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December 17, 2017

US, Cuba spar over migration policy at historic Havana talks

HAVANA (AP) — The United States said Wednesday it dispatched additional ships to the Florida Straits to halt Cuban rafters but rebuffed demands for broader changes to U.S. migration rules that dominated the first day of talks between Cuban officials and the highest-ranking U.S. delegation to the island in more than three decades.

Cuba urged the U.S. to end immigration privileges that grant virtually automatic legal residency to any Cuban who touches U.S. soil. Its government blames the Cold War policy for luring tens of thousands of Cubans a year to make perilous journeys by sea and land to try to reach the United States. Still, many Cubans are worried the elimination of the rules would take away their chance to have a better life in the U.S.

“I don’t want them to get rid of it,” said Mile Nieves, a 42-year-old Havana resident. “I’ve got my whole family there and I’m desperate to leave.”

U.S. officials reported a spike in the number of rafters attempting to reach Florida after the Dec. 17 announcement that the countries would move to normalize ties. Those numbers appear to have slowed in recent days.

In Washington, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson issued a statement saying additional Coast Guard cutters have been deployed to stop Cuban and Haitian migrants from reaching the United States by boat.

America’s “wet foot, dry foot” approach, which generally shields Cubans from deportation if they touch U.S. land, remains in effect, Johnson said. But he stressed that those trying to come by sea would most likely be interdicted and returned.

“Cuba wants a normal relationship with the U.S., in the broadest sense but also in the area of migration,” said Cuba’s head of North American affairs, Josefina Vidal. She called for the U.S. to end “exceptional treatment that no other citizens in the world receive, causing an irregular situation in the flow of migrants.”

American officials instead pressed Cuba to take back tens of thousands of its nationals whom U.S. authorities want to deport because they have been convicted of crimes. No progress was made on that issue, according to an official present in the meeting. The official wasn’t authorized to speak on the matter and demanded anonymity.

The talks continue Thursday with broader negotiations on how the U.S. and Cuba can end a half-century of enmity — as promised last month by Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro. The nations hope to re-establish embassies and post ambassadors to each other’s capitals in the coming months.

After meeting with the Cubans for more than three hours, State Department officials said the annual migration talks had been easier than usual because the two sides felt comfortable focusing almost entirely on migration. In past years, the migration talks served as a pretext for a wider range of bilateral disagreements.

“Today’s discussions prove that despite clear differences that remain between our countries, the United States and Cuba can find opportunities to advance our mutual, shared interests as well as engage in respectful and thoughtful dialogue,” said the State Department’s Alex Lee, who headed the U.S. delegation ahead of Wednesday afternoon’s arrival of Roberta Jacobson.

Jacobson is the top American diplomat for Latin America and most senior U.S. official to visit Cuba in more than three decades.

Lt. Cmdr. Gabe Somma, spokesman for the Coast Guard’s 7th District in Miami, said “aggressively” stepped-up patrols have eased the spike in rafters seen immediately after the twin announcements last month by Castro and Obama.

“We have seen a slowdown in the last two weeks,” Somma said. He wouldn’t say how many more U.S. boats were patrolling the Florida Straits and Caribbean.

The Havana talks were occurring hours after Obama said U.S. efforts to loosen the five-decade trade embargo have “the potential to end a legacy of mistrust in our hemisphere” and are a “new hope for the future in Cuba.”

___

Associated Press writers Anne-Marie Garcia and Andrea Rodriguez in Havana and Jennifer Kay in Miami contributed to this report.

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US, Cuba spar over migration policy at historic Havana talks

Putrajaya snubbed cheaper energy savings scheme for nuclear plans, forum told

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 24 ― Putrajaya “ignored” a proposed energy savings scheme that could have saved Malaysia billions of ringgit and scrap any need to construct nuclear power plants here, a former civil servant claimed.

Energy efficiency activist Zaini Abdul Wahab, 40, told a forum last night that the government was well aware of alternative options to the two nuclear power plants it was planning to build in Malaysia.

“Because I know for a fact that it was mentioned in Parliament and in many seminars by the agencies, by having just a 10 year programme on energy efficiency, the only money required from the government is less than one billion (ringgit), average [RM100,000] a year, we can avoid capacity of at least 3GW of power demand, equivalent to three nuclear power plants,” he told a 60-strong crowd at a forum here last night.

Zaini, who has worked with the Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry (Kettha) and Sustainable Energy Development Authority (Seda) during his eight-year service, claimed that the government had “ignored” the proposed programme, which would have purportedly translated into billions of savings as Putrajaya would not have to fork out money to subsidise nuclear energy.

“But they ignored that. As for now, they ignore that. That’s my first argument why I’m against nuclear, because they have the options, they ignore that,” said Zaini, now an energy management consultant in the private sector.

Zaini, who was not listed as a speaker but was invited to address the crowd, said there was a need to be “realistic”, however, and that he expects nuclear plants will eventually be introduced in a few more decades to meet power demands.

His arguments echoed the stand of Prof G. Lalchand, a speaker at the same forum.

Lalchand, a former Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) staff, told the crowd that he was not anti-nuclear, but he believes that nuclear plants should only be a last resort in another decade.

“We do not need nuclear before 2025, in the meantime, the chances are there for energy efficiency to drop the demand from consumers to the same as the nuclear power can generate,” said Lalchand, who is both an engineer and an academic, adding that it would be cheaper

Nodding to major disasters involving nuclear power plants such as the US’s Three Mile Island’s 1979 accident, Ukraine’s Chernobyl 1986 accident, Japan’s Fukushima 2011 incident, Lalchand said that such accidents had always prompted the raising of safety standards.

“That’s why I said it should be as late as possible to get more safe,” he said, when explaining that a delay in Malaysia’s rolling out of nuclear power plants would enable the use of newer and safer technology.

Until then, Lalchand pushed for energy efficiency ― where users maximise the work done through the energy used ― to save costs and avert the need to build new power plants.

During the forum, another panellist, Datuk Dr Ronald McCoy spoke about the hidden costs in using nuclear technology to generate electricity, citing studies on how the number of cancer-related deaths had risen among those living near nuclear power plants.

According to McCoy, the hidden costs include the maintenance of nuclear power plants, and the disposal of radioactive waste, as well as the decommissioning of plants.

The forum which also featured activist Prof Dr Tan Ka Kheng was held in conjunction with the launch last night of anti-nuclear grassroots movement Anak Malaysia Anti Nuklear (Aman), which is chaired by McCoy.

Aman, which is urging the government to scrap its plans in the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) to build nuclear plants, has listed seven reasons for its objection.

Among the reasons given were safety concerns, fears of Malaysia being dependent on other countries for expertise and supply of nuclear materials for the plants, adequate power supply currently, as well as slower growth in new nuclear plants with countries tapering off the use of such power-generating methods.

As early as December 2010, the government was reported to be planning to build the country’s first ever nuclear power plants, with reports later saying that seven locations in Malaysia had been identified as the possible sites for two nuclear plants.

Initially slated for completion in 2021 and 2022, the plan was later postponed last year as the Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdown remained fresh in the public’s minds.

In July this year, Minister in Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Mah Siew Keong said the government will carry out studies to determine the feasibility of building a nuclear plant within the next 10 years, promising to “make everything transparent” and keep the public informed.

Continued here: 

Putrajaya snubbed cheaper energy savings scheme for nuclear plans, forum told

Wildlife groups seek help for California owl

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — Loggers cutting down forests burned in wildfires could bring about the extinction of California spotted owls, wildlife advocates said Tuesday as they sought protection for the birds under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The petition says emerging science has shown that the owls thrive in old growth forests that are still living as well as those that have been burned and turned black by high-intensity forest fires.

That finding contradicts current common practice of the U.S. Forest Service, which opens up some burned forests to loggers, the petition states.

U.S. Forest Service spokesman John Heil said officials don’t believe the California spotted owl is in danger of extinction. The agency maintains that massive wildfires are the greatest threat to the owls and works to ensure the owl’s habitat is maintained or improved, he said.

Spotted owls have declined throughout California by about 40 percent in the past three decades, said Chad Hanson, a forest ecologist at the John Muir Project of Earth Island Institute and one of the petitioners.

There are an estimated 1,200 pairs nesting in the state stretching from Lassen National Forest in the north to San Bernardino National Forest in the south, he said.

Without federal protection, Hanson said the owls could be gone after another three decades of logging.

“You don’t call that a decline,” he said. “Science is telling us loudly that this species is at serious risk of extinction.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which denied protection to the spotted owl in 2006 under a similar request, has three months to decide if there is evidence to support the request and open a deeper discussion. Officials at the U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declined to comment, saying they had not yet seen the 130-page petition.

Rangers monitor California spotted owls and are currently updating a 1992 study to determine what help is needed. That study should be ready early next year with a conservation strategy complete by 2016, Heil said.

Mike Albrecht, a logger and owner of Sierra Resources Management, said removing burned trees creates healthier forests, which benefits spotted owls and people. Loggers have left large swaths of forests in California untouched, which are open to wildlife, he said.

“It’s a little misleading to blame logging or massive fires or any one thing on the demise of the spotted owl,” he said. “We’re all working hard to preserve it.”

Monica Bond, a biologist with the Wild Nature Institute and one of the petitioners, said a 400-square-mile area burned in the 2013 Rim Fire is a prime example of the logic in the petition.

Spotted owls have flourished a year after the Sierra Nevada’s largest fire in recorded history raced through Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park, she said. Hanson and Bond have taken part in a lawsuit attempting to stop logging in the Rim Fire area.

“The fact is that logging is going to hurt owls,” she said. “It’s time to give this owl some help.”

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Wildlife groups seek help for California owl

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, former basketball stars to run NYC Marathon relay

NEW YORK, N.Y. – NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will run the first three miles of the New York City Marathon on Sunday as part of a 24-person relay of basketball luminaries.

Dikembe Mutombo will cross the finish line for the group, which is trying to encourage kids to exercise.

Silver said Monday that he will run over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge from Staten Island to Brooklyn then pass a baton to Chris Mullin, the Brooklyn native who starred at St. John’s in Queens before a Hall of Fame NBA career.

Mullin, now an executive with the Sacramento Kings, will be followed by a long list of big-name players to cover the 26.2 miles.

Most also have local ties, including Bronx native and fellow Hall of Famer Nate “Tiny” Archibald; Knicks greats Charles Oakley, Bernard King and Allan Houston; the Nets’ Darryl Dawkins; Brooklyn native Sam Perkins; and New York City high school legends Felipe Lopez and Albert King.

Also running is Jason Collins, who made history last season with the Nets as the first openly gay player in the four major North American pro sports leagues.

WNBA stars Swin Cash, Teresa Edwards, Ruth Riley and Katie Smith are on the relay along with players-turned-NBA TV analysts Greg Anthony and Steve Smith.

Rounding out the group are executives from the league, Knicks and Nets and broadcaster Mike Breen.

Each celebrity will be joined on his or her one-mile leg with a local student who takes part in marathon organizer New York Road Runners’ youth programs. Silver will run alongside Lauren Pitarresi, a 14 year-old from Staten Island, “who I’m concerned is going to smoke me,” he joked.

Silver is an avid runner who has twice completed the NYC Marathon, finishing in just under four hours in both 2002 and 2010. He competed in track and cross country — and not basketball — in high school in Rye, New York, where he was a quarter- and half-miler.

The 52-year-old Silver hasn’t been running as much since he became commissioner in February. He still gets in four or five workouts a week, often taking two laps around the reservoir in Central Park for just over three miles.

He’s not in good enough shape to do the full race Sunday, though it’s a strange sensation as a marathoner to stop after only a few miles.

“I felt awkward running only a leg of the marathon and not the entire marathon, having remembered some famous New York stories of people who started and didn’t necessarily finish,” Silver said.

Plans for the relay began in the early spring. New York is home to this season’s NBA All-Star weekend, with events at the Nets’ Brooklyn arena and the game at Madison Square Garden.

The league is seeking to reach a half-million youngsters in the five boroughs through fitness programs in conjunction with hosting the festivities.

Silver will start just after Wave 1 on Sunday. He needs to be ready to leave his home on Manhattan’s West Side at 6 a.m. to get to Staten Island, though he said he’s “negotiating” a later pick-up.

Other participants will gather at a hotel in Manhattan or another in Brooklyn to be ferried to their baton-passing points, which will take place at mile-markers.

Twenty-seven vehicles will be required to get everybody to the proper places, with co-ordination from the New York Police Department to ensure they can be transported through the crowded streets.

Marathon officials expect the relay to take more than five hours.

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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, former basketball stars to run NYC Marathon relay

Where retreating from rising seas is the only option

By Deborah J. Nelson and Duff Wilson

SAXIS, Virginia (Reuters) – This town on Chesapeake Bay is losing three to five feet (1 to 1.5 meters) of shoreline a year and suffered damage during hurricane Sandy. But like hundreds of rural communities along the coast, it is competing with much larger, more powerful neighbors for public funds to bankroll a response to rising seas.

Coastal engineers say communities have three options for dealing with rising water levels and increased flooding: defend the shoreline with natural or man-made barriers; adapt, such as by raising roads and buildings; or retreat.

New York City is planning a $20 billion mix of defense and adaptation measures – most notably, construction of “The Big U,” a 10-mile (16-km) fortress of berms and movable walls around lower Manhattan. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office says three-quarters of the money needed over the next decade is already in hand from federal, state and local sources.

For places like Saxis, population 240, the options are more stark:  retreat now or retreat later.

Many Saxis residents – watermen who harvest oysters, crabs and fish, and seafood industry workers – trace their ancestry to settlers in the 1600s and speak a language peppered with Elizabethan inflections. Some don’t hold out much hope for the future.

“Little places like us, there’s not going to be any help for us because whatever resources are available will be sucked up by the big cities to try to defend them,” said Grayson Chesser, a decoy carver, hunting guide and Accomack County supervisor.

Belinda, a nearby village where his grandfather was born, is one of several he cites that no longer exist, abandoned when frequent flooding made them uninhabitable. Families relocated to higher ground, where he resides today, but now it’s flooding, too.

A decade ago, Saxis managed to get federal approval for a $3.2 million U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project to build eight breakwaters that would slow the sea’s advance. But the town couldn’t scrape together its required contribution of nearly $1 million, so the plan was killed.

The 700 residents of Tangier Island, a better-known historic Chesapeake enclave, waited nearly two decades for $4.2 million in state and federal money to build a 430-foot-long seawall, jetty and stone revetment. The project is scheduled to be finished by 2017.

“It’s becoming more and more competitive for federal funds in terms of protecting communities,” said Curtis Smith, a planner with the Accomack-Northampton Planning District. So Saxis is “competing with Miami and New York and Virginia Beach.”

Virginia Beach, with a population of 438,000, has been the recipient of a federally funded seawall and two major sand projects totaling more than $150 million since 1996.

Some Saxis residents have raised their houses to reduce the risk of flood damage. But that’s only a partial solution if the roads that connect them to grocery stores, hospitals and schools become impassable, Smith said.

There, too, rural areas compete for funding with more heavily trafficked urban areas.

Accomack County has more miles of road in jeopardy from rising sea levels than anywhere else in Virginia, a state study found. On the harder hit Chesapeake Bay side, some spots now flood nearly every full moon.

The Virginia Department of Transportation is struggling with the question of how to combat increased flooding in “low-volume, low-population areas,” said Chris Isdell, the department’s representative in Accomack County. “You’re trying to fight back Mother Nature. … How do you do that in a roadway that sits at sea level?”

Saxis residents may eventually have to face up to the same hard fate Chesser’s grandfather’s community did and abandon their homes.

“I wish I could say I thought Saxis would be saved, but there’s no way. It costs so much money,” Chesser said. “And even if you spend the money, I don’t’ think you can do it. I mean you just can’t beat the ocean. You’re going to lose every time.”

(Edited by John Blanton)

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Where retreating from rising seas is the only option

Sandy-hit towns wrestle with eminent-domain choice

ASHAROKEN, N.Y. (AP) — On a tiny spit of land off Long Island, the wealthy village of Asharoken faces a dilemma borne of Superstorm Sandy.

Either it accepts millions of dollars in federal aid to build a protective sand dune and for the first time in its nearly 90-year existence allows the public to use its beach or it rejects the aid and retains its privacy, potentially worsening an erosion problem that saw part of its main road washed out and power lines toppled during the October 2012 storm.

But some of the 600-plus residents in the village of million-dollar homes worry opening up the area could lead to traffic problems, trespassing and more garbage.

“I think privacy, pollution and safety, these are the three main concerns,” resident Asenneth Elsin said. “I don’t have a problem sharing, but unfortunately there will be people not following the rules.”

Asharoken is just one place where the tussle among coastal protection, property rights, public access and federal funding is playing out in New York and New Jersey, both hit hard by the storm.

Much of the damage was caused by storm surge, which flooded or destroyed homes and washed out boardwalks. In some places, such as Surf City on Long Beach Island in New Jersey, dunes held off serious damage while neighboring communities without such protection were nearly wiped out.

Now there’s a movement afoot to build or replenish dunes before the next storm. After Sandy, Congress granted the Army Corps $5.3 billion to study damaged areas and for projects to build dunes, enlarge beaches and install structures to slow sand movement.

Before work can begin, though, property owners must sign agreements allowing access to parts of their property for eternity. And to get the federal funding, communities must agree to provide public routes to the funded beaches.

If they decide to keep the beaches to themselves, it’s either find a way to pay for dunes or risk getting flooded again.

New York and New Jersey officials have said they’re committed to seeing the work through, even if it means getting courts involved. They say taking property by eminent domain is a possibility.

Asharoken lies between Long Island Sound and a harbor on the narrowest part of a peninsula connecting mainland Long Island with the community of Eaton’s Neck at the tip. It has about 300 homes. Residents who don’t live on the water can buy beach-only lots, and they leave kayaks, patio sets, umbrellas and more on the property.

The Corps is studying an estimated $30 million plan to build a dune and berm and enlarge the beach. In a letter to residents, Asharoken Mayor Greg Letica said if the village didn’t accept the federal funding it would cost homeowners up to $100,000 apiece to restore the beach.

If the Corps project moves forward, Asharoken may have to take property to create public beach access and compensate homeowners. The problem: Because of its small population, it has an annual budget of just over $2 million, so Letica is asking officials to ease the public access requirement.

Asharoken is among several places in New York where the Corps is studying or building dunes.

Some structures may be demolished on Fire Island, a barrier island for Long Island that’s dotted with beachside communities and home to a national seashore, to make way for a project.

Breezy Point, a cooperative on Queens’ Rockaway Peninsula that flooded and burned during Sandy, was given a $1.2 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to study building a $57 million dune with a sea wall.

In New Jersey, 11 Corps projects are planned, but it hasn’t gotten all homeowners to sign easements.

“We’re looking to make our shores more resilient,” said Bob Considine, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. “We’re doing this for the good of the entire shore and New Jersey.”

A 14-mile dune project from Manasquan Inlet to Barnegat Inlet has some of the most holdouts, with the boroughs of Bay Head and Point Pleasant Beach accounting for nearly 200.

In Point Pleasant Beach, much of the boardwalk and beach are privately owned to the mean high-water mark, and several large businesses operate amusements there.

Jenkinson’s Boardwalk, the largest beachfront property owner, said building a dune would erase beach areas where volleyball, movies, weddings and other events are held. The owners said they don’t believe a dune would stop flooding because properties behind Jenkinson’s weren’t flooded by Sandy’s surge.

The borough has approved granting an easement on property it owns, but 69 other property owners haven’t.

“I understand their concerns, and in a perfect world we wouldn’t do this,” Mayor Vincent Barrella said. “But we don’t have that. We live in a post-Sandy world.”

___

Emily C. Dooley, a Newsday reporter on leave, is studying community resilience issues, the ability of communities to bounce back from various shocks, as part of a nine-month fellowship at the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, which joins NORC’s independent research and AP journalism. The fellowship is funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.

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Sandy-hit towns wrestle with eminent-domain choice

Hiker dies after falling from treacherous Hawaii trail

(Reuters) – A hiker was killed and another person injured after they fell while hiking a notoriously difficult trail on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, the U.S. Coast Guard said on Friday.

A group of five people were hiking the strenuous Kalalau Trail, considered one of the most treacherous in the United States, late on Thursday when a 25-year-old man slipped and fell down rugged cliffs over the Na Pali Coast, the Coast Guard said.

The group called for help around 11:45 p.m. and Coast Guard teams, including a rescue swimmer, located the fallen hiker near the water, said Petty Officer Melissa McKenzie.

The rescue swimmer attempted CPR but the hiker, who was not identified, was pronounced dead at the scene. A second male hiker in the group sustained a severe leg injury falling from the trail and was transported by helicopter to a local hospital, McKenzie said.

The 11-mile trail takes two days to hike on average, with those granted permits to climb the path usually camping for one night along the way, Hawaii state park officials said.

It was unclear if the hikers were camping or still hiking after dark when the accident occurred, McKenzie said. A Kauai Fire Department helicopter hoisted the remaining three hikers off the trail on Friday.

(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere in Seattle; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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Hiker dies after falling from treacherous Hawaii trail