Anderson, Carey Discuss Issues In Soldotna Mayoral Race

The special election for Soldotna Mayor is coming up Tuesday with former Mayor Dave Carey and current City Council member Dr. Nels Anderson on the ballot.
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There aren’t too many degrees of separation between the two candidates in terms of their vision for the future of Soldotna. Both are interested in promoting tourism and local business growth and both see the City and as playing an important role in that promotion. Carey, a former three term mayor of Soldotna and a one term Borough mayor had positive things to say about his predecessor, now-state Senator Peter Micciche, but, Carey says his main concern is with the city’s finances.

“If (the City) is indeed going to keep taking in more money each year than they’re going to spend, I’d like to see, I’d like to see a clear statement of what it’s committed to, or I’d like to see a reduction in the surplus,” Carey said.

For fiscal year 2012, the city did take in about a million more dollars than it spent, ending with a balance of 20.2 million dollars in the general fund. Those numbers follow a recent decrease in the property tax or mill rate for residents. Carey says the city should look at lowering that rate even more or eliminating property taxes all together. His opponent, current council member Dr. Nels Anderson isn’t so sure. He says with a good chunk of the city’s revenue coming from state and federal grants that may not always be there, there’s a need for local contributions to pay for municipal projects.

“I think we oughta have a skin in the game and property taxes, even at very low rates, keep people involved in the game. We all want to keep taxes as low as possible. It’s a question of what are our prospects for the future,” Anderson said.

Anderson, whose public service also includes 15 years on the School Board before he began his current term on the Council, says some of that budget surplus is spoken for by deferred maintenance projects for things like roof repairs to the Soldotna Sports Complex. Both agreed that that facility would be a focal point in realizing the city’s Envision Soldotna 2030 plan.

“There needs to be some additions to the Sports Center. There are some issues with being right outside a hockey locker room and going to a facility where a little more uppity-up activities may be going on than the locker room of a hockey team,” Carey said.

“If we’re going to really turn that into a center that would be useful for those things, we’re going to have to make some big additions. I personally favor that. But any major additions are going to go to the voters first. The voters are going to make that decision,” Anderson said.

Beyond that, both candidates offered support for expanding funding in the city’s Storefront Improvement Program, which is designed to give local businesses small loans to help with design and engineering costs associated with sprucing up their facilities.

Anderson and Carey made their comments on Wednesday’s edition of the Coffee Table program that aired on KDLL. Voters will be able to cast their ballots at Soldotna City Hall Tuesday from 7 am to 8 pm.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Alaskans March To Choose Respect

On Thursday, Alaskans in 140 different communities came together to rally in support of Choosing Respect. The rallies are part of an initiative started by Governor Sean Parnell in 2009 to address issues related to domestic violence and assault. The Leeshore Center in Kenai and the Haven House in Homer sponsored rallies on the Kenai Peninsula.

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-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL, Ariel Van Cleave/KBBI-


Looking for the Right Fit At the Peninsula Job Fair

Hundreds of job seekers came out for the annual career fair at the Kenai Peninsula Job Center Wednesday. There’s no shortage of companies looking to hire, the trick is finding the right match.

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Heather Duffy isn’t here because she needs a job. She just wants a better one.

“I’m looking for something to better my future, so something a little more skillful, something with better benefits, higher pay, better schedule.”

Duffy is 19, has a job at a local pizza shop and a year of college under her belt and came to the job fair at the Kenai Mall with her resume in hand, hoping to find the best fit for her skillset and what she wants in a job, maybe with the Alaska State Troopers, one of the dozens of booths Duffy stopped at to learn more about prospective employment.

The Peninsula Job Center puts on the fair each year, and they have people like Business Connections Specialist Jackie Garcia who can help people like Duffy find the right match.

“This is a community event, and so the whole idea is to try and encourage the employers to hire local,” Garcia said. “Right now we are pretty busy. Lots of the employers are saying they’re going to be pretty busy. The Job Center has been averaging close to 500 people per week,” she said.

That more people have been coming to the Job Center looking for employement isn’t too surprising, given the numbers. According to the state Department of Labor, the Kenai Peninsula Borough had an unemployment rate of 9.1 percent in February, down a tick from January but part of an up and down pattern in the rate going back the last five years, when unemployment was at its lowest in 2008 at 7.9 percent.

There’s a wide variety of companies and organizations at the fair including non-profits and schools, retail businesses, oil services, the armed services, fishing businesses and more. Garcia has been with the Job Center for 12 years and says on the Kenai Peninsula, there’s a lack of qualified workers for the kinds of jobs available.

“There are a lot more opportunities for people, but most of the qualifications are becoming a little more technical. There’s a little bit of a shortage when it comes to things like welders, pipefitters, electricians and plumbers,” Garcia said.

And inside the Job Center office, pretty much every computer they’ve got is being used by someone filling out a resume for the state’s job board, called ALEXsys.

“That’s where we post all of our jobs, so employers can log in, create an account, post jobs and then we go in and look at the jobs. Right now, there are more than 150 jobs available on the Alaska Labor System,” Garcia said.

Back inside the fair, Heather Duffy has finished hearing a pitch from Alaska State Trooper Brian Barlow about a career in law enforcement, but that didn’t exactly hit the spot.

“I just want something that I can move up in that field. (Something) with potential for growth and a higher position, higher play. Plus we’re thinking about moving, so Alaska State Trooper probably wouldn’t work someplace else,” Duffy said.

After visiting all the booths she was interested in, Duffy said she was ready to send out her resume’ to the places that appealed to her.

She was one of more than 250 prospective employees who came out before the day was even half over. Garcia says the variety of employers and positions should give anyone seeking something new a reason to take a look.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


More Calls For Repeal of Fish Habitat Ordinance At Anchor Point Town Hall

Residents from up and down the western Peninsula filled the Anchor Point Senior Center for the second in a series of town hall meetings focused on the Borough’s anadromous fish habitat protection ordinance.

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The message Monday night was clear. Repeal. That’s what people want, or the people who have been coming out for these town hall meetings, anyway.

The message was the same in Anchor Point as it was at the first meeting held in Nikiski on March 4th. Despite creation of a task force to essentially scrap the ordinance as it was passed in 2011 and start over, some people don’t even want these protections on the books. In fact, a number of the 50-plus in attendance
Monday night were from Nikiski.

Those who testified before the Task Force were generally upset with the idea that new rules should have to be put in place to provide a 50 foot buffer next to fish-friendly streams, rivers and lakes.

Some of the opposition to the measure might be explained by some
misconceptions about it, some of which have become rallying cries for its repeal, such as the (false) provision that the ordinance would outlaw lawn mowing, or that permit would be required to do so.

“It concerns me when someone thinks that (lawns) cannot be mowed because it tells me that they have not read this amendment,” said Task Force Facilitator and Borough Mayor Mike Navarre’s Chief of Staff, Paul Ostrander.

Other activities that would be allowed, without a permit, on existing legally established landscaping and landscape features (read: your yard) developed prior to adopting the ordinance:

-Mowing, pruning, weeding, planting annuals, perennials, fruits and vegetables.

-Pruning of trees and woody shrubs (no more than 25% of the living crown of a tree)

-Removal of downed trees

-Planting of native vegetation that doesn’t affect runoff/erosion.

The crowd was clearly against the measure, both in practice and in principle. In trying to explain away misunderstandings about the rules, Ostrander and some on the task force were put on the defensive.

Ostrander addressed the notion that there’s no need for the ordinance because no one would ever want to damage fish habitat.

“Let’s just go there and say that’s the case; no one would ever do anything to damage it. But what about the person that does want to? They want to do something next to me that’s going to damage the creek that I live on. ‘I’m going to make sure that they don’t', someone said. Well, that’s good, but there’s instances there when you probably aren’t going to be able to control what your neighbor is doing. If they want to pave right down to the creek, and it’s going to damage you, personally, this ordinance would tell them ‘you can’t pave right down to there’,” Ostrander said.

Task Force member Ginny Litchfield, who is the area manager for the
Department of Fish and Game’s Habitat Division pointed out that much of the land that would be affected by the 50 foot buffer isn’t private, and that a buffer would be necessary to make sure oil and gas explorers are using their best practices to retain healthy waterways.

The Assembly has yet to vote on this amended habitat protection ordinance. That
probably won’t happen until some time this summer. One more town hall meeting is
scheduled for Moose Pass on April 9th, then the final version the Task Force signs off on will go to the planning commission, and, after public hearings there, the Assembly will finally get a look at it. Ostrander says it’s likely, given the contentious history of the
ordinance, that multiple public hearings will be held before the Assembly votes.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Chenault, Olson Talk Oil Taxes, Education At Town Hall Meeting

The regular session of the state legislature will end in less than three weeks. Oil taxes, gas lines, education and a host of other issues await decisions in Juneau, and many of those same issues were discussed Saturday at a town hall meeting in Soldotna with House Speaker Mike Chenault of Nikiski and fellow House Republican Kurt Olson of Kenai.

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Chenault and Olson took questions for about three hours from a long list of constituents signed up to speak Saturday in the Borough Assembly Chambers in Soldotna. Education and energy issues received the most attention. Chenault and Olson are both sponsors of House Bill Four, which is intended to finally bring North Slope natural gas to market. Chenault said Saturday, as he has in the past, that opponents want of HB 4 want a 48 inch pipeline rather than the 36 inch line called for in the bill.

“Nowhere in the world except Alaska would a 36 inch pipeline, 800 miles long, be considered a small pipeline,” Chenault said.

“Now, if Alaska wants to step up and spend 45-65 million dollars, we can certainly build a 48 inch pipeline anywhere we want to. (That) doesn’t mean we’ll have any gas to put in it, but we can certainly build a 48 inch pipeline anywhere we want.”

He says only a portion of the demand for that gas will come from Alaska, for projects like Donlin Creek, a proposed gold mine 145 miles northeast of Bethel, with a projected lifespan of about 25 years and diesel and wind as the primary energy sources. Chenault says Asia is where the real demand is, and that’s where officials are looking for potential customers.

On the topic of education, Olson shared a dialogue with Kenai Peninsula
Education Association President LaDawn Druce about House Bill 151, or the Parental
Education Information Act. This one would establish a grading system for individual
schools, just like a traditional report card: an A for excellent progress ranging down to F for a failure to make any progress.

“I feel like we’re going to basically have the Scarlet Letter put on our schools, but in Alaska, given the nature of so many of our districts, what would be the point of labeling a school?” Druce asked. “Let’s say it’s even in town here, and Kenai High School is an A school one year and Soldotna High School is a C school. Does that mean the District is responsible for redoing the boundaries for transportation? Is that what that looks like? ‘I’m a parent and I want my kid to go to the A school this year’?”

“I think it’s being done more for the parents, to give them a tool to evaluate and see if there’s a problem. If I still had kids in school, I’d want to figure out how…what we could do to make it better,” Olson said.

Olson is a co-sponsor of that bill which had a hearing before the Education Committee Monday morning. Chenault and Olson also fielded questions about Senate Bill 55, which would allow insurance companies to access personal financial records as a factor in establishing rates for coverage and heard concerns from voters on a number of other issues, including finding more funding to address food security and homelessness.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Board of Fish Looks At Kenai King Salmon Issues

As a state Board of Game meeting wrapped up in Kenai this week, the Board of Fish got to work at the statewide finfish meeting in Achorage Tuesday.  The Board is addressing king salmon issues affecting fishing industries on the Kenai Peninsula.

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This is it. This is the one salmon fisherman have been waiting for since last August, when a disastrous chinook and sockeye season finally ended, having seen major restrictions and numerous closures in the face of above average returns of red salmon and below average returns of kings.

A Task Force was established to bring together the various user groups affected by last year’s management decisions, to try and find some consensus on the best methods that could be put in place to avoid those same outcomes and keep nets and lines in the water when the fish actually show up. Little consensus was found, but the Board of Fisheries, after hearing public testimony over the course of two days, began deliberating some of the proposals on Thursday.

Proposal 249 directly addresses last year’s issues and calls for the Board to consider regulatory changes to management plans for Kenai River King salmon. Any changes would be based on possible changes to escapement goals. The range discussed by the Task Force for an optimal escapement goal was 13,000-30,000 fish.

The question of if the Department can better manage the fishery within a new escapement goal range was raised by Board member Tom Kluberton, who also co-chaired the Task Force. Fish and Game regional management biologist Tom Vania said new sonar data alone would improve management decisions in 2013.

“Would this be better than nothing or is the SEG (sustainable escapement goal) just enough to fix it?” Kluberton asked.

“Either of those management plans, I believe we can manage for,” Vania said. “We have a DIDSON-based goal with DIDSON equipment so we’re already miles ahead of managing based upon indices of abundance, so that right there sets us on a much  better path, and much better ability to assess run abundance coming into the river,” he said.

There’s been no question that DIDSON sonar counts of king salmon are more accurate than older methods, but how to properly factor in those new numbers with historical data remains a challenge, as Department sportfish biologist Bob Clark explained to the Board. He said even though the new escapement goal is numerically lower than in year’s past, it doesn’t necessarily represent fewer fish.

“If you harken back to my presentation where I  showed the target strength-based data versus the DIDSON data, there’s really…no simple conversion between our old data and our new data. And that translates all the way through to the escapement goal,” Clark said.

There is language in the proposal that addresses last year’s issue of an unusually late return. If the Department concludes that a sustainable escapement goal of 15,000-30,000 fish will be met, the Commissioner can extend the season by emergency order, one week into August, giving the inriver community more opportunities for
harvest.

Strategies to keep setnetters in the water this year are geared mostly toward timing. Instead of a complete closure if the projected escapement dips below a certain level, setnet sites would be limited to 36 hours of operation per week, with one continuous 36 hour closure during the same week. As Board member Vince Webster explains,
the new plan would essentially split the king season in two, one period between July 10th and 21st and a second one for the rest of the king run after the 21st.

“After the 21st, there’s total closure if the forecasted escapement is below 15,000. But it gives them additional tools and rather than have a total closure, the Department has a tool for the setnetters to reduce gear by aggregate length. They could reduce that gear rather than give them a total closure. This is what the user asked us for  last year, this is what the Department asked us for last year, and that’s all this does,” Webster said.

The Board is scheduled to continue hearing statewide proposals through Friday, with deliberations taking place over the weekend.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Board of Game Wraps Up Meeting In Kenai, Votes On Moose and Bear Proposals

The state Board of Game wrapped up its five day meeting in Kenai Tuesday, going through a long list of proposals to change many of the game management rules on the Kenai Peninsula.

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The first four days of the Board’s meeting were dominated by staff reports from managers and biologists from the Department of Fish and Game about the state of brown bear and moose populations on the Kenai and public testimony, mostly about the proposals before the Board. That testimony was mostly unified either in favor of or opposition to those proposals. On Tuesday, the Board voted on those proposals which could represent some significant changes for hunters on the Kenai. In general, the Board’s strategy is to continue with as many opportunities as possible for moose harvest while at the same time identifying ways to enhance habitat and decrease predation. Department Biologist Jeff Selinger explained the Department’s reasoning for supporting continuing moose hunts on the southern Peninsula.

“There seems to be some late season habitat limitations. (The area in question) has maintained this hunt for a number of years, but we still see impacts due to moose browse, so we don’t know that we want to carry a whole lot more moose down there at this time,” Selinger said. Though the Department is authorized to issue as many as 100 permits for this hunt, Selinger said they would continue to issue just 50, as in years past.

Prior testimony from biologists and managers pointed to a lack of substantial forest fires in recent decades as one reason for significant declines in moose populations on the central and northern Peninsula. In the absence of those habitat-creating fires, predator species are a target for helping the moose. State Game Division Director Doug Vincent-Lang said that as a part of that effort, aerial wolf hunting could be on the table, after the Board voted to allow it, though he did say there is an increased interest in harvesting more predators, namely wolves, during normal hunting and trapping seasons which needs to be taken into consideration.

“I’m concerned that removing wolves in this unit through aerial control could impact these opportunities, and the long term desire of people to solve the problem of wolf predation through general hunting and trapping regulations,” Vincent-Lang said.

He said it was apparent that there was a split between the public and Advisory Committees on support of the measure, but that he would make a decision on whether or not to start an aerial control program this year.

There wasn’t a lot of opposition to increasing predator control measures, but the Homer Advisory Committee did submit a statement requesting the Board further explore alternatives to these and other intensive management techniques. In general, the Homer AC supported the proposals intended to help maintain healthy moose populations, but was concerned that success in increasing the number of moose in 15A, the northern Peninsula, would actually be detrimental, as the existing population is already struggling to stay healthy with enough food and good habitat.

The other predator issue is an increasing population of brown bears. The Board heard many calls for increasing harvest opportunity for brown bears and did vote in favor of establishing a fall and spring bear hunt, open for drawing permits with a bag limit of one bear every four regulatory years. That was a proposal supported by the Homer AC, but how effective that strategy will be remains a question, as lands on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge are not subject to state guidelines and the Refuge sits on parts of all three Peninsula management zones. One of the methods the Board adopted as a way to curb the brown bear population is allowing the incidental take of brown bears over black bear bait sites. Refuge Manager Andy Loranger said in earlier testimony before the Board that the refuge would not adopt that policy.

The Board did turn down a proposal to allow the use of motorized land vehicles, 4-wheelers and snow machines, during certain hours in the Lower Kenai Controlled Use Area and another that would have extended the spring season for ptarmigan on the Peninsula.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Kenai Brown Bear Issues Addressed At Board of Game Meeting

The state Board of Game met Tuesday in Kenai for the fifth and final day, with votes taking place on a variety of proposals affecting game issues on the Kenai Peninsula and throughout South Central Alaska, including what to do with a rising brown bear population.

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The brown bear population on the Kenai Peninsula is on the rise. Recent reports from the Department of Fish and Game showed the number to be in excess of 600 animals. Sean Farley is a research biologist for the Department and told the Board of Game during his research presentation that as technology and technique have improved in studying brown bears, so have the population numbers on the Kenai, from initial estimates of around 150 in the 80’s to around 300 in the 90’s. During that time, more has also been learned about the genetics of the Kenai population, once thought to be an isolated one. Farley said that’s not the case.

“Kodiak bears are…no longer distinct and the subspecies classification is incorrect. The Kodiak bear is the same as the Kenai bear,” Farley said.

The latest numbers point to a specific number of bears available for potential harvest and the bear population on the Kenai is no longer classified as one of concern.

“By one interpretation, and believe me, there are many interpretations, there would actually only be 300 bears available for harvest on the Kenai,” he said.

Using statistical models to get a better sense of the total population, Farley said they’ve been able to show, mathematically, that the number of brown bears is getting bigger.

“The take home message here is that we pretty much consistently always have a (statistical measure) indicating that…I think the mantra has always been ‘a stable but slight increasing population’ is probably a good reflection of what the bears on the Kenai have been doing,” Farley said.

That empirical evidence was backed up by the anecdotal evidence of many in the public who testified about seeing more bears over the years, including residential areas.

The discussion about expanding opportunities to hunt brown bears went beyond the scope of public safety and bear-human interaction. One proposal before the Board would allow the incidental taking of brown bears on a black bear baiting site. That proposal ties into several other predator control measures the Board deliberated in its meeting. In our next story, we’ll find out how the Board decided on these and other matters and also hear calls for more conservation of predator species.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Board of Game Takes On Moose Declines

Biologist Thomas McDonough presents a report to the Board of Game Friday in Kenai.

The state Board of Game continues its meeting in Kenai this week. Beginning last Friday, the Board heard research updates from area biologists and two days of public testimony. Dwindling moose numbers on the Central Peninsula and what to do about it was a central topic as the meeting got underway.

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The latest population estimate for moose on the Central Peninsula showed about 1,600 animals. That’s in management unit 15-A, which covers the area between Cooper Landing and Kenai and everything north of the Kenai River. Thomas McDonough is the Assistant Area Biologist for the Division of Wildlife Conservation on the Peninsula. He reported to the Board about ongoing studies which point to a widely accepted reason for why moose numbers in the area have been steadily declining over the past several years.

“We typically see a peak in response of moose densities after a fire, typically 15-20 years post-fire. The population tends to return down to pre-fire densities about 40 years post-fire and it’s been more than 40 years since we’ve had a significant fire in 15A,” McDonough said.

Providing moose suitable habitat becomes more of a challenge as the scale of wild fires diminishes. In the past, mechanical manipulation of the habitat, cutting down trees, has been used, but as Kenai Wildlife Refuge Manager Andy Loranger explained, the problem again is scale. The Refuge encompasses parts of all three management areas on the western Peninsula and so has a large role in providing good habitat, but Loranger says their options are somewhat limited.

“We’re not going to recreate, mechanically or through prescribed burning, given the limitations that are associated with either of those, anything close to… those large fires. That’s just a reality,” Loranger said.

“The only thing that will create that amount of habitat on the landscape is large fires on the landscape and it’s becoming increasingly challenging to allow that to happen. What we feel is the best opportunity, the best bang for your buck if you want to put it that way, is in safely managing wild land fires where and when we can do so,” he said.

The research McDonough presented was based on a study that began in March of 2012, when 50 moose were collared and tracked in unit 15-A and showed a 92% survival rate over the course of the year. While determining the ultimate or final cause of mortality is difficult, in several instances a predator, typically a brown bear, was a likely cause of death. In some areas, the mortality rate for moose cows is as high as 16%. One avenue to curb the decline that had support of many who offered public testimony and Board Chair Ted Spraker, is to widen the scope of predator control; that is, taking more wolves and brown bears before they can get to the remaining moose population, especially on the Refuge, which led to an exchange between Spraker and Refuge Manager Loranger.

Spraker: Will you allow the Department to capture wolves on the Refuge with the clear intent of shooting them once they’re off the Refuge?

Loranger: Mr. Chair, the answer to that question is ‘No’.

Spraker: There’s been three or four proposals submitted to allow permitted hunters who use black bear baiting stations to take a brown bear, incidental. There’s also a comment in the public records that addresses the Refuge has stated they will not allow this, is that yes or no?

Loranger: We have stated that we will not allow brown bear baiting. We oppose that part of that proposal and we will not allow brown bear baiting; taking a brown bear over bait on the Refuge, correct.

Spraker: Those were two things that I hoped the Refuge would cooperate with the State and not over harvest any of the predators, but reduce some of the predator impact on 15A. We want habitat, that’s number one; we really want to see the habitat. But I firmly believe, and I’m speaking for myself, if we don’t arrest this decline, we’re going to be paying dividends in the future.

The Board was set to take up proposals Monday afternoon including one to retain current harvest regulations for moose through 2014 and another that would suspend aerial taking of wolves in 15-A and modify population and harvest objectives for moose.

In our next story, we’ll see how the Board decided on these measures and learn more about an increasing brown bear population on the Kenai Peninsula. The Board of Game is scheduled to adjourn after its meeting Tuesday.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-



(Almost) Spring Cleaning

The interior of the greenhouse. Still a little cleaning left to do.

Spring really is right around the corner, at least according to the calendars, which for gardeners means it’s time to start planning. In the first part of a series that will air throughout the summer, KDLL’s Shaylon Cochran takes the first step in planting his first garden.

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In the next part of our gardening series, we’ll get to the dirty work of soil testing and planting and also see what other folks are looking forward to from their greenhouses and gardens.

 

 


Buccaneer Files Countersuit, Claims $30M In Lost Revenues As Endeavour Sits Idle

Buccaneer Energy Alaska has filed litigation countering a lawsuit brought by a subcontractor in December concerning work on the jack-up rig Endeavour.

In court documents filed Tuesday in a Texas District Court, Buccaneer contends that Archer Drilling and Rig Inspection Services, the company charged with making final repairs to the rig before it was scheduled to begin drilling last fall, committed misconduct when it signed off on what Buccaneer calls a short list of tasks necessary to be completed before certification and then produced a ten page list of line items that would have to be resolved after the rig arrived in Alaska last August.

The 30-year-old Endeavour has been docked in Homer Harbor ever since, widely missing its target initial drilling date of September 2012, and racking up substantial fees from the City of Homer to rent out deep water dock space, some $40,000 per month. The countersuit says the owner group of the Endeavour, including Buccaneer and a limited liability corporation known as Kenai Offshore Ventures, or KOV, has lost more than $30 million in revenues since September 15th of last year, when the Endeavour was originally scheduled to begin work in Cook Inlet.

The countersuit comes after a December filing by Archer in Texas court seeking $6 million in damages. In December, more than 70 workers on the Endeavour walked off the job, saying they hadn’t been paid in weeks. Archer claimed then that the Endeavour needed more work before it was transported from Singapore to Homer in 2012 and that Buccaneer’s plans were – quote – “matched neither by the funding they provided or the realities of the rig’s condition”.

The City of Homer has set a deadline of March 20th for Buccaneer to get the Endeavour out of the Harbor, so a new fender can be installed in the Deep Water Dock. The Endeavour has received permitting approval from the American Bureau of Shipping to get to work offshore of Anchor Point, but still needs clearance from the US Coast Guard. Before that can happen, though, the Coast Guard needs to look at technical drawings and other inspection certifications. Currently, Archer holds those documents.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Suit Looks To Define Ownership Of CINGSA Storage Facility

Cook Inlet Natural Gas Storage Alaska, or CINGSA, is seeking a judgment in Kenai Superior Court to clear up a property dispute. CINGSA operates the natural gas storage facility just off Bridge Access Road in Kenai.

The 24-page complaint filed last April in Kenai Superior Court seeks to clear up just who owns what in regards to the storage facility, which is actually a naturally-occurring, depleted natural gas field located beneath portions of the city of Kenai, the Kenai River and Cook Inlet.

The facility had its official opening on May 31st of 2012, when Project Manager Rick Genges explained how operations work in what’s known legally as the Sterling C Gas Storage Pool of the Cannery Loop Unit.

“Essentially, we’re just fulling up the structure once again. It originally contained about 26.5 billion feet of gas, it was a gas producing field, so it held gas over geologic time and nothing leaked out. So what we’re doing with gas storage is just filling that container up again,” he said.

The suit alleges that an amount was established which CINGSA believed constituted just compensation for the city’s property and they submitted and a good faith written offer to acquire those property interests. The two parties failed to come to a formal agreement on what just compensation is, but the city has granted CINGSA the right to enter and use the property in order to continue operations as those negotiations continued.

CINGSA also concluded that portions of the storage facility fall under the ownership of the state of Alaska and Cook Inlet Region, Incorporated, or CIRI which the city disputes, though CINGSA acknowledges that the city does own storage and mineral rights to some portions of the facility. In total, some fifteen-hundred acres are in question.

Both CIRI and the DNR entered into lease agreements with CINGSA for use of the facility.

The storage company cites in its filings both its status as a public utility and the need of its services as reasons to rule in its favor and invokes the possibility of eminent domain. The facility was designed to store natural gas produced during times of low demand, then send those reserve supplies out during peak demand times in the winter to all of South Central Alaska. CINGSA is looking to the courts to establish a price for the city property in question, if the court finds that the city holds the rights to that property.

Calls to representatives for the City and CINGSA were not immediately returned.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Sen. Micciche Back For Town Hall Meetings

Senator Peter Micciche was back on the Kenai Peninsula over the weekend, taking advantage of the halfway point in this year’s legislative session to re-connect with constituents.

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 Micciche’s town hall meeting in Homer proved to be quite popular, with a standing-room-only crowd filling the Cowles Council Chambers and lining the back wall for a chance to hear the senator speak.

Micciche gave a half-hour slideshow presentation, discussing some of the bills and issues that have been under discussion so far this session.

He said he went to Juneau with three top priorities in mind – responsible spending, reducing the drop in production of North Slope oil and developing a statewide energy plan that works for all Alaskans.

He pointed out that oil production funds more than 90-percent of state government and without a plan to slow the decline of oil production on the North Slope, the legislature is going to have some tough choices to make in the coming years.

Micciche stopped short of pledging support for Senate Bill 21, a proposal that would overhaul ACES, the state’s current tax regime on oil production.

“Whether or not I end up being in support of Senate Bill 21 is yet to be seen. We have adjusted the original bill pretty significantly, what was missing in the past was that we didn’t have a goal of where the Legislature wanted to be to be competitive, so we actually evaluated other global producing areas and found that government take around 66% was competitive, which was interesting because it’s the percentage that Jay Hammond talked about being as being fair, 33% state, 33% federal and 33% producer-take.”

Micciche said that percentage would be his guiding principle as he helps to hammer out what oil tax reform looks like at the end of the legislative process,” he said.

He found himself in trickier waters when he brought up Senate Bill 69, a controversial proposal that would define “medically necessary” abortions.

“As you know I’m pro-life. But I also don’t believe in laws in Alaska that are going to harass someone. The law of the land was decided in Roe v. WadeStill, many members of the Homer audience, including one woman who said she has been a public health nurse for 38 years – found Micciche’s support of Senate Bill 69 unsettling.”

Still, many members of the Homer audience, including one woman who said she has been a public health nurse for 38 years – found Micciche’s support of Senate Bill 69 unsettling

“It is just wrong. You cannont, as a legislator, define when a woman can have an abortion and who can pay for it. I don’t want to pay for the wars. I pay for the wars with my taxes.  People may not want to pay for somebody’s abortion. Tough. We are in this  country, in this state, together,” the woman said.

Micciche countered that Senate Bill 69 is not about whether the state would pay for abortions – it doesn’t – but what constitutes a “medically necessary” abortion under Medicaid rules.

“This is not a black and white (issue), (where) you can have abortions freely or you don’t have a right to choose. This is defining what the state pays for in Medicaid,” he said.

During a question-and-answer session that went on for more than an hour, Micciche took tough questions from the Homer audience – on the abortion issue, his vote in favor of a recent bill on cruise ship wastewater discharge and his support of another bill that would encourage nullification of federal gun laws.

When asked about his potential support for the Pebble Mine, Micciche said he has yet to make up his mind.

“I believe in mining, logging, commercial fishing, tourism, oil and gas. It’s what Alaskans do. Am I willing to trade the reason why we all live here for those industries? No I’m not. But I also don’t believe in throwing unreasonable obstacles in front of companies as we’re all trying to determine if we can support what they want to doMicciche said proponents of the Pebble Mine deserve a chance to go through the state’s regulatory process and prove that their project would not be trading pone resource for another,” he said.

Micciche’s conversation with Homer constituents was at times heated and many of his positions seemed unpopular with the crowd but he stayed and answered questions until there were none left. He said the discussion mirrored much of his early experience in the state legislature.

“What I have learned being down there is the right answer is somewhere in the middle of what I think and what someone on the other side thinks. So I am open to hearing those suggestions. You guys will make me better and the less quiet you are, the better I’ll be.”

Micciche held a similar town hall style meeting in Soldotna Saturday before returning to Juneau. This year’s legislative session is set to gavel out April 14th.

-Aaron Selbig/KBBI-


4-H Looking To Grow

Leaders with the youth development program known as 4-H are trying to expand services in Homer.

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The 4 H’s in the name represent head, heart, hands and health. And there’s even a pledge that members recite at the start of each meeting or event.

“I pledge my head to clearer thinking, My heart to greater loyalty, My hands to larger service, and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country, and my world.”

There’s at least one 4-H group in Homer at the moment. It’s a horse club. But University of Alaska Fairbanks 4-H and Youth Development Agent Jason Floyd wants to see more groups pop up on the southern peninsula. And he knows that when most people hear 4-H, they think cows, chickens and hogs.

“I’ve made it my mission to let people know that 4-H is more than just animals,” Floyd said.
There are shooting programs, orienteering, public speaking, aerospace and  there are a number of organizations in Homer that are working toward the same goal of providing an outlet for youth.

“I’m bringing the 4-H model to you today as a suggested vehicle for taking some of those efforts and bringing them together in a collaborative way with a time tested structure that hopefully will bring greater focus and greater outcomes to everyone who’s doing something with kids,” he said.
Homer was actually the birthplace of 4-H in Alaska in the 1930s. But due to state funding, the regional offices became more centralized. That meant the 4-H representative moved up to Soldotna and clubs in Homer gradually broke up. Floyd says using the resources through the Cooperative Extension Service to assist programs within the Boys and Girls Club or R.E.C. Room could make those services better. He also says if anyone has an idea for a club, all they need is the time and $6.50 to pay for the background check.
“The only way that the program can exist is on the backs of altruistically-motivated volunteers,” Floyd said.

More 4-H’ers will be in Homer again this weekend. There is a Public Presentation and Educational Display Day at Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center on Saturday. Members from across the Kenai Peninsula will be presenting. It starts at 10 a.m. and goes until 5.

-Ariel Van Cleave/KBBI-


Study Examines Human Attitudes Of Peninsula Bears

A study looking at people’s attitudes toward bears on the Kenai Peninsula has been released and for the first time, examines what humans think about human-bear interaction.

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Four-hundred-sixty-five Peninsula residents participated in Rebecca Zulueta’s 2011 study of how residents feel about brown and black bear populations here. She contacted residents Seward to Sterling and beyond and found, overall, that people have a generally positive view of our ursine neighbors.

“This is a way to really understand how people perceive brown and black bears on the Peninsula. A study of this nature hadn’t been conducted (here) before, and it’s important to understand that better so that we’re not making judgments based on nothing,” Zulueta said.

In an entry to the Kenai Wildlife Refuge Notebook at the beginning of March, Zulueta wrote that interest in this kind of study comes from a dramatic increase in the number of conflicts between bears since 2000 that have ended in bears killed in defense of life or property or DLP. And so the main question was what differences are there in the perceptions of brown and black bears in areas where DLP incidents occurred at a higher rate than other areas.

Additionally, Zulueta was trying to learn more about the frequency of sitings, the number of conflicts and the types of conflicts.

“When you take a look at those high DLP communities, we’re actually seeing more risk perception and that’s actually directed towards brown bears in particular and not black bears,” she said.

The study revealed that 80 percent of participants had a positive attitude toward both populations and that attitude was influenced by their opinion of the bear population and overall experience with bears among other factors.

Not surprisingly, there’s a correlation between higher DLP incidents and bear attractants. Areas with lots of pets or livestock outside, open trash cans, even beehives drew in more bears. Zulueta went door-to-door to gather the survey information and also conducted a basic visual survey of those areas to get a sense of how many and what kind of attractants were out.

“That was a way for me to look at whether some people that were experiencing more conflicts, if they did have more attractants on their property.

She found that 20% more of the respondents in high DLP areas also had visible bear attractants compared to respondents in low DLP areas.

Zulueta conducted her study as part of her graduate degree program through the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she earned her degree in conservation biology and sustainable development and wildlife ecology. She says the study wasn’t conducted to specifically inform management decisions, though she hopes that the information she’s gathered would be considered for such decisions, as it helps identify just how much interaction humans will condone.

“There is a concept called the ‘Social Carrying Capacity’. There comes a point at which the community will no longer tolerate a wildlife population over a certain number. And that’s similar to the carrying capacity for wildlife and habitat as well,” she said.

Zulueta’s article for the Refuge Notebook was a way to make sure the participants in the study could find out how their input was used.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Nikiski LNG Plant Going On Hold Again

ConocoPhillips’ Liquified Natural Gas plant in Nikiski will shut its doors at the end of the month.

In a statement from the company’s Communication Specialist, Amy Burnett, insufficient supplies of natural gas and the expiration of the facility’s export license were cited as the reasons for the closure.

This is the second time in as many years the plant has discontinued operations. In February 2011, the company announced it would mothball the facility, though more shipments were eventually sent out, mostly to Japan which was still in need of energy supplies following the tsunami later that year that shut down the country’s nuclear power plants.

The plant is currently operational, though in a stand-by mode, which would allow it to reopen should market conditions change.

Burnett couldn’t say what exactly the closure will mean for jobs, stating only that the plant will require ongoing maintenance and that some level of staffing will continue. In 2011, it was anticipated that as many as 60 jobs would be lost as a result of the closure.

Burnett said the company would work with employees to find other opportunities within the company.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Hospital CEO Davis Explains CPH Expansion, Affordable Care Act

A multi-million dollar expansion at Central Peninsula Hospital is in its initial design phases and will increase both the physical footprint of the hospital and the services it renders.

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Central Peninsula Hospital is growing. If all goes to plan, CPH will look much different in 2015 than it does now. By then, a new medical office building will be open and home to a wide variety of services the hospital hopes to bring the Kenai Peninsula. CPH has already brought in a specialist to deliver spinal care, and future plans include a radiation oncology unit and expanded services for cardiac and diabetic care. The hospital’s Chief Executive Officer, Rick Davis, says this growth is attributable, in part, to work done by a health care task force in 2010.

“They came out with recommendations to help us stay independent and that had implications on our lease operating agreement and our ability to grow ourselves. So I showed up back in 2011 after that had already occurred and I see it as my job to continue growing our services without the help of an outside corporation,” Davis said

The goal then, and now, is to continue to expand services while remaining a locally-owned, self-sustaining operation. That goal, at least to some degree, fits in with broader changes to the national health care landscape, specifically the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law in 2010 and now the possible expansion of Medicare and Medicaid coverage in individual states.

“It’s going to become more of a system,” he said, bridging the divide between hospitals and primary care doctors. “And that’s really the goal of the Affordable Care Act is to bring us together under one system.”

But growth at CPH has raised concerns about access and competition. What does this mean for private practice doctors?

Davis says those primary care physicians play an integral part in the hospital’s operations and that relationship continues to evolve.

“That model is changing. If you go back, even to when I was a kid, I had house calls. The doctor showed up with his black leather bag and took care of me,” Davis said.

“Obviously that model has changed, but it’s gone even further in that most primary care physicians now aren’t seeing patients in the hospital. They make their money in the clinics, not in the hospitals. So that’s a big shift in the delivery system that we’ve seen.”

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly recently approved a little over $3 million in funding for initial design for the project, which anticipated to cost around $37 million.  Because the new facility will offer medical services, a Certificate of Need will have to be submitted and approved by the state. Davis says that process has already begun and will be followed by financing the project at the Borough level.

“The Borough will be who actually drives that process, but we’ll be looking for revenue bonds which will be backed by the revenues of the hospital. It won’t be like general obligation bonds that have to be backed by the taxpayers,” Davis said.

One big question about the future of the hospital, how it will handle changes to federal health care law, depends largely on the decision of Governor Sean Parnell to accept an expansion of Medicare and Medicaid or opt out of that plan. The divide between states that are participating and not is drawn mostly along party lines, with Democrats mostly choosing to accept the expansion and many Republican governors opting out.

“But now the Republican governors are starting to reconsider and opt in to the expansion piece of the program. Governor Parnell is evaluating it. He has until the end of the year to really make a final decision, so he’s going through his due diligence and we’re hopeful he decides to do it,” Davis said.

For hospitals, there’s really no downside to the expansion. Each patient who has coverage is one less patient who falls into the charity care category.

Davis made his comments on this week’s episode of the Coffee Table, which aired on KDLL and KBBI.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


2nd Amendment Supporters Rally For Nullification

About 300 people turned out for a rally Monday night in Kenai supporting the legal theory of nullification.

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Those gathered at Renee C. Henderson Auditorium at Kenai Central High School Monday night were largely in agreement about the idea of nullification, the theory that states can decide for themselves if a federal law is constitutional or not, with the statement most closely resembling dissent coming in the form of a question of how to prove the theory in light of more than 200 years of judicial decisions against it.

That was the question of the evening. Whether by nullification or some other means, how do citizens protect themselves from federal overreach?

After the speeches and presentations, Nikiski High School instructor Bob Bird said  the key in making nullification a reality is education.

“The internet does it. Frankly, that’s what does it. And then you can go ahead and then you can ahead and check and see is he (author Thomas Woods) lying or not. We can read Jefferson’s and Madison’s documents. Nobody disputes it. I read about (nullification) in college and in high school, but it never was explained to me. And I think that there’s an awful lot of new ground that we can be getting rid of the false paradigm of left and right. I think we’re all in this boat together,” Bird said.

Using the internet, Bird invited the aforementioned Woods, author of the book ‘Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century’ to address the audience via skype. He gave a short history of nullification as both a practical defense against the federal government, pointing again to Sheriffs who have refused to enforce federal law and as an exercise in legal thought dating back to 18th century writings of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

“But basically what we’re doing by supporting this idea is breaking all the rules of American political discourse where just sit back and do whatever the New York Times tells us we’re permitted to do. Well that hasn’t worked for us. That was designed not to work for us. So I say it’s about time we tried something different and at the same time we get to drive the gatekeepers of approved opinion crazy, and I say that’s a fantastic combination,” Woods told the crowd to a round of applause.

The panel onstage was focused less on the theory of nullification and more on perceived threats to our second amendment rights. Anchorage attorney Wayne Anthony Ross, a former Vice President of the National Rifle Association led the way on that topic. Ross also holds the distinction of being the only cabinet nominee of an Alaskan governor not to be confirmed by the state legislature following nomination as the state’s Attorney General by Sarah Palin in 2009.

“We need to remember those famous phrases: One if by land, two if by sea. The British are coming, and The Shot Heard Round the World. But they weren’t uttered because of excessive taxes and they weren’t uttered because of lack of representation. Instead, those phrases arose and the actual American Revolution began because the government attempted to take away the guns of Americans,” Ross said.

Other panelists included Seymour Mills, introduced as a law historian, who spoke about his experience rallying support for the second amendment which dates back to the passage of the 1968 Gun Control Act. A former Marine and combat veteran, Justin Giles of Wasilla addressed similar concerns on the panel. And Wyoming Representative Kendell Kroeker also spoke via Skype. Kroeker drafted legislation in Wyoming similar to Alaska’s HB 69 and HB 83 which are basically nullification bills.

Though strident support of the 2nd Amendment was the reason most of the panelists took the stage, for Bird, it’s a more basic question of freedom and informing ourselves.

“Education. That’s it. And that’s all I am; a teacher. I’m not a militia leader, I’m not a very good politician, but I’ve got a message. And the message is: Ladies and gentleman, we’re about to lose our freedom. Is it worth fighting for? And before you know which side you’re going to pick, you’ve got to unlearn. And that itself is power. You can’t be fooled anymore, they hate that!” Bird said with a laugh.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


City of Kenai Finalizing Comprehensive Plan

The process to finalize the city of Kenai’s comprehensive plan is winding down. The city’s planning and zoning commission has signed off on the plan, but there will be more time for public input before it gets approval from the Borough.

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Imagine Kenai 2030 is the name of the comprehensive plan that will outline what areas of the city will be used for what purposes over the coming years. Developing the plan has taken more than two years, included hundreds of written comments from the public and several public meetings.

“They’ve had 24 work sessions that the public has been involved in, there were meetings with businesses, with native groups in the area, strategic planning meetings, probably 30 to 40 different kinds of outreach that have been accomplished,” said Kenai City Manager Rick Koch.

“All that gets distilled down into what the Planning and Zoning Commission sees as the vision of the future for the next 20 years.”

An area of the plan that has arguably received the most scrutiny from the public is the rezoning of the area along Beaver Loop Road. The new plan classifies that area as mixed use, whereas the old plan defined it as rural residential. Many residents have voiced concerns about too many businesses opening up in the area and the potential for increased traffic in a relatively quiet neighborhood, but Koch said any businesses that do make homes in that area will operate in a relatively small space, limiting the kind of business activity that could be expected.

“Low traffic and low impact businesses could locate in areas that also have some residential component,” Koch said. “When I think of that, probably the best example is in Soldotna in the area by the Hospital. There are places that are houses that have a doctor’s office or an accountants office and that’s an example of mixed use,” he said.

That’s not quite the case for land adjacent to the Spur Highway, though.

“They did leave the multi-use designation…for the Spur Highway. I think that will be a point of disagreement in front of the Council and the Council will have to decide if they think that that’s a broad enough application, looking far enough into the future, that it either does or does not identify a likely future use of that area.”

Koch stressed that a comp plan isn’t necessarily the exact blue print of what the city will look like in the future, and some features of the plan may never come to fruition.

” (In) one of the very first comprehensive plans, the city airport was supposed to be south of the Kenai River by the VIP subdivision area. Many things don’t happen that might be envisioned at the time. That doesn’t mean it was a bad plan. Conditions change, economics change…it’s a dynamic process,” Koch said.

The city council is tentatively scheduled to vote on the plan at its March 20th meeting. From there, the plan goes to the Borough planning commission and finally on to the Borough Assembly for final approval, with opportunities for public input at each step.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Ninilchik Woman Found Dead In Field

An investigation is underway by the Alaska State Troppers in the death of a Ninilchik
woman.

No foul play is suspected in the death of 40-year old Kathy Kvasnikoff, who was found in a Ninilchik field Wednesday afternoon by a passer-by who notified the
Troopers.

“Essentially, we just don’t know what she was doing or how she came to be there,” said Troopers spokesperson Megan Peters. “And while things don’t appear suspicious, we still need to do our investigation and see if that’s the case,” she said.

Michael Armstrong of the Homer News reported Thursday that Kvasnikoff came from a longtime Ninilchik family with roots going back to the original 19th century settlement of the community.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

 


HEA Soldotna Turbine Project Suffers Setback

The Homer Electric Association’s Combustion Turbine project in Soldotna is
experiencing a setback in its progress as HEA awaits completion of a generator stack. As a result, HEA terminated its agreement with project contractor NAES in an effort to mitigate financial risk to both parties.

HEA spokesperson Joe Gallagher says  despite the contractual split, the two parties have worked well together to this point, and the project had been slightly ahead of schedule to this point. He says it didn’t make much sense to keep crews waiting around for delivery of materials when that delivery date isn’t known.

The combustion turbine project is just one part of HEA’s Independent Light initiative,
which will see the cooperative generate all of its own power beginning in 2014. Additional generating capacity at the plant in Nikiski along with the Bernice Lake unit HEA purchased from Chugach Electric in 2011 will be the source for all that power. Gallagher says efforts toward more renewable energy sources continue as well including a proposed five megawatt hydro project at Grant Lake and a tidal energy capture project in Cook Inlet near the East Forelands. That would be a small scale, 100-kilowatt pilot project used as kind of a feasibility study to see if the technology would work on a larger scale.