Assembly Mulls Final Question On Anadromous Streams Protections

Next week, the Borough Assembly will tackle the second half of the anadromous streams protection issue. Following more than five hours of public testimony from more than 100 members of the public, the Assembly voted not to repeal protections that were already on the books.

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The next part of this battle is ordinance 2013-18, which basically modifies what the Assembly voted to keep in place at its last meeting. It adopts special exceptions to the fifty foot set-back at the heart of the ordinance, for lake front properties and prior existing uses and structures. Assembly members Wolf, Pierce and Taurienen voted for repeal last time. It’s probably a safe bet they’ll also vote against the new version. In his comments at the end of the last meeting, Charlie Pierce made it clear what his constituency wants.

“Funny River Road and Sterling want you to educate our kids, want you to take care of the roads, want you to haul the trash, want you to make sure a fire engine or ambulance show up when we need it. I don’t want animal control, I don’t want zoning. My constituents have spoken to me. They don’t want this to go. If you have the courage to pass this, I hope you’re never elected to another office again. I hope the folks remember that vote for you,” Pierce said to some applause.

His sharp criticism of the proposed ordinance drew an equally sharp response from Assembly member Bill Smith.

“As far as Mr. Pierce’s impassioned defense of the property owners along Sterling and Funny River, really, repealing 2011-12 doesn’t effect them for the most part. They’ve been regulated since either 1996 or 2000. So regardless of how loudly he (Pierce) shouts about 2011-12, those properties aren’t effected by that, and it would be good if he would actually read the ordinances before he talks about them.

Assembly member Mako Haggerty noted that many of the voices against these new measures are long time private property owners who do know how take good care of their land so it’s healthy for fish. But that’s not enough.

“What I’m concerned about are the people coming behind you, after us…the ones who didn’t show up here tonight, those are the ones I’m concerned about. And I don’t think that they have the same stewardship for their property as the rest of us do. I commend the property owners that are here tonight because I believe they’re good stewards of that property,” Haggerty said.

            The comments made by Assembly members were likely the last on the issue. There won’t be any public testimony next week, since people were allowed to speak to both measures last time. The Assembly is set to vote Tuesday July second.


Kenai Teen Learns D.C. Ropes

Every year, Senator Lisa Murkowski has a few high-school-aged interns work out of her office in Washington, DC. Kenai’s Duncan Brewer has been at the Capitol for the last several weeks learning the ropes.

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To say Kelli Brewer is proud of her son is an understatement. Duncan is one of those kids who is involved with basically everything. He volunteers with local organizations like the Boys and Girls Club and the Wounded Warrior Project. He’s helped grow a community garden and donated food to the Kenai Food Bank.

Duncan is an athlete. He plays football and will actually be heading down to Australia next month to compete in the Down Under Bowl. Then to top it off,  he has a great singing voice.

“I miss the singing around the house, and the music from instruments around the house. I miss hearing about how his day went and what he did that day. I don’t get to hear about that anymore,” Duncan’s mom Kelli said.

She said while she gets updates about his life outside the Capitol, a strict policy in Senator Murkowski’s office prevents him from talking about what he does at work. Kelli said Duncan has known the senator since the age of 8 or 9 when he went to Murkowski’s Take a Kid Fishing Tournament.

“And he arrived there with a can of fart putty and a friend from the Air Force base. While Lisa was talking to his friend, Duncan was playing with his fart putty. And Lisa said ‘hey, I know what that is,’” Kelli said.

Kelli said he has matured since then. And she’s noticed a change in the way he talks about things since getting to the Capitol.

“There’s a different edge in this voice of a little bit more awareness and maturity, which I’m really happy to see. Lisa’s the only senator who takes interns out of high school. They spend one day a week with her, shadowing her. So he is with her through the whole process. And I think it really has encouraged some… serious thinking on his behalf on how he feels about things,” she said.

Another thing Kelli said she’s noticed is that Duncan has been settling pretty well into his new environment.

“There’s a subway that kind of goes underneath the Capitol, and Duncan did tell me the other day… ‘Yeah, I got onto the subway and John McCain came on.’ And I said ‘Did you get a chance to talk to him.’ And he goes ‘No mom, jeez… I deal with very powerful people right now and John McCain is just another one of them,’” she said.

-Ariel Van Cleave/KBBI-


Russian River The Hot Spot With King Fishing Shut Down

Despite several orders from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game modifying some salmon fisheries already, anglers have had ample opportunity to reel in a catch on the Russian River.
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Drift boats were going in and out of the water all day on the Russian, just a few miles west of Cooper Landing. With early run king salmon fisheries shut down across the Kenai Peninsula, the Russian has been booming. It’s probably a safe bet that most of the lines and nets in the water here are intended for sockeye. The early run has been so strong that Fish and Game increased the bag limit to six and the possession limit to 12 here and on the Upper Kenai River.

Fish and Game  issued an emergency order June 18th closing down sport fishing for kings on the Kenai, and prohibited bait and multiple hooks on the Kasilof River for hatchery kings. Rivers on the southern Kenai Peninsula were closed to king fishing almost as soon as the first ones came through back in May. The battle waged over the winter to figure out who could fish, and when, during times of low king abundance is far from settled. Commercial setnetters will be looking to get into the water in a few weeks, but like last year, that will be determined by the projected strength of the king run. Right now, it doesn’t look too strong. A total run of 1,500 to 2,500 fish is projected by the Department. As of June 16th, fewer than a thousand had been picked up by sonar counters. The optimal escapement goal is between 5,300 and 9,000 fish. Sockeye are a different story, though. Numbers on the Russian have already hit levels seen last year, around 25,000 fish, about three weeks before the Department stops counting. Projections for the Kenai river run are down slightly from last year, at 4.4 million, but still well above the 20 year average.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


“Suds: The Musical Soap Opera” Showcases Hits From The 60′s

Elan Krull, Spencer McAuliffe, Selia Butler and Alyeska Krull will perform in "Suds" beginning this Friday at 7 p.m.

 

The Kenai Performers are opening two weekends of performances of the musical soap opera “SUDS” this Friday.

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Tickets for “SUDS” are $40 and on sale now at Curtain Call, Charlotte’s, River City Books and Coffee Roasters. The show runs June 21, 22, 28 and 29 at 7 p.m. at the Kenai Merit Inn.


Hilcorp Fined $115,000 For Permit Violations

Citing “aggressiveness” in its operations, the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has handed down several orders to energy producer Hilcorp, and a $115,000 civil penalty.

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In its decision and order dated April 10th, AOGCC says Hilcorp failed to notify the agency of changes to an approved permit and that the company failed to test blowout prevention equipment. All of this comes from work done last October in the Soldotna Creek Unit on the central Kenai Peninsula.

The agency found that Hilcorp had started drilling at a depth 500 feet shallower than approved. That drilling happened in an over-pressurized zone which required closure of the  rig’s blow out prevention equipment, or BOPE. After changing out that equipment, drilling continued, but without a proper test of the BOPE.

Hilcorp did notify the agency that it had used that equipment to control the flow of formation fluids, and that’s when it found out about the change in drilling depth.

“This violation was self-reported because we strongly believe in operating safely and responsibly and we don’t take that lightly,” said Hilcorp spokesperson Lori Nelson.

She says as part of the order handed down by the commission, new training measures are in place for Hilcorp’s contractors.

“So what we’re doing is making sure we’re having that face-to-face interaction with those folks that are in the field, on the ground, in these types of situations, making sure that they are keenly aware of the regulations in place surrounding what they do,” she said.

The agency’s three commissioners all signed off on the order. And they were nothing if not blunt in writing their findings. They said “the aggressiveness with which Hilcorp is moving forward with operations appears to be contributing to regulatory compliance issues.” They also noted 13 separate enforcement actions issued between April and December of last year. Nelson acknowledges that the company operates with a sense of urgency, but…

“Urgency for us doesn’t mean get it done fast at any cost, it means get it done the right way, as quickly as possible. Being a new company, getting up to speed in some cases has been great, in other cases has presented challenges, but in every opportunity we’ve had, we’ve taken that and hopefully turned it around for a positive in the long run,” Nelson said.

The order also called for more communication between Hilcorp and AOGCC, including a detailed description of its regulatory compliance program, a root cause analysis addressing the violations and evidence that staff involved with permitting be trained in the agency’s regulatory requirements.

“We definitely take a different approach in that we are very open and transparent with regulators, stakeholders and the community. We hope that that will continue as our business continues to grow here in Alaska,” she said.

The initial penalty was $75,000, plus other smaller fines for failure to notify the agency of a change in well plans and failure to test blowout prevention equipment. In all, $115,000, which Nelson says has been paid in full.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

 


Assembly Votes To Keep Anadromous Stream Protections In Place

Assembly Chambers were packed as more than 100 people testified on changes to the Borough's habitat protection ordninance.

 

After hearing more than 100 public comments about proposed changes to the Borough’s anadromous habitat protection ordinance, the Assembly was able to get in a vote on one of two proposals on the agenda before adjourning at its midnight deadline.

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The Assembly chambers were packed with residents. Some concerned about an overbearing, overreaching government body. Others concerned with doing whatever necessary to protect salmon-rearing habitat on the Peninsula. Before the Assembly were two ordinances. The first would have repealed provisions in Borough code that expanded protections to all water bodies listed in a state catalog of anadromous waters. The now infamous 2011-12. The second would repeal that, and instead base the habitat protection district on an appendix indentifying salmon streams, and providing exceptions for prior existing uses and structures. Ken Tarbox, a member of the Mayor’s Task Force that tried to find some compromises to the ordinance enacted in 2011 that’s been at the root of all this, was one of the first to testify.

“Citizens of this Borough value personal freedoms and wild Alaskan salmon. They are the same as motherhood and apple pie in our culture. No one will say they don’t want to protect salmon, or that they like lots of government regulations. My view as a Task Force member was to help create an ordinance that has minimal level of riperian habitat protection and accommodates reasonable use within the regulatory habitat area. In my opinion, the Task Force recommendations accomplish that,” he said.

The comments came in two distinct waves. Following Tarbox’s testimony, voices in opposition to the expanded scope of the regulations came forward for nearly two hours.

“Please respect the personal rights and private property rights of the landowners here who pay the taxes. If you want to go after somebody, go after the hordes of tourists that get on state parks and trample them down,” said Bill Yant of Soldotna.

At times, the testimony both for and against was emotional. And times, flat out testy. For the most part, those speaking to the Assembly respected the three minute time limit they were given. Assembly president had to shout over Nikiski resident and future Assembly candidate Wayne Ogle when he did not yield after the three minutes.

Amid references to UN agendas and government land grabs, there was little said by the opposition about the notion of the rights of all Borough residents to have continued access to the fisheries resource that makes up the foundation of the local economy.

Somewhere around the third hour of the meeting, a wave of supporters for the ordinance came forward.

“Not protecting this resource would be a mistake and protecting it would be a collective decision that can benefit our social, cultural and environmental resources. I believe it is our civic responsibility to support 2013-18 and start treating our resources as a collective and shared wealth for the prosperity of future generations in this community. That’s not communism; to me, that’s common sense,” said Kenai resident Branden Bornemann.

Many of the supporters were longtime Peninsula residents, with property directly affected by the ordinance.

“I’m here to address issues in my backyard and my community. Not world affairs or international relations. My family has enjoyed the opportunities and benefits of living on the Kenai Peninsula for nearly 40 years. And we’ve witnessed the tremendous growth and change throughout these years. I support the proactive approach to protection of anadromous stream habitat and believe it to be the most effective and cost effective means to do what we as citizens can do to afford future generations some of the high quality experiences we here tonight have been privileged to enjoy,” said Ann Bays of Anchor Point.

The back and forth between support and dissent went on until close to midnight, with the Assembly finally taking a vote on the first ordinance.

Charlie Pierce, Kelly Wolf and Ray Taurienen voted to repeal the expanded protection ordinance, but it was upheld. Following that vote, there wasn’t enough time left to tackle the second half of the equation. That will have to wait until the Assembly’s next meeting on July 2nd.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Openings, Restrictions Announced For Peninsula Fisheries

Fishing season is well underway around the Peninsula and the Department of Fish and Game announced several openings and restrictions Tuesday.

The Kenai River early run king salmon fishery will be closed from June 20th to the 30th. Through June 13th, the Department had counted just 795 kings through its DIDSON sonar counters. The optimal escapement goal is between 5,300 and 9,000 fish.

On the Kasilof, a prohibition of bait and multiple hooks will be in place beginning June 20th running through the 30th. Single hook means a fishhook with only one point, with or without a barb. The sustainable escapement goal for kings on the Kasilof is between 650 and 1,700 fish. Escapement has only barely reached that lower range the past two years. A previous restriction to harvest only hatchery-reared king salmon remains in effect.

At the Russian River Sanctuary, though, sockeye sportfishing is opening up, as of 8 o’clock Wednesday morning. The sanctuary includes waters upstream from just below the ferry crossing on the Kenai River just above Sportsmans Landing. ADF&G regulatory markers are out to indicate the precise sanctuary location. There’s a daily bag and possession limit of three sockeye.

-Staff Report-


Mural Paints Picture Of Peninsula’s History

The Adcox Mural Project was made possible by the Rasmuson Foundation through the Arts in Education Fund.

Triumvirate Theatre continues progress on remodeling its new location north of Kenai. They had an open house this week to showcase a mural by local artist James Adcox that will be a focal point of the building.

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-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Local 4-Hers Pitching Livestock Sales Ahead of State Fair

The Kenai Peninsula Fair is months away, but 4-H members prepare all year for the event.  The projects include raising livestock, presenting them to judges, and selling them.  But right now, youngsters are doing some presentations to local businesses about their work.  4-H member, Mikaela Pitsch gave her sales presentation at KDLL studio.

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In case you missed it, it’s definitely summer on the Kenai. And for local 4-H’ers, that means getting ready for the Kenai Peninsula State Fair in August. For Mikaela Pitsch, it means making the rounds to talk about the Junior Market Livestock.

“Junior Market Livestock is where anyone from third grade through senior year can raise any kind of animal, from poultry to steers. And they get a chance to show what they worked on through the summer and they get to sell their animal for…a lot of money, actually,” Pitsch said.

Pitsch will be a freshman next fall, but she’s kind of an old pro at this. Last year, she raised and sold her pig Oinker, a reserve grand champion.

The money she made with Oinker went straight into her college savings account. She, and other 4-H’ers who are raising cattle, pigs, sheep, reindeer and even turkeys this year, are hoping for a continued interest in locally raised livestock. Pitsch hopes to bring home the bacon (sorry) this year with another pig. Named Bacon. Bacon, it turns out, is kind of a finicky eater.

“Jim Rogers, he’s like the pig expert down here, and he gave us a workshop. He told us if your pig’s not gaining a lot of weight you can take the powdered food…and mix molasses in and powdered goat’s milk and a couple eggs to make their coat shiny. But my pig won’t eat it, so I try to put some marshmallows or graham crackers or something that it likes to eat in there,” she said.

Pitsch says she’ll be spending this year at the fair with her two younger brothers, both of whom are getting involved in the 4-H world of raising livestock. The Kenai Peninsula State Fair is coming up August 16th, 17th and 18th in Ninilchik.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


“A Long Complicated History” For The Kenai Comprehensive Plan

Voters will have the opportunity to keep or reject the amended comp plan, first drawn up in January, on October 2nd.

In October, voters in Kenai will be asked to settle the debate about the city’s latest comprehensive plan. Over the years, the plan has been reworked and revisited, but it hasn’t always sat well with residents. This one is no different.

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Fighting city hall has never been easy.

“But it gets harder all the time now…you just get tired of doing the fight. We’ve done a pretty good job of doing it, but you eventually wear people out,” said Kenai resident Mark Schrag.

He’s been sort of leading the charge against the city’s comprehensive plan for the past ten months. But he says the battle to keep neighborhoods and business districts separate in Kenai is a fight dating back nearly three decades.

“We always go back to the 1985 agreement, which was before me, where a number of the people who still live in this neighborhood made agreements with the city and they feel the city is reneging on some of that stuff now….It’s a long complicated history.”

Schrag lives in the MAPS subdivision of Kenai, the area on the east end of town adjacent to the Spur highway. There are a lot of changes in the newest version of this comp plan, but Schrag and many of his neighbors don’t like the reclassification of that area. A lot of areas that had been classified as rural residential would be redefined as mixed use. They say it leaves the door open for too much commercial development where long-established neighborhoods exist.

“The businesses are going to come, that’s going to take care of itself, and then hopefully you regulate that. And the businesses should be in hubs is one of the big things we’re saying. Not just spread out, helter skelter, but in hubs. So we’re not against development by any means, but (want) what we would say is smart development. (It’s) a difference in philosophy.”

That’s a major sticking point for people who don’t like the plan the city council approved back in April. They say it doesn’t do enough to promote a real town center that would keep businesses centrally located and away from outlying neighborhoods. But the city grew up in a time, and continues to grow in a way, that makes that difficult. I spoke with Kenai Mayor Pat Porter recently during one of her Coffee with the Mayor meetings at City Hall and she offered a little historical perspective.

“When I moved here in 1969, the downtown had split out a little bit and it went over to where the old Carrs Mall is. And that was it. That was town. End of story,” she said.

The relationship between the city’s airport and the Federal Aviation Administration further complicate things. A lot of land in Kenai belongs to the airport. A lot of commercial development has occurred on that land. By leasing or selling off parcels, the airport can remain self-sustaining. But the FAA has a lot of say in how those transactions happen.

“When somebody comes like Wal-Mart, and wants to buy a piece of property that was part of that (airport) parcel, there’s no deals to be made. It has to be leased or sold at fair market value. And that’s where Lowe’s was, that’s where the Senior Center was and the old Carrs Mall. All that property basically came from where the airport used to be,” Porter said.

What all of this means is that Kenai hasn’t developed like most towns. You can argue that there’s a town center around the courthouse or some of the parks, but it’s not a downtown. Not a town square around which all business and commerce happens. Porter takes a decidedly pro-growth stance and says if that growth is going to occur, we have to make room for it.

“It’s kind of sad to me that some residents want to keep it the way it was 15 years ago, 20 years ago. You can’t do that. Because then you have happen what happened (about a decade ago) when everyone was joking that Kenai was becoming a ghost town. People were moving out of here, and now we’re selling more real estate and things are actually pretty good,” she said.

Good, unless you feel like you have to fight city hall each time a new plan for growth and development comes up. Mark Schrag has been in that fight several times already. He says between now and October, when voters will get to make a decision about the plan, he some of the other neighbors will be working to get out information and they hope to put up a website soon.

“It’s really been an incredible group of people who have come together and done some of these things. But it’s hard to keep (going). Everybody says ‘What? It’s coming back again? I thought we had that settled.’ It just keeps coming back. I don’t know what it’s going to take to change that culture in this town.”

Voters will get to wigh in