Rogue Valley News, Thursday 6/3 – Report Evaluates Jackson County’s Response To Last Years Fires, I-5 Closed South of Ashland Due To Commercial Truck Fire

The latest news stories of interest in the Rogue Valley and around the state of Oregon from the digital home of Southern Oregon, Wynne Broadcasting’s RogueValleyMagazine.com

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Rogue Valley Weather

Today– Sunny, with a high near 94. Calm wind becoming northwest 5 to 9 mph in the afternoon.

Friday– Sunny, with a high near 90. Calm wind becoming northwest 5 to 7 mph in the afternoon.

Saturday-Sunny, with a high near 82. Calm wind becoming northwest 5 to 8 mph in the afternoon.

Sunday– Sunny, with a high near 80.

Monday– Sunny, with a high near 76.

COVID UPDATES

Oregon reports 356 new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases, 2 new deaths

There are two new COVID-19 related deaths in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 2,676. The Oregon Health Authority reported 356 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 bringing the state total to 201,996.

The new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases reported today are in the following counties: Baker (5), Benton (8), Clackamas (32), Columbia (2), Crook (5), Curry (4), Deschutes (13), Douglas (16), Grant (7), Harney (11), Hood River (2), Jackson (33), Jefferson (13), Josephine (7), Klamath (8), Lake (1), Lane (26), Lincoln (2), Linn (12), Malheur (8), Marion (40), Multnomah (32), Polk (10), Umatilla (26), Union (2), Wallowa (1), Wasco (1), Washington (25) and Yamhill (4).

Oregon’s 2,675th COVID-19 death is a 53-year-old woman from Jackson County who tested positive on May 4 and died on May 31 at Asante Three Rivers Medical Center. He had underlying conditions.

Oregon’s 2,676th COVID-19 death is a 54-year-old man from Douglas County who tested positive on May 17 and died on May 27 at his residence. He had underlying conditions.

Vaccinations in Oregon

Today, OHA reported that 14,457 new doses of COVID-19 vaccinations were added to the state immunization registry. Of this total, 9,428 doses were administered on June 1 and 5,029 were administered on previous days but were entered into the vaccine registry on June 1.

The seven-day running average is now 21,005 doses per day.

Oregon has now administered 2,221,235 first and second doses of Pfizer, 1,608,334 first and second doses of Moderna and 144,596 single doses of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines. As of today, 1,863,888 people have completed a COVID-19 vaccine series. There are 2,247,597 people who have had at least one dose.

Cumulative daily totals can take several days to finalize because providers have 72 hours to report doses administered and technical challenges have caused many providers to lag in their reporting. OHA has been providing technical support to vaccination sites to improve the timeliness of their data entry into the state’s ALERT Immunization Information System (IIS).

To date, 2,827,215 doses of Pfizer, 2,153,680 doses of Moderna and 294,400 doses of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines have been delivered to sites across Oregon.

These data are preliminary and subject to change – OHA’s dashboards provide regularly updated vaccination data, and Oregon’s dashboard has been updated today.

COVID-19 hospitalizations

The number of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 across Oregon is 227, which is 11 fewer than yesterday. There are 65 COVID-19 patients in intensive care unit (ICU) beds, which is two fewer than yesterday.

The total number of COVID-19 positive patient bed-days in the most recent seven days is 1,737, which is an 8.8% decrease from the previous seven days. The peak daily number of beds occupied by COVID-19 positive patients in the most recent seven days is 260.

The total number of patients in hospital beds may fluctuate between report times. The numbers do not reflect admissions per day, nor the length of hospital stay. Staffing limitations are not captured in this data and may further limit bed capacity. More information about hospital capacity can be found here.

LOCAL HEADLINES:

Report Evaluates Jackson County’s Response To Last Years Fires

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday received an independent After Action Report of the response to the September 8 wildfires from consulting group Innovative Emergency Management, hired by the County in December.

IEM looked at the Almeda Fire, South Obenchain Fire, and two smaller brush fires that started in the Central Point area while the two larger fires were still burning. Specifically, the consulting group looked at the strengths and weaknesses of Jackson County’s preparedness and response during a 10-day period, beginning on September 8.

“Considering the rapid movement of the fire, the close proximity of the fire to large residential areas, and the necessary closures to main transportation arteries, the limited loss of life and the ability to quickly establish shelter to support evacuated residents is a testament to the quick coordination and strong relationships among fire officials, law enforcement, Jackson County agencies, state agencies, community organizations, and the communities in which they serve,” IEM said in the executive summary of the report.

The report highlighted several strengths in Jackson County’s handling of the fire event, including rapid response from local agencies, the speed with which an emergency evacuation shelter was set up at the Expo, and the strong existing relationships between the local agencies.

For areas in need of improvement, IEM pointed to challenges with “situational awareness” in the early hours of the fire and issues with the flow of information; a need for greater regional training, planning, and exercises; a vacancy in Jackson County’s two-person Emergency Management Department leadership at the time of the fire; and a lack of communication between the different city and county emergency officials that were involved in fighting the fires.

IEM examined a common concern in the wake of the Almeda Fire regarding the County’s emergency communications, particularly in regard to evacuations. Jackson County uses the Everbridge system — locally known as Citizen Alert — which allows for targeted messages to registered residents in certain areas. These alerts go out automatically to anyone with a landline, as well as anyone who registers their email or cell phone.

Unused during the September 8 fire response was the venerable Emergency Alert System (EAS), which would have directed television and radio stations to broadcast emergency information. In the wake of the Almeda Fire, many people have questioned why the EAS was not activated.

IEM’s report concluded that the use of Citizen Alerts — and the decision to eschew EAS — was an overall strength in Jackson County’s response, as the former could issue targeted alerts linked to specific evacuation areas, while the latter has limited ability to provide area-specific information.

“The EAS, compared to the Citizen Alert tool, has limited capabilities to include details such as maps and specific instructions for different areas of the incident” IEM said. “Closures of main transportation arteries were necessary due to erratic fire conditions and heavy smoke, resulting in an added challenge to evacuation efforts. Detailed evacuation notifications including specific mapped areas needing to evacuate were necessary to avoid unintended evacuations and unnecessary traffic.”

The consulting group cited fire and law enforcement officials, who expressed concern that a broad message sent to everyone in the area “would have resulted in increased chaos and possibly injuries and death.”

During the 10-day period that IEM examined, 39 alerts were issued through the Citizen Alert system — 15 of those during the first 48 hours. But the timeline of when those alerts were sent highlights some of snags in communication during the early hours of the fire event. After a flurry of alerts sent for the Ashland area, beginning just before noon as the Almeda Fire spread, those alerts shifted to the South Obenchain Fire for a period of several hours as officials issued evacuations there.

One alert was sent at 4 p.m. in the Almeda Fire area, urging residents to stay home “unless under an evacuation order,” in response to growing congestion on roadways as residents fled the encroaching fire. The next alert, sent at 5 p.m., contained an evacuation notice for the City of Phoenix. No alerts were sent regarding evacuations in the Talent area during that afternoon.

IEM highlighted confusion within local jurisdictions about who was responsible for issuing evacuation alerts, and whether those alerts were going out.

“According to many local jurisdictions’ EOPs, emergency alerting to residents for things such as evacuations is the responsibility of local officials. The County provides emergency alerting to the unincorporated areas of the County as well as support if requested by a local jurisdiction,” IEM wrote. “Some local jurisdictions did implement local emergency-alerting processes, and other jurisdictions associated with both the Almeda Drive and South Obenchain fires reported that they primarily relied on door-to-door evacuation notification with reported success. Because the County EOC and some of the cities included in the evacuation areas were not communicating, the County initiated some evacuation alerts through the Citizen Alert system.”

At the time of the fire, IEM said, only two people in the area had training and access to issue Citizen Alert messages: the Jackson and Josephine County Emergency Managers. Jackson County’s then-Emergency Manager, Stacey Anderson-Belt, was also responsible for setting up the Emergency Operation Center as the fire event unfolded.

“Multiple people working in the EOC indicated that the Emergency Manager had a significant number of responsibilities in the early moments of the incident and was unable to distribute emergency notifications in the incident’s early stages,” IEM noted.

Overall, IEM’s post-mortem lauded Jackson County’s relatively rapid adaptation to the fire events, with the designation of an EOC Incident Commander after those initial hours, allowing the Emergency Manager to focus on sending out alerts. The report also highlighted officials’ use of social media and web resources to issue updates.

“Many positive collaborations and processes were implemented throughout these fire incidents, such as the effective collaboration between ECSO and the Jackson County IT Department and the organizational structure implemented by County shelter-management staff,” IEM wrote. “These successes should be memorialized and integrated into city- and County-level emergency plans for future emergency responses.”

According to Jackson County’s damage assessments, the Almeda and South Obenchain fires destroyed more than 2,600 properties, with approximately 2,500 considered residential structures and 171 commercial properties. Three people died during the Almeda Fire, two of whom have been publicly identified.

Though officials accept that the September 8 fires were fueled and spread by extreme weather conditions, the official cause of the Almeda Fire remains under investigation.

Interstate 5 Northbound Closed South of Ashland Due To Commercial Truck Fire

Interstate 5 northbound traffic remained closed last night near the California border after a commercial truck caught fire near milepost 11, just south of Ashland.  ODOT, OSP and Ashland/Jackson Co. Fire District 5 fire crews responded to the truck fire shortly before 6 p.m. The truck trailer contained paper products and appears to be a total loss.

Crews cleared the burning debris and a single lane of northbound traffic was opened after 7:30 p.m. It took some time for the traffic back-up to clear as it extended from milepost 1 and into California. — ODOT: SW Oregon

Fire Danger Level to rise to MODERATE (Blue) in the City of Grants Pass Friday, June 4th

2021-06/6917/145521/Closure_peacock_mod.jpg

Hot weather across southwest Oregon has dried vegetation in the region’s wildlands to the degree that the Oregon Department of Forestry’s Southwest Oregon District will increase the fire danger level to Moderate (blue) on Friday, June 4th. Fire prevention regulations in the City of Grants Pass will increase as well.

The following fire season regulations will go into effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday, June 4th within the City of Grants Pass.

•             Smoking in areas of flammable vegetation is prohibited.

•             Open wood-fueled fires are prohibited, including campfires, cooking fires, and warming fires, except at locations designated by the Fire Marshal. Wood smokers, charcoal barbecues, propane, and natural gas-fueled ornamental fires are allowed.

•             Power saws must be shut down between the hours of 1:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Each power saw is required to have one shovel and one fire extinguisher of at least 8-ounce capacity. A firewatch of at least one hour is required following the use of the saw.

•             Cutting, grinding, and welding of metal in areas of flammable vegetation is not allowed between the hours of 1:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.

•             The mowing of dried, cured grass will not be allowed between the hours of 1:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.

•             Motor vehicles, including motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles, are only allowed on improved roads free of flammable vegetation, except for the culture and harvest of agricultural crops.

•             Any other spark-emitting internal combustion engine in areas of flammable vegetation not specifically mentioned will not be allowed between the hours of 1:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. This equipment must be used in a cleared area during other hours, and a charged garden hose or one 2 ½ pound or larger fire extinguisher is immediately available.

The City Fire Marshal or an authorized representative may, in writing, approve a modification or waiver of these requirements.

For more information about the City of Grants Pass Fire Season regulations, please call the Fire Prevention Bureau at 541-450-6200 — Grants Pass Fire/Rescue

U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley Schedules Remote Town Hall For Josephine County Residents Next Tuesday 6/8

Cover picture for the article

Senator Jeff Merkley, one of Oregon’s two U.S. Senators, is scheduled to hold a remote town hall for Josephine County residents next Tuesday.

According to Merkley’s office, he plans to update constitutents on his work in Washington D.C., in addition to answering questions and inviting suggestions about how to tackle the challenges currently facing Oregon and ther nation.

“Hearing from Oregonians across the state is critical to doing my job. In these uncertain times, it’s more important than ever to hear directly from folks, but it’s also important to respect the health and safety of every member of our communities while there is still a very real risk of spreading COVID-19 through in-person gatherings,” Merkley said. “The ideas and priorities I hear about in town halls inform the solutions that I fight to get into federal law. I look forward to these discussions—even if they’re online, on mobile devices, or on the telephone—about how we can strengthen our state and our nation.”

The town hall is scheduled for Tuesday, June 8, at 4 p.m. Those interested in attending can join via Zoom or by phone.

On a computer, smartphone or tablet: click here to join the Zoom meeting

On the phone:

  • Dial: 669-254-5252
  • Meeting ID: 160 798 7182#
  • Participant ID: #
  • Passcode: 82526034#

AROUND the STATE of OREGON

PUC hosts a public meeting to hear invited testimony regarding the forecast for the 2021 wildfire season and wildfire mitigation planning efforts by investor-owned utilities

WHEN:                       Thursday, June 3, 2021 from 9 a.m. – Noon (PT)

VIEW ONLINE:          View the agenda and link to the Zoom Webinar

CALL-IN:                    971-247-1195 (Meeting ID: 824 9332 6027) (Passcode: 5742807761)

The Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) is hosting a special public meeting to hear invited testimony from the Oregon Department of Forestry on the 2021 wildfire forecast and from regulated electric and telecommunications utilities on wildfire mitigation planning efforts in preparation for the 2021 wildfire season.

This meeting is to provide a forum for the Commissioners to receive information from the regulated utility service providers whose systems and customers may be impacted by wildfires, and for Commissioners to ask questions about planning efforts.

Agenda:

  • Oregon Department of Forestry – Ron Graham, Deputy Chief of Operations, Fire Protection Division
  • AT&T – Paul Braunstein, Principal Consultant, FirstNet Solutions 
  • Lumen (formerly CenturyLink) – Melissa Mann, Vice President, Government Affairs and Public Policy
  • Idaho Power – Doug Dockter, Transmission & Distribution and Reliability Senior Manager
  • PacifiCorp, dba Pacific Power – Allen Barreth, Vice President, Transmission & Distribution Operations
  • Portland General Electric – Bill Messner, Director of Wildfire Mitigation & Resiliency; Larry Bekkedahl, Senior Vice President, Advanced Energy Delivery
     

During this public meeting there will not be opportunities for the media or the public to ask questions.  

The recording of the meeting will be posted to the PUC website the same day on the PUC Events Archive page. — Oregon Public Utility Commission

Woman Died Homeless While Oregon Held More than $800,000 of Her Unclaimed Money

Cathy Boone died homeless while living on the streets of Astoria despite inheriting a small fortune. The state of Oregon held more than $800,000 of her unclaimed money when the 49-year-old passed away in January 2020.

Friends and acquaintances said they had no idea Boone had money available to her. She struggled to survive, like many others living unsheltered in a harsh outside environment.

“It just didn’t make any sense to me. That money was just sitting there, and she needed help in the worst way,” said Jack Spithill, Boone’s father. Boone struggled with mental health issues and drug abuse, according to her father.

Catherine Boone, known to friends as Cathy, grew up in the Portland area. Her parents separated when she was young. Her father, who remarried and lives in Texas, tried to stay connected to his daughter.

Boone struggled in her adult life. “I attribute it almost all to drugs, but I think she also had some mental health issues and the combination of the two didn’t work out for her very well,” explained Spithill.

For several years, Boone volunteered at the nonprofit Sisters of The Road Café in downtown Portland before moving to Astoria, where her mother lived. In 2016, Boone’s mother, Patricia Lupton, passed away. Cathy relapsed into drug abuse, according to her father.

“When she didn’t have any connection to family or friends, and she was using drugs then I think she was a truly lost soul,” explained Spithill.

Court records show after her mother died, an attorney and personal representative assigned to her mother’s estate tried to locate Boone. They took out advertisements in the local newspaper, messaged her on Facebook, emailed family members and tried reaching Boone by phone. A private investigator hired to find Boone also came up empty.

In July 2019, a Clatsop County judge ordered $884,407 of the estate’s assets be sent to the Department of State Lands, which handles unclaimed money from estates where heirs cannot be located or refuse payment.

It is not clear if Boone ever knew the money was hers or if she understood how to get it, according to her father.

“I don’t think she would approach them on her own but there were enough people who could have given her some help,” said Spithill.

Boone’s father regrets that he wasn’t able to help Cathy, nor was anybody in the court system or local police. He wishes someone could have stepped in to help Cathy take the first step toward reclaiming her life.

“I think my failure to recognize her mental health issues. I kind of gave up on her because of the drugs and shouldn’t have done that,” said a tearful Spithill.

“This sounds like a very tragic story,” said Chris Rosin, Oregon public guardian and conservator.

Rosin explained guardianship is only appropriate and legally allowable in Oregon when a person is so profoundly cognitively impaired that they are incapacitated.

Guardianship is a last resort. It essentially removes the ability of a person to make their own decisions and given that authority to someone else who then has the power to decide where they can live, what medical care they receive, where they can go, who they can see and basically everything else in their life.

Many services can be obtained voluntarily, like mental health counseling and drug and alcohol treatment. But, in those cases, the person must want treatment for their condition.

“When individuals are homeless, day to day survival becomes more important than dealing with a medical condition,” explained Amy Baker, executive director of Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare.

Baker said sometimes the criminal justice system gets involved due to minor crimes. Health workers can help through mental health and substance use disorder treatment courts.

Additionally, Baker said Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare has started hiring people with lived experience to do recovery outreach.

Another option could have potentially been a civil commitment by local behavioral health program, although the requirements are often more difficult than the standard for guardianship.

In the end, health experts say the bar is very high to force treatment.

On January 13, 2020, Boone had breathing problems while staying at the Astoria Warming Shelter. An ambulance rushed her to St. Vincent’s hospital in Portland where she later died.

In October, Oregon Department of State Lands paid $884,000 to the personal representative of the estate of Cathy Boone. Court records indicate the estate is working to identify all persons who might have claims to the money, including her two biological children.

The Oregon Department of State Lands, the agency which handles unclaimed money from estates where heirs cannot be located or refuse payment is not responsible for finding known heirs. Instead, the state agency is simply required to hold the money, until the person entitled to it comes forward.

“Given a year and a half of effort taken by the personal representative and the attorney for this particular estate, there really isn’t much more that the state could do,” explained Claudia Ciobanu, unclaimed property manager with Oregon State Lands.

Ciobanu said the money was sitting and waiting for Boone prior to her death. She just needed to claim it. “This is a unique case and we sympathize with the family,” explained Ciobanu.

Wildfire Shuts Down I-84 In Columbia River GorgeEvacuations Levels Lowered Now

A wildfire burning in the east end of the Columbia River Gorge forced evacuations in The Dalles on Wednesday, officials said, but as firefighters fought back the flames, evacuation orders were lowered.

Firefighters got a handle on a 130-acre wildfire that threatened homes and businesses in The Dalles on Wednesday afternoon, but they worried the warm and windy weather over the next couple of days may rekindle the flames.

After the fire was reported around 2 p.m. just west of town, officials closed Interstate 84.

Fire officials said the Mile Post 85 Fire started on one side of the freeway and jumped to the other, burning through grass and scattered timber, pushed on by strong winds.

Power lines also came down, knocking out power to about 320 Northern Wasco County PUD customers in the Rowena area. The fire also burned up to the edge of the Google Data Center.

The Wasco County Sheriff’s Office issued Level 3 (Go Now) evacuation orders for the Pinewood Mobile Manor, the Columbia River Discovery Center & Museum, and The Dalles Country Club.

Residents and employees of businesses were allowed to return several hours later under a Level 1 (Be Ready) evacuation notice.

The fire was 70% contained late Wednesday.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, but Stan Hinastu, spokesman with the U.S. Forest Service, said the fire was likely human caused.

Firefighters from several agencies in the region joined the fight, including a helicopter, which dumped water on the fire, enabling ground crews to get the upper hand on the blaze.

But the next couple days will be crucial to ensure the fire doesn’t spark up again.

“What’s going to be problematic for us in the next day or two, is these draws you can see here, where there tends to be heavier vegetation there — that will take some time to mop up. We’re expecting a windy day tomorrow, warm and windy tomorrow, and windy the next day, and when you combine those two things together, it just takes one little spark to get something like this going again,” Hinastu said.

He said he hoped it wouldn’t be like this during the summer. But April and May were dry months, with well below normal rain totals.

A Heat Advisory was in effect through 8 p.m. Thursday, and the area was also under a Fire Weather Watch through 10 p.m. Friday. A burn ban just took effect Tuesday for Wasco County.

>>> Gauge Your Wildfire Risk <<<

Mehl Creek Fire in Douglas County 80% Contained

Crews continue battling the wildfire 3 miles southwest of Elkton near Mehl Creek Road.

“Resources assigned to the day shift operations of the Mehl Creek Fire on Wednesday made great progress on the blaze, which is now 80% contained,” the Douglas Forest protective Association said.

115 firefighters with the support of four water tenders, two bulldozers, and two helicopters completed fire lines around the perimeter of the incident by the early afternoon hours.

Once fire lines were completed, crews shifted their efforts toward extinguishing smokes and smoldering material within the fire area.

“Crews started this process, known as mop-up operations, near the outside edge of the fire and will work their way into the black with the objective of fully extinguishing the fire,” DFPA explained. “This process can take several days to a week or longer depending on the site.”

Smoke from the interior of the fire may be visible while this work is being conducted. 45 firefighters will remain engaged on the fire overnight, continuing the mop-up process.

Both aviation and ground resources working on the Mehl Creek Fire during Wednesday’s day shift operations worked to better map the incident, officials said.

While the fire has yet to be fully mapped with GPS coordinates, resources believe that the fire is closer to 100 acres in size rather than the previous estimates of 150–200 acres.

“More accurate mapping will be conducted in the coming days,” DFPA said. Heavy fire traffic in the Mehl Creek area will continue for at several more days.

“While there are no road closures in place, motorists are reminded that fire equipment and or personnel may be parked on or working near Mehl Creek Road and are asked to slow down and use caution when driving through the area.”

Business Oregon’s final portion of a program to provide grants for small businesses to help with commercial rent and operational costs in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic ends June 6th.

Business Oregon logo

The Oregon Legislative Emergency Board allocated approximately $100 million for the program to help small businesses impacted by the pandemic and the restrictions it necessitated. Following two rounds of distribution of Commercial Rent Relief assistance grants, approximately $28 million remains to be distributed in this final round through the Operational Cost Assistance Grant.

The Operational Cost Assistance Grant is designed for businesses with 100 or fewer employees in industries that were particularly affected by the pandemic, including those that:

  1. offer the consumption of food and or drink on premise;
  2. provide specified indoor physical exercise, recreational or family entertainment; OR
  3. provide specified personal services.

Restaurants, bars, gyms, brewpubs, theaters, bowling centers, and salons are some of the more common examples of eligible businesses. Full details of the program, including eligible industries, is available on Business Oregon’s website and in application materials. Applicants must have faced financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Oregon.

Applications for the Operational Cost Assistance Grant will be accepted beginning May 26, and continue through June 6.

he application process is NOT first-come, first-served. Awards will be selected after a random lottery process of all complete and eligible applications received. Applicants are encouraged to take time with the application form to make sure all information is correct. Missing or incorrect information, particularly simple contact information such as email and phone numbers delays processing significantly.

Businesses that previously received assistance grants through the State of Oregon Commercial Rent Relief Program for the same location are eligible to receive this new grant, as long as the award amount through the Commercial Rent Relief Program was less than $100,000. Total combined awards from either program will not exceed $100,000 for a single applicant.

The first two rounds of the Commercial Rent Relief Grant has processed payments to help more than 2,400 small businesses throughout Oregon. There are still some applicants that have either not responded to follow-up communications from Business Oregon, or that provided incomplete or incorrect information. Applicants that have not heard from Business Oregon are encouraged to contact Business Oregon via email or phone at 833-604-0880.

This is the seventh COVID-specific program Business Oregon has implemented to help businesses navigate the impacts of the pandemic. One of those programs — the emergency small business grant — helped about 7,400 small businesses with $43 million in grants to help offset revenue impacts from COVID-19.

More program information and eligibility details are available on Business Oregon’s website, along with the application link.

https://development.oregon4biz.com/acton/rif/14786/s-04ff-2105/-/l-0007:48f/q-000c/showPreparedMessage?sid=TV2:isoHKuVAO

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