Seldovia Family Passing Through Kenai Along 800-Mile Cook Inlet Adventure

Erin McKittirick (left) and Bretwood (Hig) Higman break for a photo op with Mt. Spurr in the background. They're one month into 4 month journey that will take them around the perimeter of Cook Inlet with their two-year old Lituya (sleeping) and four-year old Katmai.

 

The adventures of Seldovia’s Higman-McKittirick family continued into the Central Peninsula over the weekend. They are one month into a journey that is taking them 800 miles around the shores of Cook Inlet.

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With the 4 year old Katmai and 2 year old Lituya bundled up, it was time to hit the beach for another day of hiking along Cook Inlet. I met up with the family as they were leaving the house of some friends who put them up for the night a few miles down from the mouth of the Kenai River. A quick goodbye and we were on our way.

I imagine planning and executing an 800-mile trek, mostly through uninhabited wilderness, would be a tall enough order. Factor in the needs of two toddlers and the obvious question is Why do you do it?

“We love the experience, we love being out there…that experience of moving through a landscape,” said Erin McKittirick.

“The other half of it is that as we started doing more and more of these trips, we were really struck by how educational they were, even unintentionally. We would always learn so many things, and so now it’s kind of explicitly part of our mission is to have the experience but also learn as much as we can,” she said.

Dad Bretwood Higman, who goes by Hig, says despite the long spans out in the bush, this trip, especially the first half, will introduce them to lots of new faces.

No matter where they are, though, unique challenges pop up almost daily.

“The challenge yesterday was ‘Wow, if we had to camp, there’s not much beach and we’d be in someone’s yard, but that’s pretty easy to deal with…The big challenge for us in those remote areas is how, with such limited capacity to carry stuff and with the two kids (who) eat a lot, how do we carry enough food? It’s that simple,” Hig said.

They’re planning to write a book about their journey when it’s done, probably sometime in late July. Erin says the picture they hope to paint for people is the one that shows itself over the course of 800 miles and not the one they’d imagined before leaving.

“One of the things we’ve really been focusing on this trip is…asking everyone that we meet ‘What is the future of both their community and Alaska as a whole?’. And you get a lot of interesting answers.”

“One big thing that seems to come up over and over again is both people noting and concerned about fish. I would say that’s probably one of the bigger ones.”

They’ve kept close to their estimated schedule, so far, and should be in the Nikiski area by Wednesday. They’ll reach Anchorage toward the end of May. You can follow the progress of the trip and see photos on their blog which also includes a map that shows exactly where they are on their path.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Public Hearings Scheduled For Cook Inlet Wastewater Discharge Permit.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is seeking public comment for a new permit it would grant for mobile oil and gas exploration facilities in the state-controlled waters of Cook Inlet.

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Two things happened that made DEC want to draw up a new permit for energy companies in Cook Inlet: In October of last year, the state was given more control over permitting and enforcement of the Clean Water Act by being granted primacy. So DEC is now the lead agency for water protection in Cook Inlet, basically from Kalgin Island north. And then, the parts of the old permit, which actually expired in 2011, were undergoing some legal review.

“So because it it was under appeal, we couldn’t reissue the full permit,” said DEC Water, Oil and Gas section manager Gerry Brown.

“There were portions of that (permit) that weren’t appealed, and that was the exploration portion. So the production portion of that permit was the part of that…that we basically couldn’t renew,” he said.

The EPA will develop its own permitting for nearby federally-controlled waters. The draft of the state permit isn’t a whole lot different than the one it might replace. Companies still submit plans for best management practices, environmental studies and reports and drilling fluids plans.

“From the state’s side, most of these modifications have to do with our taking over primacy and clarifying a lot of the

            DEC is taking its proposed permit around for a series of public hearings, starting Monday night in Kenai. It’s likely that much of the input will be focused on the kinds of discharge the permitting allows. As it’s drafted, the permit allows discharge of drilling fluids and drill cuttings, excess cement slurry and deck drainage. But not within 4,000 meters, about two and a half miles, of sensitive environmental areas or special management areas, like coastal marsh or river mouths. A number of state critical habitat areas are located within the permitting zone: Kalgin Island, Redoubt Bay, Clam Gulch and Kachemak Bay. Studies continue, but there’s not much out there about the specific effects these chemicals might have on marine life when discharged. A 2010 study for the National Marine Fisheries Service found that relevant information was limited or absent for how the majority of emerging chemicals and products affect Beluga whales.

DEC will be in Kenai for public hearings Monday April 29th at the Visitor’s Center from 6-9 pm. The following night in Homer at the Island and Ocean Visitor’s Center and May 2nd in Anchorage. The public comment period runs until May 22nd.


Soldotna Hosts Youth Leadership Camp

Future community leaders from across Alaska and the Yukon will be in Soldotna for a three day camp and seminar known as RYLA this weekend.

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RYLA stands for Rotary Youth Leadership Award. It’s an annual camp sponsored by Rotary but designed by student alumni of the program; high school juniors and seniors.

Arianna Horner attended last year’s conference from Nome. For her, the skills and perspective picked up at RYLA fill a void back home.

“Nobody in my community has really stepped up to fill a leadership position in my grade. Sometimes I feel like I’m in a grade of rascals and no one wants to take ownership and responsibility ,” she said.

The focus this year is on social issues affecting teens, like bullying and suicide. Kids at the camp work with adults who share that civic-mindedness, to help sharpen leadership skills in dealing with tough issues. Adults like Timi Tullis.

“I think that Rotarians are servant-leaders and they want to make sure that they’re instilling…that leadership. They want people who…understand the importance of ‘it’s not just about me, it’s about our whole community and everyone in it’,” she said.

Sixty students are expected for this year’s RYLA. The theme is Peace Through Service, so the kids will spend lots of time volunteering locally. At the Food Bank, Leeshore Center and the Kenai Watershed Forum.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Troopers Investigating Break Ins On Big Eddy Road

Alaska State Troopers are looking for information regarding recent burglaries in Soldotna. Trooper Ethan Norwood says the break-ins happened last week at homes along Big Eddy Road.

“We were notified on April 16th that multiple properties had been forcefully entered and certain things had been stolen, mainly vehicle parts and fishing gear,” he said.

The owner of the property is in California, so Troopers have no way of telling exactly what went missing or its value. The initial estimate is a few hundred dollars. Norwood says even though this wasn’t a primary residence, it wasn’t necessarily more vulnerable to a break in.

The stolen items could be up for sale someplace and that’s where Troopers are looking.

“It’s very possible that whoever took the property is trying to sell it, so I would just ask that people pay close attention and know fair market value of what they’re buying. If it seems oddly cheap, just give us a heads up,” he said.

There’s a reward of $1,000 for information leading to a conviction of the burglars. You can call the Troopers at 262-4453.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Kenai Comp Plan Could Go To Referendum

The Kenai City Council voted to move the city’s comprehensive plan on to the Borough Planning Commission, but other obstacles may lie ahead before final passage of ‘Imagine Kenai 2030’.

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The council spent nearly 3 hours hammering out the final details of the comprehensive plan at its meeting last week. A couple council members were hoping for one more pushback, but it did eventually pass. The following day, though, a petition was filed with the Clerk’s office to put a referendum on Ordinance 2681-2013.

The petitioners have a month to get the mandatory number of signatures; 25 percent of the total number of people who voted in the last election.

“So in this case, the 2012 election had 810 votes cast, so they would need 203 sufficient signatures, which means they have to be registered voters of the city of Kenai,” said Kenai City Clerk Sandra Modigh.

Mark Schrag filed the paperwork on April 18th. I couldn’t get in touch with him before deadline for this story, but he’s been a vocal opponent of this plan, and had this to say back in February when we were talking with Kenai City Manager Rick Koch on Coffee Table:

“I keep hearing ‘this is just a plan’ and ‘it’s fluid’ and stuff like that and so the growth that Kenai’s had (with the) big box stores came under the old plan and that hasn’t really stopped anything,” Schrag said. “Some of the people executing, they retire, they’ll be gone, but those of us that live in town, those of us that are affected by it, I feel like we weren’t given a real good seat tat the table,” he said.

Provided the 203 signatures are found and verified, the referendum could go before voters this October.

If the plan continues down its current path, it has a date with the Borough Planning and Zoning commission. That would likely happen by the end of the year and include public hearings. After that, on to the Borough Assembly for more public hearings before a final vote to make it the official plan for the City of Kenai. Or not.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Native Sites Represent Past, Present and Future

There is an effort underway to preserve some key cultural sites around the Central Peninsula. KDLL’s Shaylon Cochran visited the Kalifornsky Village Friday to hear a lecture from Kenai Peninsula College anthropologist Dr. Alan Boraas and learn more about the significance of these places.

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-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Chenault Looks Back On Legislative Session

Legislators are settling back in to their home districts following the as-scheduled conclusion of the legislative session. House Speaker Mike Chenault offered his thoughts on 90 days in Juneau.

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The Republican from Nikiski is back home and seems pleased with the work done in Juneau.

“A lot of work got done because not only the Senate, but the House felt that they had some movement from the Alaskan public on what they wanted to see done. The Senate hit the ground running for a change and from day one, we’re having meetings on oil and gas issues that have been stalled or stymied in the legislature for a number of years now,” Chenault said.

The Speaker’s own HB 4 fits into that category. It’s awaiting a signature from Governor Sean Parnell. If he signs it, the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation will have a directive to come up with a project to get North Slope gas to southcentral. Next question: where does the line end up? Cook Inlet or Valdez?

“The buyers of of the gas and the sellers of the gas who are going to enter in to those 30-year commitments in order to pay for this project; they’ll determine where they want that gas delivered to,” he said.

“Why should the legislature weigh in on that, and give the legislature a chance to screw up an economical project that would start moving gas off the North Slope,” he asked.

Another game-changing piece of energy legislation was SB 21, known as oil tax reform to some and a Big-Oil giveaway to others. Chenault says if it doesn’t work as intended and we don’t see an increase in production and revenues, lawmakers will go back to the drawing board.

“Well I think if they don’t make investment in Alaska, you’ll see the legislature take this issue up again fairly quickly. But I think you’ll start seeing announcements that about investments they’re going to bring back to Alaska versus investing in areas where they stood to make more money,” Chenault said.

And there was his other headline-grabbing piece of legislation, HB 69.

“Certainly I think that Alaskans feel that the federal government is infringing on their Second Amendment rights and that’s what House Bill 69 dealt with.”

It would deal with it by prohibiting local governments from doing anything to institute certain federal firearms regulations. HB 69 is sort of a cousin to Chenault’s House Resolution 12. That one encourages firearms and ammunition manufacturers to come to Alaska, and could bear some fruit. Gunmakers aren’t feeling too at home in other parts of the country.

“If other states don’t want you like Colorado or Connecticut, Alaska’s interested in you coming to Alaska,” Chenault said.

He said he’s writing a letter to gun manufacturer Colt expressing an interest in bringing operations here.

Chenault isn’t sure what else could be done at the state level to encourage the gun industry to begin calling Alaska home, but that we could benefit from the hundreds of manufacturing jobs it supports.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Birding Season About To Take Flight

The Spruce Grouse is a common spring sight around the Kenai Peninsula

 

As the snow pack slowly fades away, the Kenai Peninsula becomes an attractive spot for birds, and bird lovers. The spring birding season is just around the corner with lots of activities and species to keep an eye out for.

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Winter has been trying to hand on for a few extra weeks this year, which has pushed back the arrival of some species of birds we can usually look forward to seeing around this time. Ken Tarbox is one of the area’s many birding ambassadors. He says the Keen-Eye birders had to shelve their April meeting because there just won’t be much to look for.

“Usually at this time of the year we have some of the flats pretty well exposed and some ponds, of course, it’s all frozen up tight right now, so there’s really no place for the water fowl to land,” Tarbox said. “The nice thing about birds (is) they will show up, it’s just a matter of patience.”

The list of activities for people on the Peninsula and visitors to it is always changing. We may not see so many king salmon fishers or moose hunters any more, but wildlife viewing, especially birding, continues to grow in popularity, especially over the past decade.

“We have the Kenai Peninsula Wildlife Viewing Trail that has 65 sites that’s just been developed in the last decade, and that’s bringing people here because we have a variety of animals they can see (in addition to) the 270-plus species of birds,” Tarbox said.

The really hard-core birders, the Listers, the folks who are trying to cross off as many different species of birds as they can from around the world, are also turning the Kenai to catch a glimpse of some of those rare flyers, like the small Siberian Accentor, seen in January in Seward.

“We had people flying up from Texas and from all over the country to see that bird.”

In addition to people seeking out visitors from other parts of the world, Tarbox says our resident species here offer just as much for people who run in other birding circles.

Many of them will likely be seen along the rivers and streams and lakes of the Central Peninsula during the Kenai Birding Festival next month. Tarbox says they’re going to be extra diligent watching for eagles, geese, gulls and hundreds of other species with a new program called The Big Sit. For 24 straight hours, someone will be monitoring the skies from the Kenai Boat Launch.

The Kenai Birding Festival is May 16th-19th. You can check out the the website for a full run down of events over the weekend, recent sightings and more.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Assembly Extinguishes Fireworks Ordinance

Seward Volunteer Fire Department Chief Dave Squires addresses the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly Tuesday in Seward.

 

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly had its annual meeting in Seward Tuesday night. An ordinance to liberalize the use of fireworks in the Borough was the hot topic.

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The Borough prohibits the use of fireworks without a special permit from the Mayor’s office, but it can’t do all that much in the way of enforcement. This ordinance, co-sponsored by Assembly members Brent Johnson and Kelly Wolf, sought to give residents a legal window of time in December and January for an activity that happens illegally anyway.

“Somebody specifically came to me, a fellow from Homer, came to me and said ‘why are you making me a lawbreaker? I go up to Caribou Lake and every year and my family shoots off fireworks’ And when I thought well, he’s going to shoot them off whether we make it legal or don’t make it legal. Furthermore, I thought of this: during the summer, I see a lot of people shooting off fireworks. And I thought if I can give these people a time when it’s legal to shoot them off, maybe they’d quit (doing it) in the summer when it’s a worse time to shoot them off,” Johnson said.

He laid out his reasoning for crafting the ordinance after several people spoke in opposition to it; residents who simply don’t like the noise, animal advocates speaking for pets who certainly don’t like the noise, and Bear Creek Volunteer Fire Department Chief Dave Beals, who fought back tears as he recalled for the Assembly a July 4th incident that resulted in the death of one child and serious injuries to two others.

“Some adults and their family were going up the road, put some fireworks in the back of their truck. The fireworks went off. Three kids were trapped in the vehicle…one of those children died and two were permanently injured. This is something I never want to see,” Beals said.

Seward Volunteer Fire Department Chief Dave Squires also opposed the ordinance, citing safety and oversight concerns.

“Everybody always wants to have a do-over when there’s a problem. This is your chance, you’re at that part right now. You have this do-over. I urge you not to do this…you have saved lives and you have saved injuries by setting a boundary for people to follow,” Squires said.

The measure’s other sponsor, Kelly Wolf, also decided to vote against the ordinance in the end, but not without some reservation considering individual liberties.

“I co-sponsored this ordinance because of the fact that last January, New Year’s Eve, I laid in bed and listened to an hour and a half of fireworks and guns going off.  Do we ban guns? I do believe that we are infringing on our liberties, that the government is stepping on its people,” Wolf said, complimenting Johnson’s work on the ordinance.

Assembly member Bill Smith’s thoughts on the matter echoed much of the Assembly, that the current prohibition serves as a deterrent for behavior that can’t always be observed by Wildlife Troopers, who perform most of the enforcement of the ordinance, and that there is an avenue by which to have fireworks displays that goes through a permitting process with area fire chiefs and the Mayor’s office.

“Basically, what a lot of fireworks are, is it’s a public nuisance for private pleasure…I think that having the ordinance on the books is at best a modest deterrence, but if people know that the act is not permitted, then I would hope that they would think that they need to be extra careful because they’re doing something they know has inherent hazards,” Smith said.

The measure fell with a unanimous vote in opposition, leaving the Borough’s fireworks prohibition in place. The Assembly pushed back until its May 7th meeting a decision on instituting a fiscal note policy for legislation.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


New Charter School Will Focus On Outdoor, Arts Education

 

Plans for a new charter school in Kenai are taking shape. There are still lots of details left to work out for the Greatland Adventure Academy charter school, but enrollment has begun and the search for teachers is on.

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Greatland Adventure Academy will join the Districts four other charter schools next fall, offering courses for 7th and 8th grade students. Like all charter schools, this one will offer courses teaching to the same standards as any other public school, but with different techniques, namely, getting students outside to put to practice those skills developed in the classroom. Teresa Moyer is on the school’s Academic Policy Committee, and says Greatland Adventure’s model is focused on three areas: outdoor education, physical education and the arts.

“A lot of things fell together at the same time. One is outdoor education, and we had gotten to go see Richard Louv, who wrote the book ‘Last Child in the Woods’ about getting kids outside and how it enhances our educational potential for all of us, really; to spend time not just outside on a soccer field, but really out in the woods,” she said.

The model at Greatland, which is similar to the one at the Watershed School in Fairbanks, also plays into a current push by the state of Alaska to put more of an emphasis on environmental literacy.

“That’s all happening at the same time, so on a statewide level and really on a national level, teachers and educators and parents and scientists…are really seeing the benefits of getting kids outdoors,” Moyer said.

A more focused physical education program is also in the works, along with more opportunities for students to develop skills in the arts.

“There’s been so much research done about kids who have musical opportunities and are able to be in band; what that does in your brain and feeds your whole self. Your soul, your emotions, your intellect. And then the arts, as in creative arts; colors and shapes and all the things that make our lives richer, we want to include that component as well.”

Enrollment opened last week, and already Moyer says they’ve almost hit the ceiling for the number of students they will serve. The search for teachers has begun as well.

“We are working through that. We have the standard job application for the District, but because our Charter is a little unique, in that teachers will be doing a lot of outdoor learning and teaching and movement, we want to make sure that fits the teachers that we hire,” Moyer said.

The standards set by the state can make the process of getting a charter approved challenging, since the state makes no distinction between new and existing charters.

“A lot of the questions, we had to project into the future how we would deal with certain situations which makes it somewhat difficult when you’re just starting out and getting formulated,” Moyer said.

Aside from staffing teachers, Greatland Academy is still finalizing a location for its classrooms. One possibility is the Log Cabin Inn south of Kenai on K-Beach Road, and the Academic Policy Committee is still working out details on the school day, which Moyer says will likely be split between indoor and outdoor class time.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Fiscal Notes Would Outline Cost/Benefit On Borough Legislation

 

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly will take up a resolution at its meeting this week that would give the Assembly a more complete picture of the financial impacts of certain policy and legislative actions.

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After more than a year on the backburner, the idea of fiscal notes, or forms attached to pending ordinances and resolutions that outline the costs that would be associated with them, or potential savings, has made its way before the Assembly. President Linda Murphy, a co-sponsor of the resolution along with Kelly Wolf, said she’s been discussing it with Mayor Mike Navarre off and on in that time and wanted his administration’s input on the issue.

“I waited this long because I wanted something the Mayor and his staff could live with and something that wasn’t so onerous that we would be defeating the purpose by creating something that would take hours and hours and hours to put together,” Murphy said.

It will take some work to put together that information and those duties would fall to the department responsible for enforcing or overseeing the legislation or proposal in questions, for instance, Murphy says if the assessing department was proposing to add more appraisers to their staff, then the assessing department would come forward to the Mayor and to the Finance Director and say ‘here’s what we’re proposing, here’s what it would cost in dollars for additional personnel,’ and, also, the flip side; the benefit of incurring new costs.

“Perhaps we’ll be able to reassess properties on a more timely basis and perhaps we would generate more property tax revenues because we’re more efficient in the way we’re doing the appraisals around the Borough. And so we would want all of those numbers: what it’s going to cost, what it’s going to save, what new revenue we might anticipate.”

Murphy said she’s spoken with Finance Director Craig Chapman, whose department would assist in putting together the fiscal notes, and was told that the time needed to put together these financial dossiers would depend on the size and scope of the legislation.

“For most legislation, we’re talking a couple hours to put together the information we’ll need. For some really involved legislation it may take longer, but the more involved the legislation and the more involved the programs, I think the more we need the information,” Murphy said.

The general intent of a fiscal note is to simply make it easier for Assembly members and the public to see the financial costs and benefits of a particular policy or administrative change. But the numbers listed on fiscal notes might not always reflect the final cost and Murphy says she doesn’t want to “tie the hands of the administration.”

“I mean, perhaps the administration will come forward with something and they’ll say ‘this new program is going to result in one additional staff person at this cost to the Borough’, and then they implement the program and they find out they need two people. I don’t want this to be a way for the Assembly or the public to say ‘oh, you just made that other number up’. Things change, and we all realize that. But I also want people to have some idea of what the cost of new programs are before they’re implemented,” Murphy said.

The proposed resolution includes a number of considerations for determining whether legislation is anticipated to have a financial impact, including cost of implementation, capital, operating and maintenance costs, impact on existing programs and the impact of not passing the legislation.

The Assembly will make a decision on the resolution at its annual Seward meeting, Tuesday night at 6.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Hilcorp Looking For Oil In 2013, Aurora Sets Sights On Nicolai Creek

Map of Ninilchik Unit. Hilcorp intends to drill for oil on the Susan Dionne pad this summer.

The summer drilling season is getting closer and operators in Cook Inlet have big plans for 2013.

Hilcorp has submitted a request to amend its operations plan for its projects in the Ninilchik unit, onshore about 40 miles north of Homer. The amended plan calls for the drilling of up to two oil wells. Currently, Hilcorp is permitted to do gas drilling work at this sight. The first would be a 12,000 foot exploratory well, with the possibility of a second if it proves successful. In its plan submitted to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Hilcorp says it may need to expand the existing drilling pad to accommodate a new drill rig and will determine in the next month if gravel will have to come from nearby wetlands, which would need a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. The plan calls for 24-hour a day drilling as soon as the drill rig can be located on site, possibly as early as next month. The company anticipates completion of the well in 60 days, with testing going on for an additional 90 days. Hilcorp will construct a temporary truck loading facility to transport the oil from the six 400-barrel storage tanks it will have onsite, with two to four loads being transported daily.

Another company, Aurora Gas LLC, has filed for permits to drill on the West side of Cook Inlet at Nicolai Creek, about 10 miles south of Tyonek. Aurora is another independent exploration and production company and has been in Cook Inlet since 2011. Their plans for Nicolai Creek include both new and old wells and updating infrastructure in the area including 700 feet of gravel road and a 60,000 square foot well pad. Updating that infrastructure will take about 3 weeks, according to Aurora’s plan filed with the DNR and another four weeks to drill its well. Aurora also intends to build a gathering line to transport gas to the Cook Inlet Gas Gathering System Pipeline for sales to Kenai or Anchorage.

Representatives for both Hilcorp and Aurora did not immediately return phone calls for this story.

 

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


“Lear Khehkwaii” marries classic Shakespeare, Athabascan Gwich’in Languages

L to R: Rebecca Eddy (Goneril) and Allan Hayton (Lear Khehkwaii) on stage at Wednesday's performance of "Lear Khehkwaii" by the Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre at SoHi

The Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre troupe made a stop in Soldotna High School Wednesday evening for a performance of Lear Khehkwaii, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear that integrates the Gwich’in language. As KDLL’s Shaylon Cochran reports, the play was developed as a means to bring attention to and preserve native cultures and languages.

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The 90 minute production follows very closely the famous Shakespearean tragedy and in its unique way, marries two distinct languages that are each struggling to find their place in the modern world, the Gwich’in dialect of the Athebascan culture and the Elizebethan dialect of early modern English culture. Allan Hayton is Gwich’in Athebascan and translated King Lear, first from the original Elizabethan, then to English, and finally into Gwich’in.

 The adapted version takes place in 1860’s Alaska, a period of time chosen because it was when the Gwich’in people were first being introduced to European cultures and languages, largely through the King James version of the Bible, first written in Shakespeare’s time.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Zelinsky Quintet Returns To KPC

Rick Zelinsky. Photo courtesy icygrooves.com

 

The Rick Zelinksy Jazz Quintet is back on the Kenai this weekend for their second performance at Kenai Peninsula College.

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Zelinsky returns for a second year as a featured act for the Performing Arts Society, bringing a varied mix of jazz styles with his five-piece group, which isn’t the most common setup for a jazz ensemble.

“We’ve got a really nice group. I’m playing the soprano, alto, tenor  and baritone saxophones. I’m bringing my friend and extremely talented trumpeter Pat Owens, who will also be playing flugelhorn. Tom Bargelski is the preeminent jazz pianist here in Alaska. We’ve got Dirk Westfall on bass, then we’ve got Brandon Cockburn, he’s our drummer, and he came up from New Orleans,” Zelinskiy said in a phone interview.

Several of his playing partners have worked with him in the recording studio as well, cutting tracks like this jazz-rock tune, Mental Continuum, off of his 2012 album “Be Like the Sun”.

In addition to performing on a regular basis with trios, quartets and other ensembles, Zelinsky teaches beginning band in the Anchorage school district and teaches saxophone at UAA He studied under Howie Smith at Cleveland State University, earning both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in saxophone while picking up the classical techniques that allow him to perform such a wide array of traditional and contemporary jazz styles. And, he says that time onstage benefits his students in the class room.

“I’ve really studied a lot, so I know lots of tips and secrets to get the kids started off. And then I also like to be able to be a person that’s reached a high level of playing, so I can share the music with them. I let the students know about my concerts and some of them come out and here me and I think it’s a great way to be a teacher; is to lead by example.”

The set list for Sunday includes lots of originals, and some covers as well.  Zelinky’s influences for his original compositions include many of the usual suspects, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk, but also some maybe less well-known artists like Gerry Mulligan and Sonny Rollins.

The Rick Zelinsky Jazz Quintet takes the stage this Sunday in the Ward Building at KPC at 3pm with tickets available at the door. And you can learn more about Zelinky’s other work and records at his website, icygrooves.com.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


City Proposes More Drift Only Days On Kenai River

The Kenai City Council has already begun putting together suggestions for the Board of Fisheries ahead of its next meeting that will deal with local issues in January of 2014.

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At its last meeting on April 3rd, the Council approved a resolution to send a proposal to the state Board of Fisheries that might help with the turbidity issue on the Kenai River. The idea is to introduce more opportunities for no-motorized drift boats to get out on the river in May, June and July. Council Member Bob Molloy says the measure passed unanimously after recommendation by the Harbor Commission.

“The Council authorized the City Manager to submit a proposal to add an additional drift-only day, but, the difference would be that for this one, guides would be allowed to fish also…whereas (with) the current situation with Monday drift-only days, guides are not allowed to fish,” Molloy said.

If adopted by the Board of Fisheries, the proposal would allow drift boats on the river on Thursdays from the Warren Ames Bridge upstream to the outlet of Skilak Lake. Molloy says the proposal the City is sending off is a way to address turbidity problems on the Kenai River, similar to when two-stroke motors were banned on the river several years ago.

“What our concern was, and the purpose was, is to protect the Kenai River from the adverse impacts and effects on water from motor vessel discharges. There have been studies done that show that a high level of turbidity in the water is related to a high level of motor vessel traffic,” Molloy said.

The study he’s referring to is a November 2012 study by the Kenai Watershed Forum that showed a link between more turbid water and high boat traffic. During the course of that study, conducted between 2008 and 2010, peak boat usage was pegged at 700 boats on a single day on the lower river. That many boats stirring up sediments in an already active river raises concerns about water quality standards, and in fact, those turbidity levels exceed standards set by the Department of Environmental Conservation for protection of fish and wildlife, though not consistently enough to earn classification as an impaired water body just yet. The proposal adopted by the Council is one of the few ways in which the City of Kenai can influence management decisions for Kenai River fisheries.

“Because the river and the salmon runs are so important to the city and the residents for personal (use) and recreation and sportfishing, commercial fishing and fish processing, we do need to comment. And as everyone knows, we’re affected by the dipnet fishery that’s a state fishery and we have to manage that, so we want to try and have our voice heard with the Board of Fisheries so they can consider those viewpoints in what they decide to do for regulation,” Molloy said.

The Board of Fisheries will take up this and dozens of other proposals when it meets for two weeks in Anchorage next January for the Upper Cook Inlet Finfish meeting.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


School Board Meeting To Discuss Teacher Contracts

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School Board will meet today to discuss and possibly approve new contracts for the district’s teachers and staff. Members of the teachers’ and employees’ unions had until Sunday to give the agreement an up or down vote.

It took 14 months of negotiations, one arbitrator and one month of consideration from the employees and teachers in the school district to get to this point. If union members agree to the terms of the contract, the school board could approve the agreement.

The three-year contracts, which technically start in 2012, include changes in health care benefits and annual raises. In the first year the district picks up 80 percent of health care costs. By the second year, the district’s share stretches to 83 percent with a final share in the last year of the three-year agreement standing at 85 percent. The agreement also would allow for a 2 percent annual bump in salary.

Superintendent Dr. Steve Atwater has said the district was anticipating the extra costs for next year’s spending plan, but there would need to be a slight adjustment. During last week’s regular school board meeting, Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones mentioned officials increased the budget by 542,489 dollars in light of the agreement. The district’s total general fund expenditures for next year now stands at roughly 149.3 million dollars. That spending plan was approved last week by the school board.

The administration also planned to look back at last year’s budget to figure out how the increased costs affected the district’s finances. Jones says officials do not have those numbers yet, but when they get the final figures they will determine if a revision would be necessary.

Kenai Peninsula Education Association President LaDawn Druce said at the time of the tentative agreement that the union officials would have nine meetings with members to ensure everyone was informed of what was included in the new contract. Voting for the agreement opened April 1st and because the majority of the voting happens online, Druce says the results will be immediate. The school board will use its special meeting Tuesday morning at 11 a.m. to decide how to move forward.

-Ariel Van Cleave/KBBI-


$50M Set Aside For Kenai Peninsula Projects

The Alaska State Senate passed its version of the 2014 capital budget Saturday, marking a total of just under $1.9 billion dollars for transportation, energy and public works projects around the state. The budget contains funding for many projects on the Kenai Peninsula.
The Senate Finance Committee developed the 2014 capital budget through a series of 10 hearings, a review of the state departments’ requests and public testimony. The budget sets aside more than 50-million dollars in House Districts 28, 29 and 30 on the Kenai Peninsula.
Some of the items are big-ticket, like $3.4 million dollars for a thermal evaporation unit at the Central Peninsula landfill in Soldotna and $2 million for road projects throughout the Kenai Peninsula Borough.
Other items carry a smaller price tag, like $58,000 for a backup emergency generator at the Soldotna Senior Center or $250,000 for a study of the Beluga Lake Floatplane Base in Homer.
Other central peninsula projects that made it into the senate’s budget include $2.5 million for reconstruction of the water reservoir in Soldotna, $1.3 million for a natural gas trunk line for Funny River and $1.4 million for facilities improvements at the mouth of the Kasilof River.
On the southern peninsula, two state road projects would get funding - $850,000 for rehabilitation of East End Road at Mile 3.7 and $5 million for a makeover for Lake Street in downtown Homer.
Some Senate Democrats are displeased with the capital budget. In a news release Monday, Anchorage Senator Johnny Ellis short-changes education while providing tens of millions for “ill-conceived” transportation projects. Ellis offered two amendments to fund engineering buildings on the UAA and UAF campuses. Both were rejected.
The $1.9 billion dollar budget includes $928 million dollars in federal funds, which actually makes it one of the smaller capital budgets over the past few years. The budget now makes its way to the House.
-Aaron Selbig/KBBI-

Learning Big Things At Nano Day

The third annual Nano Day was last Friday at the Challenger Learning Center in Kenai, bringing in kids and adults to learn more about the growing world of tiny technology.

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Kids from high school age down to preschool age and their parents mingled about the conference room at the Challenger Learning Center Friday night for Nano Days, taking in real world demonstrations of nanotechnology, from microscopic 3-D imaging to memory metal, learning about about bending light to make invisiblity cloaks and the promise of tomorrow’s super computers.

I stopped at 5 stations and learned how to see things so small they don’t reflect light, how terrible my aim is with a small air cannon, and that the idea of a space elevator might not be so far-fetched after all. Hopefully next year some of these technologies will be less science fiction and more science fact.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Public Hearing Date Set For Anadromous Streams Protection Repeal

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly has decided to have a public hearing for an ordinance that would repeal some provisions of the Borough’s Anadromous streams protection order.

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This time it stuck. After pulling this ordinance from the agenda at that Assembly’s first meeting in January, Assembly member Kelly Wolf’s proposal got the votes necessary to move forward .

In 2011, the Borough expanded habitat protection that was already on the books to include all of the water bodies on the Kenai Peninsula listed in the state’s catalog of anadromous streams, which was essentially all streams on the Peninsula. Originally adopted in 1996 and expanded in 2000, the protection ordinance lays out what can and can’t be done within 50 feet of the high water mark of those water bodies in the interest of promoting healthy fish habitat. The expansion of the original ordinance has been hotly contested in a number of Assembly meetings and a series of town hall meetings with the Task Force charged with fine tuning the measure. In Anchor Point last month, members of the Task Force addressed the questions of why this sort of regulation is necessary.

“The more vegetation you have around the stream the less pollutants will enter the stream. Fertilizer is just one of the types of pollutants that can enter the stream. But also, plants provide a lot of nutrients to river systems. Leaves will fall into the stream to provide the nutrients for a good quality habitat,” said Ginny Litchfield, a habitat biologist with the Department of Fish and Game.

Another member of the Task Force and biology professor, David Wartinbee explained at that meeting how these systems work as a whole, with river and lakeside trees and other vegetation providing nutrients to insects which are the preferred dinner for growing fish.

“And in areas like lakes, the most important thing there is that you’ve got food to feed the very young fish because that’s why they’re there. They’re hanging out to grow.We also know that the bigger those fish are when they leave the lakes and head out to the oceans, the more of them that return and the more of them that survive,” he said.

Wartinbee went on to say that other parts of the world that have lost their salmon populations did not have the same kinds of protections for sustaining healthy fish habitat.

“The lakes and the ponds and the streams are like a nursery for young salmon and we need to protect that nursery. Just like you’d protect your schools, your kids; we need to do the same thing for our young salmon. That’s the kind of problem they’ve run into in other parts of the world, other parts of the country, and every one of us in this room is interested in fish and interested in them coming back and if we don’t do our part, we aren’t going to have them,” he said.

After some discussion about the best date for a public hearing, the Assembly voted 7-2, with members Linda Murphy and Mako Haggerty on the no side, to hold that public hearing on June 18th after the Task Force has wrapped up its work tweaking the ordinance.

-Shaylon Cochran/DKLL-


Still The Last Frontier?

As business, industry and population continue to grow on the Kenai Peninsula, residents and elected officials continue to grapple with the question of how to facilitate that growth in terms of the size of government and the specific roles it plays. We take a closer look at the ongoing issue of land use and management in the Borough.

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When census data was first taken on the Kenai Peninsula in 1940, the population stood at about 2,600 people. In the ensuing 72 years, it’s grown by more than 2,000% to nearly 57,000 people. In that time, the Borough has been incorporated and five organized municipalities have sprung up. Infrastructure has grown to serve the needs of those communities and the service industry, too. In Kenai, where there was once just a dirt road and a few lonely cabins there is now a four-lane highway, six stoplights, fast food joints and modern shopping. One thing that hasn’t grown as quickly, though, or as much, is Borough oversight in those unincorporated areas, like Nikiski, Sterling or Anchor Point.

“As things have changed, it’s met up with conflicts, not intentionally so,” said Borough Mayor Mike Navarre, himself a lifelong resident of the Kenai.

“For example, our subdivision ordinance. It used to be that people would go out and build a house and their neighbor would be a mile away or more. And then pretty soon as more people moved in because of oil and gas activity in the early 60′s we started seeing more development. People started developing subdivisions and they did it sort of happenstance, just draw on a piece of paper where the lot lines are going to be, survey them out and sell them,” Navarre said.

That example is one of many of the sort of growing pains that the Kenai has gone through and continues to go through today. Another example can be found in the regulation of gravel pits. Though more rules are in place now than in the 60’s or 70’s that help limit the negative impacts of such a venture, it can still be an uneasy relationship between residents and the industries around them. Louise Heite is hoping to start a greenhouse business in the Miller Loop area of Nikiski in her retirement, but there are concerns with water quality due to a proposed gravel pit. Despite those concerns, if the pit meets the standards of the Borough code, there’s really no appeal process. She says that needs to change, as does the Last Frontier mentality that makes instituting new regulations difficult.

“When you have that intense residential land use, you no longer have a frontier. We don’t have a place where, you know, Pa Ingalls in the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ books used to say it was too densely populated when you could hear somebody else’s gun go off. Well, we don’t have that place anymore. You can hear a gun go off. It’s not frontier. It’s not ‘you can do was you want because there’s no one around to be bothered except a couple of moose and the occasional grizzly bear’,” she said.

“We still do have, though, the ‘Frontier’ mentality,” Navarre said. “People want to be able to do what they want. ‘It’s my land, I bought it, I own it, I get to do whatever I want with it, I don’t want the Borough telling me what I can do with it’. And then somebody next door decides they’re going to put in a gravel pit or build a shop of some kind, and they say ‘wait a minute. I don’t want my neighbor to do that because that’s affecting me.’ So it’s ‘don’t tell me what I can do, but if my neighbor is doing something I don’t like, I want you to stop him.”

And the same holds true with issues like fish habitat protection. Despite its clear benefits, people are leery of the Borough establishing rules to dictate what activities are acceptable or not, yet still want some level of protection against damage to that habitat.

“People don’t want the government telling them what to do and we end up with oftentimes with it not being a single point of impact, but the cumulative impact over time,” Navarre said.

And finding solutions to these problems is something residents and the Borough government will have to work together on as the Kenai becomes home to more people and more of the businesses and industries that support them.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Anderson Defeats Carey In Soldotna Mayoral Contest

With more than 500 ballots cast, the results are in and Soldotna’s new mayor is Dr. Nels Anderson. Anderson defeated former three-term Soldotna mayor Dave Carey by an unofficial count of 312 to 206. He says he appreciated what he called an ‘honorable race’

“There was no bad word between any of us at all, and no bad thoughts I don’t think.  He’s had a long, distinguished record of public service,” Anderson said of Carey.

“I’m sure he’s disappointed about not winning and I’m surprised and elated, actually, about winning.”

He says his first move as Mayor will be to learn the finer points of the job from the administration.

That unofficial tally of 518 votes represents just 12% of registered voters in Soldotna, however, Anderson says the voter rolls could use an update to more accurately reflect voter turnout.

Dr. Anderson, who is an OB-GYN by trade, will serve until October, 2014, filling out the term after former mayor Peter Micciche left office to serve in the state senate.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


River Center Reports 2012 Numbers, Just One Fine Issued

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly got an update on the goings on at the Donald E. Gilman River Center at its meeting Tuesday night, hearing about permitting and activity trends on river and land use issues. The Center saw a slight increase in permitting activity in 2012.

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There are four types of permits granted by the River Center, and in total, 229 were processed last year, with minor vegetation management permits being the most popular. Those permits allow for pruning, trimming or removal of shrubs and hazard trees within a 50 foot habitat protection zone. The Center’s Resource Planner, John Czarnezki, told the Assembly that some of those permits would no longer be necessary if the Assembly adopts proposed amendments to the Borough’s anadromous streams protection ordinance.

“My understanding is that the proposal from the Task Force will clarify that section of the code and in some cases, for example, the removal of downed trees, will no longer need permits,” Cazrnezki said. “There’s been a lot of talk about needing a permit to mow a lawn and there’s never been a permit issued by the Borough to mow a lawn,” he said, referencing one of the false claims about the newest expansion of the Borough’s anadromous streams protection guidelines.

Over the past four years, the average time to process those permit requests has fallen steadily, from more than two weeks in 2009 to just over a week in 2012.

Czarnezki also reported that the Center addressed 25 compliance issues last year, the majority of which were the Center or its Chief Compliance Officer handled. Despite that number of issues, he says the Center rarely issues a fine, instead working with property owners to find a suitable solution.

“There has been one fine, I believe that was during the Williams administration, and that was for $300 (the price for one day of non-compliance). Typically, when it comes to compliance, we look at it as a two stage operation: one is voluntary compliance. If there is a violation or a problem, there isn’t an automatic fine. There seems to be some confusion or some thought that if there’s a violation, there’s an automatic fine and that’s not the case. And yet we have a history of a number of violations,” he said.

He said there are some exceptions to voluntary compliance, namely mandatory enforcement or compliance.

“That typically involves the Code Compliance Officer and that might be a warning or an enforcement notice, but even there, a fine isn’t assessed until it either goes to a hearing officer or if they enter into what’s called a stipulated agreement where they admit some wrongdoing and then they would pay a one day fine,” Czarnezki said.

He explained that just one prior use permit was denied, after an application was made to replace a camping trailer that was damaged in the Kenai River flood of 1996 and never removed.

Following the presentation, Borough Mayor Mike Navarre said his administration would review the fee schedule for permit applications, which range from $50 to $300, with an intent to eliminate fees for standard staff permits.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Another Record For Pick. Click. Give.

Sunday night was the deadline for Alaska residents to file for their Permanent Fund Dividends and many filers also chose to donate part of their PFD to non-profit organizations.

Alaskans once again set new records in sharing their PFDs with nonprofit causes across the state.  According to a news release Tuesday from the Alaska Department of Revenue, more than 26,000 Alaskans pledged just over $2.4 million dollars this year. That’s a 10 percent increase over last year’s Pick Click Give donations.

Bean’s Café in Anchorage tops the list in fundraising for the second year in a row with pledges totaling nearly $120,000. Public radio station KSKA was second with $112,150. Alaskans who used Pick.Click.Give. this year chose from a total of 471 nonprofits in 48 Alaska communities.

Here on the Kenai Peninsula, the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank received 281 donations worth just over $16,000. The Kenai Watershed Forum took in 136 donations for nearly $9,000 while Kenai Peninsula College received just over $2,000.

On the southern peninsula, Cook Inletkeeper received nearly $12,000 in donations through Pick.Click,Give, while $10,000 went to the Homer Foundation and another $5,000 was donated to Hospice of Homer.

And in the interest of disclosure, public radio KDLL also benefitted from Pick.Click.Give, receiving 80 donations worth just under $5,000.

Pick.Click.Give. Program Manager Heather Beaty said this could have been a difficult year for Alaska’s nonprofits because the PFD was on the small side last year. She said that, even in tough times, Alaskans can be counted on to help their neighbors.

-Aaron Selbig/KBBI-


Big Science In A Small Package At Nano Days

The Challenger Learning Center in Kenai will host their third annual Nano Days this Friday. The event is designed to expose people to the growing world of nanotechnology.

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“Nano Days is an annual event we have here at the Challenger Learning Center and we have lots of hands-on, fun, exciting activities to learn what the big deal is about teeny, tiny science,” said Chantelle Rose, Director of Education Operations at Challenger.

She said the Friday night community event is aimed showcasing the burgeoning field of nanotechnology, which is defined as understanding and control of matter at the nanoscale by the national Nanotechnology Initiative. The nanoscale is, of course, super small. A sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick and nanotechnology is only happening in the 1 to 100 nanometers range.

Rose says that educational outreach for nanotech is growing as the field continues to develop.

“So this is the third year we’ve participated in Nano Days and this will be our biggest and best yet. We just recently unveiled a mini-exhibit, so we have museum quality exhibits that are on display right now in our Earth Lobby, so we’re looking forward to introducing those to our Nanotechnology Days,” Rose said.

There will be lots of interactive exhibits on display courtesy of a collection of museums that are trying to bring nanotech to the forefront, including the classroom.

“(In) our programming that goes out to schools, we’re having requests for nanotechnolgy. So we’re taking it to area schools as part of the programming they’ve requested from us, so everybody’s starting to get a little more familiar with it and this will be a great opportunity to learn more about it if you don’t know,” Rose said.

Despite its futuristic sounding name and some of the advanced applications, like protective film for eyeglasses or ballistic energy deflection in body armor, nanotech is much more organic that it’s often given credit. As evidenced by the new mascot for Nano Days: The gecko:

“Because geckos naturally use nanotechnology to cling to the sides of their tanks and cling to their environments in nature and we will have a visit from an actual gecko, so we will be able to observe their natural behaviors in the tank and we have Petco to thank for that.”

The third annual Nano Day is this Friday from 5-7 pm at the Challenger Learning Center. It’s open to all ages and free.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Anadromous Streams Repeal Ordinance Back On Assembly Agenda

The Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Anadromous Streams Protection ordinance will be up for discussion yet again at this week’s Borough Assembly meeting.  The sponsor of the repeal isn’t convinced there’s Assembly support for it, despite a vocal opposition in the public.

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This is the third time an ordinance has been brought before the Assembly seeking to repeal the protections laid out in Borough code for salmon-friendly water bodies on the Peninsula. Assembly Member Kelly Wolf has pushed for repeal since his election to the Assembly last fall. He says despite a very vocal opposition to the ordinance, which would limit some activities of private property owners within 50 feet of anadromous streams, he’s not confident the full Assembly is listening to that message.

“Do I have much faith in the repeal ordinance going forward to a public hearing? No, I do not. I think that there’s enough heels dug in on the Borough Assembly that they will try to deny going forward to a public hearing just because I think that they think they know best,” Wolf said.

Nor does he have much confidence in the Task Force that was established to find ways to address major concerns with the scope and function of the measure.

“The Task Force is the Mayor’s baby. It is his tool, it is not the Assembly’s. And they Mayor is saying ‘well, let this Task Force do it’s thing’, well I beg to differ, Mr. Mayor.  I don’t think that you have the right to wag the Borough Assembly.”

The question hasn’t been one of protecting fish habitat in the Borough; everyone can agree to that. It’s the means by which that habitat will be protected. In its current iteration, the ordinance has raised concerns among its opponents that it represents little more than an unnecessary growth of government.

“Every time we bring this up, I think one or two more people step up and realize that government is overreaching. And that’s my whole intent in moving this repeal forward. The people need to understand that they’re voices should be heard loud and clear. Thomas Jefferson said ‘when people fear government; we have tyranny. When government fears the people, we have liberty’.”

Two town hall meetings have been held so the public can let the Task Force know what they think about the measure, on in Nikiski and one in Anchor Point with a third scheduled for Moose Pass later this month. Overwhelmingly, the testimony at those meetings has been in favor of a full repeal. Wolf says that in promoting healthy fish habitat, the Borough should find proactive, rather than reactive ways to get people on board, including, perhaps, tax incentives.

“You know, outreach, education and stewardship is, in my opinion, the key; and to educate the public about the importance of habitat, with very little tax payer dollars that maybe could be developed into an incentive program to allow property owners to protect habitat and receive a tax credit.”

The Assembly will vote Tuesday on whether or not to allow Wolf’s proposed ordinance a public hearing.

Correction: A previous update incorrectly reported that the Assembly voted the ordinance down. The Assembly voted 7-2 to hold a public hearing on this ordinance for June 18th.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-