HEA Continues Work Toward More Renewables

At the end of the year, the Homer Electric Association will begin generating all its own power. HEA’s contract to buy electricity from Chugach Electric is up, but the Co-op isn’t done there. Plans are in the early stages for more generating capacity from more renewable resources.

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It’s been a busy year for HEA. New or revamped plants in Nikiski and Soldotna are finished, or very near completion. And development of renewable projects keeps moving along. The Nikiski plant, which added a steam turbine to increase the amount of electricity it kicks out, is already online, supplying energy to interior Alaska, says General Manager Brad Janorschke. They’re selling that power to the Golden Valley Electric Association until the contract with Chugach expires and we can use that power locally.

“It allows us about a six month period to have that unit running online, work the bugs out. With any large system it just takes awhile, so we’ve got this six month window where we can’t use (the power) ourselves because we’re obligated to buy from Chugach through 2013. We can still operate it, base-load it and provide that power to the north,” Janorschke said.

That project ups the green factor of HEA’s operations, increasing output by some forty percent simply by using excess heat to make the power. Another project, further down the time line, seeks to take advantage of the great amount of tidal energy splashing around in Cook Inlet. HEA wants to put in a small pilot project near Nikiski.

“The nice thing about the Nikiski area is one: you have the Forelands there. But in addition, it’s close to a lot of our transmission and generation infrastructure, which means we’ve got generation folks handy to work on this stuff as it connects to our system,” Janorschke said.

Ocean Renewable Power Company is who HEA is working with on this project. Earlier this year, they brought the first commercially licensed tidal energy operation online in Maine. The system proposed for Cook Inlet would produce power when the tides turn what are essentially big water wheels. They would be anchored between 50 and 100 feet down. They wouldn’t produce much power to start. It would just be a test site to see if a commercial application would even work. Janorschke says the biggest concern with harnessing the tides…What does it mean for fish…has been shown to be not much of a concern at all, really.

“Is it going to chop fish up? Based on what they’ve seen so far out in Maine, the answer is no. It turns slow enough that fish, generally, if they’re small enough, swim right through it unharmed or the larger fish just swim around it. That’s what they’ve seen so far via cameras and sonar,” Janorschke said.

Another renewable venture that hasn’t gotten as much attention lately is the proposal for Grant Lake over by Moose Pass. If it’s approved and built, it would generate much less power than the Bradley Lake hydro plant south of Homer. But HEA hasn’t started applying for permits yet. That might be a couple years down the road.

Janorschke made his comments on last week’s episode of The Coffee Table, which aired on KDLL and KBBI.


Peninsula Profile: Cook Inlet Set Net Families

This row of shacks is home to The Salmon People, three generations of setnetters in Coho.

 

Dotting the coast line of Cook Inlet from Ninilchik to Nikiski are some of the Peninsula’s oldest businesses. Many of these commercial fish camps are still owned and operated by the families that started them two or three generations ago.

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Down in Coho live the Salmon People. On this section of beach near the mouth of the Kasilof River, generations of commercial fishers are back for another season.

As I’ve seen some of these camps in action this summer, the thing that sticks out is the distinct culture around each one.

There are actually a couple camps here, but the crews mingle freely and share a lot. You might call Nancy Taylor the matriarch of this clan. She and her husband Alec bought the site 30 years ago. They didn’t plan to fish. But eventually, they got a permit and learned the ropes. It was a steep learning curve.

“I had a skiff, I was in it all by myself, a little, tiny skiff…and I grabbed ahold of the buoy and I just went around and around and around…I couldn’t get it into the boat,” Taylor says, laughing with Amanda Johnston. She’s part of the camp next door.

The Johnstons (that’s the Salmon People) fished for Alec and Nancy for a few years before buying their own site. Now the second generation is fishing and a third generation is, well they’re kids, so they’re mostly just playing on the beach.

But that’s really the essence of what most of these camps are all about: family.

For three months each year, family come from all over. Or very close friends. And they spend the summer on the beach.  This site in Coho is interesting, to say the least. It’s the product of three decades of additions, rebuilds  and quick fixes. There’s a row of disheveled looking cabins backed up along the bluff. And each one has its own personality. Some have their own names. Some of those names can’t be repeated on the radio. It’s a kind of lifestyle, living on the beach. And a spartan one at that. They only brought fresh, running water down to the beach a decade ago.

It’s an intimate setting. Even if a crew member isn’t technically family, it feels like it.

“You can tell the way people walk, by their footsteps in the rocks…their stride. How fast (they’re going). ‘Oh, that must be this person, that means we’re almost about to get out, or that’s just Megan with the kids or that’s so-and-so’. When people walk by, you know who it is,” says Amanda Johnston.

About a 45 minute drive up the beach to Salamatof, it’s largely the same story for the Frostad Fishing crew.  Sarah Frostad-Hudkins and her husband Jason are the third generation, and their kids are crew members now. Her grandfather built the cabin they all stay in 90 years ago.

“It’s emotional to me in the weirdest way. You don’t get to play and work with your kids this way anywhere else,” says Frostad-Hudkins.

“My happiest moments have been here, my scariest moments have been here. You have different stories every year to talk to people about. It’s the strangest thing,” she said.

Sarah’s father Lars wasn’t around when I visited, but his long-time crew member John Sharp was. This, to him, is family.

“I’m almost in tears because it really is important to me; I know that everybody here loves me as much as I love them. And I’m not related to them. When you get outside and you have television and sports and everything else pulling and dragging away, you come back and you renew that family, that bond,” Sharp said.

Sarah’s daughter Shayla is going to school in Washington to become a teacher. That way she can come back every summer and be with the family.

“It’s so unique. I’d come up here even if I didn’t make an ounce of anything. I would just come up here because I love it and I get to spend every day with my family, working hard, playing hard, having fun, laughing, maybe a couple tears. Just a little bit of everything,” Shayla said.

Back down in Coho, the nickel tour of the camp is wrapped up. I didn’t have any luck getting one of their very original beach games started. The Wheel of Misfortune, I’m told, only gets spun on nights when they don’t have a 5 a.m. set to look forward to. So, they cap the night by pulling out the guitars, singing appropriately enough, about the salmon coming back home.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Progress Days Return

One of Soldotna’s longest running celebrations is coming around again this weekend. Progress Days this year will feature a long list of tried and true events and some newer attractions.

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-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


DOT Looking For Ways To Improve Safety On The Sterling Highway

The Alaska Department of Transportation is looking for comments and opinions about how to best improve the safety of a stretch of the Sterling Highway.

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The DOT wants to do something to make the almost 11 miles of Sterling Highway between the Moose River and the Kenai Spur safer. Thirty-eight fatalities have occurred there since 1977.  That and related statistics helped make the highway one of four designated safety corridors in the state back in 2009. Anne Brooks is the Public Involvement Coordinator for Brooks and Associates, the firm conducting the safety enhancement study for the DOT.  She says there have been some positive steps forward since 2009, but much more can be done.

“People have told us in the last couple days that since the highway became a safety corridor they’ve seen some changes in behavior that have been good. They’ve also told us about a lot of near misses, people tailgating, people driving too fast, passing on the right. So we’re hearing about a lot things that we’re looking for a solution for,” Brooks said.

She was posted up in Sterling Tuesday morning at the Post Office. On Monday, she and her team had their RV at Fred Meyer and Safeway in Soldotna, giving impromptu presentations to anyone who might come up.

At this stage of the project, the focus is on ideas and concerns. What’s not working well, what could work better. There are some ideas out there already, of course. Like making the section a four-lane divided highway. One of the biggest things to consider is simply making the highway easier to get on and get off.

“On some of our other projects on the Glen Highway and the Parks Highway, we’re actually adding quite a bit of frontage.”

She says it won’t be directly adjacent to the highway, like frontage roads along the Seward Highway in Anchorage, but simply a safe access point from perhaps a quarter mile off the highway.

Providing safe and convenient access on and off the highways for businesses is just one of myriad interests that are considered, Brooks says. And the projects have to be a good sell to the lawmakers and the government agencies signing off on them.

“We use federal highway monies for a lot of these projects, and those monies, like everywhere, get into short supply,” Brooks said.

The public can weigh in online, too. Brooks says their website allows users to pinpoint their comments to very specific parts of the road.

It will be at least two years before any construction on a new project here begins. An environmental analysis was started in May and is due in November. Next year will see what’s called a final preliminary decision document before a Preliminary engineering report is released in early 2015.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


City Closes Beach Camping Before High Tides Roll In

Dipnetters on the north and south beaches of the Kenai River will need to find someplace off the beach to camp for the next couple of days. Extraordinarily high tides forced the city of Kenai to close the beaches to camping and vehicle parking beginning at midnight Monday.

Alternative camping sites have been set up at the Park Strip in Kenai and at little league and softball fields in town. The closure is only in effect over night, when tides of nearly 25 feet are expected.

The dipnet fishery is already closed daily from 11 at night until 6 in the morning, but Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Robert Begich says the high tides will affect sockeye fishing up river, too.

“The flow changes because the tide comes in and it backs the river water up. The water slows down so much that you can’t drift. You need current and the sockeye to orient themselves moving upstream along the bank to catch them,” Begich said.

Tidal influence on the Kenai River usually extends several miles upstream to the Eagle Rock area, and the tides expected this week will push that influence even further.

“Throughout the season, kind of below Eagle Rock, the area called Mud Island, is the traditional average (for where the tidal influence begins to wane). But with that almost 25 foot tide, it will move up into Eagle Rock, almost to the Pillars area.”

That the higher tides cancel out a bit of the flow rushing to the Inlet isn’t as big a mystery as why exactly it stalls the upriver journey of sockeye.

“I don’t really know. I think when the water is still like a lake, they just swim all over the place. But basically, it messes up the area to fish, for sockeye especially,” Begich said.

While there is no camping between midnight and 8 a.m. through Thursday of this week, fishing periods for dipnetting have been extended. With a total run of more than 2.3 million anticipated, dipnetting will be open 24 hours a day through the end of July.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Local Fishing Group Suing ADF&G

A lawsuit filed in state superior court this week seeks to hold the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to its stated management policies for Cook Inlet fisheries. The group bringing the suit doesn’t think the department did that last year when it shut down commercial setnet fishing.

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The lawsuit was filed Monday by the Cook Inlet Fishermen’s Fund, representing set gillnet fishermen in Upper Cook Inlet. The group is asking the Courts to tell the Department of Fish and Game to stick to its management plan for the region. Specifically, the parts about regular fishing periods and additional periods during strong runs. They say that by closing the commercial fisheries down last year in an attempt to increase the escapement of king salmon into the river, the Department failed to follow the plans.

Last year, fisheries were governed largely by emergency order. Standard management plans went by the wayside when not meeting a minimum escapement goal for king salmon into the Kenai River became a very real possibility. Meanwhile, stronger than average sockeye returns weren’t hit as hard as they could have been. And that’s what’s really at the heart of the lawsuit.

The president of the Cook Inlet Fishermen’s Fund, Doug Blossom, called the closures unlawful in a press release, and said that they cost setnetters millions in revenue.

At issue are four separate management plans; Kenai River late run king and sockeye plans, another for Upper Cook Inlet Salmon and one for the Kasilof river.The complaint goes over a lot of specific language in the management plans. When regular openings are scheduled and for which fisheries. How those fisheries are to be managed on a ‘sustained yield principle’, so that there will be more fish next year, too. But it leaves out other language in the plans that suggests a higher degree of flexibility. Take the Kenai river late run king and sockeye plan. It lists all the basics: who can fish, for what and when and how, but then the caveat: “The commissioner may depart from the provisions of the management plan.”

The Fishermen’s Fund seeks simply to require the Commissioner to follow management plans. What remains to be seen is how much different those plans might look like next year. The Board of Fish is set to address Upper Cook Inlet issues at its meeting in January.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL


Sockeye Hit, Kings Still Missing

Higher-than-expected numbers of sockeye salmon are pouring into the Kenai River this week. The number recorded Tuesday is the highest single-day count in more than thirty years.

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Here’s one for your next party: What do the Kenai River and the Flemish city of Ghent have in common?

On Tuesday, roughly the same number of fish passed up the Kenai River as there are people living in that city in the Belgium countryside; almost a quarter million. The department of Fish and Game count for the day was 246,396. Since 1979, only one other a year saw a day that big: 1987. Two-hundred-seventeen reds were counted on July 21st of that year, which in total was a good year for sockeye. Two and a quarter-million made it back.

So far, this has been a good year for anyone on the Peninsula who’s not fishing for kings. Commercial setnetters and drifters especially have seen their fortunes change from a year ago, when commercial fishing was shut down almost entirely to curtail any incidental catch of Chinook. The Chinook are still missing this year, of course. Sportfishing for kings is closed through the end of July following a brief opening for the late-run that was limited to no-bait.

Setnetters, however have been given some extra fishing days. Traditional openings are on Mondays and Thursdays. But fishing was open for twelve hours on Wednesday and for a couple extra hours on Thursday. Fish and Game estimates nearly 750,000 sockeye to swim past sonar counters on the Kenai River before week’s end.

But those extra fishing periods this year aren’t going too far to mend the financial wounds of 2012. On Monday, the Cook Inlet Fishermen’s Fund filed a lawsuit against the Department of Fish and Game for not following the Kenai Management Plan last year, when it allowed limited openings for some, rather than enforcing a full closure for all fisheries.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


City Keeping Up With First Swell Of Fish, People To Hit Beaches

Steady streams of campers and trailers loaded with coolers, dipnets and ATV’s are filing onto the Central Peninsula to take advantage of the personal use fisheries on the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers. The opening weekend was typically busy, but things are going smoothly for the city of Kenai.

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The only thing that might be more impressive than the incredible number of sockeye salmon that come back to our rivers is the sight of the people who come from across the state to harvest them.

“We’ve been real busy doing our enhanced beach clean up, both for solid waste and fish waste,” said Kenai City Manager Rick Koch.

“Things seem to be, at least at this point, the beaches are staying fairly clean, so that’s been a real positive,” he said. 

It’s the city’s charge to maintain the beaches over the course of the three week extravaganza. That’s been a challenge in the past, and the city continues to search for partners and ideas to help make it easier. A new tool being put to use this year is found at the little huts where visitors pay their parking and camping fees.

“We’ve got computers and power at all of our fee shacks, so we have some real instantaneous feedback as far as revenues. We’re capturing ZIP codes and things of that nature. So we’re going to learn and have more accurate information about a number of things that we’d like to know about,” he said.

Part of the reason for all of that is that it’s just a better accounting practice. And it also cuts down on how much cash has to be handled. Koch says they’ve tried credit cards before and it didn’t really work. But so far this year, nearly a quarter of people parking and camping are paying up with plastic.

While the city is in high gear keeping things clean, retailers are in overdrive. I’ve heard the first Saturday of dipnetting season referred to, with a heavy dose of sarcasm, as Fred Meyer Day in Soldotna. Of course, Kenai might have its own unofficial holiday.

“I’ve never heard of Fred Meyer Day before, I would have thought it’s more of a Wal-Mart Day. I had spoken with the manager there last year or the year before, and he said he’d never seen anything like it. They were stocking shelves 24 hours a day and weren’t able to keep some shelves stocked. And you could see evidence of that by how empty some of the shelves were in the grocery section. So it’s a significant impact,” he said.

Koch says they don’t typically keep tabs on the law enforcement side of things. That’s mostly under the jurisdiction of Wildlife Troopers. And they’ve been pretty busy, too. Trooper dispatches from the weekend showed no fewer than a dozen violations. Almost all of them were for failure to mark fish, fishing without a personal use card or having a net in the water while the fishery was closed. None of those cited were residents of the Peninsula.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


“I’ve Seen Worse…” Beaches Still Calm As Sockeye Move In

The salmon are getting close. Setnetters along the east side of Cook Inlet have been given extra time to harvest the run of sockeye, which is coming in strong. Dipnetters are hard at work, too, though the biggest days of the year are just ahead.

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The first wave of fish and people hit the beaches of Cook Inlet over the weekend. On Tuesday, it was pretty calm. Plenty of people on the north and south beach of the Kenai, to be sure. Hundreds, in fact. Some were napping in lawn chairs, or sacked out on the seat of a four wheeler in the early afternoon sun. There were mini processing lines set up… like small assembly lines. One person would drag the long pole out of the water, then overturn the net to empty out the catch.  Then someone else would smash the fish in the head with a rock. A lot of kids were handed this chore. Some took on the duty with an almost disturbing delight, while some were visibly nervous at the prospect of holding down a 10 pound sockeye and beating the life out of it. Fish were piled on the sand or tossed in buckets. Dozens of tables were set up along the shore. Smeared with blood and ready for the next fish to be filleted.

As I rounded the long corner of the south beach where the Inlet converges with the Kenai River, I met Zach from Wasilla. He’s 21. When I ask how long he’s been coming down here to fish, he simply held his hand down level with his knee. Today, he says, isn’t too bad.

“I’ve seen worse…where you can barely pull your net out of the water because there’s so many people. When the fish are actually running in here, it gets bad. You get people wanting to start fights with you,” he said with a laugh.

The fish aren’t hitting real hard today, but hard enough to keep everyone busy. Counts from Fish and Game showed a surge of sockeye into the river one day over the weekend of about 60 thousand. So the big one should hit any day now. Last year that happened on a weekend, so people like Zach who can be here in the middle of the week might have a little more room to maneuver. He says over the years, he and his dad have spread out their operation a bit.

“My dad came up here from Guam in 1985 or 1986, been fishing ever since. Then got into this. We used to camp here, on the top part, and then ride our four-wheelers down (to the beach). Then I started to drive and I started camping down here. My dad moved to a different camp ground. So we’re getting fish from both areas, ocean and the rivers,” he said.

The Kasilof was a different story. Fewer than a half dozen camp sites were set up there Tuesday morning, and not a single body out in the water dragging a dipnet. Counts on the Kasilof have nearly hit last year’s totals already. Three-hundred-one thousand is the count so far. Well ahead of the 375,000 counted in 2012.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Assembly Could Seek Advisory Vote On CARTS Funding

Funding for public transportation is getting some scrutiny from the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly. A resolution the body will take up at its next meeting calls for an advisory vote from the public about future funding for the Central Area Rural Transit System, or CARTS.

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The Assembly has been kicking this around for several weeks. But other agenda items like habitat protection and term limits have gotten most of the attention lately. Public testimony was scheduled for June 18th, but that was the same night more than 100 people showed up to talk about anadromous streams. It finally got a reading July second from Assembly member Mako Haggerty.

“The reason this was brought to us was because the sponsor of this felt like every time this comes around, we hear from several people that they don’t like the Borough spending money on this,” Haggerty said.

Assembly member Brent Johnson of Clam Gulch is the sponsor. The CARTS service area stretches from the end of the Spur Highway in Nikiski, down to North Coho in Kasilof, and then east to Sterling.

For the fiscal year that started July first, the Borough sent 25 thousand dollars to CARTS. A move to increase that to 50 thousand dollars was shot down when the Assembly finalized the budget in June.

CARTS has a $1 million dollar budget. That million dollars helps pay for vehicles and staff to transport residents nearly half a million miles each year.

The resolution before the Assembly doesn’t cut dollars from CARTS. If passed, it would simply put a question on the fall ballot for regular Borough elections asking the question “Shall the Kenai Peninsula Borough continue providing financial support for CARTS?”

Haggerty said there was interest in putting even more budget items on the list.

“There were other suggestions to add other non-departmentals to this ballot measure and those ideas didn’t go over too well. So this basically focuses on CARTS,” he said.

The public will finally have a chance to weigh in at the Assembly’s next meeting August 6th.


CPH Unveils New Oncology Center

Wednesday was the grand opening of a new oncology unit at Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna. It’s the latest development in a broader effort to expand medical services on the Peninsula.
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Kenai Mayor Pat Porter, with some assistance from a few cancer survivors, summed up why this latest edition to CPH is so important with four letters: HOME. Porter has been leaving home a lot herself recently, undergoing regular radiation treatments in Anchorage.

“You must make choices for extended stays with relatives or friends, rent hotel rooms, fly back and forth on a daily basis or on a weekly basis, take leave from employment and list goes on,” Porter told the crowd.

The oncology center is just one part of a bigger effort to provide more and more specialized services at the Borough-owned hospital. This spring, the Borough Assembly approved spending $3 million for design on a new office building that will provide yet more services.

The hospital’s CEO, Rick Davis, says that as the age of Peninsula residents grows steadily older, the need for those services will grow right along with it.

“The fact that our oldest segment is the fastest growing points to the fact that we’re going to need more cancer services, more orthopedic, more joint replacements, cardiology needs are going to grow. For the next 10 or 15 years, those are going to be very fast-growing needs,” he said.

After a few short speeches by other hospital officials and dignitaries, the ribbon was cut, and the crowd was ushered in for a look by the center’s clinical director, John Halligan.

The place looks typically clinical, but little touches here and there have been designed specifically to provide a warm, welcoming environment for patients.

Moving inside to where the actual treatments will be done, a video was playing that explained the science involved with zapping cancerous cells with radiation from a linear accelerator. The head of the department, Jan Weiler explained that patients will lie under a ceiling painted and lit to like a view of the sky through a forest.

“You don’t feel anything, see anything. The machine makes a little buzzing or clicking noise, and that is it,” Weiler said of the experience patients can expect.

The price tag for the new center was about $10 million. A team of three physicians will serve around 200 patients a year.


Clayton Brockel, Founding Director Of KPC, Dies At 86

Brockel famously worked out of his '63 Chevy sedan, 'Ol Blue, while building up Kenai Peninsula College in the 1960's. (Photo courtesy UAA)

The Kenai Peninsula lost one of its most influential figures Wednesday.  Clayton Brockel, the founding director of Kenai Peninsula College, died. He was 86.

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Clayton Brockel was chosen as the first director of KPC in 1963. He had been an English teacher in the Kenai City School District. Working out of a 1963 Chevy sedan, he traveled the Peninsula, slowly building the infrastructure to provide post-secondary education on the Kenai.

“Believe me, his job, when he got here, to create the college was much more difficult than anyone who followed him,” said the college’s current director, Gary Turner.

“It’s a very difficult day for us. It’s the end of an era. Clayton was the founder of KPC…There’s only ever one founder. There’s only ever one first and that was Clayton. He was quite a man, he was quite a leader and we will really miss him,” Turner said.

Brockel’s experience and his continued involvement with the college have been invaluable over the past five decades.

“These jobs are not the easiest; there’s a lot of politics in these kinds of jobs. And Clayton had been there before. He was a guy I could believe in and trust he would provide me with the advice and suggestions and the recommendations that made my job easier. I don’t know how I would have managed without that.”

When the college, along with the Borough and the school district, celebrates its 50th anniversary next year, Brockel will be a focal point on the symbol that will mark the occasion.

Coins will be minted for all three and feature the likenesses of Brockel and also Harold Pomerory, the Borough’s first mayor, and Sterling Sears, the first superintendent of the school district.

Clayton Brockel is survived by his wife Jean. He was preceded in death by a son, John. Memorial services are pending.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Assembly Postpones Vote On Term Limits

The Kenai Peninsula Borough is still wrestling with the question of term limits. It was last answered by voters in a 2007 initiative, which kept Assembly members from running for more than two consecutive terms. It has been revisted at some level several times since then.

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This has been at least a 20 year fight. In 1993, voters approved term limits. That was repealed a few years later by the Assembly. Then in 2007, voters again said yes to term limits. The Assembly dutifully waited two years before going back to it, making it so a partial term didn’t count toward the overall limit. Two years ago, former Mayor Dave Carey vetoed an ordinance that would have changed the limits yet again. And now, Assembly member Hal Smalley has put forth a new ordinance that would remove term limits. He says the best way to keep elected officials from staying around too long is through regular, open elections.

“Vote for that candidate or vote against that candidate. Get people out to vote. I think our turnouts have been at best, appalling,” he said.

Smalley is up for reelection in 2014. If the repeal goes through, he could run for a third term. What the current rules prevent, unless you take a six month break in between terms. The issue of term limits is being vollied back and forth between opposing idealogies. One like Smalley’s, and the other that says limiting how long someone can hold office or how many times they can be elected keeps alive the notion of the citizen legislator. Invoking the famous words of John Emerich Edward Dalber Acton, known simply as Lord Acton, that absolute power corrupts absolutely, Nikiski resident Fred Braun said the attitudes of elected officials change over time.

“Doesn’t it agree with your common sense and natural experience that long-tenured individuals generally, if not always, become a little jaded, indifferent, cyncial, sometimes arrogant, regarding the duties and responsibilities of their job,” Braun asked the Assembly.

The 2007 initiative passed, 53 percent to 47 percent. A sizeable difference, but not a landslide. Penny Vadla of Soldotna spoke in favor of repeal, dismissing the notion of career politicians at the Assembly level.

“You’re not a state politician. Or a federal politician. I don’t want to lose the knowledge and I don’t want to lose the thinking and I don’t want to lose the expertise that the people who serve on a board for more than two years gain. If you think that these new people have expertise after a few months, you’re in La La Land. It takes a lot longer than that,” Vadla said.

In the end, after several amendments and some clarification from the Borough Attorney about taking an advisory vote, the Assembly voted to postpone a final vote until its next meeting August 6th.


KDLL Evening News for December 5th

KPBSD enrollment numbers down in some areas…

City of Kenai releases annual dipnet report…

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New Salmon Study Tries To Pinpoint Location Of Kings, Reds As They Hit Rivers

King salmon runs to the rivers of Cook Inlet are down again this year. Complicating matters for Fish and Game managers are the strong sockeye runs that commercial and personal use fishers depend on. After last year’s disastrous fishing season, the Parnell administration launched a 5-year, $30 million effort to find out more about salmon life cycles in the ocean. One of the studies under way is trying to figure out where kings and reds are hanging out in the water just before they return to the rivers.

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Canadian researcher Dr. David Welch makes his way out of the cold waters of the Kenai River on a recent Saturday afternoon. He’s working beneath the waves of the Kenai and the Kasilof, placing electronic receivers for a tracking study that will help shed some light on exactly where in the water Chinook and sockeye salmon are as they approach the rivers.

“The receiver will know the date and the time that each fish went by by the serial number on the tag, but also the depth of the animal. That depth information is critical because if we can establish that there’s a significant difference in the  depth that the chinook are migrating in, and they’re thought to be deeper, then conceivably, the nets can be shortened up so that they’re hung from the surface, but don’t hang down as far as they do now. The sockeye fishermen can catch their quota of sockeye, which is big. And avoid bycatch of chinook,” Dr. Welch said.

Dr. Welch has been studying pacific salmon for decades. In 2000, he started his own company, Kintama. The goal was to provide science and data that might explain declines in salmon stocks up and down the Pacific coastline of North America.

“They’re puzzles. They’re multi-dimensional Rubick’s Cube. How do you put all this equipment together? How do you keep it in place, how do you get it back? And then how do you take the data and get something that’s actually worth while and justifies the cost of the research,” Dr. Welch said.

The cost for this research is just under $700,000. With this study, the Department of Fish and Game is looking to answer four basic questions:

What are the differences in entry patterns of Chinook and sockeye salmon into the ESSN fishing district in relation to date, tide stage, wind velocity, etc ?

What are the differences in vertical distributions of Chinook and sockeye salmon as they enter the ESSN fishing district ?

What are the differences in migration rates of Chinook and sockeye salmon in relation to tagging date and fish length ?

How do tidal fluctuations affect the milling behavior of Chinook and sockeye salmon in the Kenai River estuary ?

Efforts like this can bring together strange bedfellows.  Commercial and sportfishing groups stretching from the Kenai Peninsula up to the Mat-Su Valley recently signed off on a few research areas they all support. None of it’s real groundbreaking stuff, but consensus between groups like the commercial-friendly Alaska Salmon Alliance and the Kenai River Sportfishing Association is almost as rare as king salmon seem to be these days.

“We did come to agreement on a big one; genetics studies. We’re all very supportive of expanding genetic analysis because of the diversity in the composition of the stocks that come into Cook Inlet,” said Arni Thompson, executive director of ASA.

Being able to identify things like what river a fish came from could go a long way in helping to tailor management decisions. Set net fishing for sockeye was shut down almost entirely last year, triggered by a shutdown of king fishing in the river. Both sides criticized that decision. They said it was like performing surgery with a chainsaw. The restrictions were too broad.

“You know, we can all argue about allocations, but one thing we can coalesce around is getting better information,” said Ricky Gease, executive director of the Kenai Sportfishing Association.

“And agreeing on what type of research is necessary. And so I think you’re seeing some agreement between different user groups, saying hey, let’s work towards getting better information to use for management.”

Dr. Welch says his research is showing the saltwater environment to be a dangerous place for salmon. Survivability in the open water is going down. And for any number of reasons. It could be a food source problem. It could be temperature changes. It could be the often-cited by catch problem. He says more ocean research is just beginning to make people down south rethink management priorities.

“Does it really make sense, with a lot of sharks and other things with big teeth in the ocean, to drop them off in a rough neighborhood, if in fact the survival is worse there?  We’re early days in doing this, and there’s legitimately lots of skepticism about whether we’re right. But for the first time, people are saying oh, maybe we should be rethinking this. Maybe it’s not appropriate to say get them to the ocean as fast as possible. What we thought or what our assumptions were, may not be correct,” Dr. Welch said.

Dr. Welch is tagging fish throughout the month of July down by Homer. He’ll mark 70 sockeye and 70 chinook by surgically implanting tiny transmitters. When the fish swim over the array laid out at the mouth of the Kenai and the Kasilof, the data will come in. A final report is due to Fish and Game in March. If you catch one of the salmon that’s been tagged for the study, here’s how to pick up your $100 reward.


Former ADN Sports Editor Pens Kenai River Sportfishing Book

Author Lew Freedman signs a copy of his newest book "My Season on the Kenai: Fishing Alaska's Greatest Salmon River". The book chronicles the 2012 season from the perspective of the sport fishing community.

Long time sports editor for the Anchorage Daily News has just released a new book detailing a season spent fishing on the Kenai River. Freedman was at Kenai River Brewing in Soldotna for a book signing.

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-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Buccaneer Board Avoids Full Takeover By Singapore Investors

After a special shareholders meeting Tuesday, the Board of Directors for energy producer Buccaneer has a new look.

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A takeover attempt by a group of Singapore-based investors was only partly defeated in a vote Tuesday in Sydney, Australia.

Jeannie Kever of the Houston Chronicle reports that shareholders in the company voted to keep Buccaneer’s founder and Chief Executive Officer, Curtis Burton on the Board. They also kept the company’s finance director. But two investment companies based in Singapore rallied the votes necessary to install three new members.

Officials for Buccaneer didn’t return calls for comment, but last week, the CEO Curtis Burton put out a video pleading his company’s case.

“One of the things (we’ve) said from day one was that this company was built on a big vision, of we were only going to only raise as much money as we had to have to get to the next stage. From my perspective, what we’ve been telling shareholders all along is that this is a dynamic, large vision that requires capital to fuel.”

That capital has been raised in fits and spurts. Earlier this year, Chicago-based Victory Park Capital extended a $100 million line of credit to the company. That came after a contract dispute last year that called Buccaneer’s financial resources into question. Workers on the jack-up rig Endeavour, which Buccaneer owns a part of, walked off the job after not receiving pay checks. Buccaneer said it was their subcontractor’s problem to deal with, the subcontractor, Archer Drilling, said the contracts they were responsible for were taken care of. Endeavour was moored in Homer Harbor racking up repair bills and dock fees all winter. On Monday, Buccaneer announced that Meridian Capital International Fund acquired up to 19.99 percent interest in the company, raising more than $15 million.

The investors hoping to take over control of Buccaneer’s Board of Directors wanted to consolidate its operations. They wanted to focus on what the company is doing on shore with natural gas. Not the capital-intensive, high-risk game of drilling for oil in Cook Inlet. CEO Burton warned investors against that strategy.

“That is not a safe, sane or balanced approach to what we’ve been doing. One of the rules that I’ve lived by is you never put all of your eggs in one basket. In this case, you don’t bet the company on a land gas deal and exclude the huge upside that the offshore oil resources represent,” he said.

Perhaps giving some credence to that case was Buccaneer’s recent announcement that reserves in its Cook Inlet holdings could be as much as 100 million barrels. That announcement and the Board shake up didn’t do much for Buccaneer’s stock price. It closed on the Australian Stock Exchange Tuesday at a very affordable four cents a share.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Yo-Yo Guy Dazzles, Teaches In Performances On The Kenai

Julius the Yo Yo Guy performs at the Soldotna Sports Center

Just about everyone has played around with a yo yo at some point in their lives. Some people make a career out of it. Julius, the Yo-Yo Guy has been traveling around the Peninsula flashing his skills and dazzling audiences.

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He wowed the crowd with some serious yo yo tricks. Around the world and walking the dog were just the start of it. Audience members young and old came up on stage to get a quick lesson and a free yo yo from the master. Despite how easy he makes it look, the practicing never really stops for the Yo Yo guy.

“There’s no end to it. Back home when I’m not on the road, I do free classes twice a week. What’s neat is to watch the kids start to teach each other when they get to a certain level. They just start inventing stuff. There’s this barter and trade thing, where, if they want to learn something, they have to offer something. It’s really fantastic,” he said.

Julius has toured the world, showing off impossible-looking tricks and promoting the latest yo yo technology, models like the aptly-named Mosquito, which sounds just like one of the pesky things flying by your ear.

The yo yo is timeless. Julius says it brings together generations, grandchildren learning new tricks from grandparents. And yo yo-ing can be a cultural bridge, too.

“I remember giving away a yo yo in Indonesia. And there was this back row of kids that always don’t have shoes. And so I brought this kid up on stage in my show, and he kept coming every day. And I noticed slowly but surely, his shirt was getting shorter. He was unraveling his shirt to make yo yo string. So at the end I gave him a new yo yo and a hundred yo yo strings and a new shirt.”

Julius is performing around the Peninsula through the week, with appearances at local Boy and Girls Clubs with a final show on the 4th of July at 2 p.m. at the Park Strip in Kenai.