Young Musicians Prepare For Concert Debut

The Kenai Peninsula Orchestra is performing this weekend with some special guests.  Third grade students from several elementary schools around the Peninsula will perform with the Orchestra as part of the Link Up program sponsored by Carnegie Hall.

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The unmistakable sound of third graders practicing their recorders fills Sue Biggs’ music room at Redoubt Elementary in Soldotna as the students prepare for a big concert this weekend in Kenai.  I stopped by to learn more about the Link Up program that’s bringing together young musicians from area schools and the more experienced musicians of the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra.  In addition to teaching music courses for the K-6 crowd, Biggs is also Concert Master for the Orchestra.  She traveled to New York to visit Carnegie Hall, learn about the Link Up program and perform with elementary students and musicians from around the world.

“I came back with dancing shoes on and involved all of my third, fourth and fifth graders because that’s what the program is established for primarily,” Biggs said.  ”Another music teacher, Jeanne Duhan, is on board with her third graders at K-Beach Elementary, so even though this is our kick off year, we have now about 350 students who have been involved with learning the Link-Up material to play with the orchestra,” she said.

The instruction at this level is pretty rudimentary, focusing mostly on rhythms.  And their part in this weekend’s performance is limited to just one note on the recorder, but Biggs said this class is pretty advanced.

“Not only did they learn to play these songs, they’ve learned at least three notes which is more than we usually know by now and they have learned to read the notes,” Biggs said.

The piece they’ll be performing with the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra is by all accounts a standard for young musicians Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy‘.

Exposing students to music at an early age works pretty well in making them more curious about it, Biggs said.  Nearly every hand in the room shot up when the kids were asked if they wanted to pursue music further and learn new instruments as they get into fourth and fifth grade.

“I think a lot of that is just because we play a lot of recorder and rhythm instruments.  We connect ourselves early with instruments in our classroom,” Biggs said.

            Third graders from Redoubt and K-Beach Elementary schools will perform this Saturday at the Renee Henderson Auditorium at Kenai Central High School at 2 pm.  Students from MacNeil Canyon School in Homer will share the stage with the Orchestra on Sunday at 2 pm at Homer Mariner Theatre.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

Write-In Candidate Iron Man Takes Popular Vote At Nikiski Mock Convention

Students assembled at Nikiski Junior-Senior High School for the eighth time to nominate a presidential candidate and decide on some of the more important issues of the day in quadrennial tradition dating back more than a quarter century.


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Perhaps not surprisingly for Alaska politics, the write-in candidate ruled the day at Nikiski Junior-Senior High School’s Eighth Mock Convention.  No official candidate was chosen, as none of the contenders, President Barack Obama, Governor Mitt Romney, Congressman Ron Paul and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had enough support to win the 170 electoral votes necessary to seal the nomination.  But write-in candidate Robert Downey Junior, and specifically his character of Iron Man, did receive the most votes from the delegates.  Governor Romney and Ron Paul both came in ahead of the President which I learned wasn’t much of a shock from senior Lauren Countryman who delivered the nominating speech on behalf of the President.  She’s also a member of the debate team and put some of those techniques to use in her speech.

“The majority of people in this school particularly aren’t for either Obama or Romney and as a result it was hard to find something people would be behind,” Countryman said.  ”If you came out at the very beginning of the speech and said ‘I’m for Obama, you’d get booed off the stage,” she said.

Social Studies instructor Bob Bird is the man behind the long-running event.  He first put together a mock convention in Minnesota in 1976, skipped the 1980 election and has been back at it since Reagan and Mondale squared off in 1984.  That the nomination didn’t end up quite as neat and clean as expected isn’t the most important thing, Bird said.  It’s about the process.

“The real decision time comes not when you’re voting, it’s during the build-up process; getting involved in precincts and in districts and in states,” Bird said.  ”Voting is just a very small part of being a good citizen,” he said.

he delegation to the convention also voted on thirteen resolutions concerning topics that were at times benign, things like lunch portions and school dress code and at other times serious and contentious as during the debate about a resolution that would allow states to secede from the Union.

“We have a committee of students in our senior government class and we order them to go out and interview kids at lunch time and get their ideas and ask them what they think is important and the local issues come from the kids,” Bird said.

This year’s lineup of guest speakers was probably the best ever assembled, Bird said.  Senator Mark Begich joined in a video conference while state representatives Mike Chenault and Sharon Cissna, Borough Mayor Mike Navarre, state senate candidate Peter Micciche and Senator Cathy Giessel and Giessel’s opponent in the upcoming general election, Ron Devon all delivered addresses in person.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

Update: This story has been corrected from the original, which identified Peter Micchiche as a state senator rather than a candidate for state senate.

Local Theatre Troupe Puts Comic Spin On Political Season

In a presidential election year, it can be easy to get lost in the flood of political campaigns and advertisements, become annoyed at the constant finger-pointing and blame shifting.  But there is some relief.  the troupe at Triumvirate Theatre is shedding a new, comedic light on politics with their production of Lame Ducks and Dark Horses.


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Lame Ducks and Dark Horses will run one more weekend, this Friday and Saturday, November 2nd and 3rd at the Triumvirate Theatre in Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna.  Tickets are $15, and the curtain goes up at 7pm.


-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

Endeavor Departure Date In Question


A public meeting between representatives of Buccaneer Energy and concerned
Homer citizens turned contentious Wednesday night, with many people wondering why the company’s ‘Endeavor’ jack-up rig is still parked at the Homer harbor nearly two months after its arrival. Company officials say the rig will soon be moving to drill in the Cosmopolitan Unit near Anchor Point but the State of Alaska says that’s not likely to happen.


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It was a packed house at the Best Western Bidarka In in Homer Wednesday night, as locals gathered to ask pointed questions concerning Buccaneer Energy’s activities in the area. The conversation quickly turned heated, with some audience members leveling accusations instead of questions
One point of contention Tuesday night was permits – specifically, whether or not Buccaneer has the necessary permit from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to drill in the Cosmopolitan Unit.

Buccaneer Vice President Mark Landt said the company had filed with DEC for an amendment to its blowout contingency plan, or ‘C’ plan, permit that would allow it to drill past an October 31st deadline. The company, he said, was
expecting to be able to move the Endeavor into the Cosmopolitan Unit to begin drilling “no later than mid-November.”

“Buccaneer has asked us to consider what we would call a minor or routine amendment and we have denied that request,” said Graham Wood, section manager in the DEC, adding that the amendment will now have to go through the full public process.

That letter of denial was sent to Buccaneer October 19th and as of right now, Buccaneer has no approval from DEC to drill at Cosmopolitan.  Wood said the public process that Buccaneer will have to now go through will likely take at least 85 to 90 days.

Meanwhile, the City of Homer is trying to figure out what will happen with the Endeavor, which arrived at the Homer harbor August 24th and was originally supposed to be in Kachemak Bay for only eight days. A series of delays, mostly involving needed repairs and upgrades to the rig, has caused it to stay and a severe windstorm in mid-September forced its operators to put the legs down, something that has caused controversy over whether the Endeavor’s presence violates the Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat  Area plan.

At the last Homer City Council meeting October 22nd, Homer City Manager Walt Wrede said Buccaneer still has not received authorization from the Coast Guard to move the Endeavor and now, the City of Homer is preparing for the possibility that the rig may end up at the harbor all winter long.

“From Buccaneer’s point of view, that is the preferred alternative,” Wrede said.  ”It’s much much easier and much more efficient to work on that thing if it’s here, but the legs down issue has to be resolved,” he said.

The size and triangular shape of the rig make it difficult, maybe impossible, to store at the Deepwater Dock without the legs down. Plus, the presence of the rig at the dock is interfering with normal harbor business.

“We’re actually turning commerce away, other vessels that would like to dock,” Wrede said.

Buccaneer Energy had planned another meeting Wednesday night at McNeil Canyon Elementary School, focused on its plans for land based drilling at West Eagle, an area 21 miles east of Homer.

-Aaron Selbig/KBBI-

Borough making first steps in considering economic study of fishing industry on the peninsula

After this year’s poor fishing season, the call has been made by fishermen and political leaders for more economic data concerning the role of commercial and sportfishing in the local economy.  The first small steps toward getting that information were taken this week.


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At the invitation of Borough Mayor Mike Navarre, University of Alaska economist Dr. Gunnar Knapp delivered a presentation to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly at its meeting this week outlining some possibilities for an economic study to examine just how much the local fishing industry drives the local economy.  Knapp was able to answer that question in very broad terms Tuesday evening.

“You’ve got three communities in the borough that are among the top commercial fishing ports in the United States,” Knapp said.  ”This is big time.  Alaska’s big time in US commercial fishing and the Kenai Peninsula Borough is big time in Alaska,” he said.

Over the past ten years, the fishing industry, and chiefly the salmon industry, have seen strong prices in demanding markets to the tune of $50 million in revenue generated toward fishermen in the Borough in 2011, Knapp told the Assembly.

And that’s just the start.

“You can more than double that if you look at the wholesale value of the salmon production that takes place in the Borough.  Basically the processing industry more than doubles the value of the harvesting,” said Knapp.

And it doesn’t stop there.

“You can double it again in wholesale value if you look at the other species that are landed in the Borough and processed here,” he said.

That’s a rough estimate of some $200 million attached to just the commercial fishing industry.  Add to that what sport fishing contributes, and then the tourism spending that comes along with it and you get some idea of just how important these industries are.

Navarre said part of the reason behind Dr. Knapp’s visit and presentation was to weed out what the focus areas of any study might be.

“Because obviously you can spend a lot of money on studies but if you don’t have a specific purpose and use for it then all you’re doing is putting another study on the shelf,” Navarre said.

The cost of a study, of course, depends on what’s being studied, for how long and to what degree.  Dr. Knapp said the state has put some effort toward compiling this sort of information, but that information doesn’t tell the whole story.  As an example, he cites a lack of data about commercial fishing crews.

“There was a major effort put forward to collect exactly that kind of information. People were frustrated because this state where we’ve got tens of thousands of people working in fishing as fishing crew, we don’t have any data on who the people are or how many there are or what they earn and so on,” Knapp said.  ”Politics got in the way of starting to collect that,” he said.

Dr. Knapp recognized that economic analysis of the fishing industry does little good if there aren’t any fish to catch, a problem faced by many this past season.

“If I could spend money and figure out how to get the chinook salmon to come back, what happened and how to fix that and if a study would show that, I’d sure spend it on that before I’d do an economic study,” he said.

Navarre said the first step is to have staff begin to gather the appropriate data and from there the decision can be made about whether or not to commission a full study and what that would entail.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

“Topping Out” The New Career And Technical Center At Kenai Peninsula College


A ceremonial first step in the completion of new student housing and a technical center at Kenai Peninsula College was taken Thursday.


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The two story steel framework that will be home to the new Career and Technical Center came together with the ceremonial placing of the last and highest piece of steel, known in the industry as ‘topping out’.

“The tradition stems from iron workers of a long, long time ago,” said local iron worker and KPC graduate Jake Rider.  ”We send a flag up to the highest point of the building, we send a tree on the other end of the beam to represent prosperity and growth and it’s just been a tradition for us for a long time. Since about the beginning of the iron workers,” Rider said.

Adorned with an american flag and a small spruce tree, the last piece of the framework was bolted in for the CTC, which is slated to open next summer, along with new student housing at the college. The $14.5 million, nearly 20,000 square foot building will house two traditional classrooms, four specialized lab areas and a general computer lab and will allow for expanded educational opportunities for the process-centered industries of the state, including oil and gas production, seafood processing, electrical generation and more.

The technical center, along with new student housing, is designed to appeal to Alaskans from the smallest villages to the largest urban centers said KPC Director Gary Turner.

“We wanted students when they walk into the technical center to feel like they’re on the job, they’re going to work,” he said.  ”And when they leave the building and walk across the college road, they’re going home.  So when they’re at home, it feels like home and when they come to school in the morning, they’re going to work,” Turner said.

The new student housing complex, located just across the road from the CTC is a $17.8 million, nearly 40,000 square foot project that will be home to 96 students and feature apartment-style accommodations. It will also be ready for students in time for the beginning of the fall term in August of next year.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

Calls For More Research, Funding Made At Second Day of Salmon Symposium

Myron Naneng, president of the Association of Village Council Presidents, addresses a panel of researchers and managers Tuesday at the Egan Center in Anchorage. (Photo: Mark Arehart, KYUK)

Biologists and researchers took the podium for the second day of the Chinook Salmon Symposium held in Anchorage, which focused on what scientists know and what they have yet to learn about king salmon in the ocean.


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The purpose of the symposium was to identify gaps in the knowledge base concerning the lifecycle of king salmon and a common theme throughout the two days of presentation, panel discussions and question and answer sessions was the need for more research.  Dr. Phil Mundy from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Ted Stevens Research Institute said there is a need for more coordination between researchers operating in the ocean waters off Alaska, which could help in bringing in more information.

“I think we need to heighten the awareness of people who go out on research vessels about our needs,” Mundy said.  ”We need to watch for these…platforms of opportunity and try to get them to drag a net through the water every now and then,” he said.

As the focus was on the marine environments in which Chinook spend a majority of their lives, the panel turned to Dr. Kate Myers, a retired professor from the University of Washington, who’s been studying Chinook ecology for three decades.  She said changing temperatures in the ocean are having significant effects on survival and return rates as they affect the food supply for kings.

“During a warm climate, you might expect high survival, high growth rates and early maturation, early return of adults and about the opposite during a cool climate period,” Myers said.

Those changing climate conditions help explain why areas in the Lower 48 are seeing increased returns as Alaskans continue to face declines.  Dr. Myers said a better understanding of the Chinook diet while in the ocean could provide useful insight, but would be difficult and expensive to undertake. And that was at the heart of almost every panel discussion; the need for more funding to continue or expand Chinook studies.  One way to get more information is to integrate traditional local knowledge with contemporary science.

“Because what we want to understand is trends,” said Jeff Regnart, Commercial Fisheries Director for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.  ”These trends go well beyond our data set, which is 100 years or less,” Regnart said.

He said the next step is to redraft the gap analysis, then lay out a new research plan based on what was learned at the symposium and the public comments the department receives.  The public comment period is open until November 9th.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

Note: This post has been edited to correctly identify Dr. Kate Myers.

Salmon Symposium Begins In Anchorage

Scientists and fishermen of all stripes were in Anchorage Monday for the first of two full days of panel discussions about declining king salmon returns around the state.  The discussions from day one presented as many questions as answers.


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Much of the talk during the first portion of the two-day Alaska Chinook Salmon Symposium focused on what the problem is and, essentially, what scientists still need to find out in order to solve it.  Tom Vania is the Cook Inlet regional management biologist for the sportfish division of Alaska Department of Fish and Game.  He said the challenges faced by Cook Inlet fisheries are divided into two categories; primary, consisting of things like forecasting and run timing information, and secondary; how emergency orders and complex regulations fit into the picture.

“I believe these primary challenges are challenges managers face in determining what actions we’re going to take in order to achieve the escapement while still providing an opportunity for recreational users,” Vania said.

He said the various tools at the disposal of fisheries managers play the critical role adjusting management priorties in-season, and more specifically, the placement of those tools to accurately count fish.

While much of the discussion and public comment focused on low-abundance issues in western Alaska on the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, attention was given to what’s happening in Cook Inlet.  University of Alaska Fairbanks graduate student Hannah Harrison asked the panel just how much fisheries managers are paying attention to conditions in the river as reported by fishermen in real time.

“I agree that biologists on the Kenai Peninsula have been accessible…but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are or are not able to alter or address their management strategy based on what they’re hearing through local knowledge systems,” Harrison said.

Representative Paul Seaton was one of several legislators in attendance at Monday’s meeting.  He voiced concerns about researcher’s understanding of what’s happening out in the oceans, but said the symposium is a good first step in obtaining that information.

The symposium continues Tuesday, with panel sessions taking a deeper dive into what’s happening while Alaska’s dwindling number of Chinook salmon are in the oceans.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

City Of Kenai Aiming To Secure State, Federal Funding For Local Projects

A new Alaska Legislature won’t gavel into session for another couple of months, but cities around the state are putting together their legislative priorities for the year.  The Kenai City Council this week approved a list of capital improvement projects for which it hopes to secure state and federal funding.


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Sitting atop the list of projects the city hopes to secure state funding for is local paving improvements to city streets.  One-million dollars has been requested from the state to help with those costs.

To that end, the council adopted a resolution awarding a contract worth four-hundred-thousand dollars for Central Heights Street lighting and asphalt replacement construction to Nelson Engineering.  A public meeting is scheduled for that project on November 5th.   One of the higher-profile projects is construction of a new, million-gallon water storage reservoir that will allow for repairs on the existing reservoir.

“That reservoir has reached the stage in its life where it needs to be re-coated, and that’s…a 4-6 month project,” said Kenai City Manager Rick Koch.  ”And we’re reaching a point in the growth of the city that another million gallons of water storage would be appropriate,” he said.  That four million gallon capacity would be enough to supply the city with fresh water for about four days, Koch said.

Another request to the state is five-hundred-thousand dollars to continue work on the Kenai Industrial Park.  That endeavor is back online after losing a construction season while the US Army Corps of Engineers made the determination that the site does not occupy a wetland.

“We have the money from a previous appropriation to develop the roadways in the southern half of the industrial park,” he said.  ”Phase Two would be to extend the utilities to the northern half of the industrial park,” said Koch.

On the federal side, the city will try to secure funding to finish a long-term erosion and stabilization project on the Bluff.

“It’s been our number one priority for twenty years,” Koch said of the project that aims to protect about one mile of bluff along the Kenai River where substantial erosion has been exhibited.

Estimated total cost for the project is $20 million.

“We have been working with the federal government for many years, they’ve spent a few million dollars already in feasibility studies and project analysis,” Koch said.  ”The environmental documentation is mostly complete and we’ just need the go-ahead from Congress and/or the Corps of Engineers to undertake the project and provide the 65 percent federal share,” he said.

After elections are settled on November sixth and house and senate delegates are known, the City will work with local legislators to secure funding for these and other projects, which include construction of a new shop for maintenance and equipment storage, Koch said.  That project could benefit from federal funding as the Federal Aviation Administration also uses the facility.  Total cost for the new maintenance shop is estimated at $8 million, of which the city has already secured about half.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

Students Take Cover In Great Alaskan Shakeout

More than 60,000 Alaskans, mostly students, took part in the first ever Great Alaska Shake Out Drill Wednesday morning.  Created by the US Geological Survey in California in 2008, the Shake Out happens in thirteen states around the country, Canada and as far away as Italy.


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It’s a normal Thursday in Tracey Withrow’s fourth grade classroom at Redoubt Elementary in Soldotna.  Student teacher Victoria Edelman is proctoring a discussion about correctly using the word ‘criticize’.  And then, precisely at 10:18 AM, Principal John Podhast announced the drill.

All of the students, both teachers, and about half of this reporter, huddle underneath desks for the next 60 seconds.

The U.S. Geological Survey led several other state and federal organizations in the creation of The Great Shake Out in California in 2008.  It was based on a comprehensive analysis of a major earthquake in southern California known as “The ShakeOut Scenario”.  The drill was surprisingly similar to the tornado drills I participated in as a student in the Midwest.  After the all clear signal was given, I turned to the students for a little more insight about earthquakes.

“Earthquakes are when the earth has so much pressure on it that it just starts to shake and then it just cracks,” said Emma Craig.

Her classmate, Kaitlyn Massey let me know the quakes can be responsible for “a ton of damage.”

Cheyenne Friedersdorff and Mason Schwecke explain to me that even though the first sixty seconds have passed, we might not be out of danger quite yet.

“The short earthquakes last for up to one to two minutes and after that there could be a….”, “Aftershock,” Mason Schwecke quickly added.  ”Well, the big earthquake can be very short, but the can also be very strong.  But even if they’re not very strong, the aftershocks can be really really strong and destroy even more buildings,” he said.

I leave Mrs. Withrow’s class unsure of my own capacity to find suitable shelter in the event of an earthquake, but certain that at least our students and teachers will survive.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-