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Sarah Cotton, courtesy  

Northern Arizona Elite's Kellyn Taylor checks her watch during a workout.


Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Annabelle Jaworski, 7, flips the switch Wednesday night to turn on the Little America Hotel Christmas light display.


Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Santa chases the setting sun Wednesday night as he takes off in his sleigh out of the light display at the Little America Hotel.


Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Guests at the Little America Hotel take a ride around the hotel grounds on a train decked in holiday lights Wednesday evening before the annual flipping of the switch to light the hotel holiday display.


News
Flagstaff's parking program, one year later

Last month marked the one-year anniversary of the installation of parking meters around downtown Flagstaff and the beginning of the ParkFlag program.

And for businesses downtown, the system is working well, said Terry Madeksza, executive director of the Downtown Business Alliance.

“ParkFlag is working; it is doing what it was designed to do,” he said.

Madeksza said the system has done a great job at giving those wanting to park downtown the ability to do so, while providing dedicated parking to those who work in the area and setting aside money for future parking solutions.

Total resources for the first year of ParkFlag came to $2,798,183 while the operating revenue totaled $1,412,785. Of that, $1,229,989 was brought in by the pay-to-park system (people paying into the parking kiosks and using the Whoosh app) while $177,346 was generated through parking permits.

The program is required to put 20 percent of all the revenues generated by the program into what city staff often refer to as a “lockbox” dedicated to parking solutions in the future. This year, that 20 percent came to $282,557.

And as that money grows, staff say it will help the city approach the eventual goal of a parking garage in the vicinity of downtown, David McIntire, city community investment director, told Flagstaff City Council during the first annual review of the ParkFlag program. McIntire did admit, however, there is one problem with the plan.

“Parking garages are expensive,” McIntire said. “Probably in the $10 to $20 million range depending on size.”

Because of this, the city is currently looking at shorter term surface parking lots in the vicinity of downtown, although they do not yet have any specific parcels in mind, McIntire said.

But even surface parking can be an expensive pursuit, one in which the $282,557 collected this year may not make much of a dent.

After operating expenses and the 20 percent required to be put into the lockbox, the program had $835,914 left over, which could also be put into the dedicated parking solutions fund, though McIntire said this money is also used for unexpected expenses such as buying a new kiosk if one is damaged. That money has to go to parking-related expenses or investments.

And next year, McIntire said, ParkFlag will likely bring in more revenue if only because ParkFlag staff were extremely lenient about those parking downtown -- meaning many people may not have paid to park for the first few months.

During the first year, ParkFlag staff issued 13,786 warnings and 3,278 citations.

But not everyone is happy with the results of ParkFlag, including Deborah Harris with the Southside Community Association.

“I am glad to hear it is working for a lot of people, but I’m here to tell you it’s not working for Southside,” Harris said.

According to Harris, the parking system has pushed those hoping to avoid paying to begin parking on streets throughout the Southside, most of which are outside the ParkFlag program. And this has made parking in the neighborhood, which already had a problem with students and faculty commuting to Northern Arizona University parking there, even worse, Harris said.

Harris added that some of those living in the Southside are organizing to voluntarily add their streets to the residential parking system.

Under that system, residents can sign a petition to require the use of parking permits on their street. If a majority of residents sign the petition, each house on that street is then given one free curbside parking permit. Cars without such a permit can only park on the street for limited amounts of time or in certain spots.

At the moment there are 10 areas that are governed under the permitted residential program, but that number will soon be 12, said John Portillo, ParkFlag parking manager. So far, residential programs are on DuPont, Agassiz, Birch, Leroux, Ashurst, Elm, Hillside, Dale and Verde streets.


Emery Cowan / Emery Cowan, Arizona Daily Sun 

Ashley Kritzstein, left, a Clean Team Ambassador hired by the Flagstaff Downtown Business Alliance, helps Shane Tate, a visitor from Tennessee, figure out the city's new pay-to-park program in this file photo. 


Andreas Fuhrmann 

FILE-In this March 10, 2015 file photo, firefighters burned about 30 acres of oak woodland Tuesday, March 10, 2015, during a prescribed burn along the eastern edge of Whiskeytown National Recreation Area in Shasta County, Calif. Creating fire buffers between housing and dry grasslands and brush and burying spark-prone power lines underground would give people a better chance of surviving wildfires, experts say. So would controlled burns, a proven, historic practice that has been neglected in recent decades.(Andreas Fuhrmann/The Record Searchlight via AP)


News
NAU seeks ABOR approval for Fourth Street purchase

Northern Arizona University will submit a plan to purchase a 120-acre parcel of land at 1301 S. Fourth St. to the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) for approval Thursday.

If the plan is approved, NAU will purchase the land from its holding company, Northern Arizona Real Estate Holdings (NAREH), for $3,000,000 to be paid in 20 years of equal annual installments with 5 percent interest, according to the action item filed with ABOR. The university would also pay all additional transaction costs and attorney fees.

Several months ago, the landowners contacted the university about the property, said Joanne Keene, NAU Executive Vice President and Chief of Staff.

“The family has been interested in using this property for educational purposes for years,” she said.

Although NAU will move forward with purchasing the property if approved, the specific plans for the parcel remain undecided.

“We haven’t made any decisions about what we’re doing with that property,” Keene said.

A “Master Planning Process” is scheduled to occur within the next few months, though, to outline development plans for the Fourth Street lot and other recent acquisitions, including the Granny’s Closet and Super Pawn/Mandarin Buffet properties. Keen said this process will allow for community input.

Keene described the purchase as mutually beneficial for NAU and the community because the university can assist with other developments in the area, including those for the J.W. Powell Boulevard extension as stipulated by the Proposition 419 transportation tax, which was approved by voters last week. The extension will connect the road to South Fourth Street — and pass through the new NAU property.

“It’s a good community resource to have NAU have that land,” Keene said.

Unlike the university’s two other recent land purchases, this plot has no connectivity to infrastructure, she said. Nevertheless, she described the property as “a strategic acquisition for NAU.”

ABOR Policies 7-203 and 7-206 require Arizona’s public universities to seek approval from the Board for “purchases of real property that exceed $500,000,” and to provide two separate appraisals for properties valued at more than $1,000,000. The Fourth Street parcel was appraised at $2,940,000 and $3,000,000.

According to its executive summary, if the plan is approved, both Keene and NAU President Rita Cheng will have the authority to finalize all negotiations for the land purchase on behalf of ABOR.


International
AP
Astronomers find a cold planet three times the size of Earth

An international team of astronomers has detected evidence of a cold planet at least three times the size of Earth orbiting an ancient red dwarf star, right in our stellar neighborhood.

If you were traveling at the speed of light, it would take you just six years to reach it.

In the context of the universe, that’s basically right next door.

The newly discovered world, described Wednesday in Nature, is associated with a small, dim star known as Barnard’s star that is older than our solar system. It takes the planet 233 days to complete a single orbit around its cool red sun.

It is now the second-closest known planet to our solar system.

The only closer known planet is an Earth-sized body that orbits the small red star Proxima Centauri in the Alpha Centauri triple star system. That planet was discovered in 2016 and lies just four light-years from Earth.

The planet around Barnard’s star is probably too cold to host life, researchers said.

Although it is about as close to its own star as Mercury is to the sun, scientists say it is probably as cold as Saturn. That’s because Barnard’s Star emits only 0.4 percent of the sun’s radiant power.

But the new discovery is exciting for other reasons.

The proximity of the newly found planet to Earth makes it an excellent target for future observations. It is so close that the next generation of telescopes may be able to image it directly, the researchers said.

In addition, the new find provides further evidence that planets are nearly ubiquitous around red dwarf stars, said Ignasi Ribas, an astronomer and director of the Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia in Spain, who led the work.

"The chances of finding new ones is quite high," he said.

The new detection was made by a team of scientists working on an astronomy collaboration called Red Dots. Together, they are scanning the night sky for planets orbiting nearby dim red dwarf stars. Ultimately they hope to find a world in the habitable zone of these stars, where liquid water could pool on its surface.

This is not the first time that astronomers have thought they had found a planet around Barnard’s star.

Back in the 1960s Peter van de Kamp, a Dutch astronomer based in the United States, reported the discovery of two planets roughly the size of Jupiter orbiting the red dwarf.

To come to this conclusion he used a technique called astrometry that measures the movement of a single star across the celestial sphere. The idea is that the gravity of a planet orbiting that star would cause the star to shift its position ever so slightly compared with more distant background stars.

Based on his observations, Van de Kamp believed one of the planets completed a full orbit around the dim star in 12 years, while the other completed its orbit in 20 years.

However, as astrometry measurement techniques became more precise, scientists found that the supposed signals of Van de Kamp’s two planets did not exist after all.

The new discovery of a single, much smaller planet orbiting Barnard’s star is based on a different observational technique called radial velocity. In this method scientists use spectrometers to look for a small wobble in the light from the star that would indicate it has a planet orbiting around it.

"A light source that comes toward us would have its wavelength slightly blue shifted, while a light source that moves away from us has its wavelength slightly red shifted," Ribas said.

The magnitude of the wobble reveals the minimum mass of the planet that is responsible for the motion.

The radial velocity method was developed in the 1990s and has been steadily improving ever since, Ribas said. Even so, the size of the newly found planet is just on the edge of what current instruments can detect.

This particular discovery was possible only because the research team was able to examine hundreds of measurements that had been made over 20 years, he said. That gave them enough data to detect the small signal of the planet.

To ensure the detection was accurate, the authors also observed Barnard’s star every possible night during 2016 and 2017 from the Calar Alto Astronomical Observatory in Spain. A clear signal at a period of 233 days arose again and again.

Rodrigo Diaz, an astronomer at the University of Buenos Aires who was not involved in the new work, said that while the findings are promising, he'd still like to see more evidence of the new planet’s existence.

"Difficult detections such as this one warrant confirmation by independent methods and research groups," he said in an essay accompanying the new study.

The European Space Agency’s Gaia Space Observatory may be able to make detections that would further confirm the presence of a planet around Barnard’s star, he said, but those data aren’t expected to be released until the 2020s.