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House expected to vote on school reimbursement bill Tuesday

The Alaska House of Representatives is expected to vote on a bill Tuesday that would eliminate state reimbursements for school bond packages for five years.

SB64 was passed in the Senate last week.

If passed, the state would not reimburse municipalities for school bond packages.

Anchorage voters will decide April 7th on a $60 million bond that would go toward school renovations.

The proposal said the state would reimburse the costs up to 70 percent if passed.

With the reimbursement from the state, the average homeowner in Anchorage would pay about $5.50 for every $100,000 worth of property value. That number could nearly triple if the state doesn't reimburse the bond. Under the proposed law, the average property owner will pay more than $14 per $100,000 of property value.

The debate in Juneau is happening one week before the election in Anchorage. Anchorage Assembly Chair Dick Traini said the problem is some residents have already voted.

"People started voting on the 23rd of this month, believing that the state would participate and that's not keeping full faith as far as I'm concerned to the citizens of Anchorage and State of Alaska," Traini said.



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Company denied use of land in Palmer

IN THIS STORY:

-- The Board of Adjustment and Appeals unanimously denied Central Monofill Services' appeal for a conditional use permit for a 118-acre stretch of land along mile 38 of the Glenn Highway in Palmer.

-- Central Monofill Services applied for the permit in 2013, but was later rejected two times by the Mat-Su Borough Planning Commission, citing a lack of environmental studies completed.

-- On Tuesday, attorney Bill Ingaldson who represents CSM, said his client had fulfilled the planning commission's requirements.

-- Public testimony was heard at Tuesday's hearing. The majority of speakers opposed the monofill, while one person offered support of the project.

-- After about four hours of deliberation, the board decided to uphold the planning commission's decision to deny CSM a conditional use permit.



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Interior upholds Chukchi lease sale for 2015 Shell drilling

The Department of the Interior issued a record of decision on Tuesday, announcing that it has upheld a 2008 Chukchi Sea lease sale challenged by environmentalists.

During Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Lease Sale 193, 30 million acres of the Chukchi Sea were made available for leasing. Roughly 3 million acres were purchased for a price tag of $2.6 billion, including $2.1 billion bought by Shell Oil which it plans to explore when it returns to the Chukchi this summer.

The original environmental impact statement for Lease Sale 193, published in 2007, was met with litigation from environmentalists which twice sent it back to federal courts in the past several years. In January 2014, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Lease Sale 193 had been unlawfully held.

Tuesday's record of decision affirms the remaining oil and gas leases issued as a result of the sale.  This decision comes after a 30-day waiting period, which ended on March 22, following the release of a supplemental environmental impact statement.

Janice Schneider, Interior's assistant secretary for land and minerals management who signed off on the record of decision, said it gave weight to both energy companies and environmental groups' concerns. “The Arctic remains an important component of the Administration’s national energy strategy. The Chukchi Sea has enormous oil and gas potential and is home to a unique and sensitive ecosystem and Alaska Native communities that rely on the Chukchi Sea for subsistence,” Schroeder said. “With today’s decision, we remain committed to balancing potential oil and gas development with protecting sensitive resources.” While the most recent supplemental EIS concluded that there is a 75 percent risk of one or more large oil spills when these leases are developed, the Department of Interior's decision allows the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to begin receiving and reviewing exploration plans for the Chukchi Sea.

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Kenai's Peninsula Borough's simple solution to speed emergency response

The Funny River Fire burned dangerously close to a neighborhood outside of Soldotna. The wildfire edged along a spacious neighborhood were many people owned large swaths of land connected to a main road by a gravel driveway.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough say one project was key in organizing response and communication-- a simple green sign with the address numbers printed in white. The borough has been working on a project to install the numbers in rural neighborhoods where the address isn't obvious to those who don't live in the area.

Many Funny River signs were installed along the road before last year's fire. Carrie Henson, E-911 addressing officer for the borough says the signs were an important mode of communication.

"Having the signs made it easier to locate all of the structures and they used the signs to let other emergency responders know that they have checked the structure and have evacuated it for the evacuations they did out there." Henson said

As the borough works on a project, updating map data for emergency responders, it sends letters to residents letting them know they can get signs installed for $20. Henson said about 20 percent of people choose to label their driveway.

"When an emergency happens, every second counts and if you don't have something at your driveway letting emergency response know that this is your driveway, it's very likely that it's going to take them longer to get there."

Central Emergency Services offered the service to interested borough residents this spring.

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North Pole man faces murder charge in ex-girlfriend?s shooting

A North Pole man has been arrested and charged with murdering his ex-girlfriend, after Alaska State Troopers say he fatally shot her and then tried to kill himself Monday evening. Troopers received a report at about 7:25 p.m. Monday that the 21-year-old victim, Mandy Clemmons, had been found dead in a driveway near Larissa Drive. The suspect -- 33-year-old Russell Burris -- had been found unconscious under a nearby tree, according to a Tuesday AST dispatch. “Responding (emergency medical services) arrived on scene and declared Clemmons deceased due to an apparent gunshot wound,” troopers wrote. “Investigation revealed that Burris shot his ex-girlfriend then covered her with a tarp. Burris then attempted to take his own life by means of a drug overdose.” Medics took Burris to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, with troopers taking him into custody on one count of first-degree murder upon his release as of about noon Tuesday. An investigation of Clemmons' death remains in progress. “Burris is on federal probation for bank fraud and his conditions of release included that he not be in possession of firearms or drugs,” troopers wrote.

AST spokeswoman Megan Peters said nothing further on the case was immediately available Tuesday afternoon. Troopers say Clemmons’ next of kin have been notified, with her body scheduled to undergo an autopsy at the state medical examiner’s office. This is a developing story. Please check KTUU.com and the Channel 2 newscasts for updates.



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'Superman' pleads guilty to leading Anchorage meth-for-mail ring

A man known to authorities as "Superman" pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to 16 counts related to drug dealing and fraud, admitting to leading a ring which prosecutors say exchanged methamphetamine for mail stolen from Alaskans.

Jonathan Ortiz Escalante, 45, made his plea in a year-long scheme where he convinced a group of people to commit mail theft, bank fraud and credit card fraud by providing them with meth and stolen cash. Materials taken from the stolen mail were used to commit identity theft, fraudulently passing checks and making unauthorized credit-card purchases.

According to U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler's office, illegal activities occurred all over Anchorage, from Eagle River to the Hillside and from the Jewel Lake area to Muldoon, even reaching as far south as Soldotna.

Escalante also admitted to acting as a drug dealer, selling meth throughout Anchorage, and regularly possessing handguns, including a 9mm Ruger pistol, for protection despite prior felony convictions for similar types of fraud.

"Escalante possessed one of the pistols while shooting at a victim from whom he had stolen a motorcycle," prosecutors wrote.

He faces a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence and a maximum of 40 years in prison, plus a fine up to $5 million.

Three co-conspirators pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing, and a fourth co-conspirator is scheduled to change her plea on April 7, according to Loeffler's office.



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Kodiak Launch Complex ready for repairs after hypersonic rocket blast

A pad at the Kodiak Launch Complex damaged by an Army rocket which was self-destructed in August is set to be back online by the end of the year, according to Alaska Aerospace Corp. officials. A Tuesday statement from the firm said Alaska-based firms have completed demolition work at the complex’s Launch Pad 1, which suffered “significant” damage from the attempted launch. While most of the buildings were structurally sound, AAC said some affected items -- including siding, structural steel, mechanical systems and electrical components -- needed to be replaced. “The damaged facilities are being readied for repair work that is planned for the spring and summer,” AAC officials wrote. “The work is on schedule, allowing the facilities to be back in operation no later than December of 2015.” According to the Washington Post, the destroyed Aug. 25 rocket was the second hypersonic test vehicle for military research being conducted under the Prompt Global Strike program. The effort is intended to create non-nuclear weapons which can strike any point on the globe within one hour of launch. Craig Campbell, Alaska Aerospace’s CEO, said Tuesday afternoon that while recent photos of the buildings showed all their siding removed, damage at the time of the blast wasn’t as extensive. “Basically, it’s the heavy metal you see standing, with some support materials around it,” Campbell said. AAC’s costs from the blast are estimated at $29 million, which Campbell said were being covered by insurance through the State of Alaska. The bill arrives as the state faces sharp budget cuts, with Campbell suggesting last month that lawmakers consider privatizing his firm. Campbell deferred questions on why the rocket failed to the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, saying it had conducted an investigation of the launch that found the facility wasn’t at fault. “It wasn’t the launch facility,” Campbell said. “It exonerated the launch pad -- it wasn’t us.” An Army spokesman with the Space and Missile Defense Command told the Alaska Dispatch News in February that the rocket was aborted after a thermal shield interfered with a steering assembly, but that the exact cause wasn’t publicly releasable. A call Channel 2 placed to the command’s headquarters, after local business hours in Huntsville, Ala., wasn’t answered Tuesday afternoon.



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Sutton gas station burglar takes donations for trailer-fire family

A Monday-morning burglary at a Sutton gas station on the Glenn Highway caused more than $1,000 in losses -- including money donated to a local family displaced by a fire last week. According to an Alaska State Troopers dispatch issued Tuesday, troopers received a 911 call just before 4:15 a.m. Monday about the break-in at Fisher’s Hilltop Tesoro. Investigators determined that the store had been broken into between 1:40 a.m. and 2 a.m. that morning. “Two security windows were broken, a cigarette machine was heavily damaged, and several hundred dollars of tobacco products and an undetermined amount of cash was taken from a donation bucket,” troopers wrote. “The donation bucket was to assist a family in a recent fire that lost their entire home.” Rosie Stanton, the station’s manager, said Tuesday that the burglar -- who was seen on surveillance video -- had broken through a back window of the building. In addition to robbing the store of tobacco supplies, he also raided a bucket raising funds for Katie Norton, a single mother who lost everything in a Friday trailer fire. “When he jumped over the front counter, he knocked over the donation bucket,” Stanton said. “We got some of the money back that was in it, but I don’t know how much money was in it to begin with.” Stanton estimated the station’s losses at $700 to $800 worth of tobacco products, as well as an additional $500 in damages to windows as well as an Internet line damaged when the burglar slid over the counter. “He broke that too, so we couldn’t take credit cards for most of the day,” Stanton said. Staff at the station found about $20 of the donated cash which had been left behind. Stanton said employees are now emptying Norton’s donation bucket and hiding the money, to keep it safe from any future burglars. “We’re trying to get some money together to help her get some things, and some lowlife decided he needed it more than anybody,” Stanton said. Anyone with information on the burglary should call Palmer troopers at 907-745-2131.



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Juneau airport departure lounge reopens after pilot finds bullet

Part of Juneau International Airport was briefly evacuated Tuesday morning after a pilot found a bullet at a jetway, according to airport officials.

In a Juneau Police Department statement, Lt. David Campbell said Tuesday that police received a report of the discovery at about 10:15 a.m.

"In essence, a pilot was walking on a jetway and found one small-caliber bullet," Campbell wrote. "JPD officers were notified and the bullet was seized."

Airport manager Patty deLaBruere said Tuesday that no note or other items were found with the .22-caliber round. She said how it got there remains under investigation.

"It was an unfired bullet lying on the floor of the jetway," deLaBruere said.

Responding officers began to evacuate the departure lounge, as well as two jets at the airport, five minutes after the initial call came in.

"The departure lounge was searched and no unauthorized items were found," Campbell wrote. "The search of both planes is currently taking place. The two planes affected were Alaska Airlines Flight 61 and 62." A Channel 2 reporter preparing to board a flight saw workers evacuating the airport’s departure lounge at about 10:30 a.m.

According to a passenger on Flight 62, traveling from Anchorage to Seattle with stops en route in Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan, everyone on the "milk run" Boeing 737 was deplaned when it arrived in Juneau. The airline's flight-status page for Flight 62 indicated it was running about an hour late, with a noon departure from Juneau planned after its scheduled 10:22 a.m. takeoff.

An all-clear was subsequently sounded, and Campbell said police were opening security screenings for people to return to the terminal as of 10:45 a.m. Channel 2’s Adam Pinsker contributed information to this story.



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Search near Juneau glacier suspended after voice calls for help

An air and ground search prompted by cries for help near Juneau’s Mendenhall Glacier Monday afternoon has been suspended, after hikers and searchers heard the calls but were unable to locate their source. Alaska State Troopers were informed by the glacier’s visitors center at about 2:30 p.m. Monday of the initial report from hikers, who said they heard “a male voice yelling for help” on East Glacier Trail near Nugget Falls. “A United States Forest Service employee from the visitors center responded to their location on the trail and also heard the voice,” troopers wrote. “At (3:15 p.m.) a Temsco helicopter flew a hasty search of the area and was unable to locate anyone needing assistance.” Capital City Fire Rescue, Juneau Mountain Rescue and SEADOGS all sent personnel to the trailhead, assembling them into five search teams with two search dogs. The last call for help was heard just after 3 p.m., however, and the search was suspended at 9 a.m. Tuesday with no reports of overdue hikers or missing persons in the area. Troopers say search efforts will resume if authorities receive additional information to indicate they are warranted.



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No bomb found at Fairbanks school after Monday threat

A Fairbanks elementary school was removed from lockdown after receiving a Monday bomb threat, with Alaska State Troopers saying a sweep of the area didn’t produce any signs of a bomb. Fairbanks-based NBC affiliate KTVF reported Monday that Woodriver Elementary School students were kept inside the building until the end of normal school hours in response to the threat. The school’s students were eventually given an all-clear to leave normally. An Alaska State Troopers dispatch on the incident said troopers were informed of the threat at about 1:40 p.m. Monday. “The caller stated that he/she was going to detonate a bomb near the school,” troopers wrote. “The area was searched with the assistance (of) a K-9 trained to detect explosives.  AST did not find any explosives in the area.” Troopers say the incident remains under investigation.



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Anchorage-bound flight diverted to Juneau after man dies on board

An Anchorage-bound Alaska Airlines flight was diverted to Juneau Saturday after a man died on board, according to Alaska State Troopers. Troopers said they were informed of the death at about 9:50 p.m. Saturday. “Investigation revealed that an elderly male was having trouble breathing and later became unresponsive during a direct flight from Phoenix to Anchorage,” troopers wrote. “Medical attention was given to the elderly male by doctors that were passengers on the flight, but the medical efforts were unsuccessful.” The man’s next of kin were notified, and troopers say no foul play is suspected.



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Delta Junction man charged with driving stolen forklift

Fairbanks police say a 21-year-old man drove a stolen forklift more than three miles while intoxicated to retrieve a truck he had crashed. Police Lt. Matt Soden says Aleksandr Glushko of Delta Junction just before 6 a.m. Monday crashed a truck and walked to the George Horner Ice Park, where he took the forklift. An Alaska Railroad worker spotted the forklift driving by the crash site. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports police were on the scene when Glushko looped back. Glushko was charged with felony driving under the influence of alcohol, plus misdemeanor charges of failure to give immediate notice of an accident and driving with a suspended license. He remained jailed Tuesday. A message seeking comment from the Public Defender Agency was not immediately returned.



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Three vehicles break through Kwethluk River ice, 1 recovered

Kwethluk residents say two of three vehicles that broke through the frozen Kwethluk River on Monday remain in the water a day later, after the community came together to recover the third one. Rachel Kohl, a teacher at the Ket'acik and Aapalluk Memorial School, said in a Tuesday email to Channel 2 that two trucks from a local water and sewer project drove onto the ice Monday morning, only to break through and sink. Nobody was hurt in the incident, but Kohl -- who was gathering impressions from her social-studies class at the school Tuesday -- called it a “huge event,” with students occasionally stepping outside to watch locals’ recovery work. “After working on the blue truck for many hours and realizing it was a loss the men focused on recovering the white truck,” Kohl wrote. “They hooked up six (all-terrain vehicles) and attempted to pull out the truck. They thought they needed more help so they decided to bring out a small bulldozer. The dozer fell through the ice and is still there today.” According to Kohl, one of her students saw the dozer submerge. “She said that it started to go in slowly and then just dropped,” Kohl wrote. “Everyone was hollering at the driver to get out. He did escape and we are happy to report that there were no injuries.” Channel 2 meteorologist and Morning Edition anchor David George said Tuesday that the Bethel region has been “unseasonably warm for March,” with recent temperatures in the 40s and 50s and a series of freeze-melt cycles keeping rivers from freezing as solidly as usual. “It’s not the ice thickness Alaskans are used to,” George said.

Bethel SAR issued warnings in November and February about travel on the Kuskokwim River, which is fed by the Kwethluk River. The group responded earlier this month to a pair of vehicles that sank into Kuskokwim River overflow with no injuries, as well as an ATV that drove into open water on the river in December; two of the ATV’s three riders were later found dead in the river. Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said in an email to Channel 2 that troopers weren’t at the scene in Kwethluk Monday because there weren’t any injuries. “The person reportedly got out fine so there was no need for us to respond,” Peters wrote. “The recovery effort is being handled locally.” After attaching the ATVs to the white truck, Kohl said people were able to get it out of the river by using the vehicles -- as well as “a metal beam and a lot of manpower.” In a video Kohl shot of the truck’s recovery, locals loudly applaud the truck’s removal from the water. Kohl said crews were considering a renewed effort to recover the dozer Tuesday. “The cool part about yesterday was seeing everyone from the village,” Kohl wrote. “They came by foot, truck, 4-wheeler, and stroller to talk about the recovery efforts and witness a bit of history. You can tell by the cheers on the video that they supported the hard work of the men.”



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Mat-Su up, Fairbanks down in new population estimates

The population continues to shrink in the Fairbanks North Star Borough. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner newspaper reports the borough lost about 1,450 residents between July 2013 and July 2014. Those figures come from new population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Alaska's total population dropped by an estimated 527 people. The Fairbanks North Star Borough lost more residents than any area of the state in that time period. Borough officials say it's hard to pinpoint particular causes, but they say military reductions are a possible reason for part of the population decrease. Most areas of Alaska either saw population decreases, or increases of less than 1 percent. According to the census estimates, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough's population grew by nearly 2,000 people.



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Bill would add tribal governments to 'Pick.Click.Give' list

A Kodiak senator has introduced legislation to allow federally recognized tribal governments in the state to receive contributions from Alaskans' Permanent Fund dividends. SB 75, from Sen. Gary Stevens, calls for adding federally recognized tribes to the list of organizations eligible to receive such contributions through the "Pick.Click.Give" program. Stevens, in his sponsor statement, says tribal entities would be subject to the same regulations and fees that apply to other program participants. Stevens says adding federally recognized tribal organizations to the list of "Pick.Click.Give" recipients would extend the program's reach while providing another fundraising option for those organizations. Alaskans pledged nearly $2.8 million to eligible organizations through "Pick.Click.Give" last year.



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Young male bear finding easy food source in Kodiak garages

A state wildlife official says a bear has broken into several garages in one Kodiak area neighborhood. The Kodiak Daily Mirror reports it appears one bear, a 3- or 4-year-old male, is behind the break-ins in Bell Flats. State wildlife biologist Nathan Svoboda believes it's the same bear that was causing problems late last year. Last week, a bear broke into a freezer inside a garage and feasted on venison, rhubarb and nuts. Svoboda says troopers and wildlife biologists have been trying to find the bear when they hear of break-ins, using non-lethal means like rubber bullets to condition the bear away from homes. The U.S. Coast Guard also brought in bear experts to remind residents of bear-aware safety measures.



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Sad end to search: Missing man found dead

The search for a missing man in western Alaska came to a sad end Monday when his body was found, according to a family member.

Henry Williams, 74, disappeared on Feb. 27 while traveling on an ATV between Goodnews Bay and Platinum on what is usually a half-hour trip.

Williams' daughter, Georgianna, says her father's body was located near Carter Spit by a family friend.

Alaska State Troopers said previously that Williams had left Goodnews Bay for Platinum, returning from a grocery trip along a short trail. When he didn’t arrive, a major air and ground search tried but failed to find him. On March 5, AST said deteriorating weather and ice conditions limited searchers’ efforts, and the search was suspended nearly a week after Williams vanished.



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Driver seriously injured after double semi wrecks off Sterling Highway

A driver of a double tractor-trailer was medevaced to Anchorage after his truck left the road and crashed in woods near Cooper Landing Monday morning, according to first responders. According to a post on Central Emergency Services’ Facebook page, crews responded to a mutual-aid request from Cooper Landing medics at about 5 a.m. for the wreck near Mile 52 of the Sterling Highway. “A semi-truck hauling two trailers went off the road near mile 52 of the Sterling Highway,” CES officials wrote. “CES surface ambulance met with a LifeMed helicopter at the Resurrection Trailhead, where the patient was flown to Anchorage with serious injuries.” CES spokesman Brad Nelson said medics seeking to stabilize the driver had their work cut out for them. “We had to chop down a bunch of trees and clear a path to get the guy to the roadway,” Nelson said. “He was pretty deep into the wooded area.” AST spokesman Tim DeSpain said Monday that the highway wasn't closed by the crash or the driver's medevac.

"He is expected to make a full recovery," DeSpain wrote. "No alcohol is suspected and the cause is still under (investigation)."

Channel 2 viewer Ross Davis said that a crane that was attempting to pull the semi trailer up also ended up flipping over, however this hasn't been confirmed by officials yet.  Channel 2’s Kortnie Horazdovsky contributed information to this story.

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Senators advance marijuana bill, shoot down concentrates ban

The Alaska State Senate passed a legislation, Monday, that updated the State laws that decriminalize marijuana, in accordance with the voter initiative passed in November.

The body voted 17-3 to pass Senate Bill 30, which aligns state law with a voter initiative to legalize marijuana.  The voter initiative that took effect Feb. 24, allows for people who are 21 and older age to posses six marijuana plants and up to an ounce of pot for recreational use.

"This bill upholds the will of the voters, while addressing such issues as: How do we handle someone who tries to give it to someone under 21," said Senate Majority Leader John Coghill.

The passage of Senate Bill 30 allows for law enforcement to arrest anyone who abuses marijuana under the initiative.

Senators Johnny Ellis, Berta Gardner and Bill Wielechowski voted against the bill saying that this bill classifies marijuana as a controlled substance instead of a regulated one.

Proponents of the bill said that warning labels on marijuana edible product packages would prevent scenarios in Alaska that were similar to Colorado.

Senator Pete Kelly's amendment to the bill, that looked to ban all concentrates, hashish oil and marijuana edibles, was defeated 14-6, with several Republicans voting against it.

This bill will now be passed over to the House of Representatives for consideration.



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