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Archives for December 24, 2015

Sharpshooters must get permission to shoot deer near homes

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources on Wednesday issued a two-month permit allowing the city of Ann Arbor to bring sharpshooters into city parks to shoot up to 100 deer — with some restrictions.

Most notably, shooting cannot occur within 450 feet of any occupied buildings unless written consent is obtained by the owner or occupant.

That means if sharpshooters fire guns within 450 feet of anyone’s house, apartment or other occupied building without written permission, that constitutes a violation of the permit conditions as spelled out by the DNR.

How close sharpshooters could come to private residences, and whether they would need permission to fire shots within 450 feet, has been a topic of discussion for months, and it’s been a concern for many residents worried about the safety risks of culling deer in parks and nature areas close to residential areas.

The city had stated in its permit application that it believed the state law regarding a 450-foot safety zone for hunting shouldn’t apply to a special nuisance cull.

“The city is requesting confirmation that MDNR classifies this permit as a non-hunting activity and that no safety zone is required as part of any permit conditions imposed by the MDNR if this permit application is granted,” the city’s application stated, noting the goal is to decrease the deer population to reduce negative deer-human interactions and support biological diversity in natural areas.

David Borneman of the city’s Natural Area Preservation program submitted the permit application on behalf of the city on Dec. 14.

Borneman signed the issued permit on behalf of the city on Wednesday, agreeing to the DNR’s stated terms and conditions.

One other notable aspect of the permit issued on Wednesday: It allows the city to close various parks and nature areas to conduct a cull from Jan. 2 through March 1, not through March 31 as the city originally requested.

The city has hired the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to carry out the deer cull, following complaints from residents about damage to landscaping and gardens, as well as natural areas.

“The focus of this effort is to reduce the population by taking primarily antlerless deer,” the permit states. “Antlered deer may be taken.”

City officials have said shooting would occur from deer blinds, with shots fired downward toward the ground, within an identified list of nearly two dozen city parks and nature areas, a list refined by the City Council this week.

However, some residents have raised concerns in recent days that the city’s permit application also shows the city wants to allow sharpshooters to shoot “from vehicles in parking lots or on trails within identified parks or nature areas, or in rights-of-way immediately adjacent to parks or nature areas.”

Lisa Wondrash, a spokeswoman for the city, said earlier this week the city was not requesting sharpshooters be allowed to shoot into parks from vehicles parked along city streets, refuting that interpretation of the application.

However, Pam Boehland, a spokeswoman for the USDA’s Wildlife Services, said on Wednesday that is what was requested.

“After consulting with the city of Ann Arbor and conducting park and nature area site visits, the city’s MDNR permit application did include language that would allow USDA-APHIS marksmen to shoot into the parks or nature areas from vehicles in the adjacent rights-of-way,” Boehland said in an email on Wednesday.

“Yes, it does mean vehicles parked along rights-of-way, which could include some streets adjacent to designated parks and natural areas,” she said. “However, it is important to note that just because there is a street next to a designated park does not mean we will necessarily be shooting from that street.”

The approved permit from the DNR states shooting from a platform or blind will be allowed, as will shooting from vehicles.

Tom Crawford, Ann Arbor’s interim city administrator, shared Boehland’s explanation and the DNR permit with the City Council on Wednesday.

Bernie Banet, a member of pro-cull group Washtenaw Citizens for Ecological Balance, is happy to see the cull moving forward, though he said the inclusion of a 450-foot safety zone seems to be a departure from previous DNR interpretations of the regulations. Christopher Graham, another member of Washtenaw Citizens for Ecological Balance, argued earlier this year that culling would need to occur in areas within 450 feet of occupied buildings to be effective.

The culling will take place on weekdays between the hours of 4 p.m. and 7 a.m. in the following city parks and nature areas:

  • Arbor Hills Nature Area
  • Barton Nature Area
  • Bird Hills Nature Area
  • Black Pond Woods Nature Area
  • Bluffs Nature Area
  • Braun Nature Area
  • Cedar Bend Nature Area
  • Dhu Varren Woods Nature Area
  • Foxfire South Nature Area
  • Foxfire West Nature Area
  • Furstenberg Nature Area
  • Huron Parkway Nature Area
  • Kuebler Langford Nature Area
  • Leslie Park Golf Course
  • Leslie Woods Nature Area
  • Narrow Gauge Nature Area
  • Oakridge Nature Area
  • Oakwoods Nature Area
  • Onder Nature Area
  • Ruthven Nature Area
  • South Pond Nature Area
  • Stapp Nature Area
  • Traver Creek Nature Area

Small bait piles consisting of corn and apples will be placed at cull sites beginning in early January and continuing until the cull is complete.

The cull will be conducted with rifles or shotguns equipped with suppressors, night vision and infrared cameras, and the shooters will use “highly frangible bullets specifically designed to reduce pass-through,” according to the city.

City officials and the USDA say they’re confident the deer cull will be carried out safely and that residents shouldn’t worry about stray bullets, though that’s still a concern being voiced by some opponents of the cull.

Some residents also are continuing to express concerns that posted notices about park closures and police enforcement won’t be enough to keep people out of large nature areas that have several official and unofficial access points.

Val Liepa, who lives on Hampstead Lane in the middle of the Bird Hills and Kuebler Langford nature areas, said he doesn’t support the cull and he’s not looking forward to having sharpshooters in the woods around his home.

He said he hasn’t seen many deer this year, but there is one young buck he regularly sees.

“And he comes along and almost talks to you,” he said. “He looks at you, and he’s very friendly. We’ve sort of grown fond.”

He added, “Over the years, we have also accepted, yes, deer will come and eat flowers, so now we don’t plant flowers that attract deer. And we’re happy to see them. We like to see the animals. I don’t want to see them killed.”

Bird Hills was designated by the City Council as a wildlife sanctuary in 1974, specifically prohibiting hunting and trapping of animals. A sign that stands today still reads: “Bird Hills Park: A Nature and Wildlife Sanctuary.”

“I want this to be a sterile place,” said Liepa, who has lived in his house next to Bird Hills for four decades. “This is a wild area and it should be kept like that.”

The cull permit conditions include a requirement that local law enforcement and the DNR must be notified of cull activity times and dates.

The permit allows up to two gallons of bait at each designated shooting location. All bait must be removed after culling activities.

Boehland said USDA safety protocol will apply to all shots taken. She said the USDA’s sharpshooters, who are wildlife biologists and specialists, are highly trained marksmen experienced in performing safe culls in urban environments.

“We always practice a principle of ‘SHE’ — safe, humane, effective — and make every effort to position ourselves so the shots are taken in a downward direction,” she said, adding safety is the USDA’s top priority.

“This includes the use of tree stands, downward from a vehicle, or positioning our ground blinds higher than the bait pile we are using or area we are looking over.”

Boehland said all USDA sharpshooters must pass firearms safety and proficiency qualifications before participating in culls and must re-qualify annually.

“They are trained and equipped with the latest tools and techniques, such as thermal imagery and downward shots, to reduce disturbance and allow for safe deer removal,” she said. “Additionally, if needed, any member of a team can call off a shot for a safety concern.”

Deer carcasses are to be tagged and removed from cull locations by 7 a.m. each day. The city indicates every effort will be made to remove visual evidence of the cull and return the park sites to their normal appearance.

Carcasses will be field-dressed at a city facility, and then transported to a meat processing facility in Jackson County. Costs for the meat processing will be paid for by Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger, and the venison will be donated to Food Gatherers, a local food bank in Ann Arbor.

Heads of all deer killed must be tagged and submitted to the DNR for testing for chronic wasting disease. The University of Michigan’s Kellogg Eye Center is hoping to obtain the deer eyes for research purposes.

The city is required to provide weekly reports to the DNR during the cull and a final report within seven business days after completion of shooting activities.

The city conducted a helicopter flyover count this year that found 168 deer in and around the city. The city has informed the DNR it plans to conduct one or two more aerial surveys this winter, and if adequate snow cover exists the city might do one prior to the cull to help pinpoint the location and movement of deer.

Additionally, as of November, the city informed the DNR it has contracted with an independent researcher to implement an oak tree seedling study to more quantitatively measure the extent of deer browse within city nature areas.

Ryan Stanton covers the city beat for The Ann Arbor News. Reach him at

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Making yards Jersey friendly with water, plants

New Jersey has its Jersey Fresh campaign promoting fruits and vegetables grown locally in farm fields and garden, but now the state is collaborating with a college and an environmental group to make yards more Jersey friendly.

This partnership has launched an interactive website — — as part of a new Jersey-Friendly Yards campaign.

The website offers practical ways for homeowners and other landowners to landscape their properties in an environmentally friendly way that will reduce storm water runoff, capture rainwater, eliminate use of fertilizer and pesticide and replace invasive plant with native species.

State environmental officials said the ultimate goal of this campaign, however, is not to just promote native plants but to reduce stormwater runoff that contaminates rivers and streams from lawns treated with fertilizer and pesticides

DEP, Ocean County College and the Barnegat Bay Partnership commissioned the website using a $100,000 federal grant program under the Clean Water Act to reduce what scientists refer to as “nonpoint source pollution” caused by pesticide and fertilizer use.

“While the website was designed with the Barnegat Bay watershed as its basis, the tips and tools that it provides are applicable statewide and can be used by residents, landscapers, property managers and others to reduce stormwater runoff and actually have ecologically healthier lawns,” said Dan Kennedy, Department of Environmental Protections (DEP) assistant commissioner for water resources management.

“At the same time, property owners will be creating natural habitats that will be used by beneficial insects, birds, and other wildlife.”

Kennedy said improving water quality is a key environmental priority of the Christie Administration, which has adopted some of the toughest fertilizer standards in the nation. These standards are designed to reduce nitrogen and eliminate phosphorous in water runoff that causes excessive algae and aquatic plant growth.

“Reducing stormwater pollution is a critical part of the Barnegat Bay Partnership’s efforts to protect and restore the bay,” said Karen Walzer, public outreach coordinator for the Barnegat Bay Partnership.

She said the Barnegat Bay Partnership is working closely with Rutgers Cooperative Extension and the Ocean County Soil Conservation District to put Jersey Friendly Yards practices into place by developing demonstration projects with six homeowner associations in the Barnegat Bay watershed.

“The website is an easy-to-use source of information,” shes said.

The interactive section of the site has a tool for layout for low-impact landscaping options the user can explore for different types of gardens or lawns and to reduce runoff and capture rainwater. It shows how to transform a grass-dominated property into one that has native plants and other features.
The website has an extensive plant database that suggests which native species to use instead of foreign plants that tended to overtake gardens or fields.

For example, the site suggests placing the Japanese barberry with the  the low-bush blueberry, New Jersey tea plant or the dwarf witchalder. It also recommends getting rid of the invasive English ivy and Japanese wisteria. For more than 350 years, dozens of invasive species, which  compete with and annihilate native plants, have been introduced into the state.

The online site was built by a Medford company, Fusionspark, Inc., with input from the collaborating agencies. Fusionspark developed similar environmental sites for the state of Florida over the past 12 years.

“The Florida sites has become effective,” said the company’s co-principal, Kevin Sparkman of Medford, himself an environmentalist who is a Pinelands Preservation Alliance trustee and past chairman of the Medford Environmental and Open Space Commission.

“Winter time is a great time for people to take some time to learn about this so that they can plan their landscaping for the spring,” Sparkman said.

“Our hope is that the project will inspire residential and commercial property owners to change behaviors to ensure that their landscaping practices don’t harm our rivers and bays.

He also believes the site will create a marketplace for landscape designers and companies who choose to meet an increased demand for Jersey-Friendly landscaping.

“We certainly saw this happen in Florida,” he added.

Carol Comegno: (609) 533-0306; 

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A pocket garden full of surprises wins second place in the Jazzin’ Up the …

In the front yard of Tim and Rhonda Betbeze’s Uptown home, a small wooden bench sits next to a hanging basket of flowering annuals. At this time of year, it’s overflowing with  snapdragons, pink petunias and fragrant sweet alyssum.

Just steps off the front porch, the bench has pride of place. “It’s Rhonda’s spot to catch the last bit of sun at the end of the day,” Tim said.

The yard has a configuration common in older New Orleans neighborhoods where houses are close together: a front porch overlooking a tidy swath of green, framed by a waist-height century-old iron fence.

Jazzin’ Up the Neighborhood Garden Contest:

Click here to see the first-place winner’s garden.

The Betbezes’ handiwork shows just how charming a pocket garden can be. “We call it our postage stamp,” Rhonda said.

Here, every bit of space is used to the fullest — from the trailing mandevilla that snakes down the fence to the tiny bed bursting with  seasonal color in a corner of the lawn — a spot that catches full sun.

It’s this beautifully maximized mix of plantings that earned the Betbezes’ front yard second place in the inaugural Jazzin’ Up the Neighborhood Garden Contest, sponsored by and The Times-Picayune, the LSU AgCenter and the Metro Area Horticulture Foundation.

The contest, held in November, was open to gardens throughout the New Orleans area. The judges were LSU AgCenter agents Sarah Everhart, Dan Gill and Lee Rouse; Metro Area Horticulture Foundation president Kevin Taylor of Southern Accent Landscaping Lawn Care Inc.; and Susan Langenhennig, InsideOut editor.

After narrowing down the entries, Everhart, Gill, Rouse and Taylor viewed each of the five finalists’ gardens in person. Only the front yards were judged.

The Betbezes bought the home in 2008. When they moved in, “the front bed was here, but it was new,” Rhonda said. “We added the mandevilla and the passion flower, and where the gardenia is, that’s the fifth plant to go in there; we couldn’t figure out why nothing worked. But the gardenia seems happy now.”

A sweet olive anchors one side of the yard, while the passion vine nearby attracts plenty of pollinators. On a recent Saturday, the bees were everywhere.

To draw the eye away from a nest of power lines overhead, the couple planted a Savannah holly near the street. “We did some research, and this is one of the permissible trees,” said Tim, an attorney. “We planted it four years ago to bring the view down.”

The attention-getter of the garden, though, is the mandevilla. Even when it’s not in bloom, the vine crowns the fence in a wreath of dark green foliage. It froze last winter but came back.

Just inside the gate is another eye-catcher: a school of five koi fish swimming in a water-less pond painted on the pavement just in front of the home’s porch. The Betbezes had fallen in love with artist Jeremy Novy’s sidewalk artwork after seeing it in spots around town — restaurants, the Allways Lounge, even the yard of a nearby house — and asked him to add his touch to their garden. “He believes in feng shui; that’s why there’s an odd number of fish,” said Rhonda, a paralegal. “We just really liked his work.”

The Betbezes keep their small green space meticulously tidy with regular maintenance. “Rhonda takes out her clippers and hand clips the garden,” Tim said. “But that’s what makes all the difference.”

“That’s therapy,” Rhonda joked. “I don’t have to pay a therapist. It takes 15 minutes, and I’m relaxed and in another world.”

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Family surprises Olive Garden waitress with $1000 tip

Updated: Dec 24, 2015 – 11:00 AM

Waitress Kathryn Irwin didn’t notice the $1,000 tip she was given at first.

“I was busy doing some side work and ended up going back to my table thinking I should grab the guest book off the table. It was still a few minutes before I actually opened it and when I did eventually open it and I saw it, I was in disbelief. I couldn’t even believe (it). I was trying to figure out if they made some type of error,” she told WITN.

The North Carolina waitress was waiting on a family of five.

The bill itself was $45.70, according to WTHR.

“I felt extremely blessed and immediately humbled; I was so shocked I wanted to cry,” Irwin said. “I’m just amazed. You hear about generous tips around the holiday; I’ve never personally had it happen to me, so I just want to make sure I do the right thing and again I just want them to know how thankful I am.”

She plans on using some of the money for Christmas shopping, and wants to pay if forward by helping out someone else.

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In the round: circles in the garden

There’s something about a circle: It’s a perfect fit in any garden.

Garden designers turn to circles to define spaces, frame views and break up the sharp lines of a garden. They change the usual geometry of a space and your experience of it. Circles are approachable, restful, cozy, embracing. Squares and rectangles are formal and businesslike; circles have no sharp points and are graciously accommodating.

Carving a circle into the design of a garden is surprisingly easy. With a stake and string, you can quickly trace out a circle of any size for a lawn, a flower bed or a patio. Then define it any way you wish.

Kristopher Dabner, a garden designer in Kansas City, Missouri, sometimes uses several circles of different sizes in a single landscape, arranged in great overlapping arcs out from the door opening onto the garden. The first circle might be a brick or stone patio; the second, perhaps a step down in the landscape or a round sweep of lawn; and yet another, just to one side, might define a seating area around a fire pit. The shapes create movement, compelling you to step deeper into the garden from one circle to the next.

People have been fascinated by circles forever. The monumental ring of stones at Stonehenge, in England, may be 5,000 years old.

The modern use of circles in gardens is also well-rooted in American garden design and history. The Danish landscape architect Jens Jensen, who settled in Chicago in the late 19th century and became one of the pioneers of the Prairie School of design, incorporated “council circles” in his gardens. A ring of low stone seating was a perfect spot from which to contemplate the natural world, Jensen felt.

Circles are democratic, Jensen said. Sitting in a circle, “there is no social caste,” he said. “All are on the same level, looking each other in the face. A ring speaks of strength and friendship and is one of the great symbols of mankind,” he wrote in his thoughtful book, Siftings, first published in 1939. The mythical King Arthur must have been thinking along the same lines with his famous Round Table of knights.

Council circles — and story circles, as Jensen called them when they were in a school or a playground — still have a place in gardens today. When the Chicago Botanic Garden added its spectacular, naturalistic Evening Island landscape, a council ring of stones was built at the highest point in the plan.

A ring speaks of strength and friendship and is one of the great symbols of mankind landscape architect Jens Jensen in his book ‘Siftings’

You don’t have to have a council ring to experience the soothing magic of circles in a garden. Keep an eye out for the circles in nature: They are there in the shape of lily pads, in tree rings, in spiderwebs. The face of a sunflower is a magnificent sunny circle, and a dandelion seed head goes even further: It is a lovely gossamer sphere. The splash of a single raindrop in a puddle generates a mesmerizing pattern of concentric circles. A round birdbath on a pedestal captures the Zen of the circle in a brilliant disc reflecting the dome of the sky.

Dabner uses circles in playful ways, too. In one client’s garden, he laid out a brick pathway punctuated with antique grinding wheels of different sizes. In a pond, he added a bubbling orb and floated glass globes on the surface of the water.

Circles fit easily into gardens of every style. Margie Grace, a garden designer in Santa Barbara, California, used bricks to define circles in a Spanish-inspired garden, with a decorative tile mosaic in the center of each. Agave plants grow in the middle of another brick circle.

Circles can be lifted up into the vertical plane, too. A landscape architect in Richmond, Virginia, designed a formal garden with a rectangular patio for one of his clients, but the garden is first revealed to visitors through a gate with a large round opening — a moon gate. The circular frame around this glimpse of the garden imparts mystery and intimacy, coloring the whole experience of the garden. Partway along a brick path to the patio, a circular gathering space is defined by neatly trimmed balls of boxwood, echoing the circular motif.

Like the face of the moon, circles in a garden are soothing and compelling. The patterns they create may be playful or profound, and they’re always just right.

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Last-minute gift ideas for lawyers

Atlanta-based artist Charly Palmer is known for his works on race and the law. “Law Office” and a companion piece, “Fighting For the People,” are available in limited edition prints for $800. He studied art and design at Chicago’s American Academy of Art and the School of the Art Institute. His work is displayed in private and public collections that include many corporations and Vanderbilt University.

Israeli artist Sharon Binder focuses on Judaica and spiritual subjects. Her “Scales of Justice” limited print, available from Gans Judaica, features scales of justice, with the Biblical command in Hebrew, “Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may live, and inherit the land which the Lord your God gives you.” The print sells for $90. Born in New York, Binder is now based in Jerusalem.

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This Season’s Breakout Star: The Border

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Landscaping at SLO’s Family Care Network is designed to nurture

Family Care Network, which provides family-based therapeutic foster care to children of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, is the brainchild of founder and chief executive officer Jim Roberts.

He established the nonprofit agency in 1987 after several years as a chief probation officer. In that capacity, Roberts had witnessed the failure of the group home concept for foster care and believed that a family setting would be more natural and beneficial for children. “The family is the most important social institution we possess, and that is where children need to be, in a family,” said Roberts.

Now, 30 years later, the Family Care Network has grown and expanded to include 200 employees and hundreds of volunteers, filling an important niche in the foster care system. Supported by grants, fundraisers and donations, FCNI partners with the county to provide foster care and services for children with behavioral and special needs.

Through the years, Roberts leased space to accommodate his growing nonprofit. In 2013, with the help of gifts and bequests from the community, Family Care Network was able to build its own 27,000-square-foot building on 2  1/2 acres of county land near the airport.

The building was designed using the science of “trauma-informed care,” Roberts explained. That means that the entire structure, from paint and design elements to furniture and spaces, was created to function as a warm, inviting and relaxing environment for those being served by the nonprofit. “With our goal of therapeutic family-based care, it was important that our new steel building felt more like a home than an office,” says Roberts.

So when it came time to landscape the large property, Roberts, an avid gardener, wanted to continue the therapeutic and welcoming theme, using a planting scheme that resembled a residential, rather than industrial, setting.

With our goal of therapeutic family-based care, it was important that our new steel building felt more like a home than an office.

Jim Roberts, Family Care Network CEO

He worked carefully with Oasis Associates Landscaping, brainstorming ideas for incorporating low water varieties with welcoming bursts of color, texture and seasonal variations. Beds of blooming perennials such as red dwarf bottlebrush, purple agapanthus, and deep orange kangaroo paws were repeated throughout the property, while familiar trees such as melaleuca, magnolia, flowering plum and sycamore added foliage color.

Roberts knew intrinsically that the most important area for incorporating the landscape into the therapeutic process was at the entrance. He chose long-blooming bright yellow lantana for the entrance from the street, then lined the front edge of the parking lot with mounds of white “flower carpet” roses under graceful Chinese pistache trees, and placed cheery “razzleberri” fringe flowers and perky Santa Barbara daisies along the front of the barn-red building.

As visitors walk to the front doors, they pass alstroemerias and geraniums spilling out of large metal stock tanks. More stock tanks at the front door greet them with dainty pink “Japanese lanterns” and red and white cyclamens. Inside, soft lighting, a gentle water feature and cozy sofas and chairs that resemble a farm-style living room add to the desired comfort level.

That comfort level is not just for the visitors, but also for the employees. “We worked hard to create an environment that was fun and conducive to staff wellness,” said Roberts.

A café with rustic tables and artwork created by employees and an outdoor patio with a place for bocce ball on a small lawn add to the sense of community experienced by the employees. In a sunny area off the parking lot, the employees built a “wellness garden” featuring raised beds for growing their own vegetables and flowers, complete with irrigation system and a custom-built gate donated by a supporter.

We worked hard to create an environment that was fun and conducive to staff wellness.

Jim Roberts

For the water-wise, it is interesting to note that for this particular development, the county required that there would be no groundwater runoff from the property. As a result, Roberts engaged a water engineering firm to design grading, bioswale and French drain plans to ensure that any excess water would flow to a central settling pond instead of going into the county sewer system. There are no curbs on the downward parking sections of the lot, so that all of the water flows into the French drains located under a variety of natural grasses, variegated boxwood and red-toned flax.

Family Care Network likes to share its new facility with the public and holds two open house tours each year.

“We want the people of our community to know what we are doing here, and we invite them to be part of the process through our various fundraisers and our open houses,” says Roberts.

Just last week, Family Care Network hosted all of their foster children and families at the Le Vigne Winery’s Pullman train for a special reading of the “Polar Express” and a visit from Santa Claus, along with cookies and hot cocoa. For fun, the kids who wore their pajamas got a present from Santa Claus. Family Care Network is one organization that makes ‘giving’ their present to the community throughout the year. Merry Christmas!

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