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-

 


Happiness Is A Warm Heat Gun

Penny McClain, Marion Nelson and Elaine Pate contemplate the next step for McClain's encaustic work.

Reporter’s log: 10/21/13, in which Shaylon pretends to make art.

 

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This kind of art has been made for thousands of years. What I’m about to produce is my first art project in more than 15 years. I have no idea what I’m doing. Stepping into Marion Nelson’s studio, I’m greeted by the smell of warm beeswax and Nelson’s four other students for the day, Marlene Pearson, Penny McClain, Elaine Pate and Debbie Harris.

Debbie Harris (left) gets some tips from Marion Nelson at Nelson's encaustic workshop.

Before me lie two 4 inch squares of wood. One of these will be my palette. The surface I’ll paint hot wax on, and see what happens. There’s a huge variety of colors for the pigment that’s added to the wax. And it’s all kept warm in little cat food tins on an ordinary electric griddle. Encaustics is all about layering, and the first layer layed down is a coat of clear beeswax and damar resin. Sort of like a primer, that will be the foundation for the rest of the layers.

Marion Nelson explains the precision process of mixing the wax and the resin, the latter of which come in large crystals which have to be broken down to a powder, before being put into an 85/15 mix.

“It’s a big deal,” Nelson said.

That’s all the hard chemistry I’m concerned with. Mostly, I’m just trying to not make too big a mess. Everyone else has already made something highly recognizable by the time I arrived.

“She’s got several layers of color, she’s fusing with a heat gun,” Nelson says, describing the work in progress of Marlene Pearson. “And she’s got some paper pieces she wants to collage into this.”

Marlene Pearson (right) admires Elaine Pate's encaustic work as Penny McClain looks on.

Layers, color, texture, fusing…I’m learning some of that.

Encaustics is sort of three-dimensional. You paint a layer, then another, then another, then you heat it up, the layers mix, the colors mix, you add more layers, more texture. Things can get pretty intricate, if you’re patient and you let the hot wax do its thing. There’s a relatively limited amount of control you have once the heat hits the surface in part of the process called fusing.

“It’s the difference between what contemporary encaustics is about and encaustics as in ancient times. The Faiyum portraits were encaustics, the big difference is they had heat, but they didn’t have a way to fuse it.”

Now, artists use heat guns or gas torches to melt the wax in just a small area of the piece.

An example of the Faiyum portraits. 'Portrait of a Boy', Roman period, 2nd century Egyptian Encaustic on wood. (Photo, Metropolitan Museum of Art)

This is the main technique I’m using. I’ve only got a couple colors going because, let’s face it, anything more than two will end up looking like someone left a box of crayolas on top of the wood stove.

You have all the control over the layers and the colors and the texture of a piece, but there’s a still a fair amount of letting it happen you have to be comfortable with. Going into it with a finished version in your mind isn’t going to be very rewarding.

I layered two different colors, just a couple layers deep in random patterns, then used a heat gun to make it look like a piece of funky-colored marble. And it sort of worked. The thin lines separating the two colors, which was kind of what I was going for. Turns out, there’s a name for that.

“Rivulets,” Nelson told me. “That’s the heat gun going in and coming out, and you just never know how that’s going to work itself out.”

 

 

The day is winding down, and my one-dimensional, two-colored piece of….encaustic, pales in comparison to what everyone else has created. For one, they all got the hang of bringing some texture to the party.

“We’re building up areas of wax to give more depth. The pieces have depth already through the wax, but this gives some variation in texture,” explains Penny McClain.

That method of building up material is called accretion. And the end effect makes the wax look like big chunks of coral. Or marble. Or salmon. The combination of pigment, wax and heat is all you need to create just about anything. As long as you’ve got plenty of time, and some flexibility for what your final masterpiece might look like.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

                


Buccaneer Leases Well Site For 30 Years

Buccaneer Energy’s stay on at least part of the Kenai Peninsula was extended to 30 years after this week’s meeting of the Kenai city council.

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The council unanimously approved the terms of the 30 year lease of a lot in the Kenai Industrial Park for an injection well. This is in the area on Marathon Road by Wal-Mart where Buccaneer has already been producing natural gas. The company had been operating on a temporary special use permit.

City manager Rick Koch says the terms of the new lease are the same as the under the temporary use permit, and Buccaneer’s activities there will still be regulated by the state.

“There’s not a difference in condition or a different use of that well. AOGC (Alaska Oil and Gas Commission) is who provides the permitting in position to regulation on down-hole stuff, including the drilling, the operation of an injection well or an extraction well and well closure and close out of a site.”

This well has already been dug, and doesn’t produce. So now its function is to hold liquids produced from other wells that do send up natural gas.

“The well casing extends above the pad. Generally, an injection well ends up with a dog house over it just like a normal production well. So there will be a small building that will have some piping that runs to that well that brings the materials to be injected from the conditioning plant.”

Buccaneer’s activity at this part of the Kenai Loop has increased lately. A couple weeks ago, the city approved a permit to allow the company to temporarily store drilling waste at the site. AIMM Technologies, which is usually the place for those materials, can’t handle what Buccaneer is producing at the moment because they don’t have the proper permits.

Council member Bob Molloy was concerned about who would be responsible for cleanup three decades from now when the lease expires and asked Koch if the city’s interests were covered.

“The administration is comfortable with the AOGC permitting and regulation for close-out and abandoning of the wells,” Koch said.

The lease takes affect November 30th. For its land, the city will receive eight percent of fair market value of $350,000, which amounts to $28,000 annually.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

 


Court to DNR: Move It Along

An application to reserve stream flow for salmon has been awaiting processing by DNR for four years. (Photo: map of the proposed Chuitna Mine area. Alaska Department of Natural Resources)

After a four year wait, the Department of Natural Resources will finally make a decision on applications having to do with the proposed Chuitna mine. A superior court decision handed down this week compels the Department to make its decision within thirty days.

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Four years is a long time to wait in line. An unreasonably long time. That was the decision of Superior Court Judge Mark Rindner in a suit against the DNR by the Chuitna Citizen’s Coalition. That group wants to stop a proposed strip mine planned by Delaware-based LLC, PacRim Coal.

“I am feeling very good about the justice system right now, because we have a justice that has stepped forward and making the law that has been in place for a long time, and they’re going to make the DNR abide by it,” said Coalition spokesperson Ron Burnett

The Chuitna folks submitted an application for an Instream Flow Reservation. What that does is say, essentially, “this stream is reserved.” In this case, the reservation is for salmon that swim up a couple creeks that the proposed coal mine will have to dig up to get to its lode. The decision this week doesn’t have anything to do directly with that proposal, but DNR has 30 days to issue its decision.  Cook Inlet Keeper’s Bob Shavelson says the court’s ruling could set a precedent.

“This is a very important decision. The Alaska courts have never addressed the issue before of whether Alaskans have a right to keep water in streams for fish. The court came out and said very definitively that the Parnell administration and the Department of Natural Resources were violation Alaskans’ constitutional rights by precluding them from moving forward with keeping water in streams for wild salmon.”

What the judge found in this case was that four years was an unreasonable amount of time for DNR to sit on Chuitna’s application. Citing budget and personnel constraints, the department argued that it had a right to prioritize applications, but according to Judge Rindner’s decision, that doesn’t mean it can “prioritize it into a blackhole.”

 The mining project promises hundreds of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in investment for the area on the west side of Cook Inlet. All from the estimated 300 million tons of coal that lie directly underneath 11 miles of wild salmon streams. To dig those streams up, PacRim needs a temporary water use permit, but if the reservation is granted it might not matter.

PacRim contends that it can rebuild the salmon streams once the mining is done. To date, no one has been able to do that, but to Ron Burnett, that sounds like a pretty good business venture in and of itself.

“One of the things we told PacRim when they said they could recreate this salmon stream when they get done is that we felt that they could make more money fixing streams. There’s lots of places around the world that have been ruined, and no one can fix them. But if they know how to do that, they should go and do that.”

He says he’s not sure how things will play out after this step in the process, but that there’s a lot at stake in the final decision.

“I’ve got grandkids and there’s many generations behind me coming up through that should have the right to these salmon and clean water.This water at Lone Creek and Middle Creek (Creek 2003), is potable water. This water is so good you can drink it. And that’s what they’ll be destroying along with the fish.”

DNR has until November 13th to make a decision about the Coalition’s IFR application.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


CIRCAC Says Cook Inlet Pipeline Construction Could Begin Next Year

Lynda Giguere, Director of Public Outreach for CIRCAC, addresses the Kenai Chamber of Commerce Wednesday at the Kenai Visitors Center

It’s been more than four years since an eruption at Mt. Redoubt and questions still linger about the potential hazards of storing oil there. Both the industry and environmental groups have come out in support of construction of a sub-sea pipeline to replace the need for storage tanks at the Drift River terminal at Redoubt’s base, including Cook Inlet Regional Citizen’s Advisory Council.

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Speaking at Tuesday’s Kenai Chamber of Commerce meeting, CIRCAC’s Director of Public Outreach, Lynda Giguere repeated the group’s stand on the potential construction of a pipeline under Cook Inlet.

“Last year, we went on record in support of a subsea pipeline as a preferred way to transport oil across Cook Inlet, from west side production facilities to east side refineries. We know there is significant risk in storing large volumes of oil there. And although we are extremely supportive of Hilcorp’s efforts at Drift River Terminal, we believe a pipeline is just safer,” Giguere said.

 Last December, the first steps of building that pipeline were taken when Cook Inlet Energy applied for a right-of-way lease from the Department of Natural Resources, clearing a path for a proposed 29-mile pipeline that would run from Cook Inlet Energy’s Kustatan production facility on West Foreland Point to the Tesoro refinery in Nikiski.

“There have been a lot of discussions with companies who are talking about taking that project on, and our most recent information is that Tesoro is going to move forward with this. It doesn’t come without risk, but we believe (a pipeline) is less (risky) than the current mode of transportation…Our understanding is that construction may begin as soon as next year,” she said.

That should be good news for people worried about the dangers of storing oil at the base of an active volcano.

Part of the trouble in 2009 was that crews were moved from the site as Mt. Redoubt began to rumble, so if the berms and other protective measures failed, there wasn’t anyone nearby to stay ahead of possible spills. Those berms have since been upgraded by Hilcorp, which operates the Drift River Terminal, but the tanks remain, and more of them could come online soon. Cook Inlet Pipeline Company submitted an application earlier this month to the Department of Environmental Conservation to add more storage capacity at the tank farm.

Currently, there is a single 270,000 barrel tank in use, and the company plans to put a second back into service. There are four tanks at the site in total, and DEC notes a potential risk of oil spills entering lands and waters as a result of the operation.

Calls to Tesoro to find out more about its plans for a sub-sea pipeline were not immediately returned.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

 


Students See First Steps In Salmon Life Cycle

Fisheries Biologist Jenny Cope of ADF&G explains part of the salmon life cycle Monday in Anchor Point. (Photo: Ariel Van Cleave, KBBI)

Students from central and southern Kenai Peninsula schools gathered at the Anchor River Friday to learn about the salmon life cycle. This was the kick-off to the Salmon in the Classroom program. The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District partners with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to teach kids about one of the state’s most valuable resources.

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About 40 kids looked on Friday morning as Fishery Biologist Jenny Cope slit the belly of a female fish. She explained to the students that almost 2,000 eggs were inside the fish. Next, one of Cope’s brave assistants from the crowd added the next ingredient in the egg fertilization process using a male fish. Cope said the mixture needed one last thing.

“I think we have a milkshake, but I don’t think they’re fertilized. Coho salmon don’t just get up out of the creek and come up to a table and spawn, they’re spawning in the river where there’s water,” she said.

She then added water from the river. The kids took some eggs back with them to their classrooms to watch them mature. Part of Cope’s presentation to the students was explaining what they will see during that process.

“At this stage, the eggs are very, very fragile. Now when you take your cup of eggs back to the classroom, you’re going to want to be very careful with them,” she said.

Cope said the next stage is called “eyed-egg.” Next month the kids will likely begin seeing two little black dots appear.

“They’ll keep moving around in their egg. And if you look closely in their aquarium you can kind of see them bouncing around a little bit,” she said.

A bucket full of fresh salmon eggs. (Photo: Ariel Van Cleave, KBBI)

Soon enough that little guy squirming around inside the egg will bust free and bring on the next stage: Alvin. Cope explained that this is an exciting time in the fish’s life cycle because you get to see the heart pumping and the digestive system forming. Even the spine begins to form and is visible.

“And if you’re lucky, maybe your teachers will take one out and put it under a microscope for you to see all the details,” she said.

Next up is the “fry” stage. And that’s when these little fish will leave the comfort of the classroom and venture out on their own.

“So in May, you’ll have fry that you get to release in one of our approved lakes,” she said.

Bill Vedders is a third grade teacher at K-Beach Elementary in Soldotna.

“Salmon is such an important part of life on the peninsula that we try to get an early appreciation of what’s involved and how they can protect the resource,” he said. “The kids are the future and if they can take care of the resource for their generation and then pass it on… to keep it as it always has been.”

Vedders said proximity to salmon doesn’t always mean the kids are knowledgeable about it.

“Maybe they’re not from a sportfishing family or a commercial-fishing family, so they don’t really get to see salmon other than… on the dinner table. We live so close to this incredible resource and a lot of kids never really get to experience it,” he said.

K-Beach student Fiona Wolf was one of dozen or so kids whose hands shot up each time Cope asked a question. She said she enjoyed the presentation; for the most part.

“I liked it a lot… except for the part where they dissected the fish. That part was really weird,” she said.

Students from across the Peninsula met at the Anchor River for the annual kick off to the Salmon in the Classroom program. (Photo: Ariel Van Cleave, KBBI)

Cope and other fishery biologists on the peninsula will be heading into classrooms throughout the school year to do salmon dissections. Kids also will have a chance to go ice-fishing with Cope in the winter, and then in the spring the students will have the annual “Salmon Celebration.” The program all leads up to that moment when the fry are released and continue growing before they wind up, as Vedders said, on the dinner plate.

-Ariel Van Cleave/KBBI-


District Works Out Staffing Changes For Soldotna Plan

While a group of 14 community members, teachers and students mulls over the cultural changes for the Soldotna school reconfiguration, district officials are working on staffing and other nuts and bolts decisions for the three schools. Principals and assistant principals have already been announced. Decisions on teachers should come at the start of next year.

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The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District shuffled around the current administrators at Soldotna Middle School, Skyview High School and Soldotna High School. Each building had to have its own administration in order to be recognized by the state and receive funding. KPBSD Superintendent Dr. Steve Atwater said the next step is figuring out a schedule for the day and class offerings.

“And then we can look at staffing and decide who are the best teachers to fit into the scheduling box. There will be some movement teachers are anxious about where they’re going to end up, as they should be, and we hope to have that in place January 15,” he said.

Because of the nature of those talks, the majority of the discussion has to happen outside of the public eye. But district officials will continue working with teachers and support staff as well as the union leaders for both groups. School Board Vice President Liz Downing said board members gave the initial approval for the reconfiguration with a few things in mind.

“It’s academically sound. It’s fiscally sound. It’s a good idea, and the process has been going on for a while with lots of community input,” she said.

The population in the Soldotna schools had been falling off over the last few years and course offerings had been trickling away as well. The new configuration might mean a lot of those programs would come back, and pave the way for different ways to deliver education. At least those are a few of Atwater’s goals.

“In a way, it’ll be somewhat of a pilot for us. We have a large enough capacity to do some different things there and we want to use that experience to then help out in Homer, Seward, Nikiski or Kenai. That’s sort of the hidden message for me,” he said.

Atwater said the district wants to ensure most of the big pieces are in place for the first day of school next year. The schools will merge and each will have staff ready to teach students. He said more changes will roll out as the year progresses.

“It’ll be pretty much traditional high school with some small changes. We’re not going to be able to put everything in place. Just simply making the two schools come together and to get those offerings together is going to be a big effort for everybody. I don’t expect to do anything dramatic, but we do expect to look at some things like expanding the day,” Atwater said.

District officials have been making an effort to partner with outside organizations to offer programs you wouldn’t normally see in schools. Atwater said he and the school board have been looking to the Lower 48 for suggestions. The school board’s next role will be to approve offerings and staffing. And President Joe Arness said as far as those cultural aspects of the schools, he isn’t sure what the board’s role is at this point.

“It’s interesting, I’m not sure that I could tell you at this moment what of that recommendation needs board approval. I don’t think the board approves, for instance, school colors. It may be that it’ll come as a package to us and then we would provide… an opportunity for people who disagree with that recommendation to voice those disagreement,” Arness said.

The Soldotna Schools Advisory Committee will likely have recommendations for the board by its December meeting. Teacher and administrator contracts for the reconfiguration are expected to be approved in the spring.

Atwater, Downing and Arness made their comments during a recent episode of the “Coffee Table,” which aired Wednesday on KDLL and KBBI.

-Ariel Van Cleave/KBBI-


New CES Certification Goal Of Senior Project

(Photo: CES.org)

A student government project at Kenai Central High School could lead to new certification for first responders with Central Emergency Services.

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Senior projects for high schoolers can be fairly self-serving affairs. Get the thing done so you can graduate and move on. But what if what you’re planning to move onto could be made better WITH your senior project? Cue Jessica Roper, a senior at Kenai Central. The goal of her project is to make emergency responders better prepared and better trained with swift water certification.

“Basically, it gives firemen the ability to go out into the open water and rescue people in emergencies. It gives them the ability to work around boats, it gives the rope abilities so they can retrieve (people) and basic water rescue essentials that you need,” Roper said.

The end goal is to raise enough money, $13,000, to bring in a specialized trainer from Haines to train two dozen first responders from around the Peninsula. Dick Rice is his name, and he trains rescuers all over the state. I couldn’t get in touch with him in time for this story, but according to his website, alaskarescue.com, it’s a three day course that provides theoretical and practical knowledge of the basics of swift water rescue. That includes how to deal with water-related medical emergencies, basic boat-based rescue concerns and techniques and basic moving water self-rescue techniques.

Getting all of this set up would seem to be a pretty tall order for the average high school senior, but Roper had already made a strong connection with Central Emergency Services.

“About three years ago, I was introduced to this program called The Explorers Program after I was talking to my neighbors about my interest in the paramedic field and firefighting. So they sent me over to the station and I filled out some paperwork and started going to these weekly meetings where they would show you all of the equipment on the firetrucks, how to use it, how to put on gear.”

It was more than just a tour and a demonstration, Roper says. She got to have a taste of the full experience of what it’s like to be on-call.

“You just kind of hung out with a crew of four and you’d go on calls with them. They’d teach you how to treat a patient, how to fight fires, how to do your homework,” she says with a laugh.

And that experience is what made her interested in pursuing this as a career.

“They encouraged me to go into EMT 1. I took that course and ended up passing, so now I’m just kind of waiting to further all that knowledge and go on to paramedic school.”

She says her friends at CES were pretty excited about the project.

“I’ve had a lot of support from them. Not only CES, but Kenai and Nikiski and Bear Creek. All of these departments and all of these people have found out my name and contacted me in some way to show that they support my idea and that they’re there.”

To help make that $13,000 goal a reality, Roper is organizing a fundraiser on October 26th from 1-4 p.m. at the Kenai Vistor’s Center. There will be a meet and greet with local firefighters, a silent auction, spaghetti feed and, as it’s a Halloween theme, she says costumes are encouraged.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


K-Beach Residents Still Looking For Answers

Hydrologist and independent consultant Jim Munter explains possible options to K-Beach residents at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex

Seeking fast relief from even faster approaching surface water flooding, a group of K-Beach residents met at the Soldotna Sports Complex Thursday night to try to find a way to stay dry.

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The waters are coming quickly toward Brandy Washburn’s house at the end of Karluk Avenue, about a third of a mile off K-Beach Road.

“I’m right next to someone who’s overflooded. They’ve got lots of animals and their septic’s overflowing, the animals don’t have a dry space to be on. And everything’s flowing my way,” Washburn said.

She was one of more than 40 residents who attended Thursday night’s meeting looking for a quick solution to the problem they’re all facing. The elevated groundwater and consistent rains have few places to go. Right now, it’s going into a lot of basements, crawlspaces and septic systems.

“It’ll be interesting to see if we can get the whole community together. I think we can because so many people are being impacted by the flooding,” said Dave Yragui, a resident of the area leading the charge to find some solutions.

He brought in an independent consultant from Anchorage, hydrologist Jim Munter, who gave a presentation outlining the basic challenges facing these residents and some possible solutions.

“I was trying to figure out how to characterize this and did some quick calculations in my head and pretty well came up with the idea that this is a 100 million gallon problem. That’s probably how much extra water there is, and that’s probably too small (a number),” Munter said.

When the Borough met with many of these same residents last week to address their concerns about a high water table and the surface water flooding it was causing, the message was pretty clear: the last two years have seen much higher than normal amounts of snow and rain and the 6,000 acre wetlands simply don’t drain efficiently enough to keep people’s homes dry. Munter confirmed that.  Another week has passed and more rain has fallen. Now leechfields and septic systems are backing up, just as the wet season of the year hits its stride. As Munter framed it, the problem needs a two-pronged approach: Do something now for some quick relief in order to buy some time to find a more long-term and permanent solution.

“There’s so much water, this ditch that we’re talking about (along 7th street), even that’s not going to solve all the problems. It can’t be big enough, wide enough and deep enough unless you want to turn it into a canoeing stream. So part of the solution is to drain the water to the west,” Munter said.

The problem is the same now as it was last week. All that water slowly makes its way north and west to Cook Inlet, but before it gets there, it passes through these neighborhoods, and its progress is slowed not only by the nearly-level contours of the land, but also by roads.

There are only three main outlets for the water, one to the north and two to the west, but they’re just not big enough to handle the load. Dave Yragui’s goal for the meeting was to establish a committee, the K-Beach Community Drainage Improvement Committee, to come up with a plan for a long term solution.

Borough Mayor Mike Navarre was also at the meeting. He says the Borough is already doing what it can along its own roads and is working with the state to find a path for the water under K-Beach Road. Draining a 10-square mile wetlands, though, is not a feasible solution.

“What we’re talking about is in these high groundwater years, making sure we have drainages in place to deal with the situation when it comes around every 10 or 20 years. Groundwater levels are up all over south central Alaska, including here and it’s created some problems and we’re trying to find some solutions,” Navarre said.

Brandy Washburn says she’s hopeful those solutions are found soon.

“Everyone around me…is flooded. And I haven’t and gone and gotten a pump and all because if I pump my place, it’s an effect. It keeps going, and I can’t do that to other people.”

Yragui said they would start Friday trying pump out areas where water has collected already to try and get some immediate relief.


K-Beach Flood Meeting 10/10/13

K-Beach Flood Meeting 10/10/13 (Run time: 1 hour 50 minutes)

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UAF Proposes New Center For Salmon And Society

Seeking to contribute to the continued vitality of Alaskan wild salmon stocks, the University of Alaska Fairbanks is reaching out to see what kind of interest there is in a proposed Center for Salmon and Society. The endeavor is in its earliest stages, and they’re still looking for feedback.

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The basic goal of the Center is to avoid making the same mistakes that led to wild salmon declines in Europe, the North Atlantic and the Eastern US. This is from an initial review draft about the project from this summer:

“Increased knowledge about salmon failed to inform decision-making processes in way that prevented or turned around salmon population declines….Relatively small changes that can bring decision making back into a positive relationship with salmon could have a significant effect on ensuring that salmon can continue to thrive and support cultures, communities, business and society.” Hence the name, Center for Salmon and Society.

Hannah Harrison calls herself a contracted fisheries researcher. What she’s been researching lately is people’s opinions for what this proposed center might be and do.

“I feel like a lot of people are very encouraged by this kind of effort, but have had a lot of very careful questions that to me suggests that people who work within Cook Inlet fisheries are very knowledgeable and have a very long history of being very careful with how the interact with science. The Center, in many people’s minds, might be a good opportunity to bring science back to the forefront of these conversations about fisheries in Cook Inlet,” Harrison said.

The basic idea, such as it is in this very preliminary stage, is that the Center would be a non-partisan place to go for data about fisheries. Harrison has conducted numerous interviews and invited people for public meetings in Kenai and Homer to get feedback. Now, there are already a bunch of conservation and advocacy groups that make their voices heard in management decisions about salmon, so how would this center be different?

“One thing that would set it apart is this is not going to be an allocation-oriented group. It would probably be easier to think of it as an institution rather than an advocacy group or a user group. They would be focused on research. They would be focused on science-based understanding of fisheries. They’re focused on all Alaska salmon fisheries, not just a specific user group or a specific aspect of Alaska, and they’re interested in how Alaska fisheries interact with Russian and Canadian fisheries.”

She says Cook Inlet fishers have been targeted for initial input specifically because of intense allocation issues and politics at play here. If an open, honest, science-based dialogue can happen here, it can happen anywhere, or so the theory goes.

“Some people have described it as a clearing house for data, so peer-reviewed, science process data that all groups would be able to access. Having a neutral party, a lot of people have said, would be a really important thing and make a real difference in being able to make better management decisions.”

These meetings and interviews are just the first step. Harrions says she’ll compile a report about her findings next week. Over the winter, a committee will review that to see if it’s a good idea and if so, what the real focus will be. By next spring, she says there should be some more concrete answers.

“Once they’ve said ‘okay, this is what we want’, whether it’s going to be a building or whether it’s going to be kind of a conceptual center that operates out of a variety of institutions, then they will go out and seek funding and develop a structure; will they have a board of directors, will they have an advisory committee? Those are all questions they haven’t answered yet.”

You can submit comments about the Center through October 17th.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


What’s In A Name? Committee Stalls On New Name For Soldotna High School Building

The committee tasked with the cultural shift for the new Soldotna schools configuration is making progress. The group has decided on mascots, is close to finalizing the new color scheme, but is stalled at a new name for the 10th through 12th grade building, which is currently Soldotna High School.

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At the end of Tuesday night’s meeting, the Soldotna Schools Advisory Committee had a few things decided. The 7th and 8th grade mascot will be the Panther, and the 9th grade house will share the Stars mascot with the new 10th through 12th grade building. And the group was feeling pretty good about the idea of using blue, purple, black and white for colors for all three schools.  Skyview teacher Darren Jones said going in that direction could reduce the shock for some students and make for an easy first day of school.

“I think, symbolically, when we think of merging all the colors, you’re really merging everything. That’s a true merge,” he said.

Most of the group agreed that students and extracurricular staff could decide specific shades of those colors over the years. They didn’t want to dictate too much. Plus this would be a cheaper option to go with. Instead of totally revamping the colors for each building, just add a touch here and a trim there. SoHi Senior Kelci Benson pointed out an even less expensive option: keep everything as it is.

“Just because you change the colors, it’s not going to change people’s attitudes about it,” she said.

Benson said she’s been hearing that some students in the 10th through 12th grades might be trying to avoid attending the new school. So, she said why go through all this trouble if some kids aren’t going to be on board anyway. Skyview student Austin Laber has been hearing the same thing.

“There’s a lot of kids at Skyview that are either trying to graduate early or going to homeschool or RCA or trying to get out of the system before they switch,” he said.

A lot of the more passionate statements were made while the group was discussing the new names for each school. There was agreement for calling the 7th and 8th grade building Skyview Middle. The 9th graders could go to school in a building called Soldotna Prep, but the 10th through 12th grade name is a bit murkier.

A few members pointed out that no matter what you do, if you leave Soldotna as the first name in the school it’ll always be SoHi. But Mike Gallagher wanted to at least include one more word like “central” or “unified” to help differentiate. He has a student at Skyview.

“I’m in favor of adding the third word. I’m looking at this through a parent’s eyes. I’ve got a son who is a junior, and quite frankly, a lot of those kids over there feel they are collateral damage with this merger,” Gallagher said. “And I think if we just go with ‘SoHi,’ they’re going to have that feeling going into that. I understand there were no promises made. I would say there has been implications that there would be a change. If we don’t give these kids some change, they’re not going to feel like they’re part of this.”

Soldotna Middle School teacher Joel Burns said he understands this is an issue that many people are passionate about. But having the group focus on what kids will be losing is the wrong approach. He said to remember what’s being gained with the merger.

“There’s lots of positives… and I know that isn’t all part of what we’re doing here, but I’ve just heard a lot of what people are losing,” he said.

In the end, the group could not agree on the new name for the SoHi building. That will be the big focus of the next gathering. The committee will be meeting Monday Oct. 21 at 5:30 p.m. because of the Skyview/SoHi volleyball game scheduled for Tuesday Oct. 22.

-Ariel Van Cleave/KBBI-


Assembly Says Goodbye To Murphy, Tauriainen

Two Assembly members said goodbye Tuesday night as their successors were sworn in. Linda Murphy and Ray Tauriainen finished their terms and Brent Johnson, Dale Bagely and Wayne Ogle were sworn in.

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After the official oath-taking ceremonies, there was little new business on the agenda for the Borough Assembly. A single ordinance transferring eight public safety dispatchers from the State to the Borough was tabled until the October 22nd meeting. But before this meeting adjourned, there were some parting words.

“This is bitter sweet,” said Ray Tauriainen, who has represented Nikiski in the 3rd district since 2010.

“It’s been a valuable experience. You really get an appreciation for what it takes to run a local government sitting in a seat like this. As a local government, I think we need to keep in perspective that we’re here to serve and provide good government and not impose on the taxpayers, and I think that’s what’s shared by all the Assembly members,” Tauriainen said.

Brent Johnson won reelection to the 7th district, representing Kasilof and Clam Gulch.

“I will be missing Ray. I think I met Ray in the mid-80′s, visiting his church at some point or another. Between that time and now, I have only heard good things about Ray and found that his service to the Assembly and the things that I work with him on were a great effort on his part,” Johnson said of his colleague.

“For Linda, I certainly have enjoyed working with you on the Assembly and found that your leadership and your knowledge changed my mind about a number of different things and it’s been a very wonderful experience for me,” Johson said of outgoing Assembly president, Linda Murphy.

Murphy, who represented Soldotna in the 4th district for one term, made one final pitch to have service area boards filled by appointment rather than election, citing the 52 different ballots and the many service areas that had only one candidate this election cycle.

“I spent 30-plus years in public service, and I think that’s the hardest thing for me is that I’m not going to cry,” she said, holding back tears. “You haven’t seen the last of me. I intend to remain committed to this community that I love, and I’ll be coming to your meetings from time to time, meeting Sue (McClure) afterward for a drink at Mykel’s, and I’m really going to miss this and each one of you and I wish you all the best.”

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Porter Reelected To Fourth Term

Pat Porter has won reelection to a 4th term. (Photo: City of Kenai)

 

It was a close race, but in the end Kenai Mayor Pat Porter edged out her challenger, council member Bob Molloy to win reelection to a 4th term.

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Pat Porter took 51.3 percent of the vote in last week’s municipal election, winning by just 33 votes over Bob Molloy. As she looks ahead to a fourth term as mayor, she says reworking the city’s comprehensive plan will be a top priority. The comp plan was repealed by voter referendum. She says the city administration will have some recommendations for the October 16th meeting about what options there are moving forward.

“I would imagine that we’ll be having a public meeting to determine what it is about the comprehensive plan that our residents wanted us to improve upon. The plan, I feel, is a good plan, but if there are small parts of it that need to be changed to be acceptable to our residents, then we need to take a look at those,” Porter said.

It’s unlikely that the council will start from scratch on new comp plan, she says. The one that was just rejected took two years to put together, and while there’s no official price tag for it, the cost was well into the six-figure category.

“We had a group of individuals who wanted that on the ballot and that was certainly within their rights and a good thing, but never was it expressed how much it cost for the residents of the city to develop that comprehensive plan. That probably should have been something that was brought out into the open because it cost way over $100,000. I’m not sure our residents would like for us to start from scratch and do that again,” she said.

Another big item on Porter’s agenda is working to bring an LNG plant to Nikiski. Monday, BP, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and TransCanada announced that they would like to see a natural gas line from the North Slope find its end there.

“I think that will be very exciting to try and secure that for our area because I think that’s huge resource development, lots of jobs for individuals in our community and certainly, it will enable a lot of our youth to remain here,” she said.

Porter’s newest term expires in 2016.

 

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

 


Few Solutions For High Water Table Near K-Beach

This map shows the area impacted by a high water table as wetlands.

Residents near K-Beach Road just south of Kenai have been battling a rising water table the past few weeks. Thursday night, residents and Borough and State officials met to learn more about what can be done to gain some relief. There aren’t many concrete solutions except hoping for dry weather.

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I spent most of Friday morning cruising around with the Borough’s Road Service Area Director Pat Malone in the areas just off K-Beach road that have been inundated with water the past two weeks.

He’s made a lot of these trips lately, seeing where water levels are in the ditches, if the water is going across borough roads, and if culverts are working, all to get a sense of what the Borough might be able to do to help property owners who, in some cases, are taking matters into their own hands.

On Thursday night, Malone and several other Borough and state officials met with the folks who live around here to try and answer some questions. Paul Ostrander, Chief of Staff for Mayor Mike Navarre tried to lay out the history of the current situation, which really goes back to the winter of 2011, which saw a lot of snow. That snow melted very quickly the following spring, and then the rains came.

“Then we came through to this spring, and it took forever to get that heavy, heavy freeze out of the ground. Just about when we were getting that frost out of the ground, it started raining again. So, I think this is just a really strange combination,” he said, noting that his home has also been affected.

In the near term, the best the Borough can hope for is some dry weather;  slightly better hand dealt from Mother Nature that won’t further saturate the nearly 10 square miles of swamp and wetlands that already have a pretty tough time draining.

The area is almost table-top flat. And while the water does eventually drain north and west into Cook Inlet, it takes a lot of time, and faces a lot of obstacles. Namely, roads.

The Borough’s hydrologist, Dan Mahalak, spends most of his time in Seward, where flooding means something entirely different, but got some first impressions about the extent of the problem Friday.

“Unfortunately, I can tell you all now, there’s no silver bullet to solve the immediate need. And I also can’t pinpoint my finger exactly on ‘if you do this, none of us will have a problem again’. I think this is going to be an ongoing issue. I think it has been an ongoing issue, even if it hasn’t reared its ugly head in the past 20 years,” he said.

That answer didn’t sit well with some residents, though. During both the meeting Thursday night and my drive with Pat Malone, several words were repeated that suggest there isn’t much of a solution. The Borough can mitigate, alleviate and ameloriate, but it simply can’t drain a 6,000 acre swamp. The meeting got borderline testy at times. Mayor Navarre and Ostrander had a bit of a back and forth with property owner Dave Yragui, who told the Peninsula Clarion last week he’s spent $20,000 trying to divert water from his property.

“I don’t have the resources or a plan in place, nor the time to get one in place that’s going to alleviate this situation for this year. We can’t do it,” Navarre said. “That’s probably not what you want to hear, but we can’t resolve this situation over night.”

Channeling water to other areas, as some residents have done, doesn’t make it drain any faster, it just channels it to a different area. Kind of like a game of Whack-a-Mole. And there are lots of opinions about what actions are causing flooding in different areas.

Ostrander said he’d been out to one property near Yragui’s twice in the previous three days where there was lots of standing water. The only thing that had changed was work he said Yragui had done. Yragui disputed the claim that he was responsible for the standing water.

At the end of the meeting came the big question. Why would the Borough even allow people to build in a place that’s so prone to such a high water table?

“There’s one lot on Buoy that’s heavily impacted. I looked at the plat and it shows a line right through the middle of the lot that says it’s an area subject to inundation. So clearly, when that was platted, which I think was in the late 80′s, people knew it was subject to inundation. So the Borough’s role in protecting the landowner is very limited. In my opinion, it could probably be more involved, but historically, that’s the way the Borough has been set up where that’s not their role,” Ostrander said.

The next step is basically keeping fingers crossed that Mother Nature cooperates and allows for some drainage this fall, that there’s not too much snow this winter, and that it doesn’t melt all at once next spring. In the meantime, Malone says they’ll be gathering more information about what impacts any ditches, culverts and berms might have when they look at it again next year.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


New Administrative Positions Announced In Soldotna

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has announced the principals and assistant principals for the new Soldotna schools reconfiguration.

Current Soldotna High School Principal Todd Syverson will be the administrator for the 10th through 12th grade students on the current SoHi campus. Randy Neill will be the assistant. He’s currently the Skyview principal.

Current Soldotna Middle School Assistant Principal Curt Schmidt will be in charge of the 9th grade “house.” Those students will occupy the SMS building.

Sarge Truesdell will be the principal for the 7th and 8th grade students at the current Skyview campus. He’s currently the SMS principal. And the new assistant principal for that building will be Tony Graham, who is the current SoHi assistant principal.

River City Academy also will occupy the SMS building along with the 9th graders. Dawn Edwards-Smith will remain the administrator for that school.

The KPBSD School Board is expected to approve these new contracts in the spring. District officials also have been meeting with teachers, staff and union leaders to discuss staffing levels in the new schools configuration.

-Ariel Van Cleave/KBBI-


Nikiski Possible Terminal Site For North Slope LNG

A new LNG plant would reportedly be 16 times larger than ConocoPhillips' plant in Nikiski. (Photo: M. Scott Moon/Peninsula Clarion)

The companies seeking to advance a multibillion-dollar natural gas pipeline project in Alaska have announced that Nikiski is the front-runner to be the terminal site where gas would be liquefied and shipped to Asia.

Exxon Mobil, BP, ConocoPhillips and TransCanada Corporation made the announcement Monday. Senior project manager Steve Butt said there are three or four other sites are still being considered but Nikiski has the land needed for the plant and the companies know they can route a pipeline there. Land acquisition work is underway.

A liquefied natural gas plant operated in Nikiski for decades and provided exports to Japan. That plant closed in 2011. Butt said the liquefied natural gas plant envisioned as part of the pipeline project would be 16 or 17 times larger than that plant.

The pipeline envisioned would span 800 miles from the North Slope to south-central Alaska, costing somewhere between 45 and $65 billion.

-Associated Press-


Baxter Brings Home Daughter And Victory On Election Day

While voters Borough-wide and in Kenai had several ballot measures and candidates to choose, Soldotna voters only had a couple city council races to decide.  Keith Baxter brought home more than a victory in the contest for seat.

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“Mom is doing good and baby is going good and we’re excited to get home with our other kids and get settled in at the homefront,” said Baxter.

The Soldotna native found out that wife Desiree would be delivering early Wednesday morning just hours after the poll results came in showing him winning his first elected office.

“It’s great to be involved in the future of Soldotna and I couldn’t be happier with the way the campaign turned out and the election results, but hands down, Paisley Baxter was the thing about that day for me.”

Paisley Day Baxter, weighing in at seven pounds, 13 ounces said hello to the world at 4:59 a.m. Wednesday, joining six year old brother Clayton and three year old sister Spruce.

“Its growing fast and I think we’re at a holding size for now,” Baxter said of his clan. “But we’re happy to have a couple healthy girls and a boy and I think we’ve filled that house up.”

If three young kids aren’t enough to keep his hands full, Baxter will now turn some of his attention toward the business of the city of Soldotna. He says the first thing on the list is to round out the make-up of the council.

There are two open seats now, with Dale Bagely winning reelection to the Borough assembly and John Czarnezki taking a position with the city. After that, though, Baxter says the focus will be on bringing the city’s comp plan to fruition and finalizing plans for the recently renamed Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.

He says he’s encouraged that discussions about the facility have sort of split off. In its current form, the Sports Complex serves a wide variety of functions from ice hockey and basketball to luncheons and conferences.

“I’m happy to hear people talking about delineating the difference between what a new conference and visitor’s center would provide and do and what this sports center expansion project is supposed to be. And while there is a little bit of overlap, we really don’t want the sports center to cover the needs a visitors or conference center would,” Baxter said.

The renaming of the sports center as a regional complex is appropriate. Both in terms of who’s going to use it, and how it’s going to be paid for.

“People who live far outside the city will be using this facility and people who live far outside the city will be paying for it if you think about where the money comes from in sales tax. So, a lot of people who live in Sterling or K-Beach or even Cooper Landing, Kasilof or Nikiski are going to be benefiting from the many different opportunities this improvement project will provide. And they’ve all contributed to the extent that they come to Soldotna and shop here.”

He says he’s been entertaining the notion of running for office for a while, but wasn’t too serious until he moved back to Soldotna three years ago and bought a house. The final push to get involved came when he was lobbying the city to take a look at alternate routes for gravel trucks that were traveling along Kobuk street often and pretty close to school bus stops.

“I actually picked up a packet for Mayor, but I withheld that one because this is my first elected public office and I think there are some things that I’ll learn being on the council. But things did move pretty quickly. I didn’t have a campaign manager. I had a lot of people support me, letting me put up signs and things like that. I think within 72 hours of picking up the packet, I already had the website up and the Facebook page, and it did move pretty quickly.”

Baxter’s first term on the council will run until 2016.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Soldotna Library Receives Finishing Touches

The new fireplace at the nearly-complete Joyce K. Carver Memorial Library in Soldotna.

With a couple months to go before an official opening, the new Soldotna Library is getting pretty close.

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Well, the alarm system is working just fine at the Joyce K. Carver Memorial Library. Workers were getting that dialed in when I stopped by Wednesday afternoon for a tour of the new six million dollar building.

There are some things that might suggest it’s a library, but it’s still pretty bare. And big. One hundred and thirty two percent larger than the old building it replaces. Rachel Nash is the new librarian. She and assistant librarian Katja Wolfe are showing me where things will go once all the furniture, shelving, and most importantly, the books, arrive.

“We’re still figuring out some things because they have them in the blue prints one way, but as we see how the space develops, it might work out another way,” Nash said.

There is a fire place at the front of the building, with big windows facing Binkley street. It’s got the same sort of relaxed feel as the reading area near the fireplace at the Kenai library. Lining the outside wall are small conference rooms that can be reserved and little study alcoves. And a big section toward the back dedicated to teens.

“We’re really excited to have the teen space that was not included in our previous library. We’re hoping that all the local teens will feel like this is their library and they’re welcome to come and hang out after school and study. We want to have a volunteer program for teens, too.”

Nash says she’s reached out to teachers to bring students in on field trips and show them what resources the library has to offer. The other side of the building, which already has carpet and a bit of furniture installed, will be home to the kids section and the computers. Like most libraries, there will be a lot more technology now.

“It’s still a place you can come and read, obviously, but we’re going to be offering so many more services and so many more programs. We have different kinds of story times. When the new facility opens, we’re hoping to have a toddler story time, a bouncing baby story time and also family story time in the evening.”

Wolfe says adult programs, which they’ve never done before, might be focused on new technologies; computer literacy, using e-readers and downloadable books.

Nash says there’s a kind of balancing act in anticipating what the next big thing is, yet not getting too far out in front of what people are actually going to want.

“Libraries should always be driven by the patrons that they serve, the communities that they are in. Right now, we see more and more of our community members coming to the library wanting to download e-books and asking questions about that and even asking questions about different devices. We do try to stay ahead of the game as much as possible, but if our patrons aren’t using it, there’s no reason to spend money on it,” Nash said.

Another big feature is the community room.

“If there are any community groups, they can rent the room out for free, especially the non-profit groups. And also, we have ideas of having monthly programs that are education where someone comes and gives a presentation on various topics. It could be beekeeping or financial literacy or really just anything. We’re really excited for our community room,” Nash said.

There will be a soft opening sometime in December with a grand opening planned for early next year.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Enrollment For Obamacare Opens Today

Enrollment for federally-mandated health insurance policies opened Wednesday. On the Kenai Peninsula, Enroll Alaska will have representatives in Soldotna and Homer beginning next week to help people find the right policy.

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Here’s another thing the shutdown of the federal government has thrown a wrench into.

“Today has been challenging as the market place wasn’t quite ready, I would say. It’s been challenging to get on and look at it. We haven’t been able to get on and look at the marketplace until today and we couldn’t access it today, either. So there’s a lot of glitches to get worked out,” said Tyann Boling, Chief Operating Officer at Enroll Alaska.

Enroll Alaska is part of Northrim Benefits Group, the Alaska-based insurance company. It was launched in August and its purpose is to get people signed up for insurance plans under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare if you prefer. This is the individual mandate we’ve heard so much about. People without insurance need to sign up for a policy within six months, or face a tax penalty. Boling says they’re doing a soft rollout.

“We will have all of our locations statewide up and running by the end of next week. And the agents in Central Peninsula Hospital will be there starting on the 7th, and Wal-Mart as well.”

Other agencies, like United Way or Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, have people to help, too. They’re called certified application specialists, or more appropriately, navigators. Their job is to simply help you make sense of all this. Enroll Alaska, on the other hand, is an insurance broker. They can help you decide what plan is best.

“We will manage this heath insurance policy throughout its lifetime. We’ll be the liason between

So, if you’re uninsured and you’re looking into this, what kind of information do you need to bring to get the ball rolling?

Boling: “For every individual…subsidy from” (0:32)

The Department of Health and Human Services estimates there are about 140,000 uninsured Alaskans. Boling says they’re hoping to enroll 30 to 40,000 of them. It won’t be cheap. The average policy cost here is the second highest in the nation behind Wyoming, but the subsidies could help. An individual  earning less than $57,000 will qualify for a subsidy. For a family of four bringing in $50,000 or less, the subsidies will pay for the policy entirely. You can learn more, once Washington turns the lights back on, at healthcare.gov.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-