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Island Leads Nation In Drunken-Driving Risk…2001 P.R. Population Estimates…Urban Train $150M Over Budget …Unauthorized Lease Scandal Impact Weighed… P.R. Studied HIV Vaccine Gets FDA ‘Fast Track’ OK…PA Students Broker Livestock Sales To Puerto Rican Farmers

Puerto Rico Leads Nation In Drunken-Driving Risk

December 18, 2002
Copyright © 2002 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The nation's alcohol-related traffic death rate has dropped by more than half during the past 20 years, a government study shows. But the chances of being killed by a driver who's been drinking still vary significantly from state to state.

The federal government's most comprehensive look at drunken driving accidents over the past two decades shows that gains in the fight against drunken driving have been widely disproportionate across the country.

Drivers in South Carolina, the state with the highest death rate, for example, are four times more likely to die in alcohol-related traffic accidents than drivers in Utah, the state with the lowest death rate.

Last year, the alcohol-related death rate nationwide was 0.63 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, compared to 1.64 in 1982. That year, U.S. traffic deaths connected to alcohol use totaled 26,173, or 60 percent of all U.S. traffic deaths.

Today, Puerto Rico's alcohol-related death rate is higher than any state's -- 1.38 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled during 2001. South Carolina, Montana, Louisiana and the District of Columbia also have rates of more than one death for every 100 million vehicle miles.

States with the best records are Utah, Vermont, New York, Minnesota, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maine, Virginia, Indiana and California -- all at or below one-half death for every 100 million vehicle miles traveled.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration compiled the state-by-state statistics to encourage states at the bottom of the rankings to get tough on drivers who drink. The agency and law enforcement in every state say they will crack down on drunken and drugged drivers with sobriety checkpoints and increased patrols from Dec. 20 through Jan. 5, the kickoff to a yearlong effort to curb impaired driving.

The number of people killed in alcohol-related crashes has risen slightly since 1999, ending years of steady decline. Last year, 17,448 were killed, accounting for 41 percent of all U.S. traffic deaths.

NHTSA defines an alcohol-related fatality as any that occurred in an accident where a driver, pedestrian or cyclist had alcohol detected in their blood. In most states, it is legal to drive with less than 0.08 percent blood alcohol content.

Last year, the alcohol-related death rate nationwide was 0.63 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, compared to 1.64 in 1982. That year, U.S. traffic deaths connected to alcohol use totaled 26,173, or 60 percent of all U.S. traffic deaths.

Today, Puerto Rico's alcohol-related death rate is higher than any state's -- 1.38 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled during 2001. South Carolina, Montana, Louisiana and the District of Columbia also have rates of more than one death for every 100 million vehicle miles.

States with the best records are Utah, Vermont, New York, Minnesota, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maine, Virginia, Indiana and California -- all at or below one-half death for every 100 million vehicle miles traveled.

After 1982, a national movement to curb drinking and driving began to gain momentum.

In the early 1980s, President Reagan formed a Presidential Task Force on drunken driving, Congress required states to raise the drinking age to 21 and the newly formed Mothers Against Drunk Driving began pushing for tougher anti-drinking legislation nationwide.

Tougher seat belt laws and improvements in vehicle safety also helped lower numbers. Deaths linked to alcohol use fell nearly every year in the 1980s and 1990s, reaching a low of 16,572 in 1999.

Highway safety advocates say Americans have become complacent about the dangers of drunken driving. Jonathan Adkins, spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, said more attention has been focused recently on the risk of cell phone use than on drunken driving.

``We have very little evidence that a significant number of people are dying from cell phones, yet we know that more than 17,000 people died from drunken driving,'' he said.

MADD President Wendy Hamilton blames higher death rates in some states on a lack of political leadership. ``Those states are not enforcing the right laws and are not passing the right laws,'' she said.

Adkins said states need more federal funding for highway patrols to stop drunken driving, especially in this era of budget shortfalls and increased police attention to homeland security duties.

Marilena Amoni, NHTSA's associate administrator, said drivers need to be held responsible when they choose to drink and drive.

``It's not just the role of the state and federal government, it's a personal choice to make the right decision every time you get in the car,'' she said.

Census Bureau Releases 2001 Population Estimates For Puerto Rico

December 18, 2002
Copyright © 2002 M2 Communications, Ltd. All rights reserved.

The Commerce Department's Census Bureau today released population estimates as of July 1, 2001, for Puerto Rico's 78 municipios (county equivalents), including percentage changes, births, deaths and net migration from Census Day, April 1, 2000, to July 1, 2001, for each municipio.

The municipio of Toa Alta (total population 66,388) posted the largest percentage increase in population between 2000 and 2001, 3.8 percent; followed by Florida (12,819), at 3.7 percent; Gurabo (37,672), at 2.5 percent; and Las Piedras (35,235) and Trujillo Alto (77,394), at 2.2 percent each. San Juan, the island's most populous municipio (433,872), experienced a 0.1 percent decline in population between 2000 and 2001.

The estimates are consistent with the 2001 population estimate for the entire commonwealth released by the Census Bureau in December 2001. Puerto Rico's population then was estimated at 3.84 million, an increase of 31,200 people since April 1, 2000.

Urban Train Estimates $150M Over Cost

December 16, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Business News Americas ( All rights reserved.

Siemens A.G.SI

Puerto Rico's public works and transport (MOP) minister Jose Izquierdo announced a US$150mn increase in the estimated price of capital San Juan's future electric train system, Tren Urbano (TU) raising the price from $US2.15bn to US$2.3bn, reported El Vocero.

Construction of the electric train, designed to reduce traffic congestion and fuel emissions, began nearly 5 years ago under the direction of the national highway and transport authority (ACT) and the KKZ construction firm.

The new costs could push back the intended September 2003 inauguration date, which would add an extra $US12mn each month to the overall price tag, noted ACT director Fernando Fagundo.

Izquierdo attributes the price increase to several factors: the original budget that was proposed to contractors was overly sparing; the original contractor, Siemens signed an agreement for US$62mn at less than half of the original US$155mn claim; ACT signed an agreement with KKZ for US$32mn versus an original $US80mn claim; and 3 new subcontracts were issued to accelerate construction of the Hato Rey stations.

At present, MOP expects that the US$2.3bn will be the final quote and that some $850mn of the current projected price will come from federal sources.

Puerto Rico: Scandal Impact Weighed

Michael McDonald
The Bond Buyer

December 16, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Thomson Financial, Inc. All rights reserved.

Moody's Investors Service said Thursday it does not think a recent scandal involving unauthorized leases by government agencies in Puerto Rico should threaten the commonwealth's credit, which it rates Baa1.

The comments, made to The Bond Buyer, came after Standard & Poor's put the commonwealth under review for a possible downgrade as a result of the scandal. Standard & Poor's rates the credit A-minus, a step higher than Moody's does.

"My preliminary feeling is I don't see any real implication for the commonwealth's ability or willingness to pay its publicly sold and rated debts," said Timothy Blake, a Moody's analyst. Moody's was informed about a month ago that the Government Development Bank for Puerto Rico was investigating the situation, he said. "We don't have a lot of information," Blake added.

The GDB, the commonwealth's fiscal agent, recently informed rating agencies that it is reviewing $55 million in leases entered into by government agencies that it believes may have been unauthorized. The leases, done with AA Public Finance Co., were securitized and sold as tax-exempt debt in the U.S.

According to the GDB, Puerto Rico's Department of Education recently defaulted on $2.2 million in securitized leases, which the government paid off despite not being obligated to back the debt.

Puerto Rico Studied HIV Vaccine Gets FDA ‘Fast Track’ Status

FDA Grants `Fast Track' Status To VaxGen's HIV Vaccine

December 16, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

NEW YORK -- Shares of VaxGen Inc. (VXGN) surged Monday, as the company moved a step closer to its goal of getting a vaccine for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, on the U.S. market.

In late-afternoon trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market, the Brisbane, Calif., biotech firm's stock changed hands at $16.20, up $3.19, or 25%, after the company announced that its two HIV vaccine candidates had received fast-track designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The designation expedites the FDA review process for VaxGen's AIDSVAX B/B and AIDSVAX B/E vaccines - the only preventive HIV vaccines that have advanced to late-stage Phase III clinical trials. The FDA grants fast-track status to certain drug candidates as a way to address unmet medical needs for the treatment or prevention of life-threatening conditions.

"The rapid review allows us to submit our biologics license application (BLA) in parts as it is completed, rather than as a whole," said VaxGen spokesman Jim Key.

Mr. Key said the company expects to be able to file a BLA application by late 2004. In addition to processing and analyzing the data from the Phase III testing, VaxGen must also complete its manufacturing facilities, which need to be licensed as part of an FDA application.

VaxGen said it expects to announce the primary results of its AIDSVAX B/B trial -- a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 5,400 people in the U.S, Canada, the Netherlands and Puerto Rico - in the first quarter of 2003.

VaxGen also said it is nearing completion of its Phase III trial of AIDSVAX B/E in Thailand. AIDSVAX B/E is designed to protect against HIV subtypes B and E; the company said it expects to announce primary results of that trial in the second half of 2003.

HIV subtype E is prevalent in Southeast Asia and the Central African Republic.

Sharon Seiler, an analyst for Punk Ziegel & Co., said that while the FDA fast-track status is positive for the company, it doesn't come as a surprise given the importance of these drug trials.

The latest advance in VaxGen's stock price comes on the heels of a 23.9% decline Friday, after a study published in the scientific journal Nature doubted the effectiveness of an HIV vaccine.

Mr. Key, the VaxGen spokesman, said the Nature article may have played a role in the stock's volatility, but added that the company doesn't speculate on specific reasons behind stock movement. "We have a small float so our shares are subject to large swings," Mr. Key said.

In addition to the negative Nature article, Ms. Seiler said some of Friday's selling may have had to do with unfounded negative market rumors on the efficacy of the vaccine trials and insider trading.

"Fundamentally, the stock action both Friday and today was more of a market phenomenon than anything to do with the company," Ms. Seiler said.

Ms. Seiler dismissed the rumors on the outcome of the trial. "It's a blinded trial, so no one can have any idea on how it's going," she said.

Ms. Seiler said there may be concern because Vulcan Ventures Inc., the investment vehicle for Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) cofounder Paul Allen, has been selling its VaxGen shares periodically for the past year.

In addition, about 15 million of VaxGen's 20 million convertible preferred shares have been converted to common shares, which Ms. Seiler said may be misinterpreted as a negative.

Ms. Seiler owns VaxGen shares, and her company has a banking relationship with the company.

Deborah Hernan, a spokeswoman for the American Foundation for AIDS Research, or Amfar, said the group is awaiting the outcome of VaxGen's trials.

"Anything that moves the process along is good, but we're all waiting on the results," Ms. Hernan said.

Pennsylvania Students Broker Livestock Sales To Puerto Rican Farmers


December 13, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - About 35 U.S. agriculture students were brokering sales of Pennsylvania livestock to Puerto Rican farmers as part of a weeklong educational tour of the island, Pennsylvania's agriculture secretary said Thursday.

The tour, which started Monday, also included visits to dairy farms and bull ranches throughout the U.S. Caribbean territory, Agriculture Secretary Samuel Hayes said.

"We should not make our young people wait until (they are) 40 to get real experience in the global marketplace," said Hayes, who was leading the students on the tour. Last year, the "Export for Scholars" program took students to Mexico.

In Puerto Rico this week, the students were negotiating the sale of 24 dairy cows, 24 sheep, four beef bulls and four rams that Pennsylvania had sent to the island, Hayes said. While still in the United States, the students were responsible for feeding and grooming the livestock.

Hayes said the program was also a perfect opportunity to showcase Pennsylvania livestock. There are 50,000 farms in the northeastern state, 20 percent of which are dairy farms. The state is the fourth largest milk producer in the nation, with 600,000 cows, he said.

During the Puerto Rican tour, students were meeting with buyers and set prices at about $1,500 per dairy cow, $1,800 for a beef bull and $300 for a sheep or rams. Hayes said it was too early to say how the sales were going.

The students come from Walter Biddle Saul High School for Agriculture Sciences in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania State University in State College, and Delaware Valley College in Doylestown. They were scheduled to return Monday.

Pennsylvania livestock is exported to China, the Middle East, Mexico and Puerto Rico, Hayes said, but did not give details.

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