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Updated: 2017-02-26T03:47:10Z

 



Mattiello calls Raimondo 'tone deaf' on car tax IN A SERIES of four tweets Friday, House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello said Gov. Gina M. Raimondo needed to start listening to the people of Rhode Island who want the "burdensome car tax eliminated," and called her "tone deaf" on the issue.

2017-02-24T18:24:23-05:00

House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello took to Twitter on Friday to publicly chastise Gov. Gina M. Raimondo, an unusual step for a politician who rarely tweets.

PROVIDENCE - House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello took to Twitter on Friday to publicly chastise Gov. Gina M. Raimondo, an unusual step for a politician who rarely tweets.

In a series of four tweets, the speaker said the governor needed to start listening to the people of Rhode Island who want the "burdensome car tax eliminated," and called her "tone deaf" on the issue.

He said her proposal for two years of free college tuition was "unsustainable," using the language that his spokesman said has been leveled by the Raimondo staff at his promise to eliminate the auto excise tax.

Mattiello, D-Cranston, won re-election in November after campaigning on a pledge to eliminate the car tax, which varies by community. He has called for a multiple-year phase-out, beginning this coming fiscal year.

"What is truly unsustainable and fiscally irresponsible is her plan to make us the only state in the nation to give away 'free' taxpayer-funded college tuition," he tweeted.

Raimondo since introducing her fiscal 2018 budget has been heavily promoting the Rhode Island Promise, a proposal to provide two years of free tuition at state institutions.

In a brief conversation, Mattiello spokesman Larry Berman on Friday said the speaker decided to go public after learning that the governor's press office had been criticizing his proposal in interviews at local newspapers, including the Warwick Beacon. An online headline in its sister publication, the Cranston Herald, on Wednesday said the governor had called the speaker's car-tax plan "unsustainable."

Berman said the speaker wasn't angry, but "he wanted to go public with this."

Raimondo did not respond to the tweets, but several of her top aides tweeted responses, defending her college proposal.

"90 percent of R.I. high school students want to go to college. Only 65 percent do. Biggest reason they don't? Cost," tweeted Mike Raia, communications director for Raimondo.


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Passenger traffic drops 1% in January at T.F. GreenPASSENGER TRAFFIC at T.F. Green Airport fell 1.2 percent over the year in January.

2017-02-24T16:24:08-05:00

The passenger count at T.F. Green Airport declined slightly in January compared with a year earlier, the R.I. Airport Corp. said Friday.

WARWICK - The passenger count at T.F. Green Airport declined slightly in January compared with a year earlier, the R.I. Airport Corp. said Friday.

There were 250,380 passengers last month, a 1.2 percent decline compared with 253,488 in January 2016.

American Airlines had the greatest increase in passengers over the year at 15.5 percent, to 66,121 from 57,239. United Airlines has the greatest decrease during the same time frame at nearly 37 percent, to 11,333 from 17,978.

The rest of the major airlines all reported passenger decreases.

Southwest Airlines, which holds the largest market share at 48.8 percent, had 121,885 passengers, a 0.61 percent decline over the year, while Delta Air Lines had 26,738 passengers, a 7 percent decrease; JetBlue Airways, 21,140 passengers, a 7.5 percent decrease; and TACV Cabo Verde Airlines, an 8.1 percent decline, to 1,811. TACV flies year-round to Cape Verde.

After Southwest, American has the next-largest market share at 26.4 percent, followed by Delta, 10.7 percent; JetBlue, 8.4 percent; United, 4.5 percent; and TACV, 0.72 percent.

Cargo increased 1.5 percent over the year in January, to 1,997,031 pounds from 1,968,301 pounds in January 2016.

This week, in a significant development for T.F. Green, the airport corporation announced that Norwegian Airlines, a European discount carrier, would begin offering service to Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland this summer.


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Becker receives first Sloan fellowship for URIAUSTIN BECKER, a University of Rhode Island professor of marine affairs, was named URI's first recipient of a Sloan Research Fellowship from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

2017-02-24T16:24:25-05:00

Austin Becker, a University of Rhode Island professor of marine affairs, was named URI's first recipient of a Sloan Research Fellowship from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, according to a release from the school on Friday.

SOUTH KINGSTOWN - Austin Becker, a University of Rhode Island professor of marine affairs, was named URI's first recipient of a Sloan Research Fellowship from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, according to a release from the school on Friday.

Becker, who said he was "honored" to be selected, said the award "recognizes the importance of bringing the latest ocean science information to the public and the decision makers who need it in order to make choices that benefit society."

A member of the URI faculty since 2014, Becker's research is driven by the effects of climate change and helps strengthen coastal communities against storms, sea level rise and other natural hazards, linking social and marine sciences.

Each year the Sloan Foundation awards $60,000 fellowships to 126 scientists to further research in a variety of fields. Becker said the funds would be used to further develop a virtual disaster impacts model, techniques to visualize the impact of disasters, techniques to better understand the relative vulnerability of North Atlantic seaports and methodologies for engaging stakeholders in resilience planning.

He added that this opportunity will allow him to involve more students in his research as well as purchase new forms of technology to better understand climate change impact more quickly so results can be published and disseminated to the public, insurance companies and emergency planners sooner.


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Moody's says R.I. free college proposal could boost public school credit ratingsGOV. GINA M. RAIMONDO'S proposal for free college tuition could improve Rhode Island public higher education institutions' credit ratings, but negatively impact revenue at some of the state's private schools, according to Moody's Investors Service.

2017-02-24T14:24:26-05:00

Gov. Gina M. Raimondo's proposal for free college tuition could improve Rhode Island public higher education institutions' credit ratings, but negatively impact revenue at some of the state's private schools.

NEW YORK - Gov. Gina M. Raimondo's proposal for free college tuition could improve Rhode Island public higher education institutions' credit ratings, but negatively impact revenue at some of the state's private schools.

That's according to Moody's Investors Service, which on Friday published new research examining four free college tuition proposals, including Raimondo's plan to cover two years of tuition costs for qualifying Rhode Island students. The researched proposals, including others in New York, Tennessee and San Francisco, are all slightly different. But the global rating agency expects each one should - at the very least - expand public higher education enrollment at a relatively modest cost to taxpayers.

"[The proposals] tend to be relatively cost-effective for sponsoring governments because each of the programs use a 'last-dollar' model whereby the state subsidizes tuition costs after the student has exhausted all other available state and federal financial aid," according to Moody's.

Raimondo's proposal is a "last-dollar" model, and at scale would cost about $30 million. The funds would cover tuition costs for two years at any of the three state schools: the Community College of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island. Raimondo is actively trying to drum up public support and convince the R.I. General Assembly - which must approve it - that her plan is viable and worth the cost.

Moody's research suggests Raimondo's type of proposal - as opposed to others that cover tuition costs for two-years of tuition at only community colleges - could have "more material credit implications" should it cover a larger proportion of the student population. If there's a sudden influx of students, the costs associated with accommodating new students - building new facilities, for instance - could offset new revenue realized from increased enrollment.

"Enrollment growth driven by program expansion in and of itself would not necessarily be credit positive," Moody's wrote.

Likewise, the public subsidies for public institutions could adversely impact private colleges with more limited regional brands, according to the credit rating agency.

"These colleges are usually highly tuition dependent, with tuitions comprising 75-90 [percent] of their total budgets. Many have had little net tuition revenue growth in recent years. Those regional private colleges with already thin operations would face further credit challenges should proposed free tuition programs even modestly shift enrollment to the public sector from the private sector or put further constraints on the ability to raise net tuition," according to the research.

Rhode Island's private institutions include Brown University, Johnson & Wales University, Naval War College, New England Institute of Technology, Providence College, Rhode Island School of Design, Roger Williams University and Salve Regina University.


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Summer Infant reports loss, revenue decline in 2016SUMMER INFANT Inc. reported a $4.3 million loss in 2016, and 5.6 percent decline in revenue, to $194.3 million.

2017-02-24T13:24:16-05:00

Summer Infant Inc. cut its loss in half in 2016, and saw revenue drop 5.6 percent.

WOONSOCKET - Summer Infant Inc. cut its loss in half in 2016, and saw revenue drop 5.6 percent.

The juvenile-product maker, in its earnings report released this week, said the loss in 2016 was $4.3 million, or 23 cents a share, compared with a loss of $8.7 million, or 47 cents a share, the prior year.

Revenue fell to $194.3 million last year, compared with $205.8 million in 2015. The company said if $8.3 million of sales related to its bank-approved inventory reduction plan and furniture exit in 2015 are considered, revenue was only down "modestly" year over year.

Fiscal 2016 included $2.1 million of unfavorable foreign exchange on a constant currency basis, mostly due to the decline of the British pound.

Litigation costs fell to $2.4 million from $6.6 million in fiscal 2015. The company had been embroiled in a lawsuit against former executives and consultants and had claimed they were trying to create a competing company and stole trade secrets.

In the fourth quarter, the loss grew to $4.5 million, or 24 cents a share, compared with a loss of $3.1 million, or 17 cents a share. Revenue fell to $45.5 million in the fourth quarter from $50.8 million in fourth quarter 2015.

"Looking back on 2016, we accomplished a great deal and took the necessary steps to position the company for even better operating performance going forward," Mark Messner, president and CEO, said in a statement. "Using $8.8 million of cash generation, we paid down $6.5 million of debt - further strengthening the balance sheet - and lowered our interest expense in tandem. At the same time, even including certain one-time expenses, we reduced [general and administrative expenses] by more than 10 percent, and the company's prior litigation issue is now behind us. All in all, Summer Infant is stronger now than it's been in years."


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State agrees to settlement with ACLU over UHIP food stamp delays

2017-02-24T12:24:15-05:00

A settlement agreement has been signed with the state over the federal lawsuit that the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice filed in December over the failure of the state Department of Human Services to provide SNAP food stamp benefits on time to needy families due to the tangled rollout of the UHIP computer system.

PROVIDENCE - A settlement agreement has been signed with the state over the federal lawsuit that the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice filed in December over the failure of the state Department of Human Services to provide SNAP food stamp benefits on time to needy families due to the tangled rollout of the UHIP computer system.

The settlement was reached with the assistance of U.S. District Court Chief Judge William Smith and is subject to the court's approval, according to a press release from the ACLU issued Friday.

The ACLU and NCLEJ argued that the "systematically inadequate and faulty statewide implementation" of UHIP was causing "thousands of households to suffer the imminent risk of ongoing hunger as a result of being denied desperately needed assistance to help them feed their families."

Two plaintiffs were named, and the ACLU said they were representative of "thousands of others," as they faced multiple delays in getting their food stamps.

The settlement agreement states that the state acknowledges its federal obligations to provide SNAP benefits in a timely manner, meaning that regular food stamp applications must be processed within 30 days of the date of application, and expedited food stamps must be given to destitute households within seven days.

The agreement also states that starting in April, the state must have an 80 percent timely processing rate for expedited applications and a 75 percent rate for 30-day regular applications. Those requirements increase each month until they must reach a 96 percent compliance rate for both types of applications by August.

The state also will be required to submit detailed reports to plaintiffs' counsel documenting that it is meeting the goals set for increased compliance with federal reporting requirements.

The ACLU said it received more than 100 complaints after setting up a hotline last month to expedite applications for people facing hardships getting SNAP benefits due to UHIP problems.

"We are pleased that we have been able to work out an agreement which establishes long-term and short-term requirements to address the systemic problems created by the UHIP program for SNAP applicants and which has the force of a federal court order behind it," ACLU of RI volunteer attorney Lynette Labinger said in a statement. "However, congratulations are not yet in order. It remains for the state to meet those obligations. We have no doubt of the state's good intentions and its determination to achieve the mandated benchmarks, but promises do not fill stomachs. If the state is unable to meet the standards that it has agreed to, this settlement establishes our right to return to court to seek remedial relief for all SNAP applicants."




Report: R.I. first in nation for percentage of deficient bridges THE AMERICAN ROAD & TRANSPORTATION BUILDERS ASSOCIATION said Rhode Island has the highest percentage of structurally deficient bridges in the nation at 25 percent.

2017-02-24T11:24:53-05:00

For the third year in a row, Rhode Island ranks first in the nation for having the highest percentage of structurally deficient bridges at 25 percent, according to the latest Bridge Report from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association released recently.

PROVIDENCE - For the third year in a row, Rhode Island ranks first in the nation for having the highest percentage of structurally deficient bridges at 25 percent, according to the latest Bridge Report from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association released recently.

Of the Ocean State's 772 bridges, 192 are classified as structurally deficient, according to the report. That means one or more key elements, such as the deck, superstructure, substructure or retaining walls, are in poor or worse condition.

The association also said 242 bridges, or 31 percent, are classified as functionally obsolete, meaning they do not meet current design standards. The report also said that the state has identified needed repairs on 724 bridges, which the state estimates will cost $3 billion.

It said that federal investment in Rhode Island has supported $930.5 million for capital improvements on 325 bridges between 2005 and 2014.

RhodeWorks, a key initiative by Gov. Gina M. Raimondo, was enacted last year to help fund repairs to the state's crumbling roads and bridges. It will place tolls on large, commercial trucks.

"When we took office, Rhode Island had the worst bridges of any state in America. So we got to work," Raimondo said in a statement released earlier this week. "We came up with a plan that allows us to fix more than 150 structurally deficient bridges in Rhode Island, and make repairs to another 500 bridges to prevent them from becoming deficient. Today, the construction industry is back at work rebuilding Rhode Island."

The report included a list of the most traveled structurally deficient bridges. Here are the top five, which are all in Providence County:

Interstate 95 northbound and southbound over U.S. 6 Woonsocket River Amtrak, with 171,707 crossings. Built in 1964.

I-95 northbound and southbound over Blackstone Street, with 167,639 crossings. Built in 1961.

I-95 northbound and southbound over Wellington Avenue, with 157,769 crossings. Built in 1964.

I-95 northbound and southbound Amtrak with 157,769 crossings. Built in 1964.

I-95 northbound and southbound over U.S. 1 Elmwood Avenue, with 157,769 crossings. Built in 1965.

When ranked by the total number of structurally deficient bridges, Iowa leads the nation for the second year in a row with 4,968. Massachusetts again is 31st with 5,171.

Rhode Island is 44th with 772. It improved one spot from last year in this ranking.

In the list that ranks states according to their percentage of deficient bridges, Iowa was second at 20.5 percent. Massachusetts ranks 20th at 9.3 percent.

The association said it analyzed U.S. Department of Transportation 2016 National Bridge Inventory data to come up with its findings. It said cars, trucks and school buses cross the nation's 55,710 structurally compromised bridges 185 million times daily.

The inventory of structurally deficient bridges has declined 0.5 percent since the 2015 report, the association said.

American Road & Transportation Builders Association Chief Economist Alison Premo Black conducted the analysis and said the data shows 28 percent of bridges (173,919) are more than 50 years old and have never had any major reconstruction work in that time.

"America's highway network is woefully underperforming. It is outdated, overused, underfunded and in desperate need of modernization," Black stated. "State and local transportation departments haven't been provided the resources to keep pace with the nation's bridge needs."


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J.C. Penney to shut as many as 140 stores as industry slumps J.C. PENNEY plans to shutter as many as 140 stores and trim thousands of jobs, the company said Friday.

2017-02-24T10:24:10-05:00

J.C. Penney Co. plans to shutter as many as 140 stores and trim thousands of jobs, becoming the latest department-store chain to make big moves in a world of lower mall traffic and fierce online competition.

NEW YORK - J.C. Penney Co. plans to shutter as many as 140 stores and trim thousands of jobs, becoming the latest department-store chain to make big moves in a world of lower mall traffic and fierce online competition.

The closings represent as much as 14 percent of the company's store base and less than 5 percent of total sales, J.C. Penney said Friday. The moves, which also include shutting two distribution centers, will save about $200 million a year.

Stores slated for closure will be announced in mid-March, according to a company spokeswoman. J.C. Penney has stores at the Warwick Mall, Franklin Shopping Plaza in Westerly and Dartmouth Mall in Dartmouth, Mass.

J.C. Penney's plan echoes rival Macy's Inc.'s announcement last year that it would shut about 100 of its stores to adjust to a world where consumers increasingly prefer shopping online to visiting malls. Sales at J.C. Penney, which is still working to recover from a disastrous attempted reinvention, are less than half of their 2002 peak.

"We must take aggressive action to better align our retail operations for sustainable growth," CEO Marvin Ellison said in a statement.

The stores will close in the second quarter, and the company will take a charge of about $225 million related to the moves in the first half of this year. The 6,000 job cuts will come through a voluntary early retirement plan, and more workers are expected to take that offer than will be affected by the shutdowns, the company said.

The shares fell as much as 9.8 percent to $6.19 in New York. The stock already had been down 17 percent this year through Thursday's close.

Big-ticket items

Ellison has been working to attract customers by expanding the retailer's partnership with Sephora and increasing its assortment of big-ticket items, such as appliances. The Plano, Texas-based company also is investing in services like salons that consumers can't get online.

The strategy had shown some success. J.C. Penney posted its first profit since 2011 in the fiscal year that just ended in January, with net income of $1 million. Earnings excluding some items were 64 cents a share last quarter, the company said Friday, topping analysts' 61-cent average estimate.

Still, the outlook is rocky. The company forecast that same-store sales in the current year will range from a 1 percent decline to a 1 percent gain. Adjusted earnings will be 40 cents to 65 cents a share, while analysts estimate 54 cents.

"We learned a lot of lessons in 2016, we made some mistakes but we learned," Ellison said on a conference call. "We are confident because of that, the growth initiatives we've laid out will continue to bear fruit for us for 2017."


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Dream of offshore U.S. wind power may be just too ugly for TrumpTHE PRICE OF offshore wind energy fell 22 percent last year, according to Bloomberg News.

2017-02-24T09:24:01-05:00

Offshore wind companies have spent years struggling to convince skeptics that the future of U.S. energy should include giant windmills at sea. NEW YORK - Offshore wind companies have spent years struggling to convince skeptics that the future of U.S. energy should include giant windmills at sea. Their job just got a lot harder with the election of Donald J. Trump. The Republican president -- who champions fossil fuels and called climate change a hoax -- has mocked wind farms as ugly, overpriced and deadly to birds. His most virulent criticism targeted an 11-turbine offshore project planned near his Scottish golf resort that he derided as " monstrous." Companies trying to build in the U.S., including Dong Energy A/S and Statoil ASA, are hoping to change Trump's mind. They plan to argue that installing Washington Monument-sized turbines along the Atlantic coast will help the president make good on campaign promises by creating thousands of jobs, boosting domestic manufacturing and restoring U.S. energy independence. "We are a billion-dollar heavy industry that is set to build, employ and invest," Nancy Sopko, manager of advocacy and federal legislative affairs for the industry-funded American Wind Energy Association, said in an interview. "We have a great story to tell to this administration." Significant stakes The push to win over the Trump administration comes as offshore wind is on the brink of success in North America after a decade of false starts. Costs are falling dramatically. Deepwater Wind LLC completed the first project in U.S. waters in August. And in September, the Obama administration outlined plans to ease regulatory constraints and take other steps to encourage private development of enough turbines to crank out 86,000 megawatts by 2050. That's about the equivalent of 86 nuclear reactors. "We are an industry on the rise," Thomas Brostrom, Dong's general manager of North America, said in an interview. "We want very much to come in and explain to the new administration what we can do for job creation and energy independence." A White House spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment. The stakes are significant. Dong, Statoil, Deepwater and other companies secured a total of 11 leases to build offshore wind farms. To move forward, developers will need permits from multiple agencies and, in some instances, federal grants to refurbish ports. For instance, Deepwater's 30-megawatt wind farm off Rhode Island benefited from a $22.3 million U.S. Transportation Department grant to upgrade piers and terminals for use as a staging area. Talking points To be clear, installing turbines at sea requires years of planning, and Trump may be out of office by the time some developers need federal approvals. State governments, meanwhile, remain the biggest drivers of renewable energy development, because they can mandate that utilities get a certain amount of power from offshore wind or other sources. Nevertheless, offshore developers need a basic level of cooperation in Washington to keep the nascent industry moving forward. "They don't want to lose the progress that they've made," said Frank Maisano, a Washington-based energy specialist for the lobbying firm Bracewell LLP. Shoring up Trump administration support will require developers to shed climate change talking points and dispel any notions that offshore wind is an environmental relic of the Obama administration, said Timothy Fox, an analyst at Washington-based ClearView Energy Partners LLC. It may help that two of the biggest developers -- Dong and Statoil -- have deep roots in offshore oil and gas. Jobs will be at the crux their message. Erecting 600-foot (183-meter) turbines along the Eastern seaboard may boost employment in struggling port towns from South Carolina to Maine, generating an estimated 31,000 jobs in the Mid-Atlantic[...]


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AstroNova's rebirth leads Woods to top Manufacturing Award honorsGREGORY A. WOODS, CEO of AstroNova, was recognized for leadership and strategy in Providence Business News' fourth annual Manufacturing Awards program.

2017-02-23T15:23:39-05:00

Since assuming the top spot at AstroNova Inc. about three years ago, Gregory A. Woods has re-branded the company, re-focused and augmented its product lines, and overseen significant topline growth that is now starting to see positive movement in free cash flow.

PROVIDENCE - Since assuming the top spot at AstroNova Inc. about three years ago, Gregory A. Woods has re-branded the company, re-focused and augmented its product lines, and overseen significant topline growth that is now starting to see positive movement in free cash flow. It is a record of achievement that has earned Woods recognition for leadership and strategy in Providence Business News' fourth Manufacturing Awards program.

Woods' transformation of the company after doing business as Astro-Med for 44 years was accomplished first by divesting its medical business, which led to the re-naming of the company around its aerospace business lines. Today the company has three product lines: product identification, for consumer as well as industrial uses; test and measurement, which includes devices used for regulatory, safety compliance and quality assurance; and aerospace, which includes flight deck printers and networking electronics.

In addition to both focusing and expanding product lines, some through internal development, others through acquisition, Woods has grown the markets for AstroNova products in Europe and Asia.

The result is growth from having yearly revenue in the $60 million-$70 million range to pushing against $100 million now, with a target that has the West Warwick company hitting $250 million by fiscal 2021. In order to reach that goal, Woods has been continuing capital investments as well as investments in employee education (all staff have undergone lean training).

Woods is one of 13 winners in this year's Manufacturing Awards program who will be recognized March 30 from 5:30-8 p.m. at a dinner event at the new WaterFire Arts Center.

Other winners in the fourth edition of the Manufacturing Awards are:

Toray Plastics (America) Inc., for Overall Excellence, more than 150 employees

The Town Dock, Overall Excellence, 50-150 employees

AVTECH Software Inc., Overall Excellence, fewer than 50 employees

The Brickle Group/The Phoenix Partnership, Collaboration in Manufacturing

The Beck Companies, Emerging Manufacturer

FarSounder, Exporting Excellence

Vacuum Processing Systems LLC, Green Manufacturing Excellence

VIBCO Inc., Lean Manufacturing Excellence

Amtrol Inc., Product Innovation & Design

Taco Comfort Solutions, Safety Performance & Records Excellence

Amgen Rhode Island, Supply Chain Excellence

Tanury Industries, Workforce Development & Productivity Excellence

Presenting sponsor for the fourth PBN Manufacturing Awards program is Polaris MEP. Partner sponsors include Bryant University, Cox Business, Gallo|Thomas and Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses.

For information about attending the PBN Manufacturing Awards dinner on March 30, click HERE.


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