Fisher Poets Fill Tustumena Lodge With Song, Salty Verse

The creative talents of several Peninsula fisher men and women were on display Friday night at the Tustumena Lodge in Kasilof, where the fisher poets competed for best song or poem.

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Things started off innocently enough, with romanticized memories of days and nights out on the boat and a genuine affection for the sea and all the life it supports. Steve Schoonmaker got things started.

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Clark Whitney sang about the goodness of what you might call an Alaskatarian diet with his song, “Caribou, sheep, moose meat”

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Pat Dixon works with the larger fisher poets group based in Astoria, Oregon. I spoke with him after the show. He says the best thing about these smaller gatherings is the intimacy.

“These events allow you to spend more time with people you create with. And then what happened in there earlier tonight when people who are new to it stand on stage and give it a shot, that’s just outstanding. It’s real exciting. It’s like teaching someone to fish for the first time. To watch somebody who you know has not been on stage before giving it a shot and being really courageous, it’s a lot fun,” Dixon said.

As the night went on, things got a bit salty. Actually, not just a bit. That would be like saying Denali is a bit of a hike. Things got really salty. Pretty much what you might expect from so many veterans of Alaskan fishing. Rich King performed a couple pieces, but only one of them won’t get us in trouble with the FCC; a tribute song to an old fishing buddy of his who would kiss the first caught salmon of the season, then release it, for good luck.

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Everyone who read or sang was competing for a $100 cash prize. Trina Uvass, whom you might know as the co-host of KDLL’s Tuesday night show Musicology with Dan and Trina, took home the cash with her rather racey poem about an affinity toward the men who inspired it.

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That’s about all of that one we could share on the air.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Buccaneer Plans On Hold

Plans by Buccaneer Energy to drill more natural gas wells at its Kenai Loop unit are on hold for now.

Buccaneer had planned to expand drilling and applied for some spacing exceptions from the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. As Kristen Nelson of the Petroleum News reports, there are some questions about some of the leases. Cook Inlet Region Incorporated, or CIRI told the Commission during an August public hearing that one of the leases in question had been terminated. Buccaneer maintained it was still in effect.

Buccaneer had to apply for a couple the spacing exceptions because the wells it wants to drill are less than 3,000 feet from a well that’s already producing, or might be capable of producing. The Mental Health Trust and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources control other lands within that area and were involved in the decision.

DNR is putting up roadblocks because Buccaneer hasn’t filed an operations plan for the work.

By denying the application, the commission keeps Buccaneer from any drilling until it’s worked out an agreement with the DNR, CIRI and the Mental Health Trust. In its last order on the issue, the commission said that Buccaneer “bears the burden of proof that this well will not impact the rights of adjacent landowners.”


Kenai Candidates Weigh In On Ballot Props

When voters in the city of Kenai fill out their ballots on October 1st, they’ll have a lot of questions to answer.

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There are four ballot questions voters will be asked to settle this year. Starting with number four, because it’s pretty non-controversial. It asks “Shall the Charter of the City of Kenai be amended by removing all references in the masculine form and replacing them with gender neutral references?” Pretty simple yes or no question.

Numbers three and two are also sort of, housekeeping-type measures. They update the city’s charter to more accurately reflect the time in which we’re living.

Prop two deals with the mayor’s power to parole, pardon or communicate. That’s a leftover provision from the original charter, approved by voters fifty years ago. Number three also recognizes the gradual emergence of state level agencies and offices that now handle all sorts of regulatory stuff. Like the regulation of milk and milk products. That’s something the city council has control over right now through the charter, but voters are being asked if the city should be relinquished of the responsibility to keep tabs on milk production, the same way it inspects plumbing or electrical work.

Candidate forums for the city council and mayoral races have shown more or less unanimous support for all those; making language in the charter gender-neutral, taking away the mayor’s power to grant pardons, which the mayor doesn’t really have anyway,  and the milk business. But Council member Bob Molloy, who’s challenging Pat Porter in the mayor’s race, says making the changes to the charter needs to be handled carefully, and with the right process. It’s the city’s constitution.

“I didn’t support this proposition about putting the power of the Mayor on the ballot for a couple reason. I don’t believe in a piecemeal approach to the charter. I think if we’re going to look at amending sections of the charter, we should do it organically, as a whole. We should establish a charter review commission, either elected or appointed, that has a sunset period; maybe two years, that can come back with recommendations,” Molloy said.

The other ballot measure is kind of the big one.

It asks voters to keep or repeal the city’s new comprehensive plan that was just passed this summer. In fact, the comp plan was one of the main reasons that Mark Schrag is running for city council.

“Kenai is in a great position. We’ve got land available. In the comp plan, they talk about future land use and the real need is residential. I feel like if we make Kenai a great place to live, there’s a lot of people out there who have jobs that allow them to live anywhere and work through the internet, and I would like to attract that kind of (resident),” Schrag said at a recent candidate forum.

There have been two main issues with the comp plan. One is that there wasn’t enough opportunity for public input. Incumbent Brian Gabriel says the dozens of amendments the council considered are proof that the council heard everyone.

“When it finally did come to council, we had, I believe, 55 proposed amendments to the plan that were considered. We did make changes. We did, I feel, listen to people’s views and we just didn’t rubber-stamp it and move on. We put some meaningful work into the plan, so if you get to the point where you’re rewriting the whole plan at the council level, then it should go back to Planning and Zoning and start over,” Gabriel said.

The other thing that opponents of the plan call attention to is a perceived lack of balance; trading the quiet and seclusion of rural neighborhoods for more opportunities for businesses to open up. Terry Bookey, the other incumbent in the race, says despite complaints, the council maintained just that kind of balance with the plan that he supported.

“This is one of those compromise situations, and I think the city council did a good job compromising between the differing points of view and the oftentimes vastly conflicting points of view. And I think it’s important to remember that just because not all ideas were made and changes were made, doesn’t mean that folks weren’t listened to. Each and every person who came into that room was listened to,” Bookey said.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on October first, at three sites: Precinct one at the old Carrs Mall, precinct two at the Challenger Learning Center, and precinct three at the senior center.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

In the interest of full disclosure, we point out that Terry Bookey is president of the KDLL Board of Directors.


Soldotna Recreation And Trails Master Plan Released

Centennial Park Boardwalk (photo: City of Soldotna)

The city of Soldotna has released its new Recreation and Trails Masterplan. The final product took lots of community input, and has as its core, six guiding principles for the future of parks in the city.

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When you read through the new master trails plan, one of the first things that becomes clear is the diversity of the populations the parks and rec department in Soldotna is trying to serve. Seniors are becoming a bigger share of the overall population, and they’re staying active longer. On the opposite end of the spectrum, young adults use park and rec facilities the most. So throughout, the plan tries to encourage the most balance and the most versatility.

At the heart of the plan are six guiding principles. Number one: Honor the Kenai River. Most people use the river for fishing, of course, but the plan also considers those who want access for other reasons. One of the goals is to provide a mix of opportunities for residents and visitors to learn about the natural and cultural features of the river and how to protect it.

The second principle: Activate recreation facilities. This is the versatility part. Strategies for this principle include things like expanding programming opportunities of existing facilities to make more use of the infrastructure that’s already in place. Like the Sports Center. Now called the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, its current and future uses are being looked at as part of the master plan. The city’s parks and rec director, Andrew Carmichael, says those uses have changed significantly.

“Over the years, the Sports Center has grown, the use base has grown. Youth hockey association is at an all time high in numbers. And on the other side, you have a youth soccer program that has grown tremendously over the years. The versatility, over the last 19 years that I’ve been here, is tantamount to being able to accommodate as much as possible.”

The third principle reaches out into the neighborhoods and includes things like managing parks to accommodate the rush of users in the summer without shutting local residents out.

Principle four points to that younger crowd. It wants to improve pedestrian access and connections, and does so by supporting the construction and expansion of regional trails to meet what the survey found was a growing need for commuting and recreational trails.

Number five: partnerships. How can the city work with other cities or organizations to provide all of this recreational opportunity? Carmichael says they’ve always done as much sharing as they can between facilities in the city and even with the state, but that’s not always enough. Which brings us to principle number six: regional economic engines. Things like sport and home shows bring big crowds.

“We’ll be constructing a floor to go over the ice to diversify its use a little bit for the Kenai Classic. This year, we’re borrowing (a floor) from the Sullivan Arena in Anchorage. We were looking at possibly borrowing that last spring, but they couldn’t allow us to use if for the same reason we needed it. They had five events to put in four slots. So, the diversity, and being able to accommodate as many people as possible when you don’t have 200 soccer kids, if you can pull the turn away and have some basketball, you’re feeling groovy because you’re full again,” Carmichael said.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

 


Fisher Poets To Perform This Weekend

Cook Inlet Fisher Poet Meezie Hermansen (photo courtesy inthetote.com)

This weekend, fisher poets from around the Kenai Peninsula and beyond will gather for a weekend of song, verse, stories and celebration of life on the seas.

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Pat Dixon wrote his first poem about fishing almost 25 years ago, during a season that remains one of the most memorable in Alaskan history.

“After the Valdez went on the rocks and oil was coming around the other side of the Peninsula and looking like it was going to come up Cook Inlet, I ended up writing a poem called Middle Rip, which I still read occasionally. It was about what I was going to lose if we didn’t get our season because of the oil.”

Dixon is a fisher poet. A loosely organized group of fisher men and women who share their experiences, stories and feelings about the industry and the culture of fishing through poems and songs. A group of local fisher poets will be performing around the Kenai this weekend, including Dixon who counted himself as a local from 1977 to 1998. He’s been helping organize the fisher poets gathering in Astoria, Oregon for about 15 years. And while Alaska certainly has its share of picses-minded performers, Dixon says the fraternity of fisher poetry is international.

“We have some guys that have come from the Gulf of Mexico and from as far away as Japan. One of our fisher poets actually married a Scotsman who was commercial fishing on his great-grandfather’s boat in the North Sea. And they now live in Portland. It’s really expanded into something that’s beyond what any of thought of at the beginning,” Dixon said.

Locally, Rich King, Steve Schoonmaker, Meezie Hermanson and Brent Johnson will perform their works Friday night at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center. Here’s Hermanson’s poem “Cook Inlet Chiropractic” from a performance last year at KPC.

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On Saturday, Dixon and local musician Robb Justice will hold workshops on poetry and song writing. Here’s a bit of Dixon’s poem Low Tide, where he talks about the anxieties of boarding a ship with his two year old son in tow.

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The featured poets perform Friday night, with workshops going on Saturday. You can call Triumvirate Theatre for more information on that. Saturday night at the Tustumena Lodge in Kasilof, there’s an open mic set, and $100 cash prize to the best new fisher song. Sunday is the finale event with a poetry reading at 5 p.m. at Triumvirate Theatre, and another $100 prize for the best poem. (Here’s the flyer.)

“You don’t have to be involved in the commercial fishery to listen to these stories and appreciate them. A lot of folks come to the fisher poets gathering that have no experience on the sea, but if you like sea stories and you enjoy being entertained by live theatre and live performers, I think you’ll have a good time at any of these events,” Dixon said.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Harvest Helpers: Students Connect Farm To Food In Annual Field Trip

Students haul away red and green cabbage from the fields of Ridgeway Farms in Kenai.

For almost two decades, local students have been visiting Ridgeway Farms in the fall to see a working farm in action, pet a few animals, and get a little dirty helping with the harvest. This year, students from Kaleidoscope school in Kenai visited the farm, and enjoyed some soup from the fruits of their labors the following day.

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Nicole Shelden shows her students how to trim kale at Ridgeway Farms

 

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Assembly Hears Marine Transportation Concerns

The Tustumena. (Photo by Kenneth Gill/Flickr Creative Commons)

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly met this week in Homer. One of the big topics of the evening was transportation.

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Specifically, water transportation. As in the Alaska Marine Highway System and its aging fleet of ferries, namely the Tustumena.

Seldovia city manager Tim Dillon addressed the Assembly both in that role and also as chair of the Alaska Municipal League’s transportation committee.

“Our committee’s focus has been on trying to increase funding for roads, airports and the ferry system. We’ve provided communities and boroughs with a draft letter and resolution to go to the governor. We are asking communities to highlight their mode of transportation for additional statewide funding. We have to remember that we do have a big bank account and at some point, it might be time for us to go dipping into it,” Dillon said.

He told the Assembly that in the time the Tustumena has been dry docked in Seward for repairs and upgrades, about ten months, he’s received weekly updates on the boat’s status from Transportation commissioner Patrick Kemp. The Tusty’s return to the water always seems to be just around the corner, but…

“A few additional welds have failed the latest rounds of testing. Meaning some additional welds or plate replacement is required,” Dillon said, reading from one of the updates.

“I can’t tell you how many times this thing changes, it’s every week. You wait for the love letter, and then you have to deal with your community to figure out what you’re going to do about getting things,” he said.

But the news wasn’t all bad. Ten million dollars have already been marked to pay for design of a replacement of the fifty-year old Tustumena. But Dillon says another $120 million is needed so that construction can begin as soon as the design is approved.

Dillon said he’s gotten word that the Tustumena should be back in service by mid-October when it’s replacement, the Kennicott, is scheduled to head back to southeast.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Kenai Mayoral Candidates See Differences In Role

The two candidates for mayor of Kenai have many years of experience in public service, and even more years living in Kenai. The differences between incumbent Pat Porter and her challenger, city council member Bob Molloy, are subtle, yet distinct.

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Molloy and Porter have worked together through the city council for nearly a decade, and the things that separate them don’t do so to a huge degree. Both share concerns about the dipnet fishery, recognize a need to continue to support the oil and gas industry and broader economic growth in general, while keeping Kenai’s sense of rural community intact. But it’s how they would address these things as Mayor that shows where the differences lie.

Porter, who is seeking her fourth term as Mayor, says a hands-on approach is what has worked best for her.

“When I get complaints from citizens about the condition of…whether it be the Rec Center or the Fire Department or the Senior Center or any of those kinds of things, I feel it’s my responsibility as a council person to go see for myself. I think we have a responsibility to know our buildings, to go inside and look at them and see where repairs need to be made, and also to answer to the citizens when they have a concern,” Porter said.

Molloy says the role of the city’s mayor isn’t to drive policy debate or spending decisions or micromanage the city’s departments. That’s what the city manager is for. He says one of his biggest concerns is with the confidence residents have in the Mayor and council, or the lack thereof. He says the fact that the city’s comprehensive plan is again on the ballot this fall for repeal, suggests that lack of confidence in the actions of the council.

“I’ve heard people express that they feel shut out of the process, that we don’t reach out to them enough. One difference between us is the formalization of work sessions. I spoke against that. People are not happy with that, and particularly felt shut out of the comprehensive planning process because the format kept changing,” Molloy said.

Both Molloy and Porter recognized the unique challenges Kenai faces in terms of growth. There’s a lot of land for it, to be sure, but it’s kind of spread out, and hasn’t always been developed with thoughts in mind of what the rest of the city might look like a decade or two down the road. That makes concentrating business in just one area a tall order. Porter said she would vote No on the ballot question asking to repeal the city’s recently-passed comprehensive plan. Molloy says he doesn’t have his mind made up, yet. He voted for comp plan as it sits on the books now, but says he’s got more questions to answer before he makes up his mind in October.

While the city’s comprehensive plan tends to be a source of contention every decade or so, the statewide personal use fishery comes under scrutiny every single year. Both Porter and Molloy agreed that this year went pretty well, and there’s been continuous improvement in handling the thousands of visitors each year, but there are always things that can be done better. Like conveying to the state, in no uncertain terms, what the city’s concerns are.

“One of the good examples of that is that the Kenai city council took a really hard stand on not having our fishery opened 24 hours a day. It doesn’t allow us to clean it the way we should, it’s not what our residents want. So we try really hard to work with them, but we don’t want our residents in the city of Kenai to have to pay for one cent of what that dipnet fishery costs our community. It should be the users who come down to the beach to do the fishing,” Porter said.

Molloy says the fishery needs to be approached from a different angle at the state level, by using stamps to denote fishers taking advantage of the dipnetting opportunities on the Kenai River.

“That would have a lot of effects if it happened. We could potentially reduce city fees, we could reduce the impact of people who are avoiding the fees by going along the river bank and things like that cause some damage. It would also reduce the financial risk to the city. If, for some reason, there aren’t enough fish and they close the fishery, you know, we’re already set up to rock and roll for that period of time,” Molloy said.

Kenai voters will also be choosing from three candidates to fill two open city council seats. Porter and Molloy made their comments on this week’s edition of the Coffee Table, which aired on KDLL.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Artist Discusses Paint The Kenai Mural Winner

"Kenai La Belle" by Fanny Ryland.

Travelers coming into Kenai will soon be greeted with a giant mural, highlighting some of the Peninsula’s more notable attributes.  “Kenai La Belle” will be placed at the airport later this year.

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When Fanny Ryland put brush to board for the Paint the Kenai project that wrapped up on September sixth, it was her biggest artistic undertaking to date.

“I used to draw when I was a teenager, but just for myself. Nothing to that extent and I never participated in something like this. I don’t have any art of my own in my house,” Ryland said.

Her painting was chosen from six finalists, and a total field of two dozen entries that came in. She’s been in Alaska for nine years and on the Kenai for about a year, but that’s been enough time to capture at least some sense of what’s important. What makes the Kenai Peninsula what it is.

She says the effort was collaborative, bouncing ideas off coworkers and family.

“What comes in mind when we think about community? So, getting some input from my family and friends and my husband, at the end when I had pretty much everything, but I had some blank spots, I wondered what to do, my husband said you need some wildlife.”

Salmon, of course, and caribou, though there wasn’t room for everything.

“He really wanted the bear, but I’ve been here for a year and I haven’t seen a bear in Kenai, so I though ‘this doesn’t pertain to me.’”

Even if the bears didn’t make the cut, so much else did. From the salmon swimming up into the Kenai River, the drift boats and platforms in the Inlet, the Russian Orthodox church, the feeling of perpetual darkness in winter, and perpetual light in summer, and the beautiful colors we see briefly in between.

 And, as with all art, the authenticity, the quality, the importance…those are all subjective.

“On Facebook, I noticed someone said they really like my painting, but the fish was swimming the wrong way. It’s funny that somebody else’s interpretation is different from what you think,” Ryland said.

There are some details left to hammer out before an official unveiling, but the mural will measure 12 feet by 24, and you’ll surely see it in front of the Kenai Airport when it goes up sometime later this year.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Assembly To Ask State For Support On Transportation Issues

As the state ferry Tustumena sits in dry dock, undergoing repairs, Alaskan coastal communities are struggling with the lack of regular transportation to and from the mainland. The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly will take up the cause at this week’s meeting in Homer.

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“This is our highway. Just like you folks have the Sterling Highway and there’s the Anchorage Highway,” said Darlene Crawford, secretary of the Seldovia Chamber of Commerce.

She says the adjustment from seeing a ferry three times a week to now just twice a month has been a challenge.

“It would be as if the Sterling Highway was closed down, and opened once every two weeks and 40 cars could go through and then it would be closed down again for another two weeks.”

The 50 year old Tustumena has been in Seward since last November, and its return service has been pushed back several times since then. The latest prediction was for the ship to hit the seas again by October, at which point some Aleutian communities won’t have seen the ferry for a full year.

In August, the Aleutians East Borough called on the state legislature to get a plan together for a replacement. Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Mako Haggerty says he’ll be introducing a similar resolution at this week’s meeting in Homer.

“It’s letting the governor and the legislature know just how important the ferry system is to coastal Alaska,” he said.

The main intent of the resolution is to highlight the Tustumena, and the Alaska Marine Highway System as a whole, as a piece of vital infrastructure in rural Alaska.

“It’s every bit as integral to their economic soundness as the highways and the airport,” Haggerty said.

The resolution simply asks the governor and the legislature to act swiftly to develop a long term solution to the problems that face the AMHS and work to provide uninterrupted service to Alaska’s coastal communities.

“What I’d like to see is a concentrated effort from the state to rebuild and strengthen the reliability of the Alaska Marine Highway System,” Haggerty said.

The state is taking bids for a replacement for the Tustumena. It’s been estimated that replacing the ship would cost upwards of $200 million. The design of a replacement might take a year and a half, with an unknown amount of construction time. Crawford says that’s a long time to wait.

“I sure hope the state does something. Our Chamber has sent in complaints before, I know the Kodiak Chamber has. This affects this whole area because it’s our highway and we sure miss it,” she said.

Tuesday’s meeting will also feature a presentation by Seldovia City Manager Tim Dillon. He’s chair of the Alaska Municipal League’s Transportation Committee and will discuss statewide transportation needs.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-