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-

 


KPB Assembly Hears ‘Endeavour’ Concerns, Water Trail Plans At Homer Meeting

A relatively short agenda allowed the Assembly time to hear presentations and testimony from Southern Peninsula residents ranging from studies in Cook Inlet being performed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to hospital reports.

 

 

This map shows the boundary of the Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat Area. Recent operations by Buccaneer Energy in the Bay have raised concerns that it has violated provisions protecting the area. (Photo: Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game)

 

 

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As the meeting took place on the Southern Peninsula, presentations to the Assembly centered on issues from that area, including one by Dave Brann, who was advocating on behalf of the Kachemak Bay Water Trail Steering Committee. That group has proposed a 125-mile system of water trails; what Brann refers to as a B-H-A-G.  Big Hairy Audacious Goal.

“(The trail) inspires exploration, understanding, and stewardship of the natural treasure that is Kachemak Bay,” Brann told the Assembly, adding that education is a part of the larger goal, with an emphasis on safety.  The tentative completion date in the plan shown to the Assembly is Summer, 2014.

The Assembly also heard a brief presentation on two current research projects in Cook Inlet from Kris Holderied of NOAA’s Kasitsna Bay Labratory, a tidal energy assessment and an ecosystem monitoring program.

The tidal energy assessment will use date gathered from ten current meters that were deployed this summer and will be available online in a few weeks.

The monitoring program is a five year, $12 million project funded by the Exxon-Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, called Gulf Watch Alaska, funded by the Exxon-Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council.

“This is really a chance to pull together a lot of information that the state, federal and local resource managers and the public need to…sustainably manage the resources in this region,” Holderied said.  That program will monitor individual species and the broader systems around Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound and the central Gulf of Alaska Coast.

The Assembly also heard concerns about the most recent addition to the Homer Harbor; Buccaneer Energy’s jack-up rig ‘Endeavour’.  Roberta Highland of the Kachemak Bay Conservation Society expressed frustration in attempting to communicate with the company.

 

“Buccaneer does not appear to be completely prepared for Homer’s weather and tides” Highland said.  ”(They) have stonewalled all of my phone calls and now I find that today, the people whom I’ve been trying to contact since September 5th were all at Land’s End,” she said.

That’s exactly the kind of behavior that makes conservationists worried and unhappy, Highland said.

The Assembly did move on to pass a few ordinances, including a supplemental appropriation of $75,000 for trail expansion in the North Peninsula Recreation Service Area and another appropriating $776,228 from the Central Peninsula Hospital Plant Replacement and Expansion fund for remodeling the Obstetrics area and relocating therapy facilities at CPH.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

 

 

 

 


Apache To Begin Drilling Near Tyonek

Apache Corporation is gearing up for expanded operations on the west side of Cook
Inlet.

A new on-shore drilling rig has arrived to Apache’s latest site near Tyonek by way of truck and barge from North Dakota.

“We will be doing exploratory from the land over in Tyonek, looking for oil,” said Apache spokesperson Lisa Parker. “We’ve shot approximately 300 square miles of seismic data this year, both on shore and off shore,” she said.

Parker said the operation will bring with it about 100 jobs, though not all of those jobs will go to Alaskans.  She said the local labor pool simply can’t provide the specialized personnel they need, so workers will be coming from all over.

“One of the biggest challenges we are having right is finding the people and the resources to help us with the work,” she said.  ”When we can hire Alaskans, we will hire Alaskans.”

Parker could not say what Apache anticipates to find on the west side of Cook Inlet in terms of quantities of oil and gas, though, Apache estimates on its website at least one billion barrels of oil left to be produced from the Inlet.

Apache will be holding a public meeting October 10th at noon at the Native Village of
Tyonek Tribal Center to discuss their drilling operations and answer questions from the public.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Windstorms Force Jack-Up Rig To Batten Down

The “Endeavour” has sat in the Homer Harbor for nearly a month.  Safety precautions taken over the weekend have raised questions about possible violations of environmental regulations that protect Kachemak Bay.

Photo: Bill Smith

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Buccaneer Energy’s jack-up rig “Endeavor” was originally supposed to be in Kachemak Bay for only six days before moving on to drill near Tyonek on the west side of Cook Inlet.  Due to work being done to the massive rig, however, it has been in place outside the Homer harbor for almost a month. And now, the rig has done something that is normally not allowed in Kachemak Bay – it has lowered its 410-foot legs down to the sea floor.
The last time a jack-up oil rig put down its legs in Kachemak Bay was in 1976, when the Standard Oil-owned George Ferris rig set up in nearly the same spot that Buccaneer Energy’s “Endeavor” is in now. After the Ferris became stuck in 80 feet of mud, an underwater demolition team had to be called in to blow the rig’s legs up, in order to free it.
The incident produced an oil sheen that stretched for several miles and the resulting public outcry caused the state of Alaska to rescind oil leases in Kachemak Bay and declare it a critical habitat area.
When the Endeavor extended its legs to the bottom of the bay last weekend, it was not to drill for oil or gas – it was in response to a massive windstorm that wreaked havoc all over southcentral Alaska.
Homer Harbormaster Bryan Hawkins said that his staff and the crew of the Endeavor prepared for the storm by using two high-powered tugboats to hold the rig in place.
 ”We were concerned that with the wind speeds … they might not be able to hold it,” said Hawkins.
Hawkins said officials with Buccaneer made the call that if the strain on the tugboats became too much – if they reached 50-percent of their maximum pulling capacity – or if the mooring lines began to part – they would make the call to lower the rig’s three legs in order to stabilize it.
Hawkins said that’s exactly what happened at about 3:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon and officials made the call to put the legs down.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the legs were still down – Hawkins said that is in preparation for another round of windy weather forecasted for Tuesday and Wednesday.
He said one troubling byproduct of the incident is damage that occurred to the city’s deepwater dock when the Endeavor slammed into it. The City of Homer will charge Buccaneer Energy for the damage.
Another potential problem for Buccaneer is possible violation of the state’s rules regarding the Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat Area.
Ginny Litchfield, a habitat biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, will decide if Buccaneer has violated Kachemak Bay’s critical habitat designation and, if so, what the penalty might be.
“Right now, we’re wating on documentation of the decision-making process and how that all came about,” said Litchfield.
Litchfield said she expects that documentation by the end of this week. She would not comment on whether an exception to the designation might be made for an emergency situation – nor would she say what the potential consequences might be.
Hawkins said the company has provided an economic boost, in the form of dockage and other fees paid to the city and temporary jobs created aboard the rig and the crew has been a “pleasure to work with.”
The rig arrived in Kachemak Bay August 24th, but Hawkins does not know when it will be leaving for its first planned drilling project near Tyonek on the west side of Cook Inlet, where it was just announced Apache Corporation will also be drilling this year.
Attempts to reach executives for Buccaneer Energy through the company’s public relations firm, JMR Worldwide, were unsuccessful. KBBI News will continue to try to reach Buccaneer for comment for this story.
-Aaron Selbig/KBBI-

Brown Bear Hunting Opens On The Kenai

This is the first time since 2007 that brown bear hunting has been open to more than a drawing system on the Peninsula.

 

 

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Big game hunters on the Kenai will be in a race to see who can bag one of a limited number of brown bears this fall. For the past five years,  hunting licenses have been issued through a drawing.  At the Alaska Board of Game’s meeting in January, it was decided to manage the hunt under a registration and permit system. said Kenai Area Biologist Jeff Selinger of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

“People can come in and sign up and get a permit and go bear hunting,” said Jeff Selinger, Kenai Area Biologist with the Department of Fish and Game.  ”And if we reach a certain objective, we will close the season,” he said.

That objective is ten female brown bears of breeding age.

“Our current management objectives are for all human-caused mortalities, including DLP’s (defense of life and property), automobile accidents, agency killings, whatever,” Selinger said.  ”(Those) will not exceed ten reproductive-aged females in any one calendar year.”

To date, one brown bear has been reported killed due to human cause, leaving the harvest count at nine.  The season begins October 1st and runs through the end of November, or until hunters reach the magic number.  The new system that the Board of Game decided on in January does away entirely with the spring season that had been in place under the drawing system.

“We didn’t want to exceed ten reproductive-aged females, and if we were under that number in the fall, they could hunt the fall portion.  If we were over… they could hunt the spring season under the drawing system,” Selinger said.

The season will be open in Game Management Units 15 and 7 on the Kenai Peninsula and is open to both residents and non-residents, though non-residents must be accompanied by a guide.  Tags are $25 and must be presented when applying for a permit.  Those permits will only be available at the Department of Fish and Game offices in Soldotna and Homer.

The Department uses these hunts to gather data, as well, Selinger said.  Successful hunts must be reported within three days of the kill and the bear must be delivered to Fish and Game offices in Anchorage, Soldotna or Homer within five days to be sealed.

“You bring in the hide and the skull and we’ll process it,” Selinger said.  ”We’ll probably take a small hide sample and a take a tooth out of the skull.  It’s important to have the hide completely separated from the skull,” he said.  ”Then we place a seal on the hide and seal on the skull and you’re good to go. It’s a pretty non-invasive process.”

Non-successful hunts should be reported by permit holders, as well.  Selinger says the department can learn a great deal from hunters simply describing their efforts in bagging a brown bear  He said they want to know where and when people went to hunt and how they got there which will all be used to develop future management plans.

You can pick up tags at the Fish and Game offices in Homer or Soldotna now.  Finally, Selinger reminds hunters to contact Fish and Game before going into the field to determine the status of the season and make sure the management objective has not already been reached.

-KDLL/Shaylon Cochran-


Sterling Highway Presentation Tonight

The state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is having an open house and presentation in Anchorage that will detail a Sterling Highway construction project extending onto the Kenai Peninsula.

In a press release Monday, the DOT announced the presentation for The Sterling Highway MP 45-60 Project that involves construction and rehabilitation of the highway from Sunrise to Skilak Lake Road. Plans also call for the possible realignment of up to 11 miles of highway to a new location, further from the Kenai River.

The open house is intended to update the public on the project and take input about alternative routes for the proposed realignments. It will be held from 4:30 to 7 pm tomorrow night at the DOT Central Region Headquarters.

An email to the DOT asking if other presentations are planned closer to the proposed construction sites was not immediately returned.

-Staff Report-


Crews Respond To Weekend Fire In Nikiski

An oil heater is the suspected cause of a fire that damaged the Schlumberger Oilfield Services facility in Nikiski.

Nikiski Fire Chief James Baisden said there was heavy fire and smoke coming from the building as crews arrived on scene.

“Our guys…made an aggressive attack, got inside, knocked the fire down,” he said.

Crews from Nikiski, Kenai and Central Emergency Services responded, about 25 personnel in all, working for about 90 minutes before having the fire under control.

Baisden says the initial investigation showed the heater as the only likely source of the fire.

“Back where the fire started, the only thing in that area was an oil-fired …heating system and that was most likely the cause of the fire,” Baisden said.

No injuries were reported, nor were any spills or damage to stores of hazardous waste on
the scene. Baisden says they’re still tallying a final damage estimate.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Borough To Construct New Waste Storage Building As Part Of EPA Agreement

The Kenai Peninsula Borough has agreed to construct a new hazardous waste storage building.  The building is part of an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Following a 2009 inspection that found hazardous waste storage violations at a borough-owned building in Soldtona, fines were levied by the EPA.

“Without admitting any violations, we agreed to pay a fine and mitigated part of the fine by building a facility the borough needs anyway,” said Borough Mayor Mike Navarre.

With the construction of the new building, the fine from the EPA stands at $12,800. Navarre said the Borough had been in negotiations with the federal agency since last spring and had money appropriated for the project in the budget.

“The building is going to be under construction very quickly…it’s going to be built in-house,” Navarre said.  ”It will be a secure facility.  That was one of the issues; making sure we have an enclosed (space) where we can store hazardous wastes until we dispose of them.”

The EPA’s 2009 inspection found that the facility failed to determine if waste it ws managing was hazardous and failed to label containers properly. The substances identified included paint thinners, kerosene and a mix of solvent and anti-freeze. Navarre said the waste materials in question came largely from maintenance operations throughout the Borough.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

 


Disaster Declaration Issued For Cook Inlet King Salmon Fisheries

Another step toward relief for Cook Inlet fishermen was taken Thursday.

In a letter to Governor Sean Parnell, acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank declared that failed commercial fisheries in Cook Inlet constitute a fishery resource disaster.

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The declaration issued Thursday doesn’t direct any relief funding to fishermen. It simply provides a basis from which Congress can decide to appropriate funding in the future. Without that direct funding, the declaration has little meaning, said Brent Johnson, Borough Assembly member and commercial setnet fisherman.

“Why should the government pay setnetters, when setnetters could have put nets in the water and earned some money?” he asked.  Johnson would like to see more emphasis put on adjusting management policies so that shut-downs of this magnitude don’t occur.

In her letter to Governor Parnell, Secretary Blank stated that causes for poor Chinook salmon returns are unknown, but may involve a variety of factors outside the control of fisheries managers to mitigate. That’s why many are calling for more research into salmon life cycles and habitat, including Ricky Gease of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association.

“Many of our management plans were crafted with high abundance in mind,” Gease said.  ”Now that we’re in times of low abundance, we need to reevaluate those plans.”

He said he’d like to see the Parnell administration working with the federal government to conduct more research which could be used to craft more adaptable, effective policy.

The Board of Fisheries was slated to tackle the problem of late run King salmon in Cook Inlet next year.  Both commercial and sportfishing groups have submitted Agenda Change Requests asking that the board address the issue at its meeting in October.

“We want the Board to look at some solutions…so that both the in-river and commercial fisheries can continue to be prosecuted in these times of very low King salmon abundance,” Gease said.

The sportfishing and commercial user groups were both hit hard by this years’ low and late run of kings, but lost in the shuffle is the subsistence user group.

Rose Tepp of the Kenaitze Indian Tribe said the tribe’s allotment was cut in half this year due to the closures, from 8,000 Kings to 4,000.

One of the surprises of 2012 was how late the run came in, with a significan portion of the escapement goal coming in after July 31st.  Tepp said after the fishing seasons were closed, she and her husband’s cousin had some luck at the Kenaitze tribal net, pulling in 14 fish.

“We canned it and shared with the rest of the families…that’s very important to us,” Tepp said.  ”Whatever we get we share so that somebody’s got something to eat in the winter time,” she said.

Tepp sees competition over the resource from the various user groups as the biggest challenge in sustaining the fishery for everyone.

“How can we solve this problem instead of pitting one user group against another?” she asked.  ”We’re always left out.  That doesn’t mean I’m totally angry…it doesn’t do me any good to be angry.  It’s better if we all sit down and talk and work toward a good result, an end result, for all user groups,” she said.

The Board of Fisheries meets in Anchorage next month. Several agenda change requests have been made regarding the late run King salmon management plan, including a review and revision of current escapement goals, the time period the management plan is effective, burden of conservation between user groups and priority of certain escapement goals. Commissioner Blank’s letter said that if Congress does appropriate disaster relief, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will work with the State of Alaska and the Alaska Federation of Natives to work out a spending plan that would help identify the root causes of the disaster and ways to prevent similar situations in the future.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Jack-Up Rig’s Extra Cargo Raises Concern

Although it was a Chinese heavy-lift vessel that brought the “Endeavour” jack-up rig to Kachemak Bay from Singapore, the rig might have carried its own unique cargo.

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Officials with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are concerned about the possibility of invasive species arriving in Cook Inlet with Buccaneer’s Energy’s ‘Endeavour’ jack-up rig.

Brian Smith of the Peninsula Clarion reports this week that officials confirmed Wednesday they have been communicating with the rig’s owner about what organisms might have still been attached to the rig when it was brought north August 24th.

Homer resident Larry Smith toured the rig a few weeks ago and plucked a small shell he
said appears to be a foreign oyster off one of the rig’s legs and brought it to the attention of Bay Research Reserve staff. Smith said the shell was “one of thousands” in the area where he found it.

Tammy Davis, a Juneau-based Fish and Game biologist who leads the department’s
invasive species program, said the department offered to assist Buccaneer by taking samples of any organisms on the jack-up rig and identifying them.  In response, Buccaneer hired a private biologist from a consulting agency to do that task.

Davis says Fish and Game has requested the results of those samples and biological analysis be forwarded to them for further review.  Buccaneer issued a statement late Wednesday through Jay Morakis of public relations firm JMR Worldwide saying the company considered environmental safety a “top priority” and it would “never knowingly do anything to compromise it.”

Morakis said Initial findings show there is no issue with invasive species and
that Buccaneer will issue the final results upon its completion.  Davis said Fish and Game officials are still considering what it would do if the organism  found were indeed an invasive species and could pose a threat to the environment. Fish and Game’s upper management has been in contact with the state attorney general’s office, she said,
to “find out what its authorities are.”

Davis said she isn’t sure if any organisms attached to the rig could have survived the
weeks they were out of the water in transport from Singapore — that would depend on the
specific species.

In an email to KBBI News and other media outlets last week, Morakis announced
a “dedication ceremony” would take place aboard the Endeavor Monday evening at 6 p.m., but no cameras will be allowed on board and certain parts of the rig would be off-limits to reporters.

In the email, Morakis said Buccaneer wants to “control the footage to make sure the photos are as ‘nice’ as possible.”

Because of those restrictions, KBBI News will not be attending the dedication ceremony.

-Aaron Selbig/KBBI-


Atwater Named Alaska Superintendent of the Year

Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent Dr. Steve Atwater has been named Superintendent of the year for 2013 by the Alaska Association of School Administrators.

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For each of the past 25, the AASA has chosen for Superintendent of the Year an administrator who exemplifies effectiveness, knowledge, leadership, ethics and commitment.  It’s that last one, commitment, with which Kenai Peninsula Superintendent Dr. Steve Atwater most closely identifies.

“I think that what I do and set a tone for is to really be committed to doing everything we possibly can for our children here on the Kenai,” Atwater said.  ”I hope I model that for the District and I feel that as a team, we’re really committed to doing what’s best.”

The award is based on input from administrators from across the state.  He said the award is a reflection of the dedication and hard work of throughout the district, and he’s both humbled and honored by it.

” I didn’t apply for it, my peers from across the state brought me forward and so that’s very humbling,” he said.

 Dr. Atwater is also an adjunct faculty member at the University of Alaska Anchorage and says that experience teaching at the post-secondary level gives him some insight back at home.

“I’m constantly trying to pick apart ideas and to learn from them (the students), so even though I’m the instructor and supposedly passing on all the knowledge, at the same time, it’s a learning experience for me,” Atwater said.

One of the most crucial components in education, according to Atwater, is preparing students to be lifelong learners.  That’s done by putting students into situations where they’re forced to become problem solvers, placing the emphasis on analyzation rather than memorization

“In most traditional methods of schooling, you just repeat what you learned and if you can do it well, then you get a good grade.”

For Atwater, the key is to assume the knowledge is there, then put it into an applied setting where students have to learn and figure things out. “It’s more of an independent learning style, but once you can establish those practices and get in shape…to learn that way, you’re much better off,” Atwater said.

AASA will advance Dr. Atwater’s candidacy to the 2013 National Superintendent of the Year program.  All State Superintendents of the Year will be recognized in February at the 2013 AASA National Conference on Education in Los Angeles, California.

Shaylon Cochran/KDLL


Nude Soldotna Man Arrested

A Soldotna man is in Wildwood Correctional Facility after causing a public disturbance on Snowflake Street while in the nude.

According to the Alaska State Troopers, numerous reports were made Monday evening around 7:30 of a nude man running and yelling in the area.  Upon arrival, Troopers found 27-year old Randy Bleazard, naked, jumping on people’s vehicles, breaking out windows in their houses and assaulting people.

The Trooper’s report states that when contacted, Bleazard assaulted one of the officers as they attempted to make an arrest.

Bleazard was charged with third degree criminal mischief, two counts of fourth degree assault, one count of assaulting a police officer and, indecent exposure.

-Staff Report-


2012 A Big Year For Commercial, Capital Construction In Soldotna

Construction projects like expanded student housing at Kenai Peninsula College have contributed to a "banner year" for construction in Soldotna. (Photo courtesy Kenai Peninsula College)

 

The city of Soldotna has had a banner year for commercial construction according to Kyle Kornelis, Soldotna’s city engineer.  He and city planner Stephanie Queen gave an update on the many projects ongoing and planned at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon Tuesday in Soldotna.

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More than $60 million.  That’s the figure Soldotna city engineer Kyle Kornelis put on the value of the various capital and commercial construction projects going on right now, as he highlighted everything from new student housing at Kenai Peninsula College at more than $20 million, to the half-million dollar Munson Education Center to commercial ventures like the new Auto Zone and a dentist’s office.

“You can imagine the level of effort that the city is expending on administering these projects; it’s very exciting,” Kornelis said.  ”The last two years, we’ve averaged right around $9 million worth of commercial construction, so it’s really a banner year,” he said.

Addressing members of the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce Tuesday at Froso’s, Kornelis explained what his department, and others within the administration, are responsible for when it comes to development of this kind.

“The larger projects like the KPC student housing, you know, in excess of $20 million, that’s a stack of papers about yay-high,” he said, raising his hand about a foot above the podium to illustrate how much paperwork is involved in the permitting process.

“It starts with plan review, then continues throughout construction and inspection through the whole project into an issuance of a certificate of occupancy,” he said.

Kornelis also touched on the library remodel and expansion project, expected to be completed by July 1st of next year.

“It’s about a $6.7 million project [and] right now we’ve got most of the site work done, we’re working on foundation work; structural steel and wood framing is coming up,” he said, adding that the city wants to begin putting the building up before the weather turns.  ”Then, in June, we’ll install the furniture, pictures and  equipment inside the facility.”

City planner Stephanie Queen spoke about two of the city’s more recent initiatives: the Storefront Improvement Program and a beautification program.  This was the first year for the Storefront program, which established grant funding from the city for local businesses looking to spruce things up.  Queen said of the nine businesses to submit applications, six received funding.

“Those six projects were proposing $190,000 in improvements, including landscaping, new signing and new building facades,” she said.  The projects and participating businesses range widely in size, Queen said, and the city’s final contribution to the program was $22,000.  ”We felt that there were some very worthwhile improvements they were proposing and that our funding could go a little of the way in helping them achieve those projects.”

The city council initially set aside $10,000 for the program, adding to that amount as the program grew.  Queen said this first year included a lot of learning and sometimes the process moved a little slower than she anticipated.  She thinks the program will expand next year, and they’ll begin taking applications this fall.

“I’m hoping that some of those projects that applied and maybe weren’t selected and new projects will take advantage of this program,” she said. “It seems like it’s a good thing; certainly good for the city and hopefully good for the business owners.”

Queen said another high-profile project on line is a $40,000 beautification plan for the “Y” in Soldotna.  She said the city is working with the Department of Transportation to ensure the proposed design, which includes landscaping and some sculpture work, meets the DOT’s standards for right of way and other safety issues.  That project should be underway next spring.

Shaylon Cochran/KDLL


Kenai Wildlife Refuge Offering Commercial Use Permits For Upper Kenai River

 

The Kenai Wildlife Refuge is accepting applications for commercial use permits for scenic rafting on the river.   The process to get a commercial permit from the Refuge can be highly competitive.

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The commercial permits in question are few in number; just two will be issued by the Refuge for guided tours between the Russian River Confluence and the Refuge boundary and Skilak Lake.   According to Permitting Specialist Rick Johnston, the limited number of permits issued preserves a balance within the Refuge.

“It’s already kind of a crowded area [and] we would like to moderate it a little bit.”

The competitive process is there to ensure the best applicants are offering services within the boundaries of the Refuge.  This has been the process since 1997, the year after a redrafting of the Upper Kenai River commercial Visitor Services Management Policy.

The permits have become much more detailed and specific over the years, with one commercial venture operating under as many three different permits for different activities on different parts of the refuge.  Johnson says the the process is similar to submitting a resume for a job.

The permits being issued for next year will be good for five years, and the permit holders will then be up for automatic renewal for an additional five years.  Renewals are automatic in theory, there are reasons why a permit might be revoked, like a wildlife violation or similar transgression, but Johnson said those are few and far between, as are the offerings for the permits themselves.

“Most people around here are pretty good eggs,” he said. ” They get the permit and they let us know if they’re not using it anymore.”

A prospectus for guided sportfishing/scenic rafting is available to pick up at the Refuge headquarters.  Proposals must be submitted by November 1st.  Selection will be completed by February of next year and the permits issued in May.

Shaylon Cochran/KDLL


New Energy Report Highlights Local Sources For Power

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A new report taking a comprehensive look at the fossil fuel and geothermal energy resources in the state of Alaska was released Friday by the Department of Natural Resources.  The 144-page document, which carries the title of “Fossil Fuel and Geothermal energy sources For Local Use In Alaska”, is intended to review what local sources of energy are available in different parts of the state, as many communities continue to deal with the ever-growing cost of conventional fuels like diesel and heating oil.

The study breaks the state up into energy regions; the Kenai Peninsula is part of the larger Railbelt region, jalapeno pepper-shaped section of land stretching from the southern end of the Peninsula all the way up to Fairbanks.

Oil and gas studies on the Kenai are nothing new, but it turns out there’s a fair amount of coal under our feet as well, though not of particularly high quality.  The Kenai Field, which encompasses the southern part of the Peninsula up to Clam Gulch, is full of low grade coal which would likely have to be treated before it would be much good as a fuel source for heat or electricity.  Additionally, the report says that the estimated five-hundred-thirty-two million short tons of coal found in other formations around the Kenai are simply beyond extraction given current technology.

Another source looked at was coal bed methane.  This is essentially natural gas that’s trapped in underlying coal beds.  According to the DNR’s study, the overall coalbed methane potential for the Cook Inlet is high, as evidenced by an assessment by the US Geological Survey which estimated that some four-and-a-half trillion cubic feet of coalbed gas remains undiscovered around Cook Inlet.  It’s the quality of the coal that determines whether the gas can be extracted and some of the most promising formations lie along the western coast of the Peninsula.

The report’s focus on oil and natural gas resources on the Kenai was limited to just a few paragraphs, telling us largely what we already know: new technology has allowed for continued and expanded development, both on and off shore, of oil and natural gas.  The report did state that continued efforts to publish results of detailed field studies looking at the reservoirs that hold the oil and gas could significantly improve the understanding of the petroleum system.

An improved understanding of what energy sources are available locally is what this report offered.  Here on the Kenai it’s oil and gas, as it’s always been, though we now know more about the possibility of coal.  In a press release, Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys Director Bob Swenson said “The good news from these reports is that most areas of the state have some potential for local energy production – from renewable or non-renewable sources, or a combination”, adding that development of these resources all depends on their competitiveness in the market.

Shaylon Cochran/KDLL

 


Windstorms Knock Out Power Across Peninsula

Two days’ worth of high winds that hit south central Alaska have mostly blown through, but not without several power outages to deal with.  The outages affected the lower peninsula the most, but stretched all the way to Nikiski.

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Shaylon Cochran/KDLL


Kenai Man’s Ocean Voyage Ends 3 Years Later

A three-year odyssey around the Northern Pacific Ocean in a sailboat isn’t something many people would take on, but that is exactly what Kenai resident Rick Morris did.  His adventure ended last week at the Homer Harbor.

 

Rick Morris, of Kenai, sails for Guam aboard his sailboat "Freestyle" Photo: Rick Morris (www.sailingfreestyle.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For more photos and Rick’s full account of the journey, check out his website here.

 

Peter Sheppard/KBBI


Borough Assembly Approves Funding, Hears School Report

Tuesday night saw another relatively brief meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, as it heard a report from the school district and doled out funding for various projects, including $3.9 million for a multi-use facility at the Bear Creek Fire Service Area.

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Shaylon Cochran/KDLL


Stars Shine Over Mariners, 38-8

Homer quarterback Sheldon Hutt gets a pass off during Saturday's 38-8 loss to SoHi. Photo: Rashah McChesney

Saturday’s game at Sky View Field in Soldotna showed a SoHi team hard to stop and a Homer squad struggling to get it going.

 

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Konstantin Reutov (33) hits the line Saturday in Soldotna

 

 

 

 

 

 

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