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-


Committee Holds First SoHi/Skyview Consolidation Meeting

Tustumena Elementary principal Doug Hayman leads a discussion at Soldotna Middle School Tuesday night. (Photo: Ariel Van Cleave/KBBI)

Soldotna students in 7th through 12th grades will be moved around a bit next year. The group tasked with easing the transition for those kids had their first meeting Tuesday night. Students, parents and teachers in the area make up the members of the Soldotna School Advisory Committee.

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Right off the bat, Transitions Facilitator Doug Hayman told the committee they are serving a purely advisory role. Suggestions the 14-member group make may, or may not be approved by the school board. But Hayman, who also is the principal of Tustumena Elementary School said that won’t mean they are immune to reactions from the community.

“We are the cornerstone of this new decision. And we’re gonna get the credit and the blame.”

Under the plan, Soldotna High School and Skyview High School will combine into the SoHi building. The 9th graders will be separated out and housed in the Soldotna Middle School building, but will still have access to SoHi. Students from the River City Academy also will go there. And the 7th and 8th graders will transition into the Skyview building.

The committee will have six meetings to create a plan that could change the name of each school, the colors and the mascots; basically anything relating to culture and tradition. And that isn’t going to be easy. Emotions already were running high at the first gathering. And there was confusion about what the committee’s role actually could or should be.

One of the big questions of the night dealt with money. Members were wondering how much the KPBSD planned to spend to change colors and uniforms. At the time the school board approved the reconfiguration plan, there was no clear dollar amount thrown around. District officials still have not released any figures. Skyview parent Mike Gallagher has been a vocal opponent of the changes from the start.

“I think it’s time to start worrying about the budget. What is it going to cost to do this whole thing? What are our limitations? How can we make decisions when we don’t know what money we can spend” he asked.

Hayman said, at this point, there will likely be no new money used.  He said, for example, each building is on a re-painting schedule, so if the committee recommends a new color scheme, that would likely not happen right away.

“If it was really important to incorporate the purple color somehow in the new facility, well, those buildings get painted on a schedule. I don’t know what that schedule is, seven years, two years, five years. And if that was important, when it’s time for it to get painted, go through and paint it in a different scheme… or accent,” Hayman said.

That comment prompted Roxie Miller, who has students at SoHi and SMS, to ask this question.

“Say, if by chance, the colors change, but it’s not for five years… how is that going to unify the kids on August 19?”

Aug. 19, 2014 is the first day of school in this new normal. Hayman said he will go back to the district to ask specifics about money, but cautioned the committee that he may only get a set of “parameters” to work within. Some members were reluctant to move forward with anything at all until they knew more about what the district plans to pay for and possibilities for fundraising within the community.

Skyview student Austin Laber was frustrated by the unknowns. He is the co-creator of the Facebook page “Save Skyview” and has been involved in the reconfiguration talks since the beginning. Laber said the school board promised a situation where there would be a totally new identity.

“I feel like this might be a colossal waste of time,” he said.

Another sticking point for the group was the 9th grade house. Krista Arthur was one of a handful of members who wanted more information about how that concept was going to work. Arthur is a teacher at SMS and went through a similar reconfiguration transition when Skyview was built. She switched from SoHi to Skyview after her freshman year.

“I’m really kind of confused on how the whole middle school and the 9th grade house and the high school’s gonna look. And coming up with names… I think really important. But we need some information before mascots and colors. I mean, I’m in the schools… but I’m really, really confused,” she said.

Hayman promised to bring back the state’s definition of a 9th grade “house,” how the district has talked about implementing the concept and if the building needs to be distinct from the 10th through 12th grades in order to keep state funding. With more questions than suggestions brought up during the meeting, SMS teacher Joel Burns said everyone needs to remain positive during the process.

“We’ve jumped into the dirt and you could go back and say ‘jeez, I told you we were going to run into this, and there wasn’t going to be money, that.’ But if we go back to our circles with that attitude, we can’t recover it. It’s the first meeting. We knew it was going to be hard. We’ve got weeks ahead to work. So I just say stay positive and we’re working through it and we’re going to get it done,” he said.

The committee will meet again Sept. 24 beginning at 5:30 p.m. at the Soldotna Middle School library. The agenda for that night will likely focus on the 9th grade house concept.

-Ariel Van Cleave/KBBI-


Ballot Proposition Asks For $23M For School Roof Repairs, Turf Field In Homer

One of the ballot propositions Borough voters will decide on this fall is for a general obligation bond to pay for roof repairs and other upgrades around the Borough school district to the tune of $23 million.

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Just three years ago, the Borough spent almost $17 million dollars on roof repairs through another bond issue, but as Mayor Mike Navarre explained at a recent meeting of the Kenai and Soldotna chambers of commerce, there’s a lot more work to be done on the nearly 43 acres of roof space around the Borough. Because many of the buildings were built in phases over the course of decades, different sections of roofs need attention at different times.

“And didn’t we just fix Kenai Central High School last year or the year before? The reality is, we’re doing it in phases because the (expiration) of the useful lives for the roofs come up at different times. At KCHS, the roof on the original school was built in 1968. It expanded in 1978, and again in 1983,” Navarre said.

Aging and leaky structures drive up energy costs for the building, Navarre said. Wet insulation simply doesn’t work as well as clean dry stuff, so the savings should be substantial, though it’s hard to know exactly how much the Borough would save.

“All the new roofs will be installed with a 20 year warranty. And the estimated energy savings are $268,291, per year. That’s a fairly detailed estimate, based on a formula. We talked about whether or not we should round that, and the person who did the estimate said no, this is what the formula came up with. And if you round it, people say you’re just guessing. The reality is, we’re just guessing.”

If approved by voters, the $23 million dollar bond would be reimbursed by the state at 70 percent.

“I have to qualify that and say that the funds are subject to appropriation by the legislature, meaning they could cut the amount of the reimbursement. But in the history of bond debt reimbursement (which was as high as 90 percent), the legislature has, with the exception of one year, funded the bonds at the amount that was approved by voters,” Navarre said.

The bond package isn’t just for keeping students warm and dry. About eight percent of that $23 million would go toward a new turf field at Homer High School. That improvement would lower maintenance costs and extend playing seasons.

“The reason we decided to put this in there, quite honestly, is that I was having a conversation with the chairman of the Finance Committee, Bill Stoltze (R) – Chugiak, when were were trying to get funding for the Homer and Soldotna High School fields and he said in his district, they bonded for it. You should look at that because capital dollars are drying up,” Navarre said.

The Borough had tried to get money from the legislature for both Homer High and Soldotna High school turf fields, but only SoHi was funded through capital expenditures. Navarre says bonding for the Homer field makes sense, because it would allow other projects to be paid for out of the state’s capital fund. Voters will make the final decision on October 1st.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


United Way Kicks Off Annual Fundraising Campaign

United Way of the Kenai Peninsula kicked off its annual campaign drive Tuesday. The organization is looking for $650,000 to support 27 different agencies across the Kenai.

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Speaking to a joint meeting of the Kenai and Soldotna Chambers of Commerce, United Way’s new Executive Director Lisa Roberts made the case not just for her organization, but the many non-profits United Way helps to support here, asking for businesses and individuals to support this campaign, called ‘united we stand, united we give’

“What is it United Way does, you might ask, because it seems like we ask for your money every year. Well, we do need your money. We need your money to help these organizations stay afloat. Many of them will tell you the funds that they get from United Way help their agencies continue giving back to the community,” Roberts said.

“And we assist them in finding long-term solutions for our community’s problems. We promote cooperation among the organizations and educate the community regarding local needs. We develop and support volunteer efforts in the non-profit sector, and keep administrative and keep overhead and fundraising costs to a minimum.”

The goal this year is $650,00, and the first step toward that goal was taken by Kenai Peninsula College president Gary Turner. He also serves as United Way’s campaign chair for this year.

“This is our plea to you. Invest in your community. Invest in our children. Invest in our seniors. And invest in those who need a chance,” he said.

Turner jumpstarted the contributions by presenting a check to United Way for $1,000.

Roberts, though new to her role as Executive Director, has been active with the organization for years. She says they’re looking for specific and positive contributions to the community out of the organizations they support, and for organizations with a track record of success.

“How have they utilized those funds, what have they done with them? How do they plan to keep going in their organization. What if United Way goes away? How would you sustain yourself? Hopefully that never happens, but everything’s a possibility in today’s world,” Roberts said.

As part of the effort to raise that $650,000, United Way is selling raffle tickets for fifty dollars. That buys you a chance to win a week stay in Cabo San Lucas and $2,000 cash.

Check out more ways to support United Way and its partner agencies by visiting their Facebook page.


State, Industry Talk About Who Should Pay For Dismantling Cook Inlet Oil Platforms

Leaders from the oil and gas industry and state regulatory agencies met in Anchorage Monday for a work session to begin the conversation about what to do with aging infrastructure in Cook Inlet. One of the biggest questions to answer is who will be responsible.

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The big takeaway from Monday’s work session was that there are a lot more questions to answer, and probably even more left to ask. Presidents and other executives from several of the companies operating in Cook Inlet submitted their comments to the Division of Oil and Gas. Their main concern was not being left with the sole responsibility of dismantling or removing the oil platforms that dot the Inlet once all the reserves have been tapped.

Considering some of those platforms have been in use for forty-plus years, and by several different companies, it poses an interesting question. Is it the state’s problem or the industry’s?

State senator Cathy Giessel says she’s sat in on a couple of meetings like this, but she’s still not sure.

“Well, you know, I haven’t really thought about it a lot. As someone brought up, mining companies carry the burden. So should that be put on the oil and gas industry? I don’t know. I have to weigh that out,” she said after the workshop.

Federal law dictates that  mining companies are on the hook to have some sort of plan in place that wraps up operations once the mining is done. That’s not the case with the platforms in Cook Inlet.

Senator Peter Micciche says the question of responsibility will be determined by the final use of the equipment.

“If it ends up being that the structure is for the greater good of Alaskans…we talked about using platforms for (tidal) power generation…if we ended up using them for something else, it’s not black and white. I think for future development, those are agreements that should be made at the beginning. We should understand ultimately who’s going to be responsible and what those expectations are,” he said.

Industry leaders shared generally the same opinion. That setting aside large sums of money for future dismantling projects drains capital from current operations. And that prematurely shutting down or dismantling a platform could leave resources in the ground.

Buccaneer Energy president Jim Watt told the panel that hypothetically, a company would have a separate fund to pay for shutting things down, based on production over the life of the platform or well. But when asked by division of oil and gas director Bill Barron how the state could ensure that those funds would continue to be available as the facility changes hands, Watt said the reality is a bit different.

“Well normally in the terms of a transaction, the future abandonment costs are estimated. And that lessens the value of the transaction. So there’s a future estimate of value, of costs to abandonment, and that’s established as the transaction price. So in essence, there is no transfer of funds from one company to another,” Watt said.

And that’s what worries Cook Inlet Keeper’s Bob Shavelson.

“Industry and Alaskans and I think our government all benefit from predictability. We want to see clear rules, we want to see transparency. We don’t want to see a corporation hiding this money, we want it to be out in the open. So the rules need to be changed. We should do an audit, we should look at these things and understand exactly what the costs are going to be because I think that’s what’s up in the air right now,” he said.

Cook Inlet Keeper recently released a report that took a look at what those costs could be and found that, at best, the state has about half of what it might cost to dismantle, remove or restore these facilities.

“Most of this infrastructure is getting on 50 years old, it’s well beyond its designed life. So these are issues we should be addressing right now.”

Everyone at the session said a lot more work needs to be done to get the state and the industry on the same page in terms of what they expect of each other, and what the best use, or disuse of all those platforms will be once the oil is gone.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Waxing Artistic: Encaustic Works On Display At Veronica’s

Marion Nelson and Zirrus VanDevere discuss Nelson's encaustic works at Veronica's in Old Town Kenai

 

A new art display is up at Veronica’s Café in old town Kenai. It features encaustic works by local artist Marion Nelson.

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Encaustic is an art medium dating back some 2,500 years. It’s Greek and it means ‘to burn in.’ An apt name for creating works of art using layers of hot wax to produce a huge variety of colors, patterns and textures.

Marion Nelson has been making encaustic works for about four years, and her show at Veronica’s features dozens of one-of-a-kind pieces.

“Often times, the wax ends up making as many judgement calls in that decision making process as I do, because it moves around,” Nelson said at a reception for her work Thursday.

Her introduction to the form was serendipitous, she says, born of her relationship with a colleague at the travel magazine The Milepost.

“The Milepost editor took an encaustics workshop just because she’s a great life long learner…she called me up and said ‘Marion, you need to take one of these workshops.’ I took the next workshop, and kept on taking them,” she said.

Four years later,  her home studio is full of encaustic pieces.

Building one of these works takes time, patience, good technique, a little luck, and some relatively hard to find materials.

“You work on a heated palette. Maybe if somebody were looking at the palette, they wouldn’t call it that because it’s a little platform with four legs. The mixture of beeswax, dammar resin and pigment are in a bunch of cat food cans…You work with one brush per can, one brush per color. You can keep applying this, because if you think of a candle wax melting, that wax sets up very quickly. So you can apply many, many layers,” she said.

Taking in the pieces hanging on the walls, it’s not always easy to decipher what exactly is going on. The fluid nature of the wax blurs lines and the layering of the different colors adds depth that further allows you to interpret it your own way. Certainly, some pieces are identifiable. You can always pick out a salmon, but for others that aren’t so easily defined, what’s the motivation?

“My muse…in my brain there a lot of muses running around…I’ve been doing art with various mediums throughout many years. No ‘Barn in the Vally’. I was once asked what kind of artist are you, the barn in the meadow with the trees or the carrot in the Coke bottle. I said I’m the carrot in the Coke bottle artist,” Nelson said with a laugh.

Nelson’s work is on display and on sale at Veronica’s through the end of September, but if all of those pieces are snatched up, I might have to make a trip to her studio and take a shot at hot wax painting myself.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


District 3 Assembly Candidates Call For Less Government, Better Water

Residents of the Nikiski area will have a choice of two candidates to fill the seat left vacant by departing Assembly member Ray Tauriainen.

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The two men running for the Nikiski seat on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly are Steve Chamberlain and Wayne Ogle. Chamberlain owns Charlie’s Pizza in Nikiski and Ogle is a retired Coast Guard officer with some years of public service under his belt as a public works director for the cities of Bethel and Kenai.

Ogle has been a fixture at Borough Assembly meetings recently, and his views generally support a smaller, less obtrusive government.

“I think the Borough is there to deliver basic services; roads, the hospital, recreation, public safety, seniors of course. Those are the types of things they need to deliver and deliver well. When they go outside of that particular area, I think that’s when civil liberties kind of get strained and I think the Borough needs be kind of held in check in that regard,” Ogle said.

Several contentious and divisive issues have cropped up over the past year which prompted both men to run, not least of which was the anadromous streams ordinance that passed in June. Chamberlain says the provisions in that ordinance, which include a fifty foot buffer around all water bodies that support anadromous fish, should extend to industry activities, like oil and gas development, but not to private property owners.

“The little guy is not the one poisoning our aquifers; the people who live around Daniels Lake, the people who live around Beck Lake. They can put up a sauna, and swim the lake and have a fire pit by the lake. They’re not destroying anything. They’re not hurting the fish. What’s hurting the fish is directly dumping toxic waste and chemicals into the ground that enters our aquifer,” Chamberlain said.

Aquifers, and water safety in general, are the main themes of Chamberlain’s campaign. His pizza shop depends on quality water, but he says he doesn’t trust the regulatory bodies currently charged with ensuring that quality.

He’s been on a crusade, of sorts, to put a spotlight on the testing and reporting of wells and other water systems in the area. Nikiski has a history of contamination following years of unregulated dumping and storage.

“This is all about the health and safety of the people of Nikiski, in the future and in the past, and bringing out the truth. I have the documentation (about contaminated sites), and it’s racked my brain. I have to send it over to my lawyer because I’m sick of looking at it. It makes me sick to my stomach to see what these people do. And they’re still doing it. It’s still happening,” Chamberlain said.

Ogle also has experience in the oil industry as a regulatory manager, working with the American Shipping Bureau. He says that technology to avoid water quality issues has greatly improved over the years, and the local Borough Assembly is not the body that should be regulating the activities of the industry. The Department of Environmental Conservation already has a process in place to deal with lingering problems in the area, like the Arness Septage site, he says.

“My view is they (DEC) need to have their feet held to the fire as far as what are they doing next, what are the possibilities and does that make sense. It moves very slowly. I get frustrated. But the best way to go is to keep steady pressure on them to make sure they do the right thing.”

Chamberlain and Ogle made their comments on this week’s edition of the Coffee Table, which aired on KDLL and KBBI.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Candidates Talk Fish, Water And Super Powers At Chamber Forum

Candidates for Kenai City Council Brian Gabriel, Mark Schrag and Terry Bookey field questions during a forum Wednesday at the Kenai Cultural and Vistor's Center.

Candidates vying for two open seats on the Kenai city council discussed their positions on the issues of the day at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon Wednesday.

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Incumbents Brian Gabriel and Terry Bookey are fending off a challenge from Mark Schrag to fill just two seats on the city council. Wednesday at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center, they took turns fielding a wide variety of questions submitted for the forum. The issues that got the most attention were about the city’s infrastructure and its vision for moving forward. Also, their preferred super powers.

“Aside from the obvious, being able to fly and X-Ray vision, I guess my answer would be to be able to bring people together collectively and be patient to the point where you can understand people’s issues to the Nth degree,” said council member Brian Gabriel, taking the first question about what superhero he would like to be, or super powers he would like to possess.

The theme of cooperation and working together was a strong one throughout the 45 minute question and answer session. Mark Schrag, who has led the call for a repeal of the city’s recently-passed comprehensive plan said his efforts in that area have been shaped by compromise, sometimes at a cost.

“In my neighborhood, we’ve been involved quite a bit with these zoning issues and we’re not always of the same mind. There are some people who don’t want to do any sort of compromise. And I’ve pushed at times, and sometimes even taken away my credibility with some of the neighbors, I believe, by pushing for compromise where we would allow some development out on the highway. I’ve worked for compromises so that everyone has a win on that,” Schrag said.

He was referring to development along the Spur highway east of town. He’s been a vocal opponent of reclassifying that area as mixed use, saying there’s a proper balance between keeping residential neighborhoods residential and providing space for more economic growth.

That sort of balance was another theme on the day. Council member Terry Bookey used the comprehensive plan, and the balance it seeks, as an example of what he sees as the mission of the city council.

“It’s an absolute fine line balance game to ensure that you’re looking out for the needs of both interests, which sometimes run in conflict with each other. And the decisions to be made for that are sometimes very difficult. But I think the mission is to listen to those who come before us, take the information that’s been presented to us and thoughtfully make the best decisions that we can for the benefit of our entire community,” Bookey said.

Gabriel said his mission on the council is to keep Kenai a place with economic opportunities that make it an appealing place to raise a family.

“My daughter and son-in-law were able to move back, and he’s got a good job here, they just had a daughter and I think they would love to live in this community the rest of their lives; raise their kids here and be able to have their children enjoy the things that we enjoyed while we grew up here,” he said.

The candidates also took turns discussing that favorite topic for residents of Kenai: dipnetting.

Bookey acknowledged that the city hasn’t always been out in front in terms of managing some of the fallout from the three week extravaganza.

“And some aspects we’ve done a not-so-good job reacting to what’s brought before us. I think the changes in policy and direction that were implemented this previous season are the right direction, and we’ve made good positive steps in reacting to a fishery that is thrust upon us by the state,” he said.

Dipnetting, though popular and kind of popular to rag on a little, too, wasn’t seen as the top issue. Mark Schrag says it’s tackling the problem of keeping Kenai from sliding into Cook Inlet.

“I don’t know if it’s the most important, but I’d put at the top of the list bluff erosion. I feel like there’s a lot of economic benefit that will come from that also, once that is stabilized. There can be trails on there, it can be part of a whole revitalization of the downtown, particularly now with the (Dena’ina Health and Wellness) Center. That can be a game-changer for redeveloping the city center concept,” he said.

The Kenai Chamber of Commerce will sponsor a mayoral debate next Wednesday between Pat Porter and her challenger, Bob Molloy.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

Editor’s note: Terry Bookey is a president of the KDLL Board of Directors.