Expanded Bear Hunt Leaves Questions For Managers

A liberalized brown bear season on the Kenai has resulted in more than sixty bears harvested. Citing increased bear-human conflicts and a threat to the moose population, the Board of Game allowed permitted hunting this year with the goal of bringing the bear population down. How this year’s harvest will contribute to that goal is not known.

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A lot of time was spent this spring discussing Kenai brown bears when the Board of Game was in town. The message was clear: there are more bears, and more people, and so, we see more problems with bears.

The Board opened up brown bear hunting to permitting as opposed to a drawing. The result: more than a thousand permits issued and 66 bears taken before hunting was closed on the Kenai Wildlife Refuge, which represents a big chunk of where Kenai brown bears are hunted. That’s more than 10 percent of the total brown bear population, and for the federal government, which regulates the Refuge, that was too much.

Gino Del Frati is the Region II manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He says a harvest of six to eight percent is generally regarded as what’s needed to sustain a population.

“Either through modeling or through practical experience, that is believed to be sustainable on the long term…We’re over, but not by a substantial amount. Again, we’re over because that was the objective of the exercise.

“In economic terms, this would be kind of like a market correction. The stock market increases, increases, increases, then every once in a while, something drastic happens and that stock market drops down a little bit. Then it continues to rebuild, or it equilibrates down the road,” Del Frati said.

But exactly what effect that spike in the number of bears killed this year will have on the population in the future isn’t known.

“I’m hoping that what we would see next summer is fewer bear problems. I firmly believe that that’s going to be the end result of this…The challenge is taking those specific bears that are truly the problem bears, and not necessarily the ones that aren’t,” Del Frati said.

When the Board of Game was deliberating changing the harvest limits, Board Chair Ted Spraker asked, essentially, what’s the basement? What’s the smallest number of bears we can have on the Peninsula, while still maintaining some population?ADF&G Biologist Sean Farley pointed to management practices in British Columbia for the answer.

Spraker: “We’ve heard figures about the number of bears you need to maintain in a population to kind of secure that population. We’ve heard figures of, you need at least 200 individuals to kind of stabilize that population. Can you offer any suggestions on that lower number?”

Dr. Farley: “One of the reasons I did bring in some information from B.C (British Columbia), is that obviously, the province is huge; much bigger than the Peninsula. But they’ve broken it into what they think are 56 little populations (of bears) that aren’t communicating with each other, and some of them are about the size of the Peninsula and some are coastal. And they use a lower figure of 100 bears. That’s their number for cutoff for hunting. If their assessment is that it’s about 100 bears or so, then they need to be worried and they’ll stop the hunt and move on to conservation measures.”

Del Frati says the exercise this year will be evaluated and a quota will be in place again for 2014, though that number isn’t known yet. Then, it will be back to the Board of Game in 2015 to see if the management strategies need changed some more.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Paving The Way With Special Assessment Districts

This stretch of Lord Baranof street is on the city's capital improvements list, along with a section of North Aspen.

A few more roads are set to be checked off Soldotna’s list of things to pave. The city will fund the projects through special assessment districts.

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There are more than a few roads in Soldotna that could use a little TLC. And a couple of them are getting some attention from the city. A public work is scheduled for next month about a proposed special assessment district that would finance paving Lord Baranof street.

That process can be initiated one of two ways: neighbors going door to door and petitioning the city for the designation, or the city council can make that designation on its own.

The plan to pave the remaining 340 feet of Lord Baranof street is one on a list of several similar projects identified in the city’s five year capital improvement plan. Another one in the works is paving a similar stretch of North Aspen that runs in front of a popular local brewhouse. That project has different considerations, since it would affect nearby businesses, says Planning and Economic Development Director Stephanie Queen.

“What’s the appropriate level of improvement? Do we need sidewalks on that street? The city is doing a lot toward beautification and (accommodating) pedestrians. Should we put trees on that street? And then the most important question for the city and the residents is how much is this all going to cost?”

Figures for the North Aspen project haven’t been calculated yet, but the Lord Baranof work will run $210,841. This is where that special assessment district designation comes in. As the plan is now, the city will pick up 75 percent of that bill, and the owners of the 10 properties that, according to the assessment, would benefit, will take care of the other 25 percent.

“These projects are really difficult because I’ve never seen one where there is unanimous support. I think folks, on even the most challenging projects, might be able to agree in concept. It would be great to have these paved streets. But the challenge is how much is it going to cost and how are we all going to share that cost.

She says because the city initiates the process of designating a special assessment district, people can be caught off guard and feel like the city is forcing the project, which, to some degree it is. But for that stretch of North Aspen, it’s part of a long-term effort to get the work done.

“North Aspen is a project that they’re all familiar with because they’ve been through this process before. There have been attempts made, in 2005 and also back in the late 90′s, to get this street paved through this same process and they both failed,” Queen said.

Cost estimates for the work on Lord Baranof break down like this: The city’s 75 percent share is $158,000, leaving a bill of about $5,200 for each of the ten lots on the street. That comes to a little over $50 a month over the ten years during which property owners will pay the city back. For North Aspen, because of its zoning, things could be broken down a little differently.

“The last, and often the trickiest decision to be made is of these property owners, how does the cost get shared? Is it by lot, where everybody pays the same. Or is it some other methodology, maybe by area or street frontage.”

A public work session is planned to work out those kinds of details for the Baranof improvements on November 13th. A session for the North Aspen work is scheduled for December 11th.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


“Roadside Attractions”: Anchor Point Blue Bus

The Blue Bus in Anchor Point serves up classic diner fare. (Photo: Ariel Van Cleave/KBBI)

There aren’t many highways suitable for road-tripping in Alaska. But the ones we do have are dotted with plenty of interesting road-side attractions. In the first part of a series we’re calling “Roadside Attractions,” we head north about 20 miles to Anchor Point.

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Since moving to Homer last December, I’ve been making the drive from Homer to Soldotna and Kenai for all sorts of reasons: work, a much-needed trip to Fred Meyer or to see a few buddies. I just get in the car and go from Point A to Point B. And I know I’m not alone in doing that.

But curiosity finally got the better of me and I decided I needed to actually go into some of the restaurants, bars and touristy spots that litter the highway. So heading out this past Saturday, I made my first stop with my friend Nyla: The Blue Bus Diner in Anchor Point. Chett Seekins has owned the Blue Bus since 1997. And I’ve heard nothing but good things about Chett’s burgers and shakes.

Chett’s parents, Gert and Floyd, were also grabbing lunch while we were there. In between chatting with them, Nyla and I took in the sights. There are dozens and dozens of cookie jars on various shelves. Some of them, like the one that looks like a miniature police officer, even talk.

Chett said she started the collection soon after buying the diner and people from the community come in and drop them off.

The Blue Bus is also a stop for cookie jars, left by patrons. (Photo: Ariel Van Cleave/KBBI)

“A lot of my cookie jars are from folks in the area that are no longer with us. They put grandma in a home, they bring me the cookie jar for the grandkids to come in and enjoy. People got cookie jars they wanna get rid of? Bring ‘em to me. I’ll buy ‘em lunch,” she said.

The cookie jars aren’t the only things to look at. Chett has paintings by her mom hanging on the walls, and there’s a piano in one corner. She bought it from the old Ninilchik Baptist Church more than 20 years ago.

“I don’t necessarily play for people unless they ask,” she said.

Chett said she gets a good amount of traffic in the summer from tourists, but the locals have been loyal customers throughout the winter. And she will remember you, usually by your order.

“I know a lot of people what they eat, but I don’t know their names. And that might sound horrible, but they’re all my friends…. In fact, this one guy, I didn’t know his name for years. I just called him ‘Mocha,’” she said.

When our burgers finally made it to the table, Nyla and I both dug right in. I’ll likely become one of Chett’s many regulars. Now I just need to find a cookie jar to swap with her for a burger and shake.

-Ariel Van Cleave/KBBI-


K-Beach Flooding Declared A Disaster

Ground and surface water has washed out sections of several roads in the K-Beach area, including here at Bore Tide between Karluk and Kalgin.

Residents near K-Beach Road in Kenai might finally have some relief as they continue to battle surface and groundwater flooding. Borough Mayor Mike Navarre issued a local disaster emergency declaration Tuesday.

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It seems to be one step forward, two steps back around here. I’m taking a tour of the area with the Borough’s Road Service Area Manger Pat Malone. Between Miles 11 and 16 along K-Beach, it’s a mess. And the approximately three inches of rain that fell late in the weekend didn’t help much. Not at all, really, unless you’re a sickleback, which have found new stomping grounds in some newly created streams.

A day after Governor Sean Parnell took a look at the extent of the damage that property owners face, the Borough took the first step toward getting additional resources to help alleviate what they can by issuing the declaration. Borough spokesperson Brenda Ahlberg says first, the state needs to sign off.

Homes and driveways that were relatively dry this weekend are now facing ground and surface water flooding after a heavy rainfall.

“What would be enacted is the individual assistance program. For the affected homeowners that qualify, that program would give some funds to mitigate damages.”

There are some stipulations. Carrying flood insurance, for one.

“The assistance would be specifically for their primary residence, primary mode of transportation,” Ahlberg said.

The official declaration notes damage that includes two to four feet of water in crawl spaces and basements, damaged furnaces, flooded septic systems, inundated wells and flooded driveways and yards.

The Borough anticipates as many as 40 people could be displaced due to road closures. Central Emergency Services has some ATV’s stationed nearby for emergency access.

The declaration doesn’t stop at K-Beach. Tall Tree Road in Anchor Point is impassable due to flooding. The Seward Airport is closed due to flooding, and a portion of the road between Tyonek and Beluga on the other side of the Inlet has been washed out.

The declaration asks the state for continued technical assistance, public assistance for emergency response and safe drinking kits for at least 1,500 residential structures.

High surface and groundwater problems stretch from the playground at Immanuel Baptist Church (pictured) around K-Beach to Dogfish Ave.

Along K-Beach, the problem is that the volume of water is far greater than the drainage capacity of both the natural topography of the land and the installed infrastructure. It’s too flat and there aren’t enough paths straight to Cook Inlet to handle it all. A part of the solution could be to extend a ditch along K-Beach to the south where there is a drain to the Inlet, but that work would first need to be approved by the state.

When we got back to the shop, I asked Pat Malone what’s next.

“I don’t know. That’s the honest answer. We’re going to see what we can do to ameliorate some of the water, hope it (percolates into the ground) before we get a hard freeze. And hoping we don’t get a rain storm like we had over the weekend,” Malone said.

The Borough is keeping tabs on property damage estimates and affected structures and lots at its website along with mitigation tips, like avoiding pumping septic systems and well testing before a freeze.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Nikiski Residents Cautiously Optimistic About Pipeline Plans

The walls and counters at Charlie's Pizza are adorned with photos and newspaper clippings of all things Nikiski.

 

The announcement earlier this month that the preferred site for the end of an in-state gas line would be Nikiski was welcome news to many on the Kenai Peninsula. Residents and business owners in this unincorporated area are cautiously optimistic.

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It’s pretty quiet at Charlie’s Pizza a few minutes after 10 a.m. on Friday, but in a couple hours, this is the place to be. One of just a handful of places to grab lunch in this loosely organized hamlet, it will be standing room only in a couple hours.

Steve Chamberlain owns Charlie’s, and has lived here for almost two decades.

“It’s big news in the sense that we need to watch how we do it. We need to make sure they’re prepared for it.”

Chamberlain shares a concern that lots of people here have. Decades of unregulated activity have left well-documented groundwater problems. And also like many people here, Chamberlain welcomes the industry and the jobs that come with it, but not without some hesitation.

“Growth is a good thing. And competition is a good thing. I love competition in my business. It’s actually a challenge to me. And hopefully this is going to be a challenge to all these oil companies to beat each other in a sense of who’s going to do it the cleanest. Who’s going to come out on top, smelling like a rose. Who’s going to run away like Chevron did.”

 Just up the road is the M&M Market. It’s another place where people who work in some capacity in the oil and gas industry here can get a bite to eat during the day. Like Chamberlain, M&M’s owner, Felix Martinez thinks it would be a good thing for a cross-state natural gas line to terminate here, and the proposed LNG facility would be great, too, but…

“What I’d like to see is more people take the initiative and invest in this community rather than take from it. I’m not saying the companies are responsible for that, but people don’t see Nikiski as a great place to live. I can take some people to some places on some lakes around here that are as pretty as any place in Alaska, and what a great place to build a home.”

What he’s talking about is local economic development. More stores, more businesses, more infrastructure investment. Even though there’s a lot of industry here, the population is pretty small. Fewer than 5,000 in an area of more than 75 square miles.

House Speaker Mike Chenault, who represents Nikiski, says that sort of development will come, IF the pipeline happens and IF the area grows as a hub for LNG exports.

“You’re talking about a multiple billion dollar facility. In order to build it, you’ve got to have people. In order to have people, you’ve got to have housing, you’ve got to have commerce; a place they can get groceries, a place they can buy clothes and get their gas and other things people look for in a community when they try to settle down for a long term job.”

You may have noticed a conspicuous lack of numbers so far in this story, and that’s because there really aren’t many. A gas line from the North Slope could cost in the neighborhood of $50 billion, but is likely years from being completed. We know that a possible LNG plant would be sixteen times larger than the ConocoPhilips plant that’s already here, but not how many jobs might come along with it. All of those things make it difficult to predict if the kind of economic development Felix Martinez wants to see will actually happen.

Alyssa Shanks is an economist for the state department of labor. She says the youthful nature of Alaska, and its accompanying economic data make it all but impossible to look ahead and predict what kind of development might follow a project of this scale, but we’re getting closer.

“Maybe five years down the road, we will have examples to look back on to do more detailed analysis when something else comes up, or do the analysis to say, ok, this particular pipeline was put in or these different developments were made…and this is how employment grew or this is how the population changed or this is how the dynamics of the town changed,” Shanks said.

This potential development would be happening in the back yard of senator Peter Micciche, who is also the superintendent at the ConcoPhilips plant. His advice to people who want to grow the community? Get organized.

“If the new terminal is built in Nikiski, I would strongly encourage the community to reformulate their Chamber of Commerce, engage with the economic development district, put a plan together on what they’d like to see and what kind of development they think is healthy. And do it as a community. Don’t let three or four individuals who may be real pro-development put this together, but balance it with the needs of the community that want slower and steadier development, as opposed to a boom,” he said.

Whether growth comes in one fell swoop, gradually over time or not at all, Steve Chamberlain says he’s here to stay.

“I’ve built my life here. I built my home, I built my business and I started a family. From the day I came to Nikiski, I never had intentions to leave. No matter what happens, we’re here to stay.”

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

 


Skyview Takes Last Volleyball Match Against SoHi

The Skyview Volleyball team lines up before its final match against crosstown rival SoHi. (Photo: Ariel Van Cleave/KBBI)

Skyview High School’s volleyball team had a win Tuesday night against Soldotna High. The game was the last time the two schools would compete in a cross-town rivalry due to reconfiguration for next year. During Tuesday night’s varsity game Skyview players said goodbye to four seniors and thanked Coach Sheila Kupferschmid for 15 years of service. This is her last season at the school.

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-Ariel Van Cleave/KBBI-


Murphy Finds New Home On Soldotna City Council

It didn’t take long for former Borough Assembly member Linda Murphy to find another way to serve the public. She lost her Assembly seat to Dale Bagley and has since taken up residence on the Soldotna city council.

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It’s been less than a month since Murphy lost her bid for reelection to the Borough Assembly, a position she took up after her predecessor, Pete Sprague was termed out. And in a turn of events that could only happen in a small town, she’s found a new home on the city council occupying one of the seats left open by her replacement on the Assembly.

“I enjoy participating in the public process. I’m going to miss being on the Assembly, but I saw this as another way to continue public service in the community.”

 Murphy says there are some major differences between the two bodies. The Borough is responsible, of course, for a much larger geographic area, represents more people and manages a lot more money.

“And the packet is certainly a lot smaller than the Borough Assembly packet…but whether your on the Assembly or the Council, you’re going to be facing challenges,” she said.

One of those challenges will be navigating the world of health care and the costs associated with keeping employees covered. Even though she’s got just one city council meeting under her belt, she says she’s already looking at options that might help keep those costs manageable.

“Perhaps there are things we could do in conjunction with the Borough to look at costs, or perhaps some sort of arrangement with the hospital as preferred provider status. There are lots of things on the table.”

I saw Murphy at this week’s Borough Assembly meeting, when it adopted a resolution to issue revenue bonds for another phase of expansion at the hospital. She says she was surprised at the turnout for a measure like that.

“(I) really hadn’t anticipated that a revenue bond for the hospital would cause that much concern among certain segments of the community. It’s not just important for the health care we’re providing locally, it’s a huge economic engine. I was happy that cooler heads prevailed on the Assembly.”

Murphy’s career in public service spans decades, including stints as city clerk in Seward and Borough Clerk before she got into elected politics. She joins Paul Whitney to round out the council. They’ll serve a partial term, ending in October of next year.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Assembly Approves $43M In Revenue Bonds for Hospital Expansion

Central Hospital Peninsula CEO Rick Davis addresses the Assembly Tuesday. The Assembly adopted a resolution to issue $43 million in revenue bonds for continued expansion at CPH.

 

Tucked into this week’s Borough Assembly agenda was a resolution approving the issue of $43 million dollars’ worth of revenue bonds to complete the next phase of expansion at Central Peninsula Hospital. That includes new office and administrative space and room for more procedures. The Assembly mostly had its mind made up, and in the end voted in favor of the resolution. But the sticker shock of a $43 million price tag added a bit of drama to the meeting.

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This transcript accompanies the audio story. For full meeting minutes, go here.

Rick Davis, CEO, Central Peninsula Hospital: “Tonight, the Assembly votes on our $43 million bond offering to finance our medical office building that completes our cancer center and adds much-needed clinical space and other hospital services. This is the culmination of more than a years’ worth of work and you have all participated in many, many public meetings about it already. This risk of defaulting on these bonds is zero. If the hospital were to stop being successful and start losing money, tax payers could be asked to step in and help. But I submit to you tonight that there’s a much larger danger of the hospital turning negative if we do not move forward with this project. We need to continue to grow and thrive in order to continue to be successful and this project is crucial to that end.”

Assembly Member Kelly Wolf: “Mr. Davis, did the hospital board ever consider using a portion of their reserve funds to pay for this, to try to lower the…bond amount?

Davis: “We could consider that. From a smart financing perspective on a 50 year project like this, revenue bonds seemed to make the most sense to us.”

Dan Green, Soldotna: “I find it odd and frankly unacceptable, that this resolution to finance a project of this magnitude is being considered with very little public notice and does not require a vote of the public.

Norm Blakely, Sterling: “I hadn’t heard about this before. I don’t know anything about it. I’ve heard two sides of the issue tonight and I would like this to be set aside for a couple of weeks.”

Green: “I really wonder why the Borough decided to fund this expansion this way and not put it on the ballot. Every other major expenditure that this Assembly has approved or has authorized, has been put before the voter and the voter has approved it. It has the appearance, and this is all it is to me is the appearance, I’m not accusing, but it has the appearance of trying to hide something from the public.”

Assembly Member Charlie Pierce: “You’ve got to trust the people that you vote. You can’t keep coming in here and pulling the rug from underneath us and ask us when we should make a decision and when we shouldn’t. I think sometimes in this community, it’s frustrating for me because your opinions change as much as the weather around here. I think I have an obligation to protect the shareholders’ equity in that hospital and make sure that it has a business tomorrow, has a business ten years from now and making sure that we as tax payers are in the best position of owning that hospital.”

Wolf: “I would like to entertain a motion to postpone this until the November 5th Assembly meeting.”

Mike Navarre, Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor:” What does two weeks do? Well, it might allow some additional discussion. I can venture to guess that there might be some petitions out there saying put this out to a public vote. Now, what does that do? Then we do have a delay. Then we cannot get the bonds issued, it probably delays it by a year. Almost every single expert, and information that I’ve read about the bond market says bond interest rates are trending upwards. So an increase of one percent in the bond rates will be a tremendous increase to the overall cost of this project.”


Students Look For The Next Step At College Fair

Juniors from across the district met with recruiters Tuesday morning at the annual college fair in Soldotna.

Students from across the Peninsula were in Soldotna Tuesday for the annual college fair. Juniors in the district have this time to start thinking about their lives after high school.

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The bus carrying Homer high school’s juniors was idling outside the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex Tuesday just after 10 o’clock, and inside, about fifty recruiters from all over Alaska and the western U.S. were waiting to make their pitches and answer questions.

Melanie Mastolier is giving some consideration to the Navy. She tells the recruiter she’s interested in mechanical things and welding. The Navy can put her to work, he says.

“It sounded good. There are a lot of career paths you can go into once you start,” Mastolier said.

Scoping out prospective colleges and jobs is something she says she’s been doing for years already.

“I probably started in my 8th grade year, just trying to find a job that will help me go places in life. I’ve worked at a vet clinic, thinking I would be a veterinarian.”

The Navy booth is just one example of the variety of options students are given at the fair. There are plenty of college, of course, and the armed forces, but there are also a lot of trade schools and other specialized programs for careers like video game designer.

The students spend some time with counselors, coming up with questions so they can have good information to take home.

“We hand them some questions that would be nice for them to consider asking colleges and the recruiters, so it’s not just throwing them out there and saying ‘have fun, pick up some souveniers’, there’s definitely some prep work,” says John O’Brien, Director of Secondary Education for the school district.

Jonas Noomah is grilling a recruiter about financial aid options.

“I’m really interested in art, and one thing about the Art Institute is that it sort of teaches you how to apply the art and use it an employable sort of fashion, which I  think would be really interesting,” Noomah said.

Like Mastolier, Noomah says his search for the right step after high school began years ago.

“When I was little, and my sister who’s six years older than me, started applying for college, I was excited about that. I wanted to go to college, too.  I want to go to the right school, but I also want to come out of that school debt-free.”

Debt-free. That could be a tall order, though not totally out of the question.  A 2011 report from the congressional Joint Economic Committee found that two-thirds of college graduates leave school with an average bill of $27,000.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Are You Prepared for the Next ‘Big One?’

Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the Good Friday earthquake, which devastated many communities in Alaska, including those on the Kenai Peninsula. The anniversary has emergency planners asking the question, “Are we ready for the next ‘big one?’”

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Dan Nelson is Program Coordinator for the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Office of Emergency Management. He says the possibility of an big earthquake seems to be an “abstract” concept for most Alaskans.

“I think most folks do understand and acknowledge (the danger)” he says. “But at the same time, it’s really hard to put that into practice and to recognize what that really means … for different communities.”

Nelson says his office has been using the upcoming anniversary of the Good Friday quake as a tool to help educate Alaskans on what they can do to be better prepared for a big earthquake.

He says that in some ways, we are more prepared. The science behind understanding and predicting earthquakes has greatly improved since 1964, for instance. But in other ways – such as our increased population and our dependence on infrastructure and technology – we are maybe less prepared.

Ervin Petty is Tsunami Program Manager for the State of Alaska. Like Nelson, he spends a lot of his time traveling around, trying to educate Alaskans on how to be better prepared for a disaster.

Petty says that because of the expected damage to communications infrastructure in the event of a big earthquake, many of the preparedness solutions are decidedly low-tech. He says that HAM radio operators were the unsung heroes of the ’64 quake, acting as Alaska’s primary communication link to the outside world. He says that in the event of another quake of that size, that could very well happen again.

“I would say the first thing to do is come up with a good family plan,” says Petty.

Petty says a good plan covers things like how to pick up children from school, how to communicate with family members who work out of town and the preparation of a seven-day survival kit.

According to the state’s preparedness website – ready.alaska.gov – a good survival kit contains things like flashlights, first aid supplies, blankets and a radio. At least a one-week supply of food and water is important, as well.

Once your family is secure, Petty says it’s going to be important for Alaskans to get out and assist their neighbors.

There is no shortage of detailed information on how you can be better prepared for a natural disaster, online at ready.alaska.gov and at the borough website, borough.kenai.ak.us.

-Aaron Selibg/KBBI-