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environment

The tragedy that unfolded for the exotic animals near Zanesville, Ohio on Tuesday night and Wednesday highlighted the lack of regulation in Ohio for a particular type of animal compound.

Terry Thompson kept bears, tigers, lions, monkeys, and other animals on his property.

He reportedly did not display them to the public for compensation, and was not required to carry a permit from the USDA. And an Ohio state law regulating exotic animals had expired.

It looks like a system that monitors drinking water for at least three million people in southeast Michigan will stay online for another year.

The monitoring system gives early alerts if chemical spills are detected—so it keeps contaminants out of the drinking water system.

The system was in danger of shutting down when federal and state dollars ran out. But officials from Macomb and St. Clair counties have each come up with enough money to keep the system going for another year.

But policymakers are still searching for a long-term solution.

Macomb County Commission Chair Kathy Vosburg says a long-term fix will likely mean a small consumer fee.

“Consumers are very willing to pay for that, it comes out to be something like 50 cents to a dollar per household per year.”

But implementing that would take cooperation from the many different cities that send out water bills--and the city of Detroit, which owns and operates the whole drinking water system.

Photo by Julie Grant

By Julie Grant for The Environment Report

Michigan beekeepers are continuing to lose huge numbers of bees. They join beekeepers from around the country – and the world – who have been dealing with what’s called Colony Collapse Disorder. It’s been around for five years now. Julie Grant visited with some beekeepers, and reports that scientists and the government don’t agree on what should be done to help them.  Here's her story:

Ted Elk is checking out some of his hives. They’re on the backside of a corn field, tucked away in the brush. The colorful boxes are stacked on top of each other.

Some hives are buzzing with activity. He pulls out a comb and scrapes the side:

“And that is all goldenrod honey. See how yellow that is?”

I want to eat it. It’s almost irresistible. But not all the hives look this good.

“Here’s one that’s not gonna make it through winter. It’s light, there’s no bees, there’s no weight to it.”

There’s honey on the comb. But almost no bees.

Elk suspects this hive has colony collapse disorder. There aren’t dead bees around. They’re just gone.

Elk has seen this before. Last winter, he lost 250 hives – and thousands of dollars. When Elk first started keeping bees, he might lose five or six percent in the winter. But nationwide, a 30 percent winter bee loss is average nowadays.

Researchers still aren’t sure exactly what’s causing Colony Collapse Disorder. But they do know there’s a lot of stress on bees. Beekeepers take their hives all over the country – to Florida to pollinate oranges, to California for almonds, to New York for apples, and elsewhere. The beekeepers take the bees honey, and often feed them cheap high fructose corn syrup, or nothing at all. Plus, they can have mites and bacteria. And there are 28 viruses that can affect bees.

The U.S. Green Building Council’s annual conference was held in Toronto this week.  “Greenbuild 2011” was four days of seminars, classes, and discussions about how to construct buildings and homes, using more environmentally friendly methods. 

Photo by Rebecca Williams

Asian carp have been making their way up the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers toward the Great Lakes for decades. Bighead and silver carp are the species people are the most concerned about.

Government officials are trying to keep the carp out of Lake Michigan. One of the main methods they’re using is electrical shock. There’s a man-made canal near Chicago that connects the Mississippi River system with Lake Michigan. And on that canal is a system of three underwater electric barriers built by the Army Corps of Engineers.

I recently had a chance to visit the electric barriers. You can’t see the actual barriers, because the electrodes are underwater. But the Army Corps invited me into the control room of Barrier 2B. It looks about like you’d guess – lots of computers and gauges. There are a couple large mounted Asian carp on the shelves.

Chuck Shea is a project manager with the Army Corps.

He says the barriers repel fish by emitting very rapid electric pulses into the water... which, if you’re a fish, is not a whole lot of fun.

“The idea is, as a fish swims in, the further it goes it’s getting a bigger and bigger shock and it realizes going forward is bad, it’s uncomfortable, and it turns around and goes out of its own free will and heads back downstream.”

The electric bill for this barrier runs between $40,000 and $60,000 a month.

Dow Chemical

Dow Chemical first unveiled its solar shingle two years ago, with plans for a limited release in mid-2010.

Now the company announced that the shingles will be available to some customers starting this month. The company says they're starting in the strongest markets for solar this month. The shingles will first be available in Colorado, and a "rolling launch" will occur in markets from California to the "East Coast."

In a press release, Dow said the shingle "protects the home like a standard roofing shingle while providing energy that saves the homeowner money":

Dow can now serve the need of homeowners who want to go solar, but aren’t willing to accept the complexity and sub-optimal aesthetics currently offered by bulky, rack-mounted systems.

Booth Mid-Michigan reports that Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris called Dow's solar shingle "a game changer that will address an estimated $5 billion market by 2015."

From Booth Mid-Michigan:

Dow hasn't reported a price for the shingles, but said the cost to homeowners will be set by the channel to market, and will depend on the size and configuration of the home and desired power generation. Dow officials said the cost of solar shingles can be thousands of dollars less than solar panels installed on top of a roof.

user Alchemist-hp / wikimedia commons

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - A company is applying for state permits to construct a copper and silver mine in Michigan's far western Upper Peninsula.

Orvana Minerals Co., a subsidiary of a Canadian company, is proposing to build a mine near Lake Superior in Gogebic County. Orvana is targeting 798 million pounds of copper and 3.5 million
ounces of silver.

Company president Bill Williams says the mine would operate about 14 years and have about 250 people on the payroll.

Orvana will need 13 permits from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, including one to build and operate the mine. The others would deal with issues such as air quality, wastewater discharges and wetlands development.

DEQ officials say the mine will have to meet strict environmental standards to qualify for the permits.

screen grab from YouTube video

HOLLAND, Mich. (AP) - The National Weather Service says storms brought high waves and strong winds to Lake Michigan and along the western Lower Peninsula of Michigan.

The weather service says waves between 12 and 18 feet were expected Friday. A storm warning was in effect for part of the day.

The Grand Rapids Press reports a 21-foot wave was recorded by a buoy in the middle of Lake Michigan west of Holland.

Winds gusting up to 60 mph were reported. Strong winds were expected around Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.

High winds and waves moved in Thursday. The Muskegon Chronicle reports the S.S. Badger car ferry wasn't expected to be in service Friday between Ludington and Manitowoc, Wis., due to the weather. Ferry service was expected to resume Saturday.

(*We're experiencing technical problems with one of the above audio files. Please ignore the "audio processing" message above.)

By Bob Allen for The Environment Report

Officials in Mason County have given the green light to the first large scale wind farm near the Lake Michigan shore. Consumers Energy wants to have fifty-six turbines built and running before the end of next year. But some residents say in its rush to get going Consumers and the County are downplaying a serious threat to public safety.

Natural gas pipelines run through the site of Consumers Energy’s wind park south of Ludington.

A group of residents says at least half a dozen of the windmills are within falling distance of a gas line. And they say if a turbine falls it could cause a pipeline to break with the risk of an explosion.

A conversation with Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell

Sep 27, 2011

In 2010, Grand Rapids was named the most sustainable mid-sized city in the U. S., by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Business Civic leadership Center and Siemens Corp. When he took office in 2004, Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell implemented what he calls a “triple bottom-line sustainability planning process. ” He talks with Michigan Radio's Jennifer White about what it takes to create a long term sustainable future for the city.

Photo by Rebecca Williams

Two species of Asian carp, bighead and silver carp, have been swimming their way north toward the Great Lakes for decades. A lot of people are trying to keep the carp out of the Lakes.

Yesterday, attorneys general from around the country announced they’re putting more pressure on Congress to speed up action on Asian carp.

Some people think one solution is to create a market for the fish.

There are a couple of companies working to sell Asian carp to China... where the fish are considered a delicacy.

But winning over the American palate is much harder. Carp have a bit of an image problem... and they are full of bones.

“We are spoiled here, we like convenience. Everybody expects to have fish without bones, right? And that’s the issue.”

This is Chef Phillipe Parola. He’s from Baton Rouge and he wants you to learn to love Asian carp.

Parola is one of the chefs who tried to get Americans to eat nutria. Nutria look like oversized rats. So that didn’t go over so well.

Two years ago, Chef Parola found his new calling. He was out fishing in Louisiana, where the Asian carp are thick.

“With ten minutes, this fish started jumping everywhere. I’m like, what in the heck! Two of them, one after the other, landed right at my feet.”

He kept the giant carp, put them on ice, and took them home.

“To my surprise, when I saw the meat, as a professional chef, I knew right on that there’s no way that this fish could be bad, literally. When I went and cooked it, I'm going to tell you, it tasted between scallops and crab meat, there is no doubt.”

Mia MacDonald / Green Belt Movement

Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize died on Sunday in her native Kenya.  She was 71.

The New York Times reports:

The cause was cancer, her organization, the Green Belt Movement, said. Kenyan news organizations said she had been treated for ovarian cancer in the past year and had been in a hospital for at least a week when she died.

Maathai was a leading environmentalist and feminist as well as a human-rights advocate.  She has also worked to encourage nations around the world to work together to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change.

During an interview on Michigan Radio's The Environment Report in 2009 (click on audio above), Maathai also called on everyone to help work to solve the global warming problem.

"I think it’s very important to encourage farmers, individual citizens to plant trees. And, I’m very happy to know that in some of your states, tree planting has been embraced as one of the solutions. It’s one of the activities that every one of us citizens can do and feel good about it, and teach kids to do it, because every tree will count. And when there are 7 billion of us, almost, in the whole world, so you can imagine, if every one of us planted a tree and made sure that tree survived – can you imagine the impact?"

Photo courtesy of Birmingham Public Schools

Detroit’s water department has been under federal oversight for almost 35 years. Recently, the city tried to get that oversight lifted. But the federal judge who monitors the department shot that effort down, and he ordered stakeholders to find a way to fix the system’s decades-long problems--within two months. Some people wonder about that short timeline—and whether some of the Judge’s suggestions hint at a possible takeover. 

Jerry Oldenettel / Flickr

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan wildlife biologists say two deer in Cass County have been diagnosed with an often-fatal viral disease.

The deer tested positive for epizootic hemorrhagic disease, or EHD.

The Department of Natural Resources said Tuesday the disease is transmitted by a biting fly. It causes extensive bleeding. Infected deer lose their appetite and fear of humans, grow progressively weaker, develop a high fever and finally lose consciousness.

It's not believed that humans can get EHD.

DNR wildlife chief Russ Mason says there is no known way to treat or control the disease. Michigan has had several deer die-offs from EHD as far back as 1955. The latest covered six counties last year.

Mason says outbreaks are happening more frequently, possibly because climate change is driving the biting flies farther north.

USFWS Midwest

Kirtland's warblers are moving south to their winter home in the Bahamas (lucky devils), but before they left Michigan, researchers counted 1,805 singing males.

That's less than the high in 2009 (1,826 singing males) but more than last year's count (1,773 singing males), and researchers say it's a sign of a healthy population.

From the Associated Press' Environment Writer, John Flesher:

Michigan Municipal League

Earlier this year, public health officials in St. Clair County began investigating whether environmental factors might be contributing to rare kidney cancers in some kids in the Marine City-China Township area.

Now, the investigation is getting the help of an epidemiologist.

More from the Times Herald of Port Huron:

An investigation into a possible cancer cluster is expected to pick up next month.

A part-time epidemiologist starts Oct. 1.

user nico paix / Flickr

The Michigan Supreme Court settled a dispute like this back in 2005, after a neighbor had sued another neighbor for walking along their beachfront property.

The court ruled that the right to walk along beachfront property extends up to the ordinary high water mark in Michigan. The high water mark was defined, in-part, this way by the Michigan Supreme Court:

"The point on the bank or shore up to which the presence and action of the water is so continuous as to leave a distinct mark either by erosion, destruction or terrestrial vegetation, or other easily recognized characteristic."

Now, the Ohio Supreme Court has chimed in. From the Associated Press:

The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that beachcombers can legally walk from the water to the "natural shoreline" along properties bordering Lake Erie.

The Wednesday ruling comes in a case pitting thousands of lakefront property owners against the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which establishes public access rules.

In a 7-0 decision, the court reversed an appellate ruling that said property owners' rights extend to the point the shore and water meet on any given day.

The high court also rejected state arguments that public access should extend to a high water mark established in 1985.

Justices define the natural shoreline as "the line at which the water usually stands when free from disturbing causes."

It says its ruling reaffirms decisions dating to 1878 and state law enacted in 1917.

Photo by Lindsey Smith

Grand Rapids, Adrian and Ann Arbor are taking part in a tree study that could help other Michigan cities assess their own urban forests. The goal is to make a tree assessment more accurate and affordable for cities.

Grand Rapids spent tens of thousands of dollars to find more information about the city’s trees. They came away with valuable information like how much greenhouse gases and water runoff the trees absorb. But city owned trees make up only a tiny portion of the overall urban forest in Grand Rapids.

Tyler Stevenson is the city forester. He says they discovered more than half of Grand Rapids’ trees are maples.

“Is that true for the entire community? We don’t know. And it’d be interesting information and it would also help to increase the awareness of the public on how valuable the trees on their property are.”

Federal officials will use the data from the study to enhance existing software. Other communities in Michigan will be able to use that software for free to calculate data about their own trees.

Photo by Rebecca Williams

Here in Michigan, we have the world’s largest collection of dead fish. At least, the world’s largest collection that’s based at a university.

There are about 3.5 million fish in this collection. It belongs to the Museum of Zoology at the University of Michigan.

Bill Fink is the director of the Museum of Zoology and Curator of Fishes.

He’s offered to take me on a guided tour. We take the elevator to the basement... where there’s row after row of shelves full of glass jars... full of fish.

“These specimens are from Japan and they were collected in 1920s – we have specimens that are well over a hundred years old now and they look fine.”

Bill Fink says these fish have been collected from all over the world, sometimes at great risk to the scientists. He points out the box of jars from Vietnam.

“They were collecting during war, the Mekong River Survey. They were shot at and captured and escaped and there were lots of adventures.”

Bill Fink is not just the curator here... he also goes out in the field. He says some of the fish themselves are dangerous for the collectors.

“We also have a huge collection of piranhas right here...I’ve been there when people have been bitten but I personally have not been bitten. I’m really careful.”

Fink shows me some amazing fish... like the tiny anglerfish with its appendage that glows in the dark at the bottom of the ocean.

Emerald ash borer hits Sleeping Bear Dunes

Sep 11, 2011
user rkramer62 / Flickr

An invasive insect may wipe out the ash trees at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The emerald ash borer has infested up to 90 percent of the ash trees on the lakeshore's mainland in the northwestern Lower Peninsula. The first case was discovered in June and the tree-killing pest has spread quickly.

Lakeshore officials are considering their options to try to control the ash borer, but things look bleak.

Photo courtesy of the Gerald R Ford International Airport

Airplanes across the country use de-icing fluid, and airports have to figure out how to deal with the run-off from the fluid.

The Gerald R. Ford International Airport has come up with a $15 million plan to deal with the run-off which contains a substance called glycol. The Grand Rapids airport currently mixes glycol with storm water and dumps it into a tributary, where it breaks down and creates a bacterial slime.

Petty Officer Bill Colclough / U.S. Coast Guard

Officials at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Chicago District say they plan to pump up the electricity at their fish dispersal barrier along the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal. The increase is intended to repel smaller fish.

From the U.S. ACOE's statement:

While extensive research and monitoring indicate that small Asian carp currently are not currently within the vicinity of the fish barrier, and all field telemetry research indicates the barrier is highly effective, the Corps is taking this conservative approach to operating the electrical dispersal barrier out of an abundance of caution.

Corps officials say they'll turn up the power "later this fall."

In the statement, Corps officials say they have an aggressive monitoring program and have tracked nearly "1.9 million detections of tagged fish in the barrier area, with no indication of tagged fish having crossed any of the electric barriers in the upstream direction."

Environmental DNA (eDNA) evidence was found above the barrier leading some to wonder whether the fish are establishing themselves in waters close to the Great Lakes.

Officials at the Corps say while DNA testing has some advantages, but "eDNA does not provide conclusive proof of the physical presence of live fish."

MI DNR

It's up to the Michigan State legislature to determine what game is available for hunting in Michigan.

In late 2010, the legislature opened up the possibility of a moose hunt in Michigan.

They charged the Moose Hunting Advisory Council with developing recommendations on whether or not a moose hunt should be conducted. (You can let them know what you think by dropping them a line - moosecomments@michigan.gov).

The council is expected to present their report to the Michigan DNR's Natural Resources Commission next Thursday (September 15). The Associated Press reports that the Moose Hunting Advisory Council will recommend a moose hunt of 10 bull moose.

The NRC will take the recommendation and decide whether a hunt will occur.

But ahead of all that, the Inland Conservation Committee with the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians voted to oppose the hunt.

Here's part of a statement from the tribe:

At its Aug. 1 meeting, the committee cited biological concerns of a hunt’s impact on a fragile and uncertain population of 433 moose. The proposed hunt would take 10 bull moose in the fall after the rutting season, according to news accounts. The Department of Natural Resources was officially notified of the decision last week.

The statement says "under the terms of the 2007 Inland Consent Decree, the committee's opposition effectively ends Michigan’s bid for a moose hunt, for now."

A spokeswoman for the DNR said the tribe's position will have no effect on the report going to the Natural Resources Commission next week.

If the NRC votes to establish a moose hunt in Michigan, the question of whether or not the tribe's opposition prohibits a hunt will have to be answered.

Arthur Chapman / Flickr

A few months ago, reports started coming in that an herbicide made by DuPont was hurting and killing trees. The Environmental Protection Agency recently ordered DuPont to stop selling the herbicide Imprelis. DuPont had suspended sales shortly before that. The herbicide was used by lawn care companies to kill weeds on lawns and golf courses starting last fall.

Bert Cregg is an associate professor of horticulture at Michigan State University.

He says Imprelis can cause a range of different injuries to blue spruce, Norway spruce and white pine.

“You might see like in a big white pine, you might see a little bit of top growth doesn’t look quite right, you’ll see the twisting and curling, stunting of the top of the tree, in other cases, yeah we’ve seen the tree killed outright.”

This week, DuPont announced a program to process damage claims from property owners. DuPont declined an interview. But in a statement, the company said property owners with approved claims will receive replacement trees – or cash compensation.

DuPont’s also facing a number of lawsuits, including a class action suit brought by a woman from Allen Park, Michigan.

Fire Officer Randy McKenzie / MIDNR

Want to roast some marshmallows this weekend? 

Natural resource officials in the state have a message for you - "with the romance, comes responsibility":

The Associated Press reports that campfires account for about one in 10 wildfires. From the AP:

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources says warm summer temperatures and a lack of rain have combined to make the risk of wildfires especially high.

The agency says the highest risk is in the western half of the Upper Peninsula and in the central counties of northern lower Michigan, areas that are especially dry.

There's only a slight chance of rain over the weekend to lessen the danger.

The DNR recommends taking precautions to keep campfires under control and extinguishing them by dousing them with water before leaving.

Opponents of a planned nickel and copper mine in Michigan's Upper Peninsula are making a final legal appeal to halt initial blasting at the site.

Four organizations have filed a motion in Ingham County Circuit Court for a stay of mining permits issued by the state Department of Environmental Quality. A judge with the court is considering an appeal of the DEQ's decision to grant the permits.

The Huron Mountain Club, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, National Wildlife Federation and Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve say the mine jeopardizes water and air quality in the forestland of western Marquette County. They say extracting minerals at the site could pollute ground and surface waters with sulfuric acid.

Kennecott Eagle Minerals says the project can be carried out while safeguarding the environment.

Coal regulations could reshape Midwest energy

Sep 1, 2011
Courtesy of Duke Energy

The Midwest relies so heavily on one source of power that some call us the "coal belt."

Coal is cheap and plentiful, but that’s about to change.

A wave of government regulations is about to hit the electric industry.

Ed Malley, a Vice President at industry consulting firm, TRC Corporation has a name for all the new rules coming down the track: “The train wreck.”

That "train wreck" is the list of environmental regulations expected to be in place within the next few years.

Electric utilities say this will mean the shutting of power plants, leading to higher prices and less peak capacity for hot summer days. Environmentalists say: about time.

Kate.Gardner / Flickr

Attorneys general in the Great Lakes region want a multi-state campaign to cut an artificial link between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds that provides a pathway for invasive species.

In a letter obtained by The Associated Press, the attorneys general invite their counterparts in 27 other states to pressure the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for quicker action.

The Corps is studying whether to separate the drainage basins in the Chicago area, where they were joined more than a century ago by construction of a canal. Zebra and quagga mussels have used the waterway to invade states farther south, and the Asian carp is threatening to migrate into the Great Lakes.

The Corps report is due in 2015. The letter demands a faster timetable.

U.S.E.P.A.

The U.S. has suffered from a bad economy for the last three years.

Parts of the Great Lakes have suffered from bad pollution problems for the last several decades.

Now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants to use money from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) to put people to work cleaning up pollution in the region.

From an EPA press release:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced that the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is setting aside approximately $6 million for federal agencies to sign up unemployed workers to implement restoration projects in federally-protected areas, on tribal lands and in Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes basin. EPA will fund individual projects up to $1 million. To qualify for funding, each proposed project must provide jobs for at least 20 unemployed people.

“These projects will help to restore the Great Lakes and put Americans back to work," said EPA Great Lakes National Program Manager and Regional Administrator Susan Hedman. "In a sense, we will be using these funds to create a small-scale 21st century Civilian Conservation Corps."

The AP reports that Congress has appropriated $775 million over the past two years for the GLRI.

One of the GLRI's main goals is to clean up toxic hot spots known as "Areas of Concern" around the Great Lakes.

These Areas of Concern have been identified for decades, but clean-up efforts have stalled as funding for clean-up has been scarce.

EPA officials say they will award funding for these new clean-up projects by the end of September.

James Marvin Phelps / Flickr

Invasive species introduced into the Great Lakes by the shipping industry have caused enormous economic and ecological damage. Some estimates put the costs of invasive species in the Great Lakes at billions of dollars annually.

Quagga mussels, round gobies, and spiny waterfleas have spread all over the place in the Great Lakes, disrupting the food chain.

The question is, how do you get rid of these critters that can hide in the nooks and crannies of a ship's ballast tanks?

The critters get in when a ship pumps in ballast water in an overseas port. They hitch a ride across the Atlantic or Pacific and get dumped in U.S. waters.

Today the EPA requires ships to "swish and spit" before entering U.S. ports. That means international ships have to flush out their ballast tanks with salt water from the open ocean before coming in.

It's a sanitizing method that several states and environmental groups say is inadequate, and they're pushing the EPA to do more. But nobody knows what kinds of ballast water treatment systems will work AND will be cost-effective to shipping companies.

The Duluth News Tribune has a story today about an effort that is thought to be the first "major-scale test on the Great Lakes" of a ballast water treatment system.

It's being tested on a 1,000 ft. Great Lakes freighter. Freighters that stay in the Great Lakes don't bring the invasive species in, but they can help spread invasives from port to port around the region.

They Tribune reports the researchers treated 1.8 million gallons of ballast water in the ship with lye - a caustic chemical often used as an industrial cleaning agent. Before the ship reached it's destination port, they neutralized the treated water with carbon dioxide before releasing it.

One of the biggest challenges in combating invasive species in ballast tanks, is how best to sanitize such a large amount of water sitting in the complex maze of a ship's hull:

“The good news is that we were successful in delivering the biocide at this huge level for a 1,000-foot laker, then successfully delivered the neutralizer, all while the Indiana Harbor was on the job,” Phyllis Green, superintendent of Isle Royale National Park and the instigator behind the effort, told the News Tribune.

The Tribune reports that research into the real-world test is ongoing. Water samples from the ballast tanks will show whether the lye killed organisms "and whether the treated water was then successfully neutralized to prevent environmental harm."

Results of these tests should be available next month, the paper reports.

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