ airfare, hotel and food expenses incurred while working under the AFA contract last March. The state was also charged a total of $1,800 for Hermanns’ travel time in March at a rate of $75 per hour, according to a bill from Hermanns to the AFA. According to the invoice and associated receipts, Hermanns also spent $8,456 on computer equipment and software, including two laptop computers, three IPads, a 32-inch computer monitor, two external hard drives and Microsoft Office, GIS and antivirus programs. Much of it was purchased at the Billings, Mont., Best Buy store, while other items were purchased online and shipped to the AFA office in Ketchikan. Hermanns is listed as a Billings-area forester in the State of Montana employee directory. He was formerly a forester with the State of Alaska in Tok from 2006 to 2016, according to a LinkedIn account, at which point he began work with the State of Montana. The state was charged $45,187 for Hermanns’ work time from March through July in addition to the equipment and travel expenses, according to the contract records. Overall, the state paid the AFA $143,110 during the period. DNR spokesman Dan Saddler wrote in response to emailed questions that approximately $150,000 has been billed to the AFA contract in total. Maisch said he doesn’t expect many additional charges, but more work could come up if the Forest Service makes significant changes to the final version of the Roadless Rule EIS. The overall bill also included $24,781 for work done by Southeast Alaska Resources in Ketchikan. While state business records do not list a firm incorporated under that name, business license records for individuals show an active business license for Clarence Clark of Ketchikan under the name Southeast Alaska Resources. Alaska’s employee directory does not list Clark as an active employee of the state, but numerous prior Alaska Department of Natural Resources publications reference Clark as a former manager of the state’s Southeast timber sale program. A bill from Hermanns to the AFA — passed on to the state — contains a “Forest Solutions” header, but Montana and Alaska business records do not show Hermanns as owning a business or holding an active business license in either state. According to online records, Hermanns most recently held an Alaska business license for Forest Solutions, a consulting business, that expired in December 2018. That license lists a Billings, Mont., address that matches the address on the materials Hermanns submitted to the AFA. Clark did not respond to requests for comment and Hermanns left a voicemail when returning a call from the Journal but did not return subsequent calls seeking comment about the work. AFA President Burkhart referred questions for a prior story on this issue to state DNR officials and did not respond to emailed questions. AFA Executive Director Owen Graham also declined to comment. The Roadless Rule contract records do not indicate he directly participated in the execution of the contract; Burkhart signed the original contract and is the association’s contact on related materials. Another $26,146 was billed for the combined work of three Pacific Northwest forestry consulting firms: Terra Verde Inc., Estes Timber LLC, and Cascade Appraisal Services Inc. A Terra Verde representative said he could not comment on the company’s work without prior consent from a client when contacted for a prior story. Burkhart’s employer, Local Manufacturing of Aberdeen Wash., also billed $6,723 to the April 30 invoice for “travel time and travel expenses.” Burkhart additionally charged $3,312 over several months for his time on the project. Finally, the Alaska Forest Association charged a 12.5 percent administration fee on all of the expenses incurred under the contract, regardless of their nature. The administrative fees totaled $15,903 through July, according to the invoices. A source with direct knowledge of the situation said that money was put into the nonprofit association’s general fund. The source also said Hermanns was made a temporary employee of the AFA for his work. Records accompanying the invoices for Hermanns show he electronically signed AFA time sheets on an “employee signature” line and Burkhart approved the logs. As for the computer equipment and software that Hermanns purchased and was reimbursed for, DNR’s Saddler wrote that the AFA retains ownership of it. He acknowledged that the appropriateness of spending public funds — ultimately federal money that passed through the state — on equipment that a state contractor would keep was something Forestry officials initially questioned, but the situation was approved after consultation with DNR procurement staff. Research results The analysis produced by the AFA and its consultants is dated Dec. 13 and was included in DNR’s comments on the draft EIS submitted to the Forest Service on Dec. 16. The AFA product is comprised of 10 pages of high-level written analysis and more than 50 pages of accompanying data tables and charts. The written analysis concludes that, “No matter the alternative selected in the Record of Decision for the ‘Rulemaking for Alaska Roadless Areas’ at least 82 out of every 100 acres of suitable old-growth forest within the Tongass National Forest will not be available to maintain the existing timber industry through transition (to completely young-growth harvests).” Forestry Service Director Maisch and timber advocates have frequently noted that even a full exemption from the Roadless Rule means only about 165,000 acres of additional old-growth timber stands will be available for harvest under the 2016 Tongass Land and Resource Management Plan, which must also be considered when drafting timber sales and aims to transition the industry to young-growth harvests from the forest over the coming years. That translates to an additional 149 million board feet of harvest volume with a full exemption — a 28 percent increase from current Roadless Rule management — over the next 15 years, according to the AFA. “It’s not this big timber play that I keep hearing about,” Maisch said, referencing claims by some opponents to the current process that vast areas of old-growth stands could be subject to logging by repealing the Roadless Rule. “It’s really not even 200,000 additional acres that get added in from a timber point of view; it’s really been the state’s position that this is about flexibility for communities in Southeast for a whole host of other reasons besides timber.” He added that there are “many, many steps that have to be gone through” likely over several years to also amend the Tongass Management Plan to allow for more logging. Staff shortages When asked why the Division of Forestry did not simply conduct the timber sale analysis itself and at least avoid the administrative and equipment expenses, director Maisch said cuts to the state budget back in fiscal year 2016 halved his full-time Southeast Forestry staff from eight to four and three of those individuals promptly left, anticipating further cuts. That meant many combined years of experience in Southeast forest management disappeared in addition to having less staff able to work on the Roadless Rule issue, according to Maisch. “We really had to rely on other resources to help us keep the Roadless project on track,” he said. Statewide, the Division of Forestry has turned to temporary employees and contracted with private groups to get its work done in recent years given its reduced in-house capacity, according to Maisch. “We use a lot of different ways to try to still keep the cars on the tracks, if you will, and that’s what we did with AFA. They were very knowledgeable about the (Tongass) forest plan, had been involved with this topic for many years and they had staff that had been involved with this topic,” he said, adding that Tongass management is a unique issue and related work is very difficult for people without specific experience with the forest to conduct efficiently. University of Alaska Fairbanks Emeritus Professor of Forest Ecology Glenn Juday largely concurred with Maisch when asked about the state’s ability to conduct the analysis itself. With less timber activity in the Tongass than in decades prior, Juday said the Forest Service and a small group of private contractors are likely the only entities with the background knowledge to effectively conduct the research done by the AFA through its contractors. “If you wanted an answer to the question: What would be the timber volume impacts of Option A, B, C and D on a landscape basis if you had these boundaries in it, if you had those boundaries in it — probably the most cost-effective route to go is to hire the expertise,” Juday said. Maisch also noted that by utilizing the AFA to administer the contract, at least some of the money would stay in Alaska, which is a regular goal for state officials when faced with these types of situations. He also said that state officials were cognizant of the “look” of awarding a no-bid contract to an industry trade group that strongly supports opening the Tongass to much more logging, but stressed that the analysis was strictly “presenting data.” “Appearances are always important but we also felt they were a nonprofit trade organization — admittedly a trade organization — but we had worked with many other groups in the process,” Maisch said, noting the state under Walker in 2018 put together a Roadless Rule advisory group that included stakeholders with the full range of forest management views. “We cast a pretty wide net to work with a wide variety of interests. In this case, I do get it, we were hiring these interests to do some work on our behalf but it was very specific work focused on the economic analysis. It was not providing us policy recommendations.” Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Judge allows recall effort against Dunleavy to proceed

An Alaska judge ruled Friday that an effort to recall Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy may proceed, a decision that is expected to be appealed. The decision from the bench by Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth in Anchorage followed arguments in the case and came two months after Gail Fenumiai, director of the state Division of Elections, rejected a bid to advance the recall effort. Fenumiai has said her decision was based on an opinion from Attorney General Kevin Clarkson that found the reasons listed for recall were "factually and legally deficient." The Recall Dunleavy group has argued that Clarkson's analysis was overreaching and the recall effort should be allowed to move to a second, signature-gathering phase. The state Department of Law has said the group's claims lack specificity or fail to explain how the alleged conduct resulted in consequences justifying recall. “This is not a mere policy disagreement, and the recall sponsors have alleged serious violations of the law" and constitutional issues, said Jahna Lindemuth, an attorney for the recall group who was an attorney general under Dunleavy's predecessor, independent Bill Walker. She earlier argued that a showing of harm is not required. Grounds for recall in Alaska are lack of fitness, incompetence, neglect of duties or corruption. The recall group is not alleging corruption. Margaret Paton-Walsh, an attorney for the state, said the court has to give meaning to terms such as neglect, incompetence and unfitness, and “if you interpret them in this sort of extraordinarily broad way that the committee does, those terms essentially lose their meaning. Neglect becomes any sort of omission or failure to act. Incompetence becomes any mistake that you might make. Unfitness becomes doing something that the committee doesn't like. “And I think that, in order to maintain a meaningful for-cause recall, those terms have to be given real substance," she continued. Aarseth said it's important to understand that the recall process is “fundamentally a political process. This is not an issue for the judicial branch to decide whether the governor should stay in office or not, or some other elected official. This is a question for the voters.” He said he believes he does not have discretion to create more stringent definitions than have been used by courts before and said lawmakers have not stepped in to suggest that definitions used previously have been too broad or too liberally applied. Messages seeking comment were left for the Department of Law and Dunleavy's office. The recall group, among its claims, said the Republican governor, who took office in late 2018, violated the law by not appointing a judge within a required time frame, misused state funds for partisan online ads and mailers, and improperly used his veto authority to “attack the judiciary.” Aarseth struck an allegation that said Dunleavy improperly used his veto to “preclude the legislature from upholding its constitutional Health, Education and Welfare responsibilities.” The judge said while it may be difficult to achieve a veto override, the legislature has that option. He said petitions should be issued no later than Feb. 10, unless that date is stayed by the Alaska Supreme Court. If allowed to go forward, the recall group will need to gather at least 71,252 signatures. Claire Pywell, who manages the recall group, said while celebrating the decision, “we also recognize that the real work begins, and we've been headed in the right direction the whole time.” She called the ruling "a critical step in allowing the citizens of Alaska to exercise their constitutional right to recall.” She said the group would move as quickly as possible in collecting signatures. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, just three efforts to recall governors nationally have gathered enough signatures to prompt recall elections. In 2012, then-Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker survived such an election. An Alaska judge ruled Friday that an effort to recall Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy may proceed, a decision that is expected to be appealed. The decision from the bench by Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth in Anchorage followed arguments in the case and came two months after Gail Fenumiai, director of the state Division of Elections, rejected a bid to advance the recall effort. Fenumiai has said her decision was based on an opinion from Attorney General Kevin Clarkson that found the reasons listed for recall were "factually and legally deficient." The Recall Dunleavy group has argued that Clarkson's analysis was overreaching and the recall effort should be allowed to move to a second, signature-gathering phase. The state Department of Law has said the group's claims lack specificity or fail to explain how the alleged conduct resulted in consequences justifying recall. “This is not a mere policy disagreement, and the recall sponsors have alleged serious violations of the law" and constitutional issues, said Jahna Lindemuth, an attorney for the recall group who was an attorney general under Dunleavy's predecessor, independent Bill Walker. She earlier argued that a showing of harm is not required. Grounds for recall in Alaska are lack of fitness, incompetence, neglect of duties or corruption. The recall group is not alleging corruption. Margaret Paton-Walsh, an attorney for the state, said the court has to give meaning to terms such as neglect, incompetence and unfitness, and “if you interpret them in this sort of extraordinarily broad way that the committee does, those terms essentially lose their meaning. Neglect becomes any sort of omission or failure to act. Incompetence becomes any mistake that you might make. Unfitness becomes doing something that the committee doesn't like. “And I think that, in order to maintain a meaningful for-cause recall, those terms have to be given real substance," she continued. Aarseth said it's important to understand that the recall process is “fundamentally a political process. This is not an issue for the judicial branch to decide whether the governor should stay in office or not, or some other elected official. This is a question for the voters.” He said he believes he does not have discretion to create more stringent definitions than have been used by courts before and said lawmakers have not stepped in to suggest that definitions used previously have been too broad or too liberally applied. Messages seeking comment were left for the Department of Law and Dunleavy's office. The recall group, among its claims, said the Republican governor, who took office in late 2018, violated the law by not appointing a judge within a required time frame, misused state funds for partisan online ads and mailers, and improperly used his veto authority to “attack the judiciary.” Aarseth struck an allegation that said Dunleavy improperly used his veto to “preclude the legislature from upholding its constitutional Health, Education and Welfare responsibilities.” The judge said while it may be difficult to achieve a veto override, the legislature has that option. He said petitions should be issued no later than Feb. 10, unless that date is stayed by the Alaska Supreme Court. If allowed to go forward, the recall group will need to gather at least 71,252 signatures. Claire Pywell, who manages the recall group, said while celebrating the decision, “we also recognize that the real work begins, and we've been headed in the right direction the whole time.” She called the ruling "a critical step in allowing the citizens of Alaska to exercise their constitutional right to recall.” She said the group would move as quickly as possible in collecting signatures. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, just three efforts to recall governors nationally have gathered enough signatures to prompt recall elections. In 2012, then-Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker survived such an election.  

Former AGDC president makes pitch to retake reins of AK LNG Project

At a Jan. 9 meeting in Anchorage, the former leader of the roughly $40 billion Alaska LNG Project in Gov. Bill Walker’s administration made a last pitch to take it over again with private backers. Keith Meyer — who was president of the state-owned Alaska Gasline Development Corp. from early 2016 until being fired by the board of directors a year ago after Gov. Mike Dunleavy replaced several members — said the state’s current path virtually assures a long-sought North Slope gasline project won’t be built for at least another decade. Meyer insisted he put together a private group that could take over the Alaska LNG Project from the state and develop it without the need for any additional state funding but the move needs to be made quickly before Alaska is left out of the quickly evolving global LNG industry. “The state will not have to invest another dime in the project, but you cannot continue to drag your heels while the opportunity turns to dust. Waiting two or three years hoping someone will fund (final design) is not a strategy for success,” Meyer said. He made his comments during the public testimony portion of a monthly AGDC board meeting. Meyer highlighted AGDC’s achievements in attracting large potential financiers and Asian LNG customers — Korea Gas Corp., Tokyo Gas, PetroVietnam Gas Corp., and consortium of Chinese mega-corporations — to the project during his tenure with the state. The joint development agreement with the Chinese consortium was signed at a November 2017 trade summit in front of President Donald Trump and China President Xi Jinping. AGDC also initiated the Alaska LNG Project’s environmental impact statement with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in April 2017 with what was one of the largest and most comprehensive socioeconomic and engineering data packages ever assembled for review, agency officials said at the time. “We rose to a point of admiration in the global industry,” he said, thanking those who supported the Walker administration’s efforts on Alaska LNG. “Those accomplishments formed a strong business development foundation to move the project forward and build a new economic future for Alaska; an economic future with reduced energy costs and increased job opportunities.” However, he said, the Dunleavy administration’s decision to “systematically dismantle AGDC to cut expenses” has put the state at a significant disadvantage if the ultimate goal is truly to get the gasline built. This past July, Interim AGDC President Joe Dubler announced the corporation would cut its staff by 60 percent to reflect its reduced mission: focusing on finishing major Alaska LNG permitting with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission without continuing the marketing or commercialization work that occurred under Meyer’s leadership. Under Dubler, AGDC has allowed nonbinding agreements with prospective customers and gas sales term sheet agreements with BP and ExxonMobil to expire. Dubler has said AGDC previously engaged customers prematurely and the state would look to privatize Alaska LNG once it received a favorable decision from FERC if the project was deemed economic after an ongoing review. Joey Merrick, a leader in Alaska’s construction trade unions and a former board member appointed by Walker, said he’s discouraged by what’s happened at the quasi-state agency over the past year. Merrick was one of several board members replaced by Dunleavy at the same time Meyer was fired. He noted that AGDC’s website has largely been scrubbed of any reference to the work done during under the Walker administration. “Everything that was done when I was here is removed; all the press releases, all the things that we did is no longer there. I don’t know why that would be,” Merrick said. “We made progress. The folks that were on the board when I was there — they know how close that we were.” AGDC’s “Newsroom” web page currently holds links to just three statements; the oldest being the Jan. 10, 2019, announcement of Meyer’s firing and the corresponding board changes. According to Meyer, he first tried to pitch his plan to a reshaped AGDC board of directors in March after he saw the agency start to “unwind” the work that he had led. That plan would transfer Alaska LNG Project information and control to Meyer and the undisclosed company backing him. Meyer’s group would then see the project through permitting by utilizing current AGDC staff on a contract basis to maintain the deep knowledge base on the work that has been done. If the decision is made to construct the megaproject, the state would get $100 million back from the group for its work, according to Meyer. His group would honor previous AGDC labor agreements to give Alaskans the first chance to work on the project and utilize union labor, he added. If the transfer were made immediately, natural gas could be flowing from the North Slope to Alaska communities a Southcentral liquefaction plant by 2028, he estimated. Overall, the state has spent $237 million on the project, according to Dubler. Meyer said board members refused to meet with him in March and the generalities of the proposal were relayed largely via email because the plan would be “politically inconvenient” for the Dunleavy administration, which has been highly critical of much of the work Meyer did on the project. Since leaving AGDC, Meyer made four trips to Asia on his own to keep the potential customers the corporation had been courting engaged, with a message of, “Please be patient. Please don’t give up on Alaska,” he said in an interview. “You have to appreciate the value of the momentum we had,” he said further, adding that AGDC was in the process of drafting firm customer contracts when the leadership change was made and commercial work was all-but stopped. According to Meyer, several of those customers have moved on and secured LNG supplies from other projects around the world but there is still significant interest in Alaska. He said there was financing available for the project roughly a year ago and there is still interest, but AGDC’s actions over the past year have made private investors skeptical that the state is truly interested in advancing the project. Meyer stressed that time is of the essence if the state does not want to wait many more years for another potential opportunity to monetize North Slope gas to come along. “If you miss the 2020s window, nobody is going to contract for five years or more,” he said, echoing a message that was common at AGDC during his tenure. “The global market is moving whether we’re moving or not.” Qilak LNG, a firm led by former Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, is trying to capture a portion of the growing global LNG market with a North Slope project as well. Announced in October, Qilak is proposing an offshore North Slope LNG plant and has an agreement with ExxonMobil to source gas from the producer’s Point Thomson field, which has also been seen as a source for approximately 25 percent of the gas that would feed Alaska LNG. AGDC board chair Doug Smith said the board has not vetted Meyer’s proposal but he knows the company backing Meyer is also working on a large LNG plant on the Gulf Coast, which amounts to competition for Alaska. Smith also questioned the appropriateness of handing the currently public project over on a sole-source basis to a company that wants exclusivity without going through a formal proposal process. That is going to come when AGDC has its approval from FERC to move ahead with construction. Meyer said he’d be happy to compete for the project in a traditional request for proposal, or RFP, process but it needs to be done now instead of June or later when FERC is scheduled to rule on the Alaska LNG Project environmental impact statement. The company backing him wants to remain confidential for the time being but “It’s a capable entity,” Meyer said. “The board liked them. They did not like my involvement.” Dubler said Meyer presents an opportunity for the state, but added that the AGDC board has shown “good restraint” in not moving on it at this point. “As a state corporation we can’t just hand something over,” Dubler said. Dubler and other Dunleavy administration officials have stressed that getting a favorable decision from FERC will greatly de-risk the project and help attract private investors that could take over the project. Meyer countered that the benefit of having FERC’s approval in-hand for investors has been overblown. While FERC is a highly technical agency, it has a prescribed process that everyone in the LNG industry is familiar with. “We had a project. We could easily move it to the private sector if that was the desire,” Meyer said. “What scares me a little is whether this board and this administration will be sincere in moving this project forward.” Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Army Corps of Engineers expands plan for Nome port

A broader look at the potential benefits of increased infrastructure has spurred the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to grow plans for a bigger port in Nome. Utilizing authority approved by Congress in 2016, Corps of Engineers officials in Alaska released their new, $611 million proposal to overhaul the city-owned Port of Nome on Dec. 31, Alaska Chief of Civil Works Bruce Sexauer said. The plan, which would allow the remote Western Alaska port to accommodate larger tankers and cruise ships among other vessels, builds off of a $210 million proposal in early 2015 to expand the area of protected water in front of Nome and dredge the area for larger vessels. That design was generated in response to Shell’s oil exploration in the Chukchi Sea at the time. When Shell announced that it had come up empty and would cancel its offshore Arctic exploration work later that year, the corresponding plan to renovate Nome’s port to better handle oil and gas industry support vessels was scrapped as well. Without the prospect of long-term oil and gas activity in the region, the direct need for expanding the Port of Nome couldn’t be economically justified, Sexauer said. However, Congress responded in 2016 by growing the scope of potential benefits the Corps is permitted to evaluate when considering bolstering marine infrastructure in Alaska. The 2016 Water Resources Development Act, or WRDA bill, included a provision allowing Corps officials to consider the “viability of regions” when thinking about ports in Alaska, rather than strictly looking at a direct and immediate cost-benefit review for a given project. “We could look at the entire region around Nome with all the remote villages and how their viability may be positively affected by a deep-draft port, so that was the basis for this analysis,” Sexauer said in an interview. “It’s more of a regional assessment that Congress authorized us to utilize to justify the project.” The primary benefit to residents of Nome and outlying communities would be potentially lower-cost goods brought in by larger vessels. The latest draft Port of Nome Modification Feasibility Study contemplates several expansion options, but the plan recommended by the Corps calls for roughly doubling the length of the port’s existing west causeway to reach approximately 2,100 feet farther into Norton Sound with a nearly 1,400-foot breakwater to protect harbor entrance from incoming waves. The L-shaped barrier would also hold two new 450-foot and one new 600-foot dock to handle the larger vessels that have started calling on Nome, according to Sexauer. The existing east causeway-breakwater would be demolished and replaced with a larger, 3,900-foot causeway-breakwater that would greatly expand the port’s outer basin. Approximately three-quarters of the material from the existing east causeway would be used to build its replacement, according to the study. The bigger outer port basin would also be dredged deeper — from 22 feet currently to 28 feet — and the three new docks would be near the end of the longer west causeway-breakwater in an area dredged to at least 40 feet deep. The 2015 plan called for adding 2,150 feet to the existing west causeway and dredging the harbor entrance channel to a maximum depth of 28 feet. Members of Alaska’s congressional delegation, state lawmakers and Defense and Coast Guard leaders in the state for years have emphasized what they believe is a need for an Arctic deep-draft port in Western Alaska as shipping traffic through the Bering Strait increases as a result of the ever-receding sea ice. While not technically in Arctic waters, a renovated Port of Nome has been identified as the most practicable northern location for harboring emergency response, industry support and research vessels in Western Alaska. Nome Port Director Joy Baker said a team from the city has been actively working with the Corps on every aspect of the project; she estimated they’ve gone through about a dozen rough design iterations for the project over the past year. A primary goal for city officials is to relieve congestion at the port and generally make it easier for vessels of all sizes to utilize the facilities. “The depth is a big issue because we’ve only got 22 feet right now,” Baker said. Baker added that she expects more activity at the port from fishing fleets as populations of cod, Pollock and other species historically confined by water temperatures to the southern Bering Sea move north with warming water over the long term. More and more vessel companies from multiple industries are already using Nome for refueling and crew changes, she said. Sexauer said fuel companies have started using larger vessels that anchor outside of the current harbor and lighter fuel to smaller vessels for transport to Nome or nearby villages since the last port expansion was contemplated in 2015 and the new plan could get those operations into protected water. More and larger cruise ships have also started touring the Bering Strait and Arctic waters to the north and though the port wasn’t designed specifically for them, it would also provide more facilities for cruise vessels, Sexauer said. He also noted that while less winter sea ice has exposed the region’s coast to more damaging winter storms that have caused major erosion problems in coastal communities, the warming has also allowed for longer construction seasons. “There’s a greater need for raw materials and supplies and fuel to meet those needs of a longer construction season,” Sexauer said. If the draft port design is finalized with few modifications — a determination made by Army Corps of Engineers leaders in Washington, D.C. — it could be up for legislative authorization late this year when Congress is expected to consider the next WRDA bill, according to Sexauer. “We are working very yard to get this project approved in time for consideration in the next authorization bill,” he said. However, ultimately constructing the new infrastructure would be contingent upon Congress approving to spend the $340 million federal portion of the project in a separate appropriations bill. Baker said the city has conceptual plans to come up with its share of the project costs — roughly $270 million — that include public-private partnerships and federal grants but more solid financing plans can’t be made at least until the project is approved by Corps leaders. Though it’s just a draft at this point, Baker is confident this project will move forward this time because it almost has to, she said; there is no other place on the Western Alaska coast for large vessels to resupply or seek repairs. She also expects the oil industry to return to the region at some point. “There is demand for search and rescue and oil spill response in the Arctic. The traffic is increasing — there’s no question,” Baker said. “I think folks are starting to realize we need to protect the northern coast.” The Army Corps of Engineers Alaska District is accepting comments on the Nome port proposal until Jan. 30. ^ Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Movers and Shakers for Jan. 12

Allison Bendis of Klondike Promotions has earned the certification of Master Advertising Specialist administered by Promotional Products Association International, the largest international not-for-profit association for more than 15,000 members of the $21-plus billion promotional products industry. The MAS certification requires completion of and current CAS Certification, a minimum five years of experience in the promotional products industry, additional MAS level course curriculum, industry service and passing a comprehensive exam. PPAI industry certification is acquired through a combination of: required certification classes, demonstrated years of employment in the industry, education, industry contributions and a successful demonstration of expertise. Certification is maintained through continuing education to ensure current knowledge and leading-edge professional skills. PND Engineers announced two new Alaska-registered professional civil engineers: Nathan Harris and Logan Imlach. Both are University of Alaska Anchorage graduates and received their PE designations in December. Harris joined PND in in September 2015, shortly after receiving his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. Since then, he has gained significant experience in transportation design, estimating, heavy civil construction inspection and contract administration. He worked previously for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, first as an intern and then as an engineering assistant. Imlach joined PND in August 2018 and has performed structural design primarily on marine and oil and gas industry projects, including North Slope construction. Imlach’s previous work with other Alaska engineering firms ranged from small civil projects to project management during the construction of two extended reach drilling rigs on the Slope, and planning, permitting and designing both gravel and paved roads. Logan received his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 2010.

OPINION: Assembly’s lack of vision dooms solutions

The Anchorage Assembly held a town hall Jan. 7 at the Loussac Library to present both the city’s current budget situation and three different sales tax proposals it will consider for the April municipal ballot at its Jan. 14 meeting. Not up for debate as of yet is the citizen-led Project ‘20s, which proposes a 3 percent sales tax to last no more than five years to address homelessness, improve vital infrastructure and build long overdue amenities for the city’s Downtown district. Project ‘20s campaign manager Moira Gallagher was given just two minutes to speak and so far no Assembly member has been willing to sponsor the initiative with an apparent general consensus it is not ripe for consideration having just been formally rolled out in the last few weeks. That may be a valid critique, but remains no excuse for the members, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and would-be mayor and current member Forrest Dunbar to offer nothing more than a repeat of the alcohol tax that failed spectacularly last April or tilting at a Quixotic windmill of a “community dividend” drawn from the Alaska Permanent Fund that has chances of emerging from the Legislature roughly equal to the recent subzero temperatures across Anchorage. Only the most optimistic, or delusional, could leave the meeting with any sense that Anchorage is closer to becoming more self-sufficient after years of cuts to state funding for both operations and the capital budget. Dunbar contended he and fellow sponsors Felix Rivera and Austin Quinn-Davidson have improved on their alcohol tax proposal that went down in flames last year, yet the tax remains stuck on one group of people and an open-ended money pit that contains no goals, no measurables and, most importantly, no accountability. K&L Distributors President Don Grasse vowed to defeat the alcohol tax once again while reiterating the industry’s general position that it is not opposed to a broad-based sales tax. Suite 100 owner Kelly Nichols also pointed out the silliness of the Assembly’s fixation on only taxing alcohol by asking why not tax all beverages. “Do you know how much coffee we drink in this town?” he asked. Unlike some Assembly members and the mayor, Grasse’s and the industry’s position is reasonable. They refuse to accept the premise that consumers of alcohol should bear the burden for paying for the irresponsible decisions of others; based on last year’s vote, a majority of the public agrees with them. We can either be a community willing to tackle these problems together or we can have the mayor and the liberal majority on the Assembly attempt to pin the cost for solutions on one group of residents. Sin taxes are the laziest and least imaginative ideas, which makes it unsurprising politicians keep trying them. The Assembly doesn’t even need to be as creative or forward-thinking as Project ‘20s. A one-penny sales tax would raise about $25 million per year compared to the $11 million to $15 million estimated under the 5 percent alcohol tax. Half the revenue could be dedicated to homeless services and treatment and the other half could go to property tax relief. Even the most ardent anti-tax crowd would be hard-pressed to argue that is an undue burden when it would still be one-third the size of Wasilla’s sales tax. But that gets us no closer to actually building the Anchorage of the future and until we have political leaders willing to exhibit such a vision instead of continuing to take the easy way out we’ll be doomed to yet another year without solutions to our most pressing problems. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

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