The Desert Sun (Palm Springs) 11 hrs ago
College of the Desert Vice President Jeff Baker has initiated a legal claim against the college, the school’s top leader and two board of trustee members, alleging they defamed him. He also claims the behavior of former trustee Aurora Wilson led to retaliation against him after he raised concerns about the college’s 2021 search that resulted in the hiring of Superintendent/President Martha Garcia.
Baker, through a government claim filed with COD on Nov. 16, says he has suffered substantial emotional distress and damage to his reputation as a higher education administrator. Baker has been on a mental health disability leave from the college since September, according to the document.
“The conditions Defendants created for Mr. Baker at work are so intolerable that a reasonable person would find no option other than to resign,” the document reads.
Baker, 52, served as the college's interim president/superintendent after the resignation of Joel Kinnamon in March 2021 until Garcia joined the school in August 2021.
Baker's attorney, Megan Beaman Jacinto, explained that filing a claim with the employer before going to court is a necessary step in certain cases against government entities. If COD and Baker do not reach a settlement soon, Beaman Jacinto said she will file a demand for a trial by jury with Riverside County Superior Court.
Beaman Jacinto said she has not heard from COD regarding the claim. COD spokesperson Nicholas Robles told The Desert Sun: "The matter is going to be discussed by the board as a part of closed session at Friday's upcoming board session."
The document adds to a stark, ongoing division at the college between those who supported hiring Garcia and those, like Baker, who were allied with Kinnamon and had favored his preferred successor, Annabelle Nery, who was passed over for the job.
Trustees Aurora Wilson, Bea Gonzalez and Ruben Perez supported the selection of Garcia. Trustees Fred Jandt and Bonnie Stefan voted against her appointment.
The board dynamics are now shifting. Kinnamon was elected to the board of trustees in the Nov. 8 election, ousting Wilson. He will be ceremoniously sworn in at Friday's board meeting.
Beaman Jacinto also represented Kinnamon in a latest legal affair with the COD board with regard to comments about Kinnamon's leadership made by board members during public meetings. And, she represents Kinnamon’s husband and campaign manager, Christopher Parman, in his defense to continue to operate a website that mocks the college, Garcia, Perez, Gonzalez and Wilson. COD has requested that Parman take the site down, and claims it is defamatory and violates college trademarks.
Kinnamon, COD's president from 2012 to 2021, hired Baker as executive vice president in 2016.
He served in that role for several months before transitioning into a consultant position and later becoming interim vice president for instruction. In spring 2019, Baker became vice president for student services. Then, when Kinnamon suddenly retired in March 2021, Baker was named the school’s interim president.
Baker says in the document filed with COD that by accepting the interim presidency, he and “all involved” knew he would be ineligible to apply for the permanent job. Baker claims that at some point during the search for COD's new superintendent/president, he “observed irregularities with the project, which he believed may violate the law.” The document does not specify what those "irregularities" were.
Baker says when raised his concerns about those issues and “possible legal violations” with Wilson and Perez, Wilson “immediately became upset and indicated she did not want to hear about his concerns or have any discussions about the search process.” In the claim filed with COD, Baker did not detail what he believed the "possible legal violations" were.
Baker says he felt Wilson was “forcibly silencing him about his concerns.” Baker claims that Wilson eventually notified the other trustees about his concerns, and says the trustees thereafter excluded him from their search for a new president.
The Desert Sun was unable to reach Wilson by phone Tuesday afternoon.
Baker claims that a third trustee, Gonzalez, became upset with him after he denied her request to use college space for an event due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
He claims all of them — plus Garcia — proceeded to make harmful and false claims about his job performance in instances where, he says, they knew or should have known they were making false claims. The document does not specifically cite what those harmful claims were.
After Garcia was chosen, an outspoken group of faculty who had wanted the board to hire Nery, considered a vote of no confidence in Garcia and Wilson, Perez and Gonzalez, but ultimately decided against one. At the time, Kinnamon told them he believed the hiring process had been affected by politics.
Nery left COD last year to become president of Santa Ana College.
Last month, the trustees voted along the same 3-2 lines to extend Garcia’s contract through 2025 and give her a pay raise and an extended severance package, should she need one.
That decision came after results from the Nov. 8 election showed it was very likely that Kinnamon would defeat Wilson.
Once Garcia became president, Baker returned to his position as vice president for student services.
In the following year, how COD should manage construction projects became a politicized course across the valley, with multiple cities clamoring for higher education development.
Baker claims Garcia and the three trustees who voted to hire her made statements to the public and the media about projects in Palm Springs and Cathedral City that were not true. He alleges that the board took actions regarding the projects that appeared to be politically motivated. The document submitted to COD does not outline what Baker believes was untrue. Beaman Jacinto said supporting evidence for most claims is usually revealed in the discovery phase of a trial.
Baker says he quickly reached out to welcome Garcia and offer her information for a successful transition of leadership. However, he claims Garcia “showed no interest in meeting” and "did not do so" after assuming office. He believes that his qualms about the hiring search and his close relationship with Kinnamon might have played a role in that.
He says that Garcia, hired in July 2021, reached out to him that August about his knowledge of the Palm Springs campus project, a roughly $350 million project financed by taxpayer-approved bond funds.
Baker said in the complaint that he “did not know a lot about that project,” so he referred Garcia to another administrator, Scott Adkins. But Garcia, he says, did not consult with Adkins about the campus until January — nearly six months after she was hired and one month after the college fired the lead industry consultant for a planned learning hotel at the Palm Springs campus.
Adkins’s husband, Wonnie Short, a Tennessee businessman, donated $10,000 to Kinnamon’s trustee campaign.
Baker also alleges that Garcia did not ask him about the roughly $30 million Roadrunner Motors project, a planned automotive education center in Cathedral City. Garcia asked consultants and trustees to consider relocating plans for the center due to projected cost overruns.
Ultimately, Baker claims that Garcia, Perez and Gonzalez each made claims about the college’s operations under his tenure that are false and could hurt his reputation, and Wilson's behavior led to administrative decisions that caused him reputational and emotional injury.
The complaint also says Garcia gave Baker “extensive negative criticism” in a performance evaluation submitted in August. He claims the evaluation failed to provide specific examples or facts to justify that criticism, and he says he was criticized for a project no longer under his purview. He says he was also criticized by Garcia for “not communicating” while he was on COVID-19 medical leave in June and July.
Baker said in the complaint it was the first such criticism he has received in his career.
Jonathan Horwitz covers education for The Desert Sun. Reach him at email@example.com or @Writes_Jonathan.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: College of the Desert VP Jeff Baker alleges school's president, 2 trustees defamed him
WASHINGTON — NASA has approved for development a space telescope to search for near Earth objects as some members of Congress lobby the agency to move up the mission.
NASA announced Dec. 6 that it had confirmed the Near Earth Object (NEO) Surveyor mission, after passing a programmatic milestone called Key Decision Point C. That allows the mission to proceed into the next phase of its development.
NEO Surveyor will fly a telescope half a meter in diameter equipped with an infrared camera. Operating from the Earth-sun L-1 Lagrange point, 1.5 million kilometers away from the Earth in the direction of the sun, the spacecraft will be able to scan large regions of space to look for NEOs, including those that could be pose future impact risks to the Earth.
The Key Decision Point (KDP) C review, which took place last week, is when the agency sets formal cost and schedule commitments for the mission. NASA said it estimates NEO Surveyor will cost $1.2 billion to development and be ready for launch no later than June 2028.
The cost is double what NASA once projected for NEO Surveyor. When the agency said in September 2019 it would pursue NEO Surveyor as a directed mission, based on a mission concept called NEOCam that was proposed for the Discovery program of competed planetary science missions, agency officials estimated its cost at $500–600 million, launching no earlier than 2025. NASA’s fiscal year 2022 budget proposal projected spending $811.2 million on the mission from 2022 through 2026, supporting a launch in 2026.
“The cost and schedule commitments outlined at KDP-C align the NEO Surveyor mission with program management best practices that account for potential technical risks and budgetary uncertainty beyond the development project’s control,” NASA said in a brief statement announcing the review.
NASA, in its fiscal year 2023 budget request, said it would delay the mission’s launch from 2026 to 2028, seeking just $39.9 million for it in 2023. The 2022 budget proposal had projected spending $174.2 million on it in 2023 to support a 2026 launch. NASA said the delay was part of efforts to shore up “higher priority missions” in its planetary science program, including Europa Clipper and Mars trial Return.
In a Nov. 28 letter to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, five Republican members of the House Science Committee called the proposed delay in NEO Surveyor “troubling” and sought information on the funding needed to put the mission on schedule to launch in 2026. They noted language in a NASA authorization act included in the CHIPS and Science Act signed into law in August directed NASA to have NEO Surveyor ready for launch no later than the end of March 2026.
“This statutory direction is clear – NASA must prioritize funding the NEO Surveyor project to achieve a 2026 launch within levels appropriated to planetary science,” stated the letter, signed by Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), ranking member of the full committee, and Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas), ranking member of the space subcommittee, among others.
House and Senate versions of fiscal year 2023 spending bills would partially restore funding for NEO Surveyor. The House bill would provide the mission with $94.9 million and direct NASA to find ways to move up the launch from 2028, while a draft bill from Democratic appropriators in the Senate would provide $80 million and “welcomes NASA’s commitment to a 2026 launch.” Sources familiar with the project say that neither version would provide enough funding to allow NEO Surveyor to launch in 2026.
LIVERMORE — Following a closed door session Tuesday evening, Dec. 6, Selectpersons accepted the resignation of Aaron Miller, the administrative assistant to the selectpersons. His last day will be Dec. 23.
Miller was hired in Aug. 2020, after serving six years as administrative assistant to the selectpersons for the Town of Whitefield. He will become the Town Manager of Vassalboro effective Dec. 27, succeeding Mary Sabins who is retiring Jan 2, 2023, according to a Dec. 6 release from Vassalboro which Miller shared with the Livermore Falls Advertiser.
Miller lives in Alna. He obtained his bachelor of science in communications from Norwich University in Vermont.
Livermore Town Clerk Renda Guild and Deputy Clerk Jean Tardif announced their resignations in September. Their last day will be Jan. 3, 2023.
“We knew he was looking for a job, something closer to home,” Selectperson Chair Mark Chretien said in a phone interview later Tuesday night. “We are trying to find a town clerk with experience, will be posting them in a lot more places. If we get applicants we will be reviewing them as quickly as they come in.”
In his letter of resignation, Miller noted his decision was made with mixed emotions and thanked the Select Board for their trust in hiring him. “I am so proud to have served this community not only as a facilitator but as a first responder,” he wrote. “I hope I leave this office a better place.”
Miller shared his latest accomplishment for the town during the meeting Tuesday, noting the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and The Future announced Nov. 30 the Town of Livermore received a conditional award of approximately $43,000 to pay for several improvements to the Town Office, Highway Garage and Community Building. Miller submitted the grant in September. The information was posted on the town’s Facebook page and website.
The grant is through the Maine Won’t Wait Community Resilience Partnership Community Action Grant.
“There is no match, it is one of those grants to keep your eye on in the future as far as helping out with municipal buildings, keeping in line with lowering our carbon footprint,” Miller said. “We will be installing energy efficient lighting at the Community Building, two replacement windows and a $12,000 heat pump to aid in heating and cooling there.” The grant will also cover a new heat pump in the Town Office Complex conference room and a larger one for the highway garage, he noted.
According to the award announcement:
• Since joining the town as Administrative Assistant two years ago, Aaron Miller and the select board have made great strides in reducing the town’s carbon footprint and expect to see that continue over the next several years. The town has shown that commitment by recently entering into a 20-year net energy billing contract with Revision Energy to provide clean power to the town.
• In addition, the legislative body agreed at town meeting to install an energy efficient propane furnace at the Community Building. The town’s administration has also worked with Central Maine Power to replace all streetlights with LED bulbs and won a grant to install a new heat pump at the Town Office.
In an email Monday, Dec. 5, Miller noted he was working on some minor adjustments to the grant that he thought would be finished the next day. “We expect that the state will send us a packet in mid-December that will include a letter with the terms of the grant,” he wrote. He anticipated all work would be completed by December 2023 with the new heat pumps supplementing existing heating systems and helping with cooling, he continued.
In other business, selectpersons approved a tax abatement request by the assessor for Jason and Sherry Labbe on River Road. The $62,000 decrease in valuation is $1,003.65 for the 2022-2023 year, Miller said.
Selectpersons agreed to seek another fill-in attendant for the transfer station. Two people should be there, the current one was unavailable Dec. 6, Miller noted. A few people will be asked and the position will be posted, he said.
Miller said Cipp’s Power Line in Athens is ready to install a light at Brettuns Pond. “You wanted me to ask if the price had gone up,” he stated. “I didn’t ask him that question. He said they could do it, didn’t say anything about an increase. They asked that we call Dig Safe and let them know when it has been cleared.”
“I don’t think it will alleviate the problem but hopefully it is a step in the right direction,” Selectperson Randy Ouellette said.
STRUGGLING retailer Joules is on the brink of collapse, putting 1,600 jobs at risk.
It comes as the chain said it plans to file a notice of intent to appoint administrators.
The announcement comes after a failure to secure a vital cash injection.
The brand – famous for its posh wellies – said talks over an emergency cash-call with investors including its founder Tom Joule were unsuccessful and have ended.
It said it would file a notice of intention to appoint Interpath Advisory as administrators to the firm and its subsidiaries “as soon as reasonably practicable”.
A spokesperson for Joules said: “The board is taking this action to protect the interests of its creditors.”
It will suspend trading of its shares on the stock market due to the decision, adding that further announcements will be made “in due course”.
The chain employs around 1,600 staff and has 130 shops.
It had been struggling in the wake of rising costs and earlier this year Next was in talks to snap up a stake in the brand, but the deal did not go through.
In July, Joules said profit remained under pressure as consumers were seeking out cheaper brands.
The website still appears to be accepting orders.
We have asked Joules if customer orders will be fulfilled and will update this article when we hear back.
The news comes after furniture retailer Made.com filed for administration on Tuesday.
The company recently halted orders to new customers after abandoning hopes of getting a buyer to save it and inject the cash needed to stay afloat.
It currently employs around 700 staff.
In a statement, Made.com said it took the decision to suspend new, online orders from October 26.
According to Citizen Advice, you might end up without the item you paid for or with unfinished work if a company or trader stops trading or goes out of business.
There are several ways to try to get your money back or get the work done.
But, there’s no ensure you’ll get what you paid for.
You should call the company, visit their office or shop, or write to them to find out what’s happening.
Explain what you’ve paid for and ask for the item you bought or a refund.
If you can’t get hold of a company or want to confirm that they’ve gone out of business you can search for their name on:
It can take a few weeks for information to appear on these websites.
If you can't get hold of the company or they fail to respond to your request for a refund, there are still ways to get your money back.
If you paid for the item using a credit card, you'll be covered by Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.
This means that if you pay for a big purchase on your credit card and something happens - like the goods aren't delivered or the shop goes bust - your card provider is just as responsible as the retailer to refund you.
To make a claim, contact your credit card provider - your first port of call should be its customer services phone number - and tell them you want to make a claim under Section 75.
It should then send you a claim form which you can fill-in and your provider will use to process your application.
Your card firm might ask you to provide evidence such as a receipt or a report verifying that the item is faulty.
If you didn't pay for the item with a credit card - don't panic. If you paid with a debit card you'll be covered by chargeback rules.
Chargeback can be used to reclaim cash for goods and services you don't receive that have been paid for by debit card, or by credit card for purchases under £100.
Claims must be made within 120 days of the transaction and to start a chargeback, you need to contact your card provider.
If you paid for an item using a buy now, pay later provider, you'll need to contact them first to check if they have a process for you to reclaim the cash.
This sector is largely unregulated and it doesn't offer customers the same protections as those who shop with a credit or debit card.
The sale of Reliance Capital`s (RCAP) 51 per cent stake in Reliance Nippon Life Insurance Company (RNLIC), in the ongoing Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process, has pitched Nippon Life of Japan against RCAP Administrator and Aditya Birla Sun Life Insurance.
Miffed at the entry of Aditya Birla Sun Life in the bidding process of RNLIC, and that too so close to the binding bids submission deadline, Nippon Life, a 49 per cent stakeholder in RNLIC, has made it clear to the Administrator and Aditya Birla Sun life that it is not interested in merging with Aditya Birla Insurance or sell its stake, at any cost.
A source close to the development revealed that Nippon Life - Japan has communicated its resentment and reservations to the RCAP Administrator, Aditya Birla Sun Life and its foreign partner, Sun Life Financial Inc.
Nippon Life is keen on acquiring RCAP`s 51 per cent stake in RNLIC, through a strategic partner, as Indian Insurance rules do not allow a foreign company to have an equity stake of more than 74 per cent in an Indian Insurance entity.
The sources revealed that the entry of Aditya Birla Sun Life seems to have upset the plans to Japnese Insurance major. In case Birla Sun Life succeeds in acquiring 51 per cent stake of RCAP in RNLIC, it will have to merge the RNLIC with its existing insurance company i.e. Birla Sun Life Insurance, due to the IRDA guidelines of no cross holding being allowed between the two insurance companies.
In case of merger of RNLIC with Birla Sun Life, Nippon Life`s stake would be hugely diluted to below 10 per cent in the merged entity, and it would lose all the shareholder and the governance Rights that exist in terms of nominating the CEO, equal representation on the Board, member of the audit committee, and the Veto rights on the reserved matters, in the RNLIC.
According to a source, Nippon Life, in a letter to the RCAP Administrator, has said that merging with another insurance entity or selling its stake, is not an option for them. It has expressed its intention to stay invested in the Indian Insurance market as a committed long term player.
Nippon Life has also told the Administrator that the company was surprised at the entry of Aditya Birla group in the RNLIC bidding process, as they had held various meetings with the Administrator and discussed their plans to bid for RNLIC`s remaining 51 per cent stake by forging partnership with a strategic investor.
Nippon Life is believed to be in talks with some Indian companies, including Torrent Group, to form a strategic partnership, in order to bid for RCAP`s 51 per cent stake in RNLIC, but Aditya Birla`s entry has upset Nippon`s plans and complicated the matter for them.
According to sources, Nippon Life is also comfortable with a scenario where RCAP`s 51 per cent is acquired by someone like Hindujas, who are the bidder for RCap under Option I CIC plan, as they see the potential of getting IndusInd Bank as a Banca partner, which is key to the growth of life distribution business.
RNLIC currently has no Banca partner, which restricts its reach and access, impacting the growth of business.
A source said that it would be interesting to see how this war for the acquisition of RNLIC`s stake pans out between the Nippon Life and Aditya Birla.
The last date to submit the binding bids for RCAP and its subsidiaries is November 28.
Notably, Reliance Capital and its multiple subsidiaries, including RNLIC, are undergoing RBI governed Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process. Nippon Life, Japan, is a 49 per cent stakeholder in RNLIC.
Initially, RNLIC had not received even a single non-binding bid from any prospective applicant, but few weeks back, Aditya Birla Capital suddenly entered the fray and submitted an Extension of Interest (EOI) for RCAP`s 51 per cent stake in RNLIC.
LIVE: Nepal Election 2022 - 32 per cent voting recorded till 1 pm - Check counting, result announcement date, time | Latest news, updates
During the quiet hours of early morning darkness on Nov. 16, a 32-story, citrus-colored rocket blasted into space from NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Leaving behind a wake of flames and smoke, it brightened the night sky with a synthetic sunset, propelling a little white spacecraft toward Earth's glowing companion: the moon.
At last, the Artemis I lunar mission had lifted off.
For the next several weeks, the Hershey Kiss-shaped spacecraft, Orion, flew through the vastness of space. It passed through our planet's atmosphere, traveled along in Earth's orbit for a short period, then plunged directly toward lunar orbit. Once Orion reached the moon's gravitational whirlpool, descending down to about as close as 80 miles from the surface and completing two flybys, it snapped galleries of awesome images and captured hours of breathtaking videos while completing an array of scientific duties.
We received a re-creation of Apollo 8's Earthrise and a complementary portrait called Earthset, both named for their resemblance to the sun's daily hello and goodbye to us -- but with Earth in its place. We got to gawk at an evocative, black-and-white piece that fits everything we've ever truly known into a single rectangle. And we were even blessed with a photograph I'm still not entirely sure I've grasped: a shot of the Earth, moon and Orion itself, serendipitously imitating 1995's iconic Apollo 13 movie poster.
Then, on Sunday, Orion returned home.
"NASA's Orion spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, west of Baja California, at 9:40 a.m. PST Sunday after a record-breaking mission, traveling more than 1.4 million miles on a path around the Moon and returning safely to Earth, completing the Artemis I flight test," the agency said in a press release.
Yet Artemis I was just the beginning of NASA's epic lunar program. So now, you might be wondering, what's next?
"When we think about Artemis, we focus a lot on the moon," Reid Wiseman, chief astronaut at NASA's Johnson Space Center, said in an Aug. 5 press conference. "But I just want everybody in the room and everybody watching to remember our sights are not set on the moon. Our sights are set clearly on Mars."
Though the vehicle commissioned for Artemis I -- formally named the Space Launch System and also renowned as the most powerful rocket in the world -- didn't usher astronauts to the moon's surface this time around, it was kind of NASA's golden ticket to new adventures in outer space.
Showing off the brilliant orange hue of its insulated spray-on coating, Artemis I's SLS helped carry instruments to lunar orbit that gathered vital information for the Artemis II mission, which will bring humans along to orbit the lunar sphere. In turn, Artemis II will pave the way for Artemis III, a potential 2025 mission that may, at last, add more boot prints to the powdery gray soil, alongside those imprinted decades ago by Apollo astronauts. And that's just an overview of the first three steps of NASA's Artemis odyssey.
Eventually, this program is poised to let NASA accomplish thrilling feats like landing the first woman and the first person of color on the moon, building a lunar base camp, constructing a spaceship in lunar orbit, connecting an off-world internet, and even laying the groundwork for a future in which humankind settles Mars, as Wiseman emphasized.
You can think of Artemis I as an extremely high-stakes precursor to everything that comes next for American lunar exploration, founded on everything that came before.
Before launching into space, the SLS even got situated for its big day on the octagonal launchpad 39B, poetically standing where NASA's Saturn V rocket once stood for Apollo 10. Not only did Apollo 10 christen 39B, but it also illuminated the way for Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong's and Buzz Aldrin's historic landing on the glowing orb (with Michael Collins orbiting patiently in the command module).
"To all of us that gaze up at the moon, dreaming of the day humankind returns to the lunar surface," NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said during a prelaunch press conference, "folks, we're here -- we are going back. And our journey begins with Artemis I."
But prior to getting into some future hopes and dreams for the Artemis program, let's lay out what exactly Artemis I achieved during its epic space travels.
"The splashdown of the Orion spacecraft -- which occurred 50 years to the day of the Apollo 17 Moon landing -- is the crowning achievement of Artemis I," Nelson said in Sunday's press release. "From the launch of the world's most powerful rocket to the exceptional journey around the Moon and back to Earth, this flight test is a major step forward in the Artemis Generation of lunar exploration."
There were two major components to the Artemis I space explorer: an apricot SLS rocket and a conical, white spacecraft dubbed Orion. Prior to launch, Orion topped the SLS like the spire of a castle tower. Within Orion, there was a lot going on.
It was basically the cabin car of Artemis I.
NASA strapped in Amazon Alexa, TV character Shaun the Sheep, a few Girl Scout space science badges and other pop culture icons into uncannily retro craft. And on the other hand, the agency filled it with some hard-core science equipment, such as satellites, radiation detectors, human stand-ins, freeze-dried yeast for biology experiments and miscellaneous data collection tools.
During the trip, all of Orion's fun bric-a-brac was baptized into the extraterrestrial space club, science mechanisms detailed what the trajectory looks and feels like, and the humanlike mannequins reacted to dangerous aspects of space travel, like radiation absorption, for assessment on the ground.
"At its farthest distance during the mission, Orion traveled nearly 270,000 miles from our home planet, more than 1,000 times farther than where the International Space Station orbits Earth, to intentionally stress systems before flying crew," NASA said. In other words, Orion stayed in space longer than any spacecraft designed for astronauts has done without docking to a space station -- and, while in a distant lunar orbit, Orion surpassed the record for distance traveled by a spacecraft designed to carry humans. Previously, Apollo 13 held that record having flown 249,205 miles from Earth.
If you're into the technicalities, a close look at the SLS launch sequence can be found here.
Plus, not only was Orion built to venture farther than any spacecraft made for humans has ever flown, it was constructed to come home faster and hotter than any spacecraft has before. The plan was for it to hit the Earth's atmosphere at 32 times the speed of sound.
"During re-entry, Orion endured temperatures about half as hot as the surface of the Sun at about 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Within about 20 minutes, Orion slowed from nearly 25,000 mph to about 20 mph for its parachute-assisted splashdown," NASA said.
The speed bit was especially important because the SLS and Orion design are expected to support future missions written to help humans access Mars one day, and maybe even deep space. According to Nelson, if Orion were to return to Earth from a Martian expedition, it might reach staggering velocities around 36 times the speed of sound.
As Orion began ascending from our planet back in November, NASA started to broadcast a livestream of its perspective, which marked the start of our lovely Artemis I pool of images and videos.
Artemis I's launch itself followed a long roller coaster ride of challenges. At first, it had been planned for Aug. 29, but an engine issue forced the attempt to be scrubbed. Then try No. 2, on Sept. 2, was also a no-go. Lucky No. 3, of course, was a tremendous success -- but still was the product of multiple years of delays and wads of extra money.
Nonetheless, Artemis I's starry excursion has been a sight for the ages.
"With splashdown, we have successfully operated Orion in the deep space environment, where it exceeded our expectations, and demonstrated that Orion can withstand the extreme conditions of returning through Earth's atmosphere from lunar velocities," Artemis mission manager Mike Sarafin said in Sunday's press release.
In the coming days, NASA will bring Orion to shore, where technicians will offload the spacecraft from shipboard and transfer it by truck back to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Once it's at Kennedy, teams will open the hatch and unload several payloads, including Commander Moonikin Campos, the space biology experiments, Snoopy and the official flight kit. Then the capsule and its heat shield will undergo testing and analysis over the course of several months.
Considering how much I write about the moon, I've often wondered what might've happened if NASA continued its Apollo program -- uninhibited by Cold War tensions and budget-cut setbacks.
Could there've been an international space station orbiting the moon? Might there have been lunar settlements? Or perhaps astronauts could've ridden from crater to crater in ATVs? Well, in a way, we might be about to find out. Artemis is sort of picking up where its Greek-namesake twin, Apollo, left off. (Apollo was a god, Artemis a goddess.) "This is now the Artemis generation," Nelson said.
I mean, assuming everything goes to plan with all stages of Artemis, here are some things to look forward to in the coming decade or so. (OK, but to reiterate, a lot has to go to plan for any of this to happen.)
With the help of international space agencies from at least 18 other countries, NASA signed the Artemis Accords, which basically underscore principles required for peaceful space cooperation. Part of this agreement gave rise to an idea called the lunar gateway. The lunar gateway is a planned small space station that'll sit in lunar orbit and serve as a solar-powered communication hub, science laboratory, habitation module for astronauts, holding center for rovers or robots and other such things. It's like a moon ISS.
Already, in fact, NASA has sent a microwave oven-size satellite named Capstone to lunar orbit to tease out relevant information for the Gateway.
"Gateway's capabilities for supporting sustained exploration and research in deep space include docking ports for a variety of visiting spacecraft, space for crew to live and work, and on-board science investigations to study heliophysics, human health, and life sciences, among other areas," NASA said.
We've also got the prospect of the LunaNet, which'll serve the navigation, networking and other communication responsibilities of Artemis astronauts. "Astronaut safety and wellbeing are key concerns of the Artemis missions," NASA's search and rescue office mission manager for national affairs, Cody Kelly, said in a statement. "Using LunaNet's navigation services, LunaSAR will provide location data to NASA distress beacons should contingencies arise."
Lunar terrain vehicles, or LTVs, are also planned for the future. These sort of roofless Jeep-like rovers will transport Artemis astronauts around the lunar South Pole when they get there. This invention is still very much in progress -- understandably.
"Most people do a lot of research before buying a car," Nathan Howard, project manager for the LTV at NASA's Johnson Space Center, said in a statement. "We're doing extensive research for a modern space vehicle that will be provided by industry. As we plan for long-term exploration of the Moon, the LTV won't be your grandfather's Moon Buggy used during the Apollo missions."
Perhaps the most exhilarating part of all of this is that if Artemis works out, we'll have a legitimate base camp on the moon.
"To give astronauts a place to live and work on the Moon, the agency's Artemis Base Camp concept includes a modern lunar cabin, a rover and even a mobile home," NASA said. "Early missions will include short surface stays, but as the base camp evolves, the goal is to allow crew to stay at the lunar surface for up to two months at a time."
Two months at a time, the agency said. It's simply surreal to consider that the next many years could be filled with the level of lunar exploration that NASA believes the Artemis program can achieve. It might be why the punchy motto of these missions inspires goose bumps.
"We are going."
Well, now, I guess it's more accurate to say "We've gone, and are going again."
US scientists have reportedly carried out the first nuclear fusion experiment to achieve a net energy gain, a major breakthrough in a field that has been pursuing such a result since the 1950s, and a potential milestone in the search for a climate-friendly, renewable energy source to replace fossil fuels.
The experiment took place in latest weeks at the government-funded Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, where researchers used a process known as inertial confinement fusion, the Financial Times reports, citing three people with knowledge of the experiment’s preliminary results.
The test involved bombarding a pellet of hydrogen plasma with the world’s largest laser to trigger a nuclear fusion reaction, the same process which takes place in the sun.
Researchers were able to produce 2.5 megajoules of energy, 120 per cent of the 2.1 megajoules used to power the experiment.
The laboratory confirmed to the FT it had recently conducted a “successful” experiment at the National Ignition Facility, but declined to comment further, citing the preliminary nature of the data.
“Initial diagnostic data suggests another successful experiment at the National Ignition Facility. However, the exact yield is still being determined and we can’t confirm that it is over the threshold at this time,” it said. “That analysis is in process, so publishing the information . . . before that process is complete would be inaccurate.”
The scientific community is abuzz that a net gain fusion reaction has taken place, noting that US energy secretary Jennifer Granholm and US under-secretary for nuclear security Jill Hruby are set to make an announcement from the national laboratory on Tuesday.
Many commentators celebrated the reported fusion breakthrough.
“Scientists have struggled to show that fusion can release more energy out than is put in since the 1950s, and the researchers at Lawrence Livermore seem to have finally and absolutely smashed this decades-old goal,” Arthur Turrell, deputy director of the UK Office for National Statistics, wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “This experimental result will electrify efforts to eventually power the planet with nuclear fusion—at a time when we’ve never needed a plentiful source of carbon-free energy more!”
Oliver Cameron, an executive at self-driving car company Cruise, predicted that with the news out of Livermore, the world could be in for a futuristic era of widespread nuclear fusion energy and broadly capable artificial general intelligence (AGI).
“It is becoming increasingly likely that we end this decade with both AGI and viable nuclear fusion,” he wrote on Twitter on Sunday.
In April, the White House announced a suite of initiatives meant to support the development of the fusion industry.
“Fusion is one of a much larger suite of clean energy gamechangers that [are] commensurate with the scale that the climate challenge requires,” Alondra Nelson, head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said at the time in a statement. “Now is the time for courageous innovation to accelerate fusion energy.”
The Biden administration also helped secure $370bn in subsidies for low-carbon energy development as part of the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act.
Researchers and environmentalists remain divided over the green potential of nuclear fusion.
Proponents argue that fusion is much safer than nuclear fission, the process that powers all existing nuclear energy plants. They say that if commercial reactors were able to regularly achieve net energy gain, and were powered by renewable energy, fusion could be the energy source that finally weans the world off its dependence of fossil fuels.
“For my generation, it was fear of weapons that influenced people’s view of nuclear. In this generation, it’s climate change,” Todd Allen, a professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Michigan and director of the school’s Fastest Path to Zero climate centre, told The Independent earlier this year. “I don’t know in the end if these are the technologies that catch fire or not. It’s just interesting to me because they’re the first demos of new ideas in half a century. I think there is a lot of interest and potential.”
Others, however, argue nuclear fusion has a long history of overpromising and under-delivering, despite massive capital expenditures, a sluggish pace of development the world can’t afford given the dwindling time available to avert the worst of the climate crisis.
“We’ve never been in principle against any technology, but it is very clear, every time you start calculating, that the moment you introduce nuclear, the costs are going up and the speed of change is going down,” Jan Haverkamp, an energy expert at Greenpeace, told The Independent in January. “That’s exactly what we can’t afford now as climate change is becoming ever more real. If you start talking about nuclear at this moment, either you’re following a fad or you’re trying to divert the attention from what really needs to be done.”
Still, despite this debate, billions of dollars are flowing into private nuclear startups, like the Bill Gates-backed TerraPower, as well as government efforts like ITER, a 23,000-tonne, $22bn, 35-nation nuclear experiment under construction in France.
From news to politics, travel to sport, culture to climate – The Independent has a host of free newsletters to suit your interests. To find the stories you want to read, and more, in your inbox, click here.
WASHINGTON — Lawyers for Donald Trump were in court Friday for sealed arguments as part of the ongoing investigation into the presence of classified information at the former president’s Florida estate.
The proceedings were taking place before U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell, the chief judge of the federal court in the District of Columbia. Defense lawyers were seen entering the courtroom around 2 p.m. and were still inside more than an hour later.
A lawyer for The Associated Press and other news organizations had submitted a letter earlier Friday requesting media access to the hearing, but despite that, lawyers spoke behind closed doors.
It was not immediately clear what the outcome of the proceedings were. The Washington Post, relying on anonymous sources, reported on Thursday that the Justice Department had earlier asked Howell to hold Trump’s office in contempt for failure to fully comply with a May subpoena that sought the return of classified documents in his possession. The department also wants the Trump team to appoint a custodian of records who could attest that all classified documents have been returned, according to the Post.
Lawyers for Trump declined to comment ahead of the hearing. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment also declined to comment on the matter.
The 100 or so documents the FBI took from Mar-a-Lago in August were on top of 37 bearing classification markings that Trump lawyers retrieved from the home during a June visit. In addition, 15 boxes containing about 184 classified documents were recovered in January by the National Archives and Records Administration.
The possibility that the Justice Department had not yet recovered all classified materials has existed for months.
The FBI’s August search of the home came after investigators developed evidence indicating that additional sensitive documents remained there, even though Trump representatives had certified in June that all classified documents requested in a Justice Department subpoena had been located and returned.
The Trump lawyer who made that representation and who was serving as the custodian of his records at the time, Christina Bobb, met with the FBI in October. She told investigators that she had not drafted the letter but that another Trump lawyer who she said actually prepared it had asked her to sign it in her role as a designated custodian of Trump’s records, according to a person familiar with her account.
The Post reported earlier this week that two additional documents with classification markings were found during a latest search of a storage unit in West Palm Beach, Florida that was arranged by Trump’s lawyers. Those items were then turned over to the FBI.
One in 10 Missourians has $300 in lost money or property at the Missouri Treasurer's Office.
The state treasurer holds more than $1 billion belonging to about 6 million individual account holders through the state's unclaimed property program.
Unclaimed property consists of cash from abandoned bank accounts, stocks, bonds and safe deposit boxes, as well as uncollected insurance policy proceeds, government refunds, utility deposits and wages from past jobs.
The vault, housed in the lower level of the Truman State Office Building, also contains family heirlooms, jewelry, keepsakes, military medals and insignia, and other items from safe deposit boxes. Unclaimed property doesn't include real property such as land, houses, cars or boats.
Taxpayers, including individual Missouri residents, businesses and nonprofits, can file to claim their property any time online at ShowMeMoney.com. There are no deadlines for claiming lost property.
Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick kicked off his fourth annual push to return unclaimed property during the holiday season Dec. 1.
"This is a really good time for people to search to see if they have unclaimed property over the next few months, because we'll be putting thousands and thousands of new owners on the system every day," said Scott Harper, the Treasurer's Office Unclaimed Property Division director for the past 35 years.
But many Missourians don't know they have unclaimed money or property. And the state is challenged in finding them.
How did the state get my property?
Banks, financial institutions, businesses, government agencies and other organizations turn over millions of dollars in taxpayer property to the state each year.
State law allows most asset holders to turn over property if there's no documented transaction or contact with the owner for five years. For governmental entities, and in a couple other instances, the period before the state takes possession is three years.
"Basically, if the account's dormant for five years, it's presumed abandoned ..." Fitzpatrick said. "Basically, the holder is required to escheat that property to the state under the unclaimed property laws. And that's pretty consistent across the country, I mean every state has unclaimed property laws and has an unclaimed property program."
As individual state programs, however, legislatures and state financial officers have administered handling of unclaimed property differently.
The legislative foundation for Missouri's unclaimed property program dates back to the mid-1980s to late 1990s, with some updates over the years.
In 2000, state law reduced the time unpaid insurance claims, utility funds, stocks and interest are turned over to the state. Before, holders would keep the property for seven years, now it is five.
The time before the state takes possession of uncollected employer paychecks and property held by local governments was reduced from five years to three years in 2015.
Abandoned property holders, such as banks with safe deposit boxes, report to the state Nov. 1 each year, except for unclaimed life insurance benefits, which are reported May 1.
When reporting abandoned property to the state, holders are required to record the last known name and address of each person considered to be an owner of property worth $50 or more, according to state statute. The reporting holder would also provide a description of the property, amount due to the owner, date when the property became payable or returnable and the last date of contact with the owner.
The law also requires property holders to notify the owners of $50 or more of the potential for an account or claim to be considered abandoned and "take necessary steps to prevent abandonment from being presumed."
"The holder shall exercise such reasonable and necessary diligence as is consistent with good business practice to ascertain the whereabouts of such owner of property valued at fifty dollars or more within one year prior to reporting the property to the state treasurer," the statute reads.
Harper said how closely that part of the law is followed depends on the holder.
"We have some really good holders that do some really significant effort into finding their owners and there's some that don't do as good a job," he said.
A majority of unclaimed property comes from companies out of state, he noted.
'A constant, ongoing process to battle'
After receiving abandoned property from holders, the Treasurer's Office catalogs the funds and items into a searchable database.
Most people can search the database for their name online at ShowMeMoney.com and begin the process to collect their unclaimed property. Depending on the parameters of the claim, Fitzpatrick said, the process could be done entirely online or involve printing a claim form, signing it, getting it notarized and mailing it to the Treasurer's Office.
The Treasurer's Office then verifies the claim and cuts a check.
Fitzpatrick's office promotes the program with radio and TV messages, online advertisements and social media posts.
Following state law, his office also sends a postcard to property owners who have a recorded address and at least $50 in unclaimed property each year.
The law also requires the Treasurer's Office to publish the names of unclaimed property owners in newspapers by June 30 each year. The advertisement, published at least once a week for two consecutive weeks, notes the names and last known address of the unclaimed property owner and asks them to respond.
Ideally, taxpayers claim their property before that, Harper said.
"If we can pay it out before we advertise it, which is the more expensive option, we're saving money," he said.
The Treasurer's Office also emails property owners who have made a claim in the past, Fitzpatrick said. It also gives state representatives and county treasurers lists of unclaimed property owners in their districts so outreach efforts come from familiar faces, he said.
The office has three employees called proactive certified whose job it is to locate property owners owed $2,500 or more. Last year, the team returned about half of the total dollar amount returned through the unclaimed property program, but only a small portion of claims.
Their average returned claim is worth around $10,000, whereas the typical claim is $300.
"They do less claims, bigger dollars," Harper said.
The proactive contact can present some "interesting challenges," Fitzpatrick said.
"Sometimes it can take multiple attempts convincing somebody that you are in fact the person you say you are and you do in fact have money that belongs to them," he said, noting the frequency with which people think it's a scam.
Many people on the state's unclaimed property list likely don't realize they're missing and entitled to funds. The money could be an inheritance they didn't know about, contents left inside a bank's safe deposit box or uncashed paychecks.
Some unclaimed property owners may be difficult for the state to find, but others are known names and prominent businesses.
Gov. Mike Parson, for example, has $3.71 in unclaimed property linked to a Bolivar address tied to his 2009 state Senate campaign filings. Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe has at least $450 in unclaimed property tied to his days owning a Ford dealership.
The Catholic Diocese of Jefferson City has unclaimed property worth at least $50 and the Jefferson City Country Club has more than $100 in unclaimed property. Central Missouri Newspapers, the company that publishes the News Tribune, has $42.92 in unclaimed property.
A search of the online unclaimed property database shows at least 50 county sheriff offices throughout the state are owed unclaimed property, with amounts ranging from a few dollars to more than $50. Another search of Missouri school districts shows 113 have unclaimed property the state is holding.
Fitzpatrick said the proactive work his office does is better spent on individuals who can benefit from receiving money. His office often meets with county governments, which haven't reported unclaimed property being an issue, he said.
A lot of times, companies, counties and nonprofits file claims periodically because they could be getting new unclaimed property added to the database daily, Harper added.
"They're only going to do it once or twice a year," he said. "They're not going to do it every time it pops up."
"It's a constant and ongoing process that we battle," Harper continued. "We're aware. We don't like the way it looks. We try to get those people to claim their property."
In neighboring Illinois, taxpayers can automatically receive their state-held property without filing a claim.
In 2018, the state launched its Money Match program, which automatically returns up to $2,000 in unclaimed assets to residents using tax data from the Illinois Department of Revenue. After a letter confirming the taxpayer's address is sent, checks are mailed within about three weeks.
At least six other states, including Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Louisiana, South Dakota, North Carolina and Delaware, automatically return unclaimed property.
Illinois returned $180 million in unclaimed property the year before implementing automatic checks. Returns jumped to record levels in the years after, growing to more than $200 million, then $226 million and then $280 million last fiscal year.
Fitzpatrick has continuously broken unclaimed property records in Missouri, to a lesser degree.
The Treasurer's Office announced in July it returned more than $50.2 million in unclaimed property during the last fiscal year. It was slightly more than the $47.2 million record he set the year before.
The Treasurer's Office partnered with the Missouri Department of Social Services in 2019 to create an automated process for matching unclaimed property owners with past-due child support cases, which doled out $4.5 million to Missouri families owed child support.
Another partnership with the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations in 2020 automatically returned unclaimed property to owners who applied for unemployment benefits amid the COVID-19 pandemic. That partnership returned more than $8.8 million to nearly 30,000 Missourians.
When asked about partnering with the Missouri Department of Revenue to create an automatic system like other states, Fitzpatrick said there's no appetite because legal complications get in the way.
"Just the two agencies that we did partner with during my administration was a lot of work with getting the lawyers to agree on how the data was going to be treated and shared. And when you get into the Department of Revenue specifically, their individual taxpayer information is protected by law," he said. "For us to partner with the Department of Revenue, that would likely require the law to change to allow us to access their information. And the Department of Revenue is kind of not a big fan of changing that statute."
Fitzpatrick said there has been discussion about changing the laws protecting taxpayer information in other contexts, but not necessarily with unclaimed property.
"I do think it makes sense for that kind of cross-pollination of resources to take place," he continued. "If I was going to be here longer, it would probably be something I'd look at tackling, but I'm in my last month in this office, and so I'm not going to be able to do that."
Fitzpatrick, a Republican who was appointed by the governor to the treasurer position in 2018, was elected state auditor in November. He said the next treasurer, who Parson will appoint before the end of the year to serve out the remaining two years of Fitzpatrick's treasurer term, could make it a priority if he or she wants.
When asked about why he prioritized partnerships with the Department of Social Services and the Department of Labor, Fitzpatrick said the latter was a "ripe opportunity" because new unemployment claims amid the pandemic gave the state fresh contact data. He said the partnership with DSS came about because the department was already doing it manually on a "semi-regular basis."
"There were a lot of people hurting for money and we just thought it was very good timing to do what we could do," Harper said. "And then it's been so successful even on the back side of that. It's actually been surprising."
Fitzpatrick said he doesn't believe the unclaimed property program will be included in the Missouri Office of Administration's overhaul of state information systems, which will allow several government agencies and functions to communicate better and streamline resident use of government services through a single online portal.
What else does the state do with my property?
As allowed by state law, the Treasurer's Office conducts unclaimed property auctions to sell items that haven't been claimed by their owners after two years. It can destroy items that don't have commercial value at any time.
Revenue from an item's auction goes to the account of the original owner. Starting in 2010, the law prevents the state from selling military medals and honors.
The state keeps all unclaimed property funds in the Abandoned Fund Account.
The Treasurer's Office pays property claims out of the account and funds the unclaimed property program with the funds. Most of it, however, is required by state law to transfer to Missouri's General Revenue Fund each year.
The transfer can be triggered when the Abandoned Fund Account contains more than one-twelfth -- or 8.3 percent -- of the last fiscal year's total disbursement from the account, and has to be done at least once a year. In other words, about 90 percent of the unclaimed property the state receives in any given year is sent to state coffers.
Fitzpatrick said the transfer ramped up from around $35 million in the past to near $60 million this year.
"In a typical year, yeah, historically that's been a pretty significant amount going into the general revenue fund," Fitzpatrick said. "In more latest years, it's not as significant relative to what's going on with the state's budget situation."
Net General Revenue tax receipts are expected to be $13.1 billion for the current fiscal year, according to the annual consensus revenue estimate the state released Tuesday.
If the Abandoned Fund Account falls below one-twenty-fourth -- or 4.16 percent -- of the last fiscal year's total disbursement from the account, the Treasurer's Office can transfer from the state's general revenue fund to restore the balance to one-twelfth of last year's disbursements.
Missouri was one of several states during the past couple decades to accelerate the pace at which it takes possession of unclaimed property from holders, according to a 2015 report from the Associated Press. Some states used the increase in revenue to cushion or balance their budgets.
Delaware, for example, turned unclaimed property into its third largest source of state revenue and was paying out nearly 30 percent fewer claims than what the rest of the country was averaging.
Missouri isn't that extreme, Harper said.
"Our return ratio, compared to a state like Delaware, is totally different," Harper said. "We return so much more as a percentage."
Reducing the time it takes his department to gain possession of abandoned property increases the chance the state has of locating the owner, he said, noting everything the state receives is something that the holder already couldn't find.
Fitzpatrick said Missourians are used to the government expecting something from them so it's often a surprise when the government is calling with something to return to them.
"There's nothing else like it, where you're helping somebody without them asking," he said. "You're going and saying, 'Hey, we have this thing that's yours and we want to give it back to you.' This is the only thing I can come up with in government, state or federal, that operates like that."
Filing a claim
The fastest and most efficient way to check on unclaimed property and file a claim is online at ShowMeMoney.com.
More than half of individuals with unclaimed property can file a paperless claim, according to the Treasurer's Office.
Taxpayers can also visit or write a letter to the Treasurer's Office Unclaimed Property Division, P.O. Box 1004, Jefferson City, MO 65102. The letter should contain a list of owner names, addresses and previous addresses, if known.
The state will send a claim form with instructions regarding necessary documentation back. It then verifies the claim with its records of owners and legal heirs.
Claims processing is a free public service.
When Rich DiPaola needed new hips this year, the retired engineer headed north. He lives in Grand Junction — the regional medical center of western Colorado — but he chose to travel two hours to an out-of-the-way town long known as a hunters’ haven, not a medical destination.
He had heard from friends and acquaintances that he could get top-notch orthopedic care in Meeker, a town of 2,600 people, 100 miles up Colorado 13 in the middle of some of the emptiest land in Colorado.
His choice to make that trek put him among more than 6,900 “medical tourists” who have traveled to Meeker in the past two years for treatment for their creaky knees and unstable hips.
Since 2020, when Pioneers Medical Center in Meeker added a full-fledged orthopedic wing to the small county-owned hospital, Meeker has become a go-to place for orthopedic care. More than 11,480 patients have sought joint replacements and other orthopedic treatments at Pioneers’ Colorado Advanced Orthopedics, Sports Medicine and Spine Center.
More than 60% of those came from outside Rio Blanco County, many from around western Colorado and southern Wyoming. There have also been patients from across the country, as evidenced by a map pinned to a clinic wall under the message, “See how far our care has spread!!” A web of strings and pins stretches from Colorado across the country. Several patients have come from Iraq and Germany.
“It’s quite a deal. It has had quite an impact on our little town, for sure,” said Bobby Gutierrez, who with his wife, Wendy, owns Wendll’s coffee shop on Meeker’s main drag where patients with canes, walkers and slings show up at his takeout window for breakfast burritos and coffee. Gutierrez said he also sees lots of blue and green scrubs. Surgical staff members are regular customers.
If Meeker seems like an unusual place for a growing medical tourism market, that’s because geographically and sizewise it is.
Meeker sits in the middle of 3.5 million acres of public land, a big chunk of it the White River National Forest. It is named after the Indian agent Nathan Meeker, who died in the infamous Meeker Massacre in 1879 when the Utes attacked an Indian agency, leading to the ultimate removal of the Utes from their homeland, and to the establishment of the town of Meeker six years later.
Meeker became a hub of banking and trade for northwestern Colorado, mainly serving sheep and cattle ranchers whose descendants still populate the area.
(Left) Town of Meeker has approximately 2,600 residents. (Right) Dr. Kevin Borchard, in front, operates during a hip surgery as the Surgical Services Director Kristofer Borchard, back center, and Ashley Garcia, back right, assist with the procedures. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)
In modern days, gas and oil drilling and coal mining have become the largest employers and kept the town alive, albeit with the roller-coaster economy those industries tend to bring.
A Rio Blanco County Economic Update completed earlier this year shows oil and gas drilling on a steep decline and coal mining dropping to a lesser degree. After energy sector jobs, health care and social assistance now account for the second largest source of jobs.
Outdoor recreationalists contribute to the economy seasonally — hikers in summer, sled-dog aficionados and ice fishing enthusiasts in winter. An annual sheepdog competition has put the town on the global map. And hunters paint the town orange during deer and elk seasons because of all those wide-open spaces that hold an average of only two people per square mile.
Meeker’s hunting pedigree is evident in photographs of Theodore Roosevelt that dot the town. He came to Meeker twice to shoot bears and mountain lions.
Billionaires have also discovered the Meeker area. Henry Kravis had owned a 4,000-acre ranch and a 19,000-sq-ft home east of Meeker for two decades before he sold it to a foreign LLC in 2020. Former Goldman Sachs president Jon Winkelried owns two nearby ranches.
Dr. Kevin Borchard — the magnet for the medical pilgrimages to Meeker — was still a toddler when his attorney father, Kent Borchard — currently the mayor of Meeker — moved his family to town from Boulder. Dr. Borchard said he grew up loving the small-town atmosphere of Meeker. After medical school at the University of Colorado, a stint as an Air Force doctor, a Boston fellowship in adult reconstructive surgery under some of the top surgeons in the country, and a couple of years practicing in neighboring Craig, Borchard decided he wanted to practice full time back in the place that feels like his hometown.
The hometown feel for Borchard has broad tentacles. Besides his father, the mayor, Dr. Borchard’s brother Kristofer is the director of surgical services for the orthopedic clinic. Two of his sisters are physicians. Borchards are on nearly all local boards. Borchard’s father-in-law is a retired physician in Meeker. Dr. Borchard and Kristofer also opened the Smoking River Brewery in Meeker last year, which has become a local gathering place.
That tight-knit fiber of Meeker is part of what makes the orthopedic clinic work, Borchard said. To him, Meeker is an ideal place to combine high-caliber surgical care with a small-town-friendly atmosphere surrounding that care.
“We keep a focus on good, high-quality surgery with a sharp attention to detail and processes designed to keep patients safe,” Borchard said. “And we never want our patients to feel they are rushed or they aren’t important.”
He returned to practice in Meeker seven years ago and began doing surgeries in the 46-bed Pioneers Medical Center that includes about three dozen rooms in an assisted-living wing. News about his skills spread, and physicians and physical therapists from outside Meeker began advising patients to head there for their joint replacements, particularly for replacements of replacements. Borchard specializes in the tricky surgeries required to remove and replace artificial joints that have gone bad due to infection, misalignment, or simply wearing out.
Borchard’s growing patient load prompted Pioneers to add an 11,000-square-foot specialty orthopedic clinic two years ago. This summer, after Borchard drew five other physicians to the practice, another 4,000-square-foot addition was built. The clinic now has three operating rooms and a state-of-the-art Mako SmartRobotics system.
Rachel Gates, marketing director for Pioneers Medical Center and a director of its foundation, said news about the clinic initially spread through word-of-mouth. She said that word no longer hinges on just happy patients talking up the clinic. Pioneers uses sophisticated search-engine tracking on social media to keep information about the clinic up front in the virtual world and also has an extensive print and digital ad campaign.
Longtime Meeker resident Joe Goedert, right, shake hands after chatting with a local friend, John Kobald, before entering the Pioneer Medical Center for an appointment on Nov. 23. “I never leave home without my (cowboy) hat,” Goedert says. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)
Becker’s Hospital Review recently boosted Pioneers reputation by naming it one of the top hospitals in the Western United States for patient experience. Pioneers was among 26 other medical facilities given recognition, and was the only critical-access hospital in the state to be included. Pioneers is considered a Level IV trauma care facility, meaning it can handle basic emergencies, surgery and critical care for patients who don’t need to be transferred out to a higher-level hospital.
Borchard’s record is also part of the equation. With the help of a staff that takes the sterile environment for surgery very seriously, he has had zero infections with his patients and zero readmissions to the hospital.
That is documented by Stryker, the company that makes the robotic arm, a technology that allows surgeons to more precisely place knee and hip replacement parts. Stryker’s statistics also show that the length of time for orthopedic patients in the hospital is 32 hours compared with 37 hours for the average joint replacement patient. All of Borchard’s patients have been discharged to home instead of into rehabilitation facilities.
Borchard said the robot has led to faster healing times and fewer complications. He said looking at a CAT scan image while manipulating the surgical tools results in shorter surgery times and less damage to tissue and ligaments. Borchard also uses a technique that doesn’t require tourniquets, another factor lessening pain and damage from surgery.
Borchard doesn’t just do knees and hips, although those are his primary focus. The other physicians — all fellowship trained in different areas of expertise — whom he has attracted to the practice in Meeker, round out expertise in other body parts.
Dr. Dan Ward, also specializes in knees and hips; Dr. J. Alex Sielatycki is a spine reconstruction expert; Dr. Gregg Martyak focuses on hand and upper extremity problems; Drs. Justin Grant and Mark Purnell specialize in sports medicine. Grant lives in Meeker. The other surgeons travel to the clinic from other areas.
Meeker doesn’t have quantitative data yet to say how much medical tourism is affecting the town. Mandi Etheridge, the Meeker town administrator, said trying to break out the hospital’s direct impact on the community has been “too complicated.” She noted that sales tax figures held steady throughout the pandemic shutdown period.
“I think the hospital certainly helped keep us afloat,” Etheridge said.
The county’s most latest economic update shows sales and use taxes up 10% in Meeker into the first quarter of this year. The update lists 452 employees in the mining sector and 387 in the field of health care and social assistance. Around 200 of those workers are employed at Pioneers, making it one of the largest employers in the county.
— Dr. Kevin Borchard, a magnet for medical pilgrimages to Meeker
The county and other area governmental agencies have given the 70-year-old Pioneers hospital strong support. An intergovernmental group decided back in 2013 to replace the outdated hospital in the middle of town with a new facility on a hillside near the Meeker Airport.
Through the Eastern Rio Blanco County Health Service District, the town, the county, the fire district, and even the cemetery and sewer districts, signed on to an agreement to help Pioneers grow with the $9 million clinic addition and, in the process, to add an economic development tool for Meeker. The district did it without raising the hospital-funding 7.280 mill levy that in 2021 collected about $3.5 million in property taxes.
Etheridge said there was a general recognition that medical care is not a boom-and-bust industry like oil and gas and coal. There was also awareness of the need for proactive measures to keep the hospital’s bottom line healthy because so many small hospitals around the country are failing.
“Everybody was on board to lift up that concept,” Etheridge said.
Medical “tourists” have a wider impact on the town because when they come for surgery, they usually spend two nights in a local motel or hotel. They have meals in restaurants. And their family members shop and spend time in cafes while they are waiting.
Roger Chang, the owner of the White River Inn, the motel closest to the hospital, confirmed that the orthopedic clinic has boosted his business, and lessened the workload for a cleaning staff long used to muddy hunters.
“We have guests coming for surgery about every week,” he said. “And those guests are very much better than hunters. Hunters make a lot more work for us.”
Andrea Gianinetti, who serves on the board of the Meeker Chamber of Commerce and owns Gianinetti’s Powersports Rental with her husband, said the orthopedic clinic doesn’t directly impact their business because patients don’t tend to rent ATVs and Razors for whizzing around the 580 miles of trails accessible from Meeker.
She believes it is positively impacting the Meeker business community — and the overall well-being of the town.
“We all went to school with Kevin. He could have chosen to go anywhere after his training. But he chose to come back here. It is just a really cool kind of small-town thing,” she said. “It is interesting to have something so prestigious in our community now.”
Leslie Boyd, a Grand Junction retiree, found out about the Meeker orthopedic clinic from a paid-for Pioneers-generated article in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. She took it to her physical therapist to ask for his advice. He recommended she go to Borchard. She said he told her Borchard was the only surgeon he would recommend for her crippling knee problems.
She arrived in Meeker with a touch of trepidation.
“It was interesting because there is nothing much there, but this hospital stands out. It is state-of-the-art. It stands out in a town with a lot of older-looking buildings,” she said.
She returned to Grand Junction the day after the surgery and two weeks later, was doing everything she was involved in before the surgery, including singing on stage with the Sweet Adelines.
“I’m a happy girl,” she said.
DiPaola went to Meeker on the advice of a retired-police-officer friend who had a knee replacement at Pioneers. He said he found an atmosphere that convinced him he had made a good choice. For him, it was the combination of top-notch care with a staff that made him feel well cared for.
“There was this hometown atmosphere around the hospital. They treat you like a neighbor, not a client,” DiPaola said.
He was happy enough with his first hip replacement in July that he went back to Meeker in September for his other hip. He is now walking 3 miles every other day.
He tells others about Meeker’s newest reason for being on the map, besides a massacre and highly-skilled border collies.
“I say that I am very happy that I went to little Meeker,” he said.
Dr. Borchard said he is also happy he decided to come home to practice in Meeker. As the Pioneers’ orthopedic clinic patient load increases — growing 65% last year — he doesn’t foresee the Pioneers clinic ever becoming anything like the well-established, gold-standard Steadman Clinic orthopedic practice that started in Vail 34 years ago and has branched out around the state.
The only branching-out Borchard has put in place is sending a physician assistant to Grand Junction every other week for after-surgery care so patients won’t have to make repeat drives to Meeker. At some point, he said he may add a small clinic in Craig to take care of the many patients Pioneers serves from that area and from Baggs, Wyoming.
“We have a different focus on our culture,” he said. That means growing and adding more surgeons in the future but not changing the patient-comfort focus.
Meeker is a place where he can show up for his first surgery of the day in camo and blaze orange after an early morning hunt. He can head to his brewpub after work. He can bump into a relative at every turn. And he can send patients out of Meeker on new joints that give them a new lease on life — and a new appreciation for Meeker.
“I have a hard time imagining being anywhere else,” he said.
CORRECTION: This story was updated Nov. 29, 2022, at 11:34 a.m. to reflect that Dr. Kevin Borchard served in the U.S. Air Force. Rachel Gates’ work was also updated. She is marketing director for Pioneers Medical Center and director of its foundation.