Chicken Pox Outbreak Raises Concern Among Health Officials

An outbreak of chickenpox in Soldotna and Homer has state public health officials worried about the high number of local children who are not receiving vaccinations.

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An above-average number of reported cases of chickenpox, varicella by its scientific
name, have worried state public health officials enough that they sent out a statewide alert
Friday. So far, in just the month of September, nine cases of chickenpox been reported on the Kenai Peninsula, three of them in Soldotna and six in Homer.

“Chicken pox is a very contagious disease.  Most cases are usually mild.  In certain populations, like healthy older children and young adults, it can actually cause severe illness,” said Dr. Brian Yablon of the state’s Epidemiology department.

“Any time we see an increase in chicken pox activity, that’s concerning for us,” Yablon said.

All of the cases on the peninsula involve children ranging in age from infants
to 14 years old. Yablong said that in Homer, the outbreak has gone from being an isolated incident at one or two schools to becoming an issue for the entire community, but did not offer specifics on which building were affected.

So why are kids in Homer coming down with chickenpox?

Yablon said it may be because many of them are not getting vaccinated. A vaccine for chickenpox was introduced in the 1990s and the number of chickenpox cases has steadily dropped ever since. Public health officials, including Yablon, recommend that all children receive two doses of the vaccine – once when they turn one year old and anotherwhen they are about to enter kindergarten.

“The cases that we’ve seen in Homer…are all in children who are preschool or school age who are unvaccinated,” Yablong said.  ”Some of the schools in that area have relatively hight rates of exemptions from vaccines where as many as 30% of children may not be vaccinated,” he said.

Like many public health officials across the country, Yablon is also concerned that
misinformation about vaccines being tied to autism are leading many concerned parents to opt out of vaccinations for their children.

“I think it’s very unfortunate that those innuendos about vaccines having any kind of link to autism were put out there,” Yablon said.  ”That’s a well known hoax and there’s no evidence at all that vaccines are associated with autism.”

The benefit of the chickenpox vaccine is preventing a disease that can cause
skin lesions, severe scarring, bacterial infections, pneumonia and encephalitis. Dr. Yablon recommends that parents in Homer and Soldotna keep an eye on their children, looking for signs of chickenpox, which include the well-known red dots or blisters but can also include a low-grade fever. It is important that children exhibiting symptoms not be sent back to school.

-Aaron Selbig/KBBI-

 


KPB Assembly Extends Disaster Declaration, Makes Relief Funding Available

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly met in special session Friday afternoon to start the ball rolling on continued relief efforts from flood damage across the Borough.  The Assembly passed a resolution extending Mayor Mike Navarre’s disaster declaration and an ordinance appropriating funding to go to infrastructure repairs.

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Friday’s brief meeting was necessary to ensure funding remains available in the near term for relief efforts and repairs around the Borough.  The initial disaster declaration issued by the Mayor was only good for a week.  This extension will last for sixty days.  The initial expenditures will come from the Road Service budget and the general fund.

“At this point, Road Service Area is anticipating…about $650,000,” Navarre said, adding that number will likely go up.

“We don’t know what that (final) number is going to be, but at the end of this process we’ll keep reporting on that and report back to the Assembly on an on-going basis and come back with additional appropriations as necessary to do the recovery work,” he said.

The ordinance passed immediately makes five-hundred-thousand dollars available from the general fund.  Navarre explained to the Assembly that spending from the Road Service budget might delay planned projects.  He said they’re anticipating significantly more money will be necessary in addition to the $500,000 approved Friday.

Assembly members Bill Smith, Mako Haggerty and Sue McClure participated in the meeting via telephone.  McClure, who represents Seward, says despite the damage already incurred, response crews in that area have been able to stay somewhat ahead of the curve.

“This has been a very well coordinated effort and…we’ve been doing as much as we can,” McClure said.  ”I was told yesterday that we avoided by about 15 minutes two major disasters just by being proactive,” she said.

McClure was with Senator Lisa Murkowski Thursday, surveying damage around the Seward area.  She said that experience opened a lot of eyes to the extent of the damage there.

Navarre said events like this offer an opportunity for the Borough to look at possible changes needed to infrastructure.  Mel Krogseng of Soldotna had some ideas on that topic for the Assembly.  She and her husband Bob live on Big Eddy Road, which, near the river, has been under several feet of water for nearly a week.  She wants the Borough to revisit some of its road and drainage designs in that area, which she says have caused problems for years.

“When the river flooded in (the 70′s), Big Eddy Road was reconstructed; at that time culverts were taken out that had been there previously,” Krogseng said.  ”What we now have is a dam.”

She said US Army Corps of Engineer surveys in the 1990′s revealed that the river in front of their property at Mile One is ten feet higher than the downstream leg of the river that runs around a small peninsula on their property.  That is forcing the excess water to pool in their yard.  That pool is about three feet deep, she said.

Navarre says he anticipates a federal disaster declaration will be made.  In that case, much of the money spent now by the Borough on infrastructure repairs will be reimbursed.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

 

 


KPB Assembly To Meet In Special Session Friday

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly will be meeting in a special session Friday afternoon.  The agenda is brief, and will focus on cleanup and relief efforts after a week of flooding on the Peninsula.

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Just two items appear on the agenda for the special meeting meeting of the Assembly.  One is a resolution extending the declaration of the Local Disaster Emergency for Flooding, issued by Mayor Mike Navarre on September 21st.  The other is an emergency ordinance appropriating money from the general fund for flood response.  The resolution for extending the emergency declaration is necessary because a local declaration has a shelf-life of just seven days.

“After that, the Assembly has to weigh in and make sure they provide their oversight of that action,” said Navarre.

The emergency ordinance appropriating funding would move $500,000 from the general fund to relief projects.  That money will likely be paid back by the state and federal government, depending on how high up the disaster declarations go.

“It’s based on a reimbursement process, so we have to expend those funds up front,” Navarre said.

While a lot of the attention will be focused on the Seward area, damage around the Central Peninsula is also factored in.  The emergency ordinance cites landslides near the Kenai River, the closure of Tall Tree Bridge near Anchor Point, and wide spread power outages in Tyonek and Beluga as areas of concern in need of repair or relief, among several others.

Senator Lisa Murkowski has been on the Peninsula to survey the damage, touring Seward Thursday with plans to check out the Kenai area Friday.  Navarre has also toured the Peninsula extensively over the past week.

“Roads have been washed out, a lot of flooding, levees in particular have been washed away,” Navarre said about the damage.  ”There’s a lot of work to be done, and we’re fortunate to have support of both the state and federal government on these efforts,” he said.

The Assembly will meet at the Borough Building in Soldotna Friday, September 28th at 1 p.m.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

 


Soldotna Selects New Police Chief

The City of Soldotna has named a new Police Chief to replace John Lucking, Jr. who left the department abruptly in June.

The job was offered to Pete Mlynarik, 50, who is currently the commander of the Alaska Wildlife Troopers E Unit in Soldotna.

The other two finalists for the position were Kotzebue Police Chief Craig Moates and Joe White, the Lieutenant of Investigations for the Ketchikan Police Department.

No official start date has been set for Mlynarik, whose contract with the city is still being negotiated.

-Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion-


AOGA, Industry Officials Talk Energy Production In Solotna

 

Executives from several energy companies and representatives of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association met Tuesday in Soldotna to give a presentation to local business leaders on the state of the industry in Cook Inlet.

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Of all the things unique to Cook Inlet, the one that might matter most to energy producers is the tax structure for exploration and production.

“Policy makers a long time ago recognized that Cook Inlet has potential, but there’s challenging economics here,” said Kara Moriarty, Executive Director of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association.  ”There’s virtually no production tax here.  I think that has proven fruitful as you can see some rejuvenation in Cook Inlet.  If you had high taxes here, it would never survive,” she said.

For John Hendrix, general manager for Alaska operations at Apache Corp, it’s the permitting process that sets the tone for any economic windfall.

“Permits equal pace which equals progress which equals production,” Hendrix told members of the Soldotna and Kenai Chambers of Commerce.  ”Until Alaska diversifies its income stream off of oil, we’re dependent upon growing production to feed this state and to create jobs,” he said.

McKibben Jackinsky of the Homer News reported Wednesday that Apache’s seismic work on shore near Ninilchik has been delayed as they wait for approval on federal permits from the US Army Corps of Engineers.  The company also needs to submit an environmental assessment for that project, part of which is located within the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Despite such setbacks, Apache is moving ahead with other projects in the Inlet.  An off-shore rig arrived near Tyonek last week, and Hendrix says that well is scheduled to begin producing next spring.

Cook Inlet’s recent resurgence has come on the shoulders of several new players, like Apache, Buccaneer and Hilcorp, who specialize in developing sites that, for whatever reason, were never fully developed in the past.  John Barnes is the Senior Vice President for Exploration and Production for Hilcorp, a company that is now working to develop assets it purchased from Chevron earlier this year.  He said that new players in the game will change the culture of energy development in the Inlet.

“We found ourselves having to find a culture where we really try to drive performance,” Barnes said.  ”Make things happen, make it happen quickly.”

Moriarty said that because so much in regards to production is out of the hands of the energy companies, it’s up to the state to promote exploration and production.

“We can’t control geology, we can’t control location, we can’t control our high-cost environment, but what we can control our taxation and our permitting system,” she said.

One company noticeably absent from Tuesday’s meeting was Buccaneer Energy.  They have projects on shore in Kenai,and have been working to develop off shore projects there.  Their jack-up rig, which has been sitting in Kachemak Bay for nearly six weeks, is still undergoing repairs and inspections before heading north.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

 

 

 


Borough Assembly Candidates For District Two Discuss The Issues

Another round of elections is just one week away.  Three of the nine seats that make up the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly will be contested, including a challenge in District Two representing Kenai between incumbent Hal Smalley and Chris Hutchison.

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“There were positions on the ballot and only one person running,” said Chris Hutchison when asked why she chose to get into the Assembly race.  ”So I thought, ‘well, this is time to get started’,”she said.

 

District Two Borough Assembly Candidate Chris Hutchison

“Our Peninsula school graduates are, academically…ahead of the game,” Smally said.  ”You go off into the college and we have vocational programs and academic programs…across the Borough (and) we have the ability to train the workforce we need,” he said.

One issue that has been brought before the Assembly several times this year, and will likely continue to be a contentious issue, is the anadromous streams ordinance, which would place some restrictions on what landowners can do with property located within fifty feet of a body of water that supports anadromous fish like salmon.  The main point of disagreement is that the ordinance infringes on personal property rights, a concern shared by Hutchison.

“I want for myself as a property owner and a tax payer to be noticed, up front, when these things are going to happen,” she said.  ”That’s my concern with the ordinance.  It’s not the fish, it’s the process,” she said.

 

 

 

District Two Assembly Member Hal Smalley

Smalley has supported the measure, but says the nothing will happen until the Task Force that was assembled to address concerns related to the ordinance, comes back with its recommendation.  On the issue of giving proper notification, Smalley said it’s possible that system needs to be looked at and changed, but in this instance, it worked as designed.

“At the last meeting (of the Task Force) there was the conclusion that in fact the notice was proper, as far as it met the intent of the law.  It was legal,” Smalley said.

The seat for District Two is a two year term.  The other Assembly seats with more than one candidate are in District One, representing Kalifornsky with Michael Winegarden facing Kelly Wolf and in District nine on the southern peninsula where Mako Haggerty is being challenged by Jesse Clutts.  Sue McClure, who currently holds the District Three seat representing Seward, will not face a challenger.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

 

 


Flood Warning Still In Effect For Kenai River

Flooding along the Kenai River is beginning to subside, despite some road closures in the area.  The National Weather Service reported Tuesday that water levels crested at Cooper Landing one-half-foot above moderate flood stage, with some low lying areas around Kenai Lake still flooded.

The Kenai River is expected to fall slowly moving into Wednesday near Cooper Landing, but will remain above flood stage until at least Thursday.

There are several road closures still in effect around the Central Peninsula.  Near Sterling, entry into the Kenai Keys is restricted to homeowners only, Big Eddy Road is still closed near the river and Fisherman’s Road in Funny River is closed in addition to the closure at mile eleven on K-Beach.

A flood warning is still in effect for the Kenai River until five o’clock Thursday afternoon.

-Staff Report-


Fish and Game Commissioner Meets With Setnetters

(L to R) Charlie Swanton, Director, Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game Sport Division, Jeff Regnart, Director, Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game, Commercial Division, and Cora Campbell, Commissioner, Alaska Department of Fish and Game answer questions in a forum moderated by Borough Mayor Mike Navarre Friday in Soldotna (Photo Courtesy: Jenny Neyman/The Redoubt Reporter)

 

Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell was in Soldotna Friday as part of a panel discussion focused on management decisions in 2012.

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The immediate concern among fishermen was how a federal disaster declaration would help them.  Though the declaration has been made, it’s now up to Congress to allocate funding that could be used for several purposes, including direct relief for fishermen or for research to find out more about what’s causing such low returns.

“The next steps will be informed by objective information the state is able to provide, and input you provide to the delegation or the state,” said Stefanie Moreland, Senior Policy Advisor for Governor Parnell’s office.  ”It will be a collaboration between the delegation, NOAA and the state at minimum and we’ll need representation from each of the regions and each of the sectors that are going to be at the table,” she said.

After a firm number has been established, it will be up to those groups to come up with a plan on how best to distribute those funds and for what purpose.  Last week, Governor Parnell’s office issued a statement recognizing that it had underestimated the financial impact of the low King returns.  The estimate given to the Commerce department was $10.9 million, but didn’t take into account lost revenues from east side setnetters.

Throughout the season, setnetters have said they simply wanted an opportunity to fish, and that the state has the authority to grant that opportunity or not.  Karen McGahan was one of dozens lined up to voice concerns, and said the problem should not have reached the federal level.

“I’m very surprised the feds were called in,” McGahan said.  ”I think the state should be stepping up right now with the money.  The state did this,” she said.

Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell was also in attendance.  She addressed concerns that part of the problem with management decisions this year was that those decisions were based on poor information.  The state has been transitioning to a new sonar system to count salmon and the numbers produced by the new system will be key in putting together new management plans that are more flexible in relation to real-time conditions.

“That, we believe, is going to be a very positive development for fisheries management; to have that new escapement goal,” Campbell said.  ”For the first time in several years…we’re going to have a clear target that we’re shooting for and we’re going to have a tool in the water that measures our progress towards that target,” she said.

Moreland said Congress will have a brief opportunity this year after the presidential election to appropriate relief funding.  The Board of Fisheries is scheduled to meet in Anchorage on October 9th and 10th.  Several user groups have submitted Agenda Change Requests asking the Board to take up the issue of Cook Inlet Fisheries now, a year ahead of when they had planned to address the topic.

 

 

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Navarre Makes Emergency Declaration For KPB

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre has declared a state of emergency for the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

In a press release Friday afternoon, flooding events throughout the Borough including impacts to the City of Seward and the Bear Creek Flood Service Area among others, were cited as reasons for issuing the declaration.

The declaration has been formally submitted to the Governor’s office. With his approval, the state division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management will provide assistance to the Borough as directed.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency management continues to monitor rising water levels and collect damage assessments around areas of concern, including Anchor Point, Cooper Landing, Kasilof, Moose Pass and Ninilchik.

 

-Staff Report-


Central Peninsula Braces For Possible Flooding Of Kenai River

Parts of Seward are already underwater and more rain in the forecast has Borough officials on alert heading into the weekend.

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No flooding was reported to Borough officials as of Thursday afternoon, though there are several spots receiving close attention as rain continues to fall and area lakes and rivers continue to rise.

The National Weather Service has issued flood warnings for several rivers on the western and southern parts of Peninsula.  In Homer, Harbormaster Bryan Hawkins is requesting vessel owners to check on their boats and remove water, if necessary. Kenai Peninsula Borough Public Information Officer Brenda Ahlberg said emergency management officials are relying on staff reports as well as citizen reports to keep ahead of any potential flooding.

“We’re helping area residents, when they’ve asked, for self-evacuation,” she said, adding they’re also standing by to see what assistance municipalities might need.

“We’ll help their requests as best we can from a resource perspective.  For our unincorporated areas throughout the Borough, we will make that determination through the Office of Emergency Management,” Ahlberg said.

The official tally for rainfall taken by staff at the Peninsula Clarion showed 0.26 inches had fallen as of 4pm Thursday, but it’s the previous three days of rain, including 2.5 inches recorded Wednesday, that has residents and officials paying close attention to roads and river levels.

“Some of the areas are experiencing high bank erosion (around the Kenai River), as well as other areas around the Borough that we want to close as safety precautions,” Ahlberg said.

So far, the Borough has only set up emergency shelters in Seward and Moose Pass, but is on alert to provide those same shelters around the Peninsula if the need arises.  Ahlberg also called on residents with riverfront property to take the necessary precautions and secure items that could be swept into a rising river.

As of Thursday, the Kenai River at Cooper Landing was at 12.8 feet.  Flood stage there is 13 feet.  The National Weather Service is predicting the river will continue to rise through the weekend and crest at 15.5 feet on Sunday.

Below Skilak Lake, the river is expected to rise above flood stage at the Kenai Keys and around Soldotna late Saturday or early Sunday where flood stage is 12 feet.  The river was at just over 9 feet Thursday morning.

The forecast through the weekend calls for more rain, with some breathing room possible on Friday; only a chance of scattered showers is called for in the forecast.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-