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Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

A Flagstaff Eagles girls basketball player shoots the ball Wednesday evening during practice.

Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

Arizona Snowbowl employee Dawson Barber spent Friday morning scanning hundreds of lift tickets during Snowbowl’s opening day.

Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

Protesters make their way through the Arizona Snowbowl parking lot, chanting in opposition of the Arizona Snowbowl’s use of artificial snow Friday morning during Snowbowl’s opening day.

WikiLeaks' Assange faces charges; lawyer says he'd fight

WASHINGTON — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will not willingly travel to the United States to face charges filed under seal against him, one of his lawyers said Friday, foreshadowing a possible fight over extradition for a central figure in the U.S. special counsel's Russia-Trump investigation.

Assange, who has taken cover in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has been granted asylum, has speculated publicly for years that the Justice Department had brought secret criminal charges against him for revealing highly sensitive government information on his website.

That hypothesis appeared closer to reality after prosecutors, in an errant court filing in an unrelated case, inadvertently revealed the existence of sealed charges. The filing, discovered Thursday night, said the charges and arrest warrant "would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter."

A person familiar with the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity because the case had not been made public, confirmed that charges had been filed under seal. The exact charges Assange faces and when they might be unsealed remained uncertain Friday.

Any charges against him could help illuminate whether Russia coordinated with the Trump campaign to sway the 2016 presidential election. They also would suggest that, after years of internal Justice Department wrangling, prosecutors have decided to take a more aggressive tack against WikiLeaks.

A criminal case also holds the potential to expose the practices of a radical transparency activist who has been under U.S. government scrutiny for years and at the center of some of the most explosive disclosures of stolen information in the last decade.

Those include thousands of diplomatic cables from Army Pvt. Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning, secret CIA hacking tools, and most recently and notoriously, Democratic emails that were published in the weeks before the 2016 presidential election and that U.S. intelligence officials say had been hacked by Russia.

Special counsel Robert Mueller, who has already charged 12 Russian military intelligence officers with hacking, has been investigating whether associates of President Donald Trump had advance knowledge of the stolen emails.

Meanwhile, Trump said Friday he had "very easily" answered written questions from special counsel Robert Mueller, though he speculated that the questions had been "tricked up" to try to catch him in a lie. He said he hadn't submitted his answers to investigators yet.

"You have to always be careful when you answer questions with people that probably have bad intentions," Trump told reporters in his latest swipe at the probe into 2016 election interference and possible ties between Moscow and the president's campaign.

The president did not say when he would turn over the answers to Mueller, but his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, indicated it could happen next week. The special counsel has signaled a willingness to accept written answers on matters related to collusion with Russia. But Giuliani has said repeatedly the president would not answer Mueller's questions on possible obstruction of justice.

During months of back-and-forth negotiations with the special counsel office, Trump's lawyers have repeatedly counseled the president against sitting down for an in-person interview.

Assange could be an important link for Mueller as he looks to establish exactly how WikiLeaks came to receive the emails, and why its dump of stolen communications from Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta — beginning just after a damaging video of Trump from a decade earlier publicly surfaced — appeared timed to boost the Trump campaign.

Assange, 47, has resided in the Ecuadorian Embassy under a grant of asylum for more than six years to avoid being extradited to Sweden, where he was accused of sex crimes, or to the United States, whose government he has repeatedly humbled with mass disclosures of classified information.

The Australian was once a welcome guest at the embassy, which takes up part of the ground floor of a stucco-fronted apartment in London's posh Knightsbridge neighborhood. But his relationship with his hosts has soured over the years amid reports of espionage, erratic behavior and diplomatic unease.

The charges came to light in an unrelated court filing from a federal prosecutor in Virginia, who was attempting to keep sealed a separate case involving a man accused of coercing a minor for sex.

The three-page filing contained two references to Assange, including one sentence that said "due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged."

It was not immediately clear why Assange's name was included in the document. Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the Justice Department's Eastern District of Virginia said, "The court filing was made in error. That was not the intended name for this filing."

Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

Snowboarders and skiers made their way to the Arizona Snowbowl Friday morning to be the first to ride down the mountain on Snowbowl’s opening day.

Council's options on stormwater fees expand prior to Tuesday meeting

Flagstaff City Council will once again be taking up the issue of increasing stormwater fees to fund flooding infrastructure at the Tuesday council meeting, but this time bonding is also on the table.

In September, Council adopted notice of intent to increase the stormwater fee in order to help pay for the millions of dollars’ worth of stormwater improvements in the city that need funding. At that meeting, the council considered two options for how much the fee increases should be, but now it appears the council may be considering a third, lesser increase as well.

And at the top of that list is the Rio de Flag flood control project for which the city is working with the Army Corps of Engineers to complete.

The city is responsible for providing 35 percent of the funding for that project, an estimated $36 million. The Army Corps is then covering the rest of the project, but so far the city has not located a funding source.

In February, the council opted out of putting a sales tax on the November ballot to cover the cost, and in September, Council discussed using an increased stormwater fee to raise the money in either 10 or 12 years. But now there is also a third option on the table.

The proposals before the council now are an increase of $2.81, putting the fee at $5.07 per Equivalent Rate Units for 10 years, or a $2.22 increase for a $4.49 rate for 12 years.

Both of these proposals are projected to raise the $36 million needed for the city’s portion of the project.

The new third proposal would be an increase of only $1.48 for a rate of $3.74. The city would then take out bonds to cover the remainder of the project, which the increased fee would be leveraged against.

These bonds would amount to about $33 million, which would be paid back over the next 25 years and could allow the city to fund the project in a far shorter timetable than the other two options, said Rick Tadder, management services director.

Residents have some recent experience with city bonds. Voters shot down a proposal during the election that would have allowed the city to take out $25 million in bonds for affordable housing solutions. But Tadder said these bonds are a little different. 

As the affordable housing bonds were to be paid for by the secondary property tax, those bonds would have eaten into the city's bonding capacity. But as these new bonds would be paid for by the increased stormwater fee, there is no such concern.

And by bonding, the stormwater fee would not be increased by as much, addressing concerns raised by residents and businesses alike at a number of the open houses focused on the increased fee, Tadder said.

Last month, in an effort to further kick-start the project, the city hosted congressman Tom O’Halleran, Army Corps of Engineers Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite and Col. Aaron Barta, the commander of the Los Angeles District of the Army Corps.

The three toured the area that would be impacted in the case of a large flood and the area where the flood control infrastructure would be built.

“The Rio de Flag flood control project is crucial for Flagstaff and the surrounding area where businesses and homes are at risk of severe flooding if a major event occurs,” O’Halleran said in a press release on the tour. “I look forward to continuing to work with Flagstaff leaders and the Corps to prioritize this critical project and ensure the federal funding they need is available."

According to city staff, a significant flood could affect more than half of the city’s population and damage as many as 1,500 structures, causing an estimated $916,000,000 of damage.

The final design plans for the project are finally being completed with about $2 million of additional funding on the part of the Army Corps over the last two years.

Arizona governor fires embattled state parks director

PHOENIX — Embattled Arizona state Parks Director Sue Black was fired Friday following numerous complaints, including the bulldozing of potential archaeological sites to rush development of cabins and other improvements.

Gov. Doug Ducey announced in a news release that Black and deputy director Jim Keegan were departing Arizona State Parks and Trails effective immediately.

The action came after a former state archaeologist filed a complaint in October alleging that top parks officials ignored his repeated warnings that their actions violated regulations prohibiting destruction of artifacts and archaeological sites.

Native American lawmakers called for an investigation. Black and Keegan were put on administrative leave Nov. 1 while the governor's office conducted a review.

Will Russell, a former tribal liaison and compliance officer with the agency, told The Arizona Republic and the Today's News-Herald that managers scolded him whenever he reiterated his concerns. He alleged Black rarely consulted with tribes on a Lake Havasu State Park project to build updated restrooms and beachfront cabins. She later eliminated his liaison position, he said.

Paula Pflepsen, another staff archaeologist, accused Black and Keegan of going over qualified personnel to push through the building of new hiking trails or renovating existing ones at Kartchner Caverns State Park.

Ducey was a longtime supporter of Black, praising her for bringing in new revenue. In November 2016, he approved a 9 percent raise giving her an annual salary of $175,000, The Arizona Republic reported.

Black had kept her job despite facing three previous inquiries over other allegations. Among them were that she berated staff or acted disrespectful.

She also had one of the highest turnover rates for a director of a state agency. Of the agency's 180 employees, nearly 120 quit or were fired since her February 2015 appointment, according to public records obtained by The Arizona Republic.

Ted Vogt, who previously served as the chief operating officer for the state of Arizona, will serve as the agency's interim director.