Feeding the Masses: A Look In The Kitchen At Kenai Catering

The crew at Kenai Catering prepares Thanksgiving dinner at the Kenai Merit Inn.

Aroud this time of year, home cooks come to realize the logistical challenges of assembling a memorable meal for a big group of people. For the team at Kenai Catering, it’s just called another day at the office.


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It’s 10 a.m. And Steve England is thinking lunch.

In less than two hours, all that food will have to be ready for hungry kids coming to the Kenai Merit Inn from Aurora Borealis. England and wife Bobbi operate Kenai Catering out of the Merit Inn, that’s the home turf, but they cater all over the place.

As a reporter, I’ve found my self at a lot of the events they work, and from the sounds of the kitchen, they seem to always be having the most fun. Steve says the crowd they’re serving today is the perfect size.

“We’ve worked at hotels with holiday buffets serving upwards of 500-600 people for Chistmas and Thanksgiving, upwards of 1,200 for Easter and Mother’s Day. So, we’ve got the high-volume knowledge that will help us grow.”

Steve handles most of the chef’s duties, and that’s what everyone calls him in the kitchen. Bobbi handles the details. Running down the list of 15 separate items that will be presented, from the roast turkey to the marshmallows for hot chocolate, Bobbi directs the staff.

“Do me a favor, we need to make sure we have backup hot chocolate, the mini marshmallows and the cider ready to go out, because these kids are going to hit it,” Bobbi tells one of her servers.

The Englands have been in kitchens and serving food for about three decades, in some way or another. Having their own catering business means they get to really perfect some of their favorite recipes, like today’s roasted turkey, but also experiment when a client is looking for something different. Bobbi says that in the food world, new and different is all relative.

“Since we’ve been on the Peninsula, we’ve been able to bring our experience at hotels to the area. Cafe rounds. They’re now known as cafe rounds, we called it baron of beef. It’s basically the hindquarter of a cow and the first time we did it down here, no one had seen it. And we were doing those for Sunday brunch at the Red Line hotels 25 years ago.”

With about forty five minutes until lunch, things are picking up in the kitchen. The mood gets a little more serious.  Sara Williams is one of the servers. She’s getting stacks of cups and silverware together. She says setting up for events is an intricately timed dance.

“When you’re new, it’s a lot of rush around, rush around, rush around. But then, once you know the deal…somebody new would take two hours to set the room. We set the room in less than an hour.”

She says it’s a chore, but a chore they all seem to enjoy.

Just after the guests arrive, before the first plate has been filled, the power goes out.

This is where that home field advantage came in to play. Plenty of candles to light the tables, and the servers donned their LED headlamps to get through the meal. Actually, with all the food prepared and ready just as the power went out, it wasn’t a terribly big deal.

“It went fabulous! Monet’s serving fresh pumpkin pie and everybody loved the food. It didn’t affect us at all.”

There’s one Thanksgiving dinner out of the way. Now, for the leftovers.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

Managers, Residents Discuss Brown Bears

Supervisory Fish and Wildlife Biologist John Morton presents population numbers for Kenai Brown Bears at the Gilman River Center.

Residents and hunters met with state and federal game management officials Monday night in Soldotna to talk about this year’s brown bear hunt. State and federal officials almost agree on how to manage the bear population, but the difference is an important one.


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It’s important because where the two sides disagree over the numbers is where the decision is made to suspend hunting. This year, US Fish and Wildlife made that decision when the count hit 70; more than ten percent of the estimated population for the entire Peninsula.

There have always been disagreements between state and federal agencies about how many bears are needed to sustain the population, or put another way, how many it’s okay to hunt without wiping them out.

But it got even more interesting in 2010, when a more definitive population estimate of around 600 bears came out. Biologist John Morton of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge said at Monday’s meeting they had been anticipating the numbers to trend up, from 624 to 681 bears.

“By putting the regulatory framework into place, we’re killing 70 bears (annually) over three years, we’re knocking it from 624 down to 464, so about thirty percent. It’s a pretty big hit to the brown bear population.”

Part of the problem here is the different missions of the federal and state agencies. Managers on the Refuge have a very broad objective, simply to conserve wildlife and habitat. The state is more specific. It can put policies in place to manipulate populations for different reasons. Doug Vincent-Lang is the director of the Alaska Division of Wildlife Conservation.

“We agree that this year’s harvest of bears probably cannot be sustained indefinitely,” said Doug Vincent-Lang, director of the Alaska Division of Wildlife Conservation.

“These harvests were meant to be temporary, to address increased human-wildlife conflicts by taking those bears most likely causing difficulties, provide expanded harvest opportunities based on new Service population estimates and reduce or stabilize bear numbers.”

Board of Game chair Ted Spraker was also at the meeting, explaining why the Board opened up the bear hunt this year in the first place. He looked back at management strategies used in the 90’s, when the population was thought to be no more than 300 bears. Using those methods, he says the take of adult female bears, which was a top concern for the feds, could have been much higher.

“We live and die by the numbers, and that’s something that science dictates, and that’s something the Board looks at and we adhere to,” Spraker said.

Refuge biologists don’t so much live and die by the numbers, as much as use them to figure out what the natural balance of things should be, and try to manage to keep that natural balance. In a separate interview, Refuge manager Andy Loranger said numbers can’t tell the whole story. The bears plan an integral role in the health of the broader ecosystem.

“As an example, brown bears are very very critical in moving marine-derived nutrients from the marine and fresh water ecosystems that salmon use here on the Peninsula into the forested ecosystem.”

The role they play in Richard Link’s life has gotten bigger over the years. The Soldotna resident told the panel he’s done hoping the bears will just go away.

“I can assure you that there will not be any bears on my property that live. I’ve got grandkids around, and I’m not going to tolerate having those bears, and tell my kids they can’t go out and play on the lawn because the bears are around. And if you people think it’s fine to live with the bears, wait. Without the moose for the bears to eat, they’re going to get hungry and they’re going to eat something. And it won’t be long before it’s somebody’s child.”

Though not the only opinion in the debate over how to best Kenai brown bears, opinions like Link’s have been the most vocal, and will likely continue to be until the Board of Game again takes up south central issues in 2015.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

Work On Soldotna Trails To Begin Soon

The Soldotna Parks and Recreation board has signed off on the department’s Trails Master Plan. The projects and improvements will be started over the next five years.


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This is a big plan, with a lot of steps to be taken over several years. And the funding sources for all these projects are far from certain. The plan lists several options for getting the money needed for paving sidewalks and adding staff to the Parks and Rec department. Grants are always an option. The Borough could be involved by creating a Service Area, which would provide operations funding for the Soldotna Sports Center.

Though trails and expanded outdoor recreation opportunities are at the heart of the Trails Plan, the remodeling of the Sports Center factors in as well. That area, from the Visitor’s Center to the Sports Center and through Centennial Park will all eventually be connected with trails. Parks and Recreation director Andrew Carmichael said at last week’s board meeting that work will be starting soon.

“We’ll be starting with the Sports Center Center-Centennial Park trail connection in about three weeks, with in-house crews, as soon as we get all the materials on site. The city crews will build 191 feet and after that we’ll contract for the ramp that will come up over the hill.”

At a public meeting about the plans this summer, Carmichael said versatility is at the heart of all these designs.

“You’re just trying to figure out how to make the best, diverse facility that will adapt to everyone.”

The city of Soldotna is looking to provide more recreation opportunities and be more pedestrian-friendly. Part the strategy for getting there is to put some resources into the city’s extensive trail system, which includes more than 50 miles of sidewalks and trails and nearly 500 acres of parks and other facilities. Over the next five years, more funding will go to winter maintenance of trails and adding on to existing parks. Aspen Park will get a dog park in 2015. Sidewalks are slated to be added to Riverview avenue a couple years later.

This is the fourth comprehensive look at trails and recreation in Soldotna since 1995. A Roads and Trails master plan was developed 12 years ago, and many of these projects are also included in the city’s 30 year master plan, adopted in 2011.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Ulti-MUTT Dog Show at KPC

Tyann Reed and Courtney Parker shelter their dogs Bo and Basil Lynn from the chilly temperatures outside KPC Friday.

Fridays power outage didn’t do anything to deter a handful of dog lovers at Kenai Peninsula College, who were there for the Student Union’s first dog show.


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Student Union president Teresa Cross was grilling hot dogs while dog owners milled about outside the Brockel Building on the KPC campus.

“We have the Ulti-mutt Dog Show. Any breed, any style, short, fat, skinny, we don’t care. He’s a mutt, he can come participate.”

Staff and faculty at the college served as judges, contemplating cuteness and costumes.

 A KPC students Tyann Reed and Courtney Parker had their eyes on the cuteness award, while they had their dogs, Bo and Basil Lynn, tucked into their coats.

“Basil is full of love and personality. She’s just my baby,” Parker said.

Debbie McCree and her five year old shi tzu are going after the best costume award, with Minnie dressed up like a reindeer, antlers and all.

“I thought she’d just take every prize there is,” McCree said with a laugh.


Diners Undeterred By Power Outage

Diners make their way through the buffet line Friday, lit by candles and headlamps. A power outage lasting several hours affected the entire Kenai Peninsula.

A power outage affecting the entire Kenai Peninsula and beyond slowed down Friday a bit for some folks. But at the Kenai Merit Inn, the show went on uninterrupted.


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Just after about 100 students from Aurora Borealis charter school filed into the dining room at the Merit Inn, the lights went out. I was there recording sounds for a different story, but got to watch the crew with Kenai Catering in action.

Luckily the food had already been prepared and was in chafing dishes ready to go. Under light of candle, headlamp and smartphone flashlight, lunch was served.

The outage hit shortly before noon Friday. Homer Electric Association spokesperson Joe Gallagher says it started with a problem at the Nikiski Generation Plant.

“It appears there was a piece of equipment that monitors fuel supply, and it malfunctioned, and the plant tripped off line.”

At the time of the outage, which hit 32,000 meters just between Sterling and Homer, HEA’s systems on the Kenai were isolated from the rest of the electrical grid in south central.

“Under normal circumstances, the transmission line between Anchorage and the Peninsula is providing power to the Peninsula, but that line was out of service due to an accident. So, all the power on the Peninsula was being provided by the Nikiski plant and the Bradley Lake hydroelectric facility.”

Gallagher says when the Nikiski plant went off line, it was a strong enough jolt to the system to trip the Bradley Lake plant as well.

And, even though they had to clean up and do dishes in the dark, Kenai Catering co-owner Steve England says things went well.

“Aside from Mother Nature throwing us a curveball, we think it went fabulous. The room’s fairly quiet out there because people are eating, and that’s always a good sign.”

For a peak at how Kenai Catering operates with the lights on, before the diners arrive, tune in next week.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

Soldotna Teen Center To Open By Christmas

Jazi Larrow and Leah McCabe present their design ideas for the new Soldotna Teen Center, located in the former Radio Shack location on the Spur Highway.

After months of meetings, the new Soldotna Teen Center is looking at an opening date by the end of the year. Those who attended the most recent meeting got a look at what the inside of the Center could look like.


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They’re still taking measurements at the new teen center. The set up for the old Radio Shack in Soldotna just doesn’t lend itself to kids hanging out, watching movies and playing foosball.

Will they keep the high traffic carpet or go with laminate? Or something else? What about chairs? Lighting? Paint? Right now the walls are a mix of retail shelving panels and bright, pastels. Those are all questions addressed by the interior designs, drawn up and presented by students in one of Meggean Bos’ classes at SoHi.

Leah McCabe and Jazi Larrow worked together on a design that includes four flat screen televisions, with accompanying couches and chairs for each. Filling the middle of the space would be the game tables; pool, ping pong and, of course, the foosball.

McCabe and Larrow say the new center will offer a more entertaining venue for them and their peers to spend time at after school.

“Definitely not a school feeling. Much more relaxed,” McCabe said.

State Senator Peter Micciche fields questions at the new Soldotna Teen Center Thursday.

There are several concepts that will be considered. Some call for big, cushy chairs or sofas and low light, others call for stools and a more active atmosphere. Senator Peter Micciche, who has been one of the adults instrumental in securing a space for the Teen Center, was there, to get a few more details out these preliminary plans.

This former retail space will be able to accommodate upwards of 150 people, and will be used for dances, small concerts, movies and in general, just a place to hang out. A survey was conducted of teens to see what they’d be most likely to use the space for.  Funding for the Center is sort of medium-term. It’s a pilot program, with funding for three years, which came from a $225,000 state grant to the Soldotna Boys and Girls Club. Micciche said at the meeting they’d also be looking for someone to staff the center on a part-time basis.

“For the parent or the youth development professional who qualifies, it’s the perfect after school job.”

The plan is to have the Teen Center ready for business in time for Christmas.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

School District Sees Jump In 4 Year Graduation Rate

KPBSD Superintendent Dr. Steve Atwater addresses a Kenai Chamber of Commerce meeting Wednesday at the Kenai Visitors Center.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District faces several unique, short term challenges, including declining enrollments and increased health care costs. But there are other areas where the future looks brighter.


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One of those bright spots is in Nikiski. Maybe.

‘What if a gas line goes to Nikiski? What would that mean for us?’ That’s a question Kenai Peninsula School District Superintendent Dr. Steve Atwater says he’s been getting a lot lately. Speaking to the Kenai Chamber of Commerce Wednesday, Atwater said Mt. View would likely see the most affect from a project like that.

“If we were to get a slug of new kids to come into our region (Mt. View) would be immediately overwhelmed. Say we got 30 or 40 new elementary kids in Kenai…we’d be forced, on a very short term basis, to do what we’ve done in the past; drag a portable into the playground area and you house kids there, which is not an ideal situation.”

Of course, that gas line and LNG plant, if they happen, could be years away. And while a sharp uptick in the student population wouldn’t be a bad problem to have, Atwater said overall, enrollment numbers are trending down across the district. But a higher percentage of students are earning their high school diploma within four years of entering ninth grade.

“In the last two years, we’ve had a little bit of a jump. About 80 percent of our kids make it across the stage after four years of high school. The state average is about 72 percent, but certainly we want to continue to work hard to get our kids through high school in four years.”

Atwater gives some credit for that increase to intervention programs started when recent graduating classes were in kindergarten and first grade, designed to make sure all students are reading by the end of first grade.

Technology will play a big role in reaching the district’s goals, Atwater says. Today’s students, by and large, live online. They’re connected. And while the district has taken what Atwater calls a conservative approach to bringing in new technology, catering to kids who are growing up with mobile devices in their hands will become more of a focus.

But that raises the question of access. Not every student has an iPad or a smartphone. But that doesn’t really matter. You can’t use those tools to their full capacity without access to the internet, and for students in the really rural parts of the district, they might not be able to get internet service.

“To expect that seamless, 24-7 environment, where you’re learning all the time or you can go get what you need all the time doesn’t exist for some of our families.”

He says other districts have agreements with internet service providers to hook up low income students, even at home, but the challenge in Alaska, getting internet service to those rural areas in the first place.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

Coffee Table – Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Manager Andy Loranger

On this week’s Coffee Table, Shaylon Cochran speaks with Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Manager Andy Loranger about the mission of the Refuge and the challenges of reaching its goals.


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Governor Makes Disaster Declaration For Kenai Peninsula Flooding


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.

Governor Sean Parnell has declared a state disaster for the Kenai Peninsula. In a press release Monday, Parnell said “Having been in Kenai when much of this disaster was unfolding, I personally witnessed the extensive damage taking place…These state recovery programs will speed up recovery efforts and help fill the void for the community.”

Borough Mayor Mike Navarre issued a local declaration on October 29th. That came after weeks of rising groundwater levels, that flooded septic systems and leech fields, and filled basements and crawl spaces in the area around K-Beach Road.

With the state declaration, recovery programs for public infrastructure and individual homes can be enacted. The Borough’s Emergency Management Coordinator, Scott Walden, told K-Beach residents at a recent meeting that the Borough’s role in recovery efforts was rather limited.

“Some of the things we could provide as a second class borough are not exactly what you wanted, and I wish we could have done more in some of those circumstances.”

The Borough is primarily responsible for its own roads and ditches and maintaining access to them. Several roads in the area are either on private property or have not been adopted by the Borough’s roads department.

With the state now involved, direct assistance to homeowners becomes a possibility, something the Borough and other municipalities couldn’t take on.

Though the K-Beach flooding has received the most attention, residents throughout the Borough, on both sides of the Inlet, have been dealing water issues.

State and Borough emergency managers will now work with residents to identify eligible applicants for the Individual Assistance Program.

Healthcare Navigators From Enroll Alaska Working At CPH

It’s been a rough six weeks for anyone dealing with the new health care law. Problems with the federal website have made it difficult for individuals to sign up. And the state-level organizations, like Enroll Alaska, haven’t had much better luck. But there’s help available for insurance shoppers on the Central Peninsula.

Navigators from Enroll Alaska are taking appointments for consultations over the next couple days at Central Peninsula Hospital. Tyann Boling is the Chief Operating Officer for Enroll Alaska. She says people looking for a plan on the exchange need to bring in specific information to find the right plan.

“For every individual that they want to get enrolled, they need to bring their social security numbers. They also need to bring in their tax information. Because government subsidy is based upon household income, and you can get that information off of W-2′s and things of that nature.”

Boling says the company enlisted local help to serve as navigators, who will have their work cut out for them. There are just a few weeks left to find a plan that will be on the books by the first of the year. People without approved coverage by then could face a penalty from the federal government.

“They need to be enrolled by December 15th in order for the plan to be in place by January 1st. So that’s what we’ll be doing (at CPH). Our agents there are local, one of them is from Kenai and one is from Soldotna.”

Enroll Alaska temporarily suspended its efforts to get people signed up for insurance just a few weeks after the initial roll out, citing the many computer glitches that have plagued the system. Navigators will be at CPH Wednesday, Thursday and Friday between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. You can set up an appointment by calling 855-385-5550.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Recycling Fashion In Cooper Landing


Preston Jeffords gives Landon Jeffords some help with his turn on the runway at the Cooper Landing Community Center Saturday.


To mark America Recyles Day on November 15th, residents in Cooper Landing found a different way to use old stuff. A fashion show.


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So. You think you’re a pretty good recycler. You separate your trash. Compost the coffee grounds and egg shells, put the newspaper and glass in their proper bins for a life beyond the landfill. But in Cooper Landing, they take it a step farther with a full on fashion show, replete with appropriate club music, low lights, and long runway walks. But you won’t find any famous designers worn by even more famous supermodels here. Instead, it’s the Mt. Dew Cowboy. Complete with chaps, a vest and a ten gallon hat made from old Mt. Dew boxes.

Soda boxes, old magazines and plastic bags were weaved and woven to make some really interesting looking costumes. Kristine Route is a Raven Americorps member, working in Cooper Landing. She’s helped organize the fashion show the past two years. It’s an idea she got from her college days at Colorado State University.

“I wanted to do something fun to educate people on how to better their recycling and get them into recycling. Trying to think of something entertaining, I remembered the fashion program (at college) did a recycle fashion show, so I decided it would be fun to do one here.”


Martha Story, Chris Degernes and Ken Green deliberate the best recycled fashion statement.

She says the goal of the fashion show is to get people to think about what to do with stuff after they’ve used it; that there are more options than the trash or the recycle bin.

“I hope people think of the items they use and try to think of a second life for those or to think of ways they don’t need those. To think outside the box.”

Following up her second place finish in last year’s competition, Theresa Norris took the top honors this year, with her coat made of crocheted plastic bags and accessorized with earrings made from aluminum cans.

“I don’t know how I came up with the idea, although I crochet a lot, so I did this in the evening watching tv. At first I was going to make a dress but then I thought ‘I’ll just make a coat, that’ll be easier,” Norris said with a laugh.

The winners (left to right) 1st place: Theresa Norris 2nd place: Hope Quinn 3rd place: Preston Jeffords 4th place: Linnaea Gossard


1st place: Theresa Norris
2nd place: Hope Quinn
3rd place: Preston Jeffords
4th place: Linnaea Gossard

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

The Legend Of Soapy Smith


Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith, pictured in Skagway in 1898. (Photo: soapysmiths.blogspot.com)

Alaska’s history is peppered with crooks, cons and other characters famous for running afoul of the law. One of them is Soapy Smith, whose travels brought him briefly to the Kenai Peninsula. Historian Jane Haigh has written about Smith, and on Thursday night, told his story at the Kasilof Regional Historical Association Museum.


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There were a lot of dangers faced by the people flooding the American west in the late 19th century. And at least as dangerous as inclimate weather, tuberculosis or a stray bullet was the good, old-fashioned crook. The story of Soapy Smith, is the story of a swindler. A pretty good one, too.

For some two decades, from Denver to the Kenai Peninsula, Smith made a living with little more than a good line, a quick hand, and a code of morality that read like an entry application to the 8th circle of Dante’s Inferno.

“Soapy was a confidence man. Confidence men used elaborate tricks and ruses in order to basically talk their victims out of their money,” said Kenai Peninsula College history professor and author Jane Haigh, speaking at one of the Kasilof Museum’s occasional historical presentations.

Her book ‘King Con’ chronicles one Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith, and his various criminal operations. The journey starts in Denver, in 1879, where Soapy has set up shop on the street, running a shell game out of a suitcase. He filled it with bars of soap, wrapped in paper. The game was you buy a bar of soap for five dollars, with a chance that under the paper, there’s a 10, 20, maybe a 50 dollar bill.

“There actually are first hand accounts of guys who saw him on the street corner, and he would do this for two or three hours at a time and get a big crowd. Not so much because everyone thought they were going to win soap, but because it was a great performance.”

From this operation, Soapy went, naturally, into politics. Helping to rig the voting in local elections and also running protection rackets, though he remained in the class of non-violent, gentleman-criminals. A trial after elections in 1892 drove Soapy out of town, for awhile.

Now, he bounces around a bit, spending some time in Texas, looking for fresh marks and making frequent trips to St. Louis to see his wife and kids. This is when he makes his first, albeit brief, trip to Alaska.

“In April, he shipped out from Seattle, and then he was in Juneau and in May, he was in Coal Bay (Homer). But then he was back in Denver again in June, and he didn’t go to the Klondike again until July of 1897. There’s a year there I can’t account for.”

KPC history professor and author Jane Haigh shares the story of Soapy Smith at the Kasilof Historical Museum.

His first shot at scavenging the riches of the various Alaskan rushes and booms of the time wasn’t successful. He was found out in southeast.

“He tried to practice his soap game in Juneau and was arrested. It was under a fake name, but you could tell it was him,” Haigh said.

A 25 dollar fine and a new relationship with authorities in Juneau send him to the Kenai Peninsula. This is about the time when people are trying to decide if Hope will be the next found deposit of untold riches.

“He knew that there was a gold rush there. We all know there was a small one to Sunrise. I think he’s hoping that it’s big enough he can move his activities there. But we all know how small Hope was at the time. It was never going to amount to much and I think he realized that right away, so he got right back on the boat and went back to Coal Bay.”

This sort of stuff is happening all over. Haigh mentioned another book that examines attempts to drum up a goldrush in Homer, by the town’s namesake, Homer Pennock.

“(The author) maintains that Pennock was a conman, and his whole thing was, and a lot of people did this, I’m going to take a group of people with me because I have these claims. It’s almost like a Ponzi scheme. He’s only collecting money from the good people who are going to join him on this fantastic voyage where they’re all going to make wild amount of money digging in his claims which are secret and only he knows about.”

But back to Soapy. Hope was a bust, so he heads back down south. But being tied into an extensive network of conmen and crooked cops gives him a head’s up on the next big opportunity on the tundra.

“He gets to Skagway in 1898 and builds a saloon. He was there right from the get-go. I don’t think Soapy had any intention of going to the Klondike itself. I don’t know how he figured out Skagway was the place to go, but it was an obvious location because it was a jumping off point.”

Skagway is not only established as a center of gold rush commerce, but it’s also still small enough to lack the sort of legal oversight that kept his stay in Juneau so short. He’s trying to reestablish the racket he ran in Colorado in Skagway. He’s got a full crew, and several schemes set up to fleece the people coming and going. Now, there were a couple of newspapers in town, and people Outside relied on that information to decide if and when to try their luck north. Soapy bought off one of the editors, but stories about the swindling did leak out. One operation involved a phony telegraph line.

“Of course there was no actual telegraph line to Skagway, but maybe you didn’t know that, so you could still pay for the telegraph to you loved ones, and then the reply would come saying ‘please send money’. And Soapy’s response to the criticism was that he was saving people. If you were so stupid as to be caught by these tricks, he was saving you from sure death in the Klondike.” 

For the more proper businessmen in town, this was no good. If you’ve just scored big in, say, Dawson City, and you know that Skagway is full of crooks trying to swindle your newly-gotten gold, you’re going to avoid that place at all costs. And so, the good people of Skagway decided enough was enough, and by the summer of 1898…

“People have suggested that he kind of knew the game was up. So he got really drunk, which was a bad idea for him, because he tended to be really lacking in common sense when he got drunk. And he tried to go to a (town meeting), and he brought his shotgun and Frank Reed was one of the guards and they basically shot each other simultaneously. Although, if you go to Skagway, you’ll find other opinions about whether it was just one guy.”

And that was the end. Soapy was 38 when retirement was forced upon him, and his body is laid to rest in Skagway.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

Borough Still Taking Damage Reports From K-Beach Flooding

As winter slowly creeps into the area, residents along Kalifornsky Beach Road continue to deal with high groundwater. The Borough has been pumping water from a basin on Karluk Avenue down K-Beach and into Cook Inlet for almost two weeks, providing some relief, and allowing road crews to repair some exposed areas.

“I think that what we want to try to do is continue to do the assessments and repairs and make ready for winter as much as we can before temperatures drop,” said Borough spokesperson Brenda Ahlberg.

As some of the water has slowly dissipated, Ahlberg says they’re learning more about the extent of the damage caused after parts of some of those roads had been under water for two or three weeks.

“I don’t think there were any surprises so much as the need to illustrate to the damage assessment team who did their tour, that these are the roads that have been damaged, these are the roads that are going to need some significant crown work done, or ditch work done.”

She says the Borough is still taking damage reports from property owners, and neighbors have been helping neighbors.

“We’ve had a handful of residents who have been very kind to help those residents who don’t have internet services, to let them know, here’s those damage reports, we encourage you to fill those out.”

Those reports will help agencies gauge the level of damage to private property as the Borough looks to the state and beyond for financial assistance.

Mayor Mike Navarre declared an emergency disaster declaration for this and other areas of the Kenai Peninsula on October 29th. The Borough’s Road Service Area Manager, Pat Malone, says his crews will continue trying to rebuild what they can before the rest of winter arrives.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

Showtime: Curtain Call Reopens

Alyeska Krull (left) rings up Callie Seater Saturday morning at Curtain Call's new location in the Seaman Building in Kenai.

Curtain Call, the consignment clothing store that helps support the Kenai Performers, is open again.


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In its new digs on the first floor of the Seaman Building in Kenai, Curtain Call is already busy Saturday morning.

Curtain Call first opened in 2009, to benefit a local theatre troupe, the Kenai Performers. And until this summer, you could do business with them in the big warehouse behind Swanson Square. That location was abandoned after an SUV plowed through the front of the building on August 25th.

“A lot of ladies have been holding their clothing waiting for us to open back up so they can bring it in. So we have a lot of shoppers buying clothes and also a lot of consigners trying to sell their clothes,” said volunteer Chris Cook

One of the women exciting to be buying Saturday morning is Callie Seater.

“I’ve probably spent spent over a hundred bucks. I’ve been saving up.”

Seater says she was a regular customer at the old location, as well, coming in weekly for the good deals.

“I was one of the ones out here before it even opened. This is such a good location,” Seater said, with an armful of workout clothes.

“(They have) name brand clothing you couldn’t get anywhere else here on the Peninsula. You’d have to go to Anchorage, and it’s marked down here. We benefit!”

You can take in your high-quality women’s clothing and accessories for consignment, or shop around for discounted wares Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Tustemena Lodge Encourages Locals To Make It Their Own

New owners welcome locals back to the Tustumena Lodge in Kasilof. (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 third part of a series we’re calling “Roadside Attractions,” we make a pit stop at the recently re-opened Tustumena Lodge in Kasilof.


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The lodge, with its big, eye-catching “T” out front, had seen sitting vacant for many years when current co-owner Scott Wehrstein made an off-hand comment to his dad, Ed.

“We were driving by one day. He was up for the summer visiting and I said ‘hey, dad, you know the old T’s for sale. We should go in partners on it.’ And I didn’t know he was friends with Suzie Cook, the old owner. So about two days later he says ‘are you serious?’ And I said ‘serious about what?’ And he said ‘buying the T,’” Scott said.

The elder Wehrstein used to own a restaurant in Homer called The Odyssey, which was formally known as Addie’s Porpoise Room. Scott said he’s never owned or operated his own business, but he’s no stranger to the restaurant industry.

“Cooking has always been a part of my life. But doing it for a lot of people, it’s easy, but banquet style cooking is a lot easier than doing it as a restaurant,” he said.

Banquet style is the way to go at the lodge. And prime rib nights have become pretty popular since the place reopened over the summer. Scott said he and his family are trying to make the lodge a local’s place again. And that’s definitely a tall order considering its recent history.

After long-time owners Suzie and John Cook sold the business to another operator, the relationship between the Big “T” and the locals got a little contentious. One of the ways Scott and his dad tried to bring the folks back in was putting up a rather large sign that read “Locals, get your asses back in here!”

“Just to kind of lighten the mood. We’re not serious. We’re here to have a good time,” he said.

And keeping in line with making it a comfortable place for folks in the area, the new management is always taking input from the clientele.

“If there’s something they want to see… on the menu, or musically-wise in here, if we can do it and it benefits everybody, we’re going to do it. It’s not just our bar. We look at it… it’s the community’s bar. It always has been,” he said.

Scott said he wants the lodge to play host to weddings and meetings like it was in the past. The only things that won’t be coming back are the nearly 28,000 hats that used to line the inside of the place. Those hats landed the lodge in the Guinness Book of World Records.

And Scott said they’re still fine-tuning the Big “T” by trying out new recipes, cooks and bartenders; any changes needed to make sure everyone feels welcome and taken care of.

“It’s almost as comfortable as being at home. What we want people to feel like when they come here… they are an extended part of our family and they get treated as such.”

Also, he said it’s no problem to bring the kids. And who knows, maybe you’ll truly become part of the extended family and be asked to haul wood like Scott’s son was on a recent Saturday. But I’m sure Scott would prefer you to sit back, relax and enjoy the grub.

-Ariel Van Cleave/KBBI-

Commercial Fishers React To Proposal To Ban Setnetting

A proposal to ban commercial set net fishing in urban areas of Alaska is getting the most attention where it will have the most affect. Right here on the Kenai Peninsula.


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When the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance introduced a proposal last week to ban setnetting Cook Inlet, it did so with the stated goal of saving the meager returns of king salmon to the Kenai and Kasilof rivers. But for setnetter Andy Hall, who also serves on the Board of Directors for the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, conservation has little to do with it.

“That group has portrayed itself as a conservation group for years in its various guises, but when I hear about them, they’re down in the legislature trying to get some body kicked off the Board of Fish, or eavesdropping on the United Fishermen of Alaska annual meeting or kicking off some initiative to put a bunch of people out of business. That’s not conservation. Maybe they’re conserving an opportunity for themselves to partake of, but boy, I don’t see any king salmon conservation.”

Last week’s announcement was the latest chapter in the ongoing drama about what fisheries in Cook Inlet are entitled to catch an ever dwindling number of king salmon and what fisheries are doing damage to the stock by catching too many.

The Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance, which is aligned with the sportfishing world, contends that indiscriminate setnets have all but eliminated a fishery that used to routinely see trophy kings of sixty, seventy, eighty pounds or more. Hall doesn’t see it that way.

“How much is going to be enough? (They get) eighty-seven percent of the late king run, 100 percent of the early run. It’s greed. And to put a whole fishery out of business, Alaskan families, Alaskan businesses, I don’t know what else greed is.”

Sport guides and anglers and the set net fleet have all seen substantial losses of opportunity to fish in recent years. In 2012, the commercial harvest was almost entirely shut down to try and save more kings. This year, it was the sporties’ turn to give up harvest opportunity. Given how many nets and lines are in the water at any given time, in any part of Cook Inlet or it rivers, saying one particular harvest method is to blame for low king returns is unfair, says Cook Inlet Keeper’s Bob Shavelson.

“When it comes to picking out one gear type and saying ‘this is the problem’, the complexities in these systems are so great we can barely start to even understand them. If you want to look at a gauntlet for a fish to run, go down to the mouth of the Kenai river when the dipnet season is there and look at the boats and look at the people, and then go upstream and look at how many rods and reels and hooks are in the water there. It’s really an amazing amount of fishing pressure.”

He says leaving management decisions for fisheries up to a popular vote is a bad precedent. And he’s not alone. The Alaska Salmon Alliance has also weighed in on the issue. That group represents commercial fishers and processors, and its executive director, Arni Thompson, says a referendum leaves out a lot of important information needed to manage the fishery.

“The initiative ignores decades’ worth of science-based research and management, serious advisory committee input into the process; all of this is being ignored when you take it to the legislature and put it to a vote of the electorate.”

While the ban would apply statewide to commercial setnetting in all urban areas, in practice, it would really only affect setnetters on the Kenai Peninsula. What’s at stake is the business of the people who hold Cook Inlet’s 750 setnet permits. In 2011, they earned more than $13 million in wages, according to a report for the ASA. Thompson says a voter initiative like this should raise the eyebrows of anyone running a business in the state.

“All small business owners in Alaska should be very leery of any effort to turn over the fate of any family small business to an often misinformed electorate, swayed by the money and interest of a very few politically influential people.”

The question wouldn’t be put to voters for almost three more years. At the time of the announcement, Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance spokesperson and sport guide Joe Conners said that was plenty of time to find other solutions. Andy Hall wants to find a solution that doesn’t take his net out of the water.

“There’s got to be a way to end this. And ending it isn’t trying to be the last guy standing. Because the last man standing is going to be trying to catch the last fish in the river. What I’d like to see is a healthy use of this valuable resource in Cook Inlet, shared by all user groups. There is a way to do it. But trying to end run each other…it just doesn’t seem constructive.”

To get the measure on the 2016 ballot, the Conservation Alliance will need to gather the signatures of ten percent of the electorate.

Local Veterans Remember

Members of VFW Post #10046, American Legion Post #20 and AMVETS Post #4 perform a rifle salute outside the Soldotna Regional Sports Center Monday morning.



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-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

State Seeks Input On Spur Highway Project

$20 million is marked to improve this six mile stretch of the Kenai Spur Highway. (Photo: Alaska DOT)

A section of the Kenai Spur Highway is due for a makeover, and the Department of Transportation is leaving it up to citizens to decide what that means.

Jill Reese is the department’s public information liason. She says no matter what the final project looks like, safety will be the top concern.

“There has been a very high crash rate for moose collisions, so there could be enough money to do a moose mitigation project with fencing and lighting and that sort of thing.”

Twenty-million dollars have been set aside for the improvements, which will cover about six miles of the Spur, between Sport Lake Road just outside of Soldotna and Swires Road, where the Spur transitions to four lanes. Improvements could include left turn pockets or widening the highway to three or four lanes.

“The $20 million is what we have now to spend, and it’s not going to get the Cadillac, it may be closer to a Chevrolet. But it’s certainly enough money to really achieve a lot for the community and we’re pretty excited about it,” Reese said.

A public meeting is planned in a couple weeks to get initial input from the public.

“They may come back and say ‘no, we want this part paved and we want a bike trail here and we want other things done that would fit within that scope of $20 million. So it’s a pretty open ended discussion that we’ll be having,” Reese said.

That meeting is planned for Monday, November 18th from 4-7 p.m. in the Assembly chambers of the Borough building in Soldotna.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

Council Member Brian Gabriel Disappointed With Setnet Ban Initiative

Two days after an announcement by the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance about an effort to ban commercial setnetting in Cook Inlet was made, the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association released its own statement.

In a press release Friday afternoon, the group said “the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance’s recent announcement of a statewide ballot initiative to ban setnets in Alaska’s urban areas is the latest incarnation of Bob Penney’s long-running effort to put more than 720 families and small business owners who work in Cook Inlet’s setnet fishery out of business.”

The Alliance is a new advocacy group promoting sportfishing interests and king salmon conservation.

At this week’s Kenai city council meeting, council member Brian Gabriel, himself a setnetter, addressed the proposal.

“At first blush, what the council and citizens of Kenai need to understand is there’s a long, rich tradition of setnetting in this community. I think it’s shortsighted in this time of low king abundance to have a knee-jerk reaction to eliminate setnets.”

Gabriel said the press materials sent out with the announcement Wednesday inaccurately described the species caught by setnets and the numbers. In 2013, setnetters took in nearly four million sockeye and around five thousand king salmon.

“I just think it’s disappointing since the Cook Inlet setnet fishery is comprised of about 85% resident permit holders. We’re not putting non-residents out of business. These are Alaska residents and their families and the people who depend on these summer jobs.”

Gabriel said in the coming weeks he would bring something to the Council as a means of addressing the proposal.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

K-Beach Residents Share Frustrations At Special Meeting

Borough Mayor MIke Navarre addresses a full Assembly Chambers Wednesday night, as residents along K-Beach continue to battle rising groundwater.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough held a special meeting Wednesday night to tell residents the latest on efforts to alleviate flooding around K-Beach road in Kenai.


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Assembly chambers were full Wednesday night, as Borough and state officials tried to assuage concerns of people who are fed up with being flooded out. For more than a month, water has slowly crept through the area, affecting more than one hundred home owners.

But the news from officials Wednesday night wasn’t any brighter than it’s been at any of the other meetings about this.  Melissa Hill is a Hydrologist for the state.  She presented photos at the meeting highlighting how the area has changed as it’s been developed. For one, there’s a lot less vegetation than a few decades ago, which increases surface runoff.

The arrow points to the 'Karluk Basin', where water from the area is pooling up. This water is being pumped along a widened ditch down K-Beach, then piped into Cook Inlet. (Photo: Kenai Peninsula Borough)

“The other thing is that you can start to dissect that basin. You create sub-basins. If roads go in here and you don’t have proper drainage, you end up creating what was once a large bowl, now you’ve cut it into small bowls. And as those bowls fill up, they will overflow into those other areas.”

A lot of the residents who spoke at the meeting were frustrated by a slow path through layers of bureaucracy. Much of the work that’s been done the past week, including pumping several million gallons of surface water directly into Cook Inlet, has been done with the blessing of the state. The Borough is only authorized to take care of its own roads (read: can only spend money on its roads). The man in charge of that is Pat Malone. In road maintenance, as in medicine, the first thing is do no harm.

Road crews piped water under K-Beach Road, draining millions of gallons into Cook Inlet. (Photo: Kenai Peninsula Borough)

“Our purview is to protect the roads. But if I can protect the road and improve a situation, I’ll do that,” he said.

The issue of who is responsible for what road is a big one. The area was developed piecemeal, over decades, with no overarching plans for infrastructure. Some roads were brought up to code and incorporated into the Borough road system, others have not.

There was a bit of good news tucked into the agenda, though. A bit of financial relief for people, many of whom have either sunk serious money into digging their own ditches and culverts, or lost it through getting rid of livestock or gigantic electric bills from pumping water non-stop. The Borough’s director of assessment, Tom Anderson, told residents there is a way to reassess property values for tax purposes if incurred damages total more than $10,000.

And with the forecast calling for even more rain, that amount of damage will likely hit even more people.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

Reconfiguration Committee Makes Recommendations To School Board

The Soldotna schools reconfiguration was a consistent topic during this week’s Kenai Peninsula Borough School District School Board meeting. But the board won’t officially discuss the recommendations for the new configuration for next school year until its December meeting.


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The Soldotna Schools Advisory Committee presented its suggestions for the reconfiguration of the 7th through 12th grade students during a work session before Monday night’s meeting. By the time the regular meeting started, a few people made their opinions known about those suggestions.

Skyview junior Austin Laber said the student council at the school is concerned about the new building they’ll be walking into next year. Laber also served as a student representative for the advisory committee.

“The reconfiguration plan has led to fear and uncertainty amongst the students, parents and teachers. An error of communication, in which no one is blamed, led to the false reassurance of many people. Over the course of the last six months, conflicting ideas led to more confusion on the matter. Skyview’s body is anxious about the change. We are not confident our district will provide fair ground for the new school and we are fearful that our desires will not be met in the reconfiguration process,” he said.

Laber said the council circulated a survey among students and found that most were in favor of the proposed school name of “Soldotna Central High School” and were okay with merging colors. But he said they were unhappy with keeping the Stars mascot and wanted a change there.

Soldotna resident Rob Lewis has kids who attend Soldotna High School. He said there hasn’t been enough information about the amount of money needed to make the suggested changes.

“Nobody wants to put that number out for the public to know and to be able to openly discuss. I think we do the public a disfavor by waiting till the last minute to throw the cost of what this potential change in mascot and color schemes could be,” he said.

Transitions Facilitator Doug Hayman has said the district, traditionally, has not paid for new uniforms. That’s a function of a booster club. Though, the district would be in charge of changing colors. That would likely follow a painting schedule already in place. Lewis said he doesn’t see the need to change the name of SoHi to appease the few affected classes over the next couple years.

“If something’s not broken, then there’s really not a need to go ahead and try to fix it. And I don’t think that Soldotna High School is broken,” Lewis said.

School Board Member Penny Vadla attended many of the advisory committee meetings and said there are some tough choices ahead.

“There will be change and there will be transitions and everybody won’t be totally 100 percent behind every single change. But I think young people are resilient,” she said.

One of the less debated changes has involved Soldotna Middle School. During the final reconfiguration meeting last month, which took place in the SMS library, staff put up memorabilia around the room.

The advisory committee has suggested changing the colors, mascot and name of the school. Next year’s building could have purple, blue, black or white for colors, the Stars for a mascot and might be called Soldotna Prep. SMS Art Teacher Andrea Eggleston asked the school board Monday night to consider keeping the current Spartan as the mascot for the building.

Superintendent Dr. Steve Atwater said the district is making progress with deciding what staff will be making the transition into the new configuration.

“The reconfiguration is very complicated, there’s a lot of moving parts to it. It seems like we keep opening a door and seeing a new part. And the staffing of it is certainly complicated… there’s a lot of people involved with this,” he said.

Those conversations must happen out of the public eye because they involve discussions about contracts and salaries. Atwater has said an official recommendation from the district should happen in January.

The KPBSD School Board’s next meeting is Dec. 2. The board is expected to consider suggestions about the reconfiguration, but Board President Joe Arness has said he isn’t sure what role the board will play in the final decision. The public is invited to make comments during that meeting.

-Ariel Van Cleave/KBBI-

“Roadside Attractions”: Ninilchik Orthodox Church

The Orthodox Church in Ninilchik sits on a hill, as do many Orthodox churches in Alaska, overlooking Cook Inlet. (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 second part of a series we’re calling “Roadside Attractions,” we head to Ninilchik and get a tour of the historic Russian Orthodox Church just off the highway.


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“To truly understand the history of the Orthodox Church here, you would have to go back all the way to the 1800s,” Greg Encelewski said. He served as a church tour guide. “In the late 1800s, the original church was in the village and it was right across from the yellow bridge where we have a fenced in area, and that burnt down.”

Encelewski said after that church burnt down, the village decided on its current location high on the hill, overlooking Cook Inlet with a view of mounts Redoubt and Illiamna.

“I think that was the plan of all the Orthodox churches…. Travel to Seldovia, it’s up high on the hill, you go to Tyonek, it’s high on the hill. They built them in a beautiful place… that’s part of the design. The community picked it out,” he said.

The new church was dedicated in 1901 and built by Aleksei Oskolkoff. The white and green building is surrounded by a white picket fence. On top of the roof are five onion-shaped domes that are each topped with a cross. The Russian Orthodox faith depicts where Jesus’ feet and hands were nailed to the cross.

At that time this church was built, there were almost 100 people living in the village. There was a mix of Russian families and Dena’ina people.

Walking into the church, he explained there is still a small congregation that shows up every Sunday.

The Nave has welcomed parishioners since 1901. (Photo: Ariel Van Cleave/KBBI)

“My family and probably six other families are regular attendees. And then on holidays you have big attendance. We could go from six people to 30 on a regular Sunday, and then on a holiday you might have 40 or 50 in here,” he said.

The entrance of the church is called the Narthex. Through the next set of doors is the Nave and that’s where the Icons are located.

“And it has the Feast Days, the major holidays of the church,” he said.

This space is open to the public. There’s a dome with four windows and the interior of it is painted a light blue. Encelewski said all the design work with the wood inside the Nave was done by hand.

“This is all cut by hand with hand ax. A lot of this work was done by real handy-craft people. But these logs are so old that they’re dry rot and they’re starting to crumble from within the walls. So the church needs to be rebuilt,” he said.

He said the small congregation will need to come up with the funds to rebuild and replace parts of the historic structure. Another way the church could raise money is through small donations it receives by offering tours. Encelewski said they just started opening the church up to the public in the last few years for tours. He said it’s a way to share the history of the building as well as faith.

“People just ask if they can come in and sit and pray a little bit… or light a candle. They’re down and out… we let them do it and they go about their business,” he said.

Encelewski is a devout man and loves this church. He said he was an altar boy for his grandfather in Kenai who served as a priest for many years. Encelewski recalled people gathering for major holidays and said everyone would walk up the hills to attend. Going back down was a different story for him.

“Christmas I’d run out here and jump and slide down over the hill.”

Back outside the church and walking through the cemetery, Encelewski said some of the oldest graves date back to the early 1900s. But many of those gravestones have fallen. Though he knows there are Dena’ina as well as Russian Orthodox buried on top of the hill.

With all this tradition, it’s no wonder the church has made the National Register of Historic Places and is a well-worn stop for many tourists who make their way across the Kenai Peninsula.

But for Encelewski and many like him in the community, it’s a place that conjures up memories of togetherness.

“You think about people like my mom, Fedora… those old ladies laughing. And my aunts get together and sing and people played guitar… accordion. We had lots of fun.”

 -Ariel Van Cleave/KBBI-

K-Beach Flooding Meeting, Full Audio

K-Beach Flooding Meeting, 11-6-13


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Borough Assembly Extends Emergency Declaration


Melissa Hill (left) of the Department of Natural Resources and David Shady of the Department of Environmental Conservation present their research to the Borough Assembly Tuesday night.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly extended an emergency declaration order at its meeting Tuesday night. The move allows for continued efforts for flood relief around the Peninsula.


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While the declaration covers the entire Borough, from Seward to Tyonek, the Assembly was focused on what’s happening around Kalifornsky Beach Road in Kenai. Melissa Hill is a hydrologist for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. She told the Assembly that the water system in that area is complicated. Any long term solutions need to be carefully considered because of the volume of water that might be manipulated. She urged caution when digging around to try and divert water, because removing the top layer of soil could make groundwater rise even faster.

“There does seem to be some anecdotal evidence that people in some places may be moving that and the water level is rising.”

Lots of ideas have been thrown out to try and find an immediate solution to the problem, including digging a giant trench that would take water directly to Cook Inet.

“The concern is that if somebody did something that grandiose…you could have issues with salt water intrusion and that could cause a whole other set of issues,” Hill said.

As the water has continued to pool up, the Borough has done work to improve the water’s path to Cook Inlet.

“We drilled under (K-Beach) at Karluk with the permission of the Department of Transportation and pumped the basin out at Karluk. We ran some pipe to the beach and pumped about three million gallons out of there,” said Borough Mayor Mike Navarre.

That move was designed to buy some time and breathing room, but Navarre says more will need to be done to prepare for probably-inevitable spring flooding.

Hydrologist Melissa Hill says the state is interested in studying the area more, to get a better understanding of how and where water moves to help plan other improvements in the future.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

2016 Ballot Might Include Ban On Setnetting

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

An initiative to ban commercial set netting in Cook Inlet could be on the ballot in 2016.


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Joe Connors operates a charter outfit on the Kenai Peninsula. His Big Sky Fishcamp has lots of amenities. There are cabins with names like “the Hawaiian Hut” and the “Hacienda of Happy Jose.” But the big attraction is obviously the fishing. If you go to Connors’website, you’ll see photos of massive king salmon caught by proud clients.

There’s just one big snag with his operation. In recent years, he’s had fewer kings to fish. With lower returns, the state has had to put fishing limits on the valuable stock.

“You couldn’t troll out off the mouth of the Deep Creek or Anchor or Ninilchik [Rivers]. That was closed,” says Connors. “In the river, they had us fishing with single hook, no bait, and restricted to the lower 10 miles of the river.”

Now, Connors is heading up a new group called the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance, and their goal is to shutdown the commercial set-net fishery in the area.

That user group catches fish by anchoring nets to the shore. While the set-netters mostly target red salmon, they also take some kings. This year, they ended up with about 5,000 kings in their nets. Sportfishermen got a fraction of that.

Connors thinks the impact on the king run is too much, so the Alliance is pushing an initiative that would ban all commercial set netting in urban regions. He points to bans on the method in other states, and says it’s not an allocation issue but a conservation one. He adds that the state has not been doing its job in preserving the king stock.

“The Board of Fish and Game gets deluded by the need to continue the set-net fishery because it’s a way of life, you know, whatever, whatever,” says Connors. “But the bottom line indicates — all the indicators — we have historically low numbers, and we cannot continue to have this wall of death functioning.”

The Alliance submitted their initiative application to the Alaska Division of Elections today. If the initiative passes legal review, the group would then have to collect signatures from 10 percent of the electorate to get on the ballot.

Set-netters in Bristol Bay, Kodiak, and along the Alaska Peninsula would not be targeted by the proposed ban, and neither would subsistence fisheries. And while the ban would apply to places like Fairbanks and Juneau, the Kenai Peninsula would see the greatest impact.

There are 750 set-net permits issued for the Cook Inlet region, with an estimated value of $10 million. While the initiative has language giving a rationale for the ban, it doesn’t say anything about what would happen to those permits. Connors says that the possibility of a buyback is something that could be worked out later.

“There might be discussion to that effect,” says Connors. That’s something that the public would have to decide if they want to have that discussion in the state also.”

Connors says he wants that discussion to happen over the course of a few years, which is why his group isn’t doing a major signature rush to get on the 2014 primary ballot. They’ve hired a public relations firm, and they plan to run a “voter education” effort. They also want to give the legislature some time to consider their proposal before it would actually go out to a vote.

“You can’t have an initiative process without allowing the Legislature to consider all these options also,” says Connors. “By going through the initiative process, we’re opening all of these other options. Whether the appropriate people step up and deal with it, we’ll see.”

The sportfishing lobby is a serious force in the state, and the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance includes one of its most powerful players. Bob Penney, an Anchorage developer and major political funder, has already begun sending letters to legislators explaining the reason for this initiative. Earlier this year, a group he founded — the Kenai River Sportfishing Association — ran a successful campaign to unseat one of the governor’s appointees to the Board of Fish.

The initiative caught many set-netters by surprise. A spokesperson for the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, which represents many of the area’s commercial fishermen, said they were “looking at the proposal and will have a response in the next day or two.”

Soldotna Sen. Peter Micciche was out of town on personal business Wednesday, but said he’s “going to continue to do what I need to do to protect all the fisheries in Cook Inlet. They’re all extremely important to our economy, to our recreation and to our way of life. I’m going to be active in the struggle to help people understand the importance of all our fisheries.”

This is the first citizen effort in Alaska to ban a gear-type via ballot. In 1995, an initiative to prioritize personal use over commercial fishing was introduced, but it did not come to a vote.

, Lori Townsend/APRN, Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

Special Meeting For K-Beach Flooding Tonight At 6

To address community concerns about the ongoing flooding along Kalifornsky Beach Road, the Kenai Peninsula Borough is holding a special public meeting Wednesday night at 6 p.m. in Assembly chambers in Soldotna.

There will be representatives from several different local, state and federal agencies available to ask questions and address concerns.

Borough mayor Mike Navarre signed a local disaster emergency declaration back on October 29th. Ahlberg says that helped clear a bureaucratic path for the work that was done over the weekend. The Borough expanded a ditch around mile 11 of K-Beach to give some of the groundwater that’s been collecting at the end of Karluk a way to the Inlet.

A shelter has been set up by the Red Cross at the Kenai Armory. Borough spokesperson Brenda Ahlberg said no one is setting up camp there yet, but people have been calling to find out how to make donations. In that area, social media has played a part in this as well.

A Facebook page called K-Beach Neighbor Flood Relief was set up a day after the disaster declaration, and has served as something of a go-between for neighbors and the Borough. It’s also allowed Borough staff to stay ahead of what people are talking about, and make sure no one is receiving incorrect information about, say, when or where special meetings are going to be held. Ahlberg says more details on a central location for donations will be discussed at Wednesday’s meeting, along with water safety and insurance issues. You can stream the meeting live here.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

School District Seeks Community Input For Budget

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is starting its budget process for next school year. District officials are looking for community members to lend a hand in deciding how the money will be used.


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School officials are looking for 10 to 15 people to be part of the KPBSD Budget Review Committee.

“It gathers once a year and it will meet all day long,” KPBSD Spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff said. “The purpose is to take a look at what our budget is for the upcoming year, for the 2014-2015 school year. And as it goes through the process there will be a presentation of where the district is at… and then we’re inviting feedback.”

Erkeneff said much of the conversation will focus on the general fund budget, which is by far the largest pot of money. That’s the portion that pays teacher salaries and benefits. It’s also the portion of the budget that needs to be reduced by $1.24 million for next school year. Erkeneff said the district is hoping to streamline costs without sacrificing what happens in the classroom.

“So here’s our current reality and what suggestions and ideas do you have? We’ll be asking that to the people who are on this budget review committee,” she said.

She also points out this review committee will be a way for the district to educate people about how education funding works.

“Public education funding is interesting for people to really learn. We have no way to generate our own money for the school district. So we rely on our state funding and the borough funding and some federal funding. So they’ll get an informative understanding of how a school district budget works… you’re learning where funding comes from, you’re learning what we’ve done in the past, we’re learning trends that are coming in the future,” she said.

But don’t worry; Erkeneff said a degree in finance isn’t mandatory.

“It’s somebody with a mind that’s open to inquiry and to learning, and that’s open to

The 10 to 15 people from the community won’t be the only ones in the room for this discussion. Erkneff said district officials, school board members, some Borough Assembly members as well as student and union representatives will be on hand to hammer out budget priorities.

The school district might also have a better idea of the number of students in each of the schools by that point. The district just finished its 20-day count for the State Department of Education and Early Development.

“The preliminary information that we got… from our 20-day count… it’s looking like we’re slightly under,” she said.

Erkeneff said that report isn’t concrete yet. But if the numbers stay slightly down that will affect state funding for the district.

If you’d like to apply for this committee, the short application is available on the KPBSD website. All you need is your name, address, phone number and email. The submission deadline is 4 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 8. The committee will meet the following Tuesday from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. in the Borough Assembly Chambers.

-Ariel Van Cleave/KBBI-

Red Cross Shelter Open For Flooded K-Beach Homeowners

Empty cots await use at the Kenai Armory. The Red Cross has set up a relief station for homeowners affected by flooding around K-Beach Road.

Roadwork continues along K-Beach Road south of Kenai to try and alleviate some of the flooding in residential areas there. The high groundwater is not only making it difficult to navigate several roads, it’s also left people without water in their homes.


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The Red Cross has a shelter set up at the Kenai Armory on South Forest. When I stopped by, they had just finished getting some cots and tables set up, and volunteers were still hanging signs. But no one had come seeking relief shortly before noon.

“They’ll have a place to sleep, take a shower. We’ll have meals prepared for them every day and meals for them as they need it. We’re looking at (housing) maybe a dozen, but we’re prepared to handle as many as we need to handle,” said Red Cross district manager Bill Morrow.

The shelter is being made available as more and more residents in the area are without water, as wells and septic systems are out of service for a good chunk of the neighborhood.

I spoke to a few people over the weekend who insisted their neighbors had it worse than they did. Their toilets were still flushing and they hadn’t resorted to paper plates and microwavable dinners just yet. But for other areas, water safety has already been a concern for weeks.

Jamie Bjorkman of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation told residents at a community meeting that well tests would be in order, but that until the water actually recedes, boiling or using bottled water would be the safest way to go.

“Once those flood waters are gone, you might want to go through a disinfection of your water system and test you system for total coliform bacteria. It indicates if there’s any harmful bacteria in your system,” she said.

The presence of coliform bacteria isn’t harmful in and of itself, but does indicate that there’s a pathway for more dangerous bacteria, like E. coli.

Ideally, the improvements made for water drainage and storage along K-Beach will help bring water levels down soon, but a hard winter freeze could be just around the corner which would undoubtedly complicate things. But Bjorkman says you can still test your septic system, even if it does freeze.

“A nitrate test will let you know if your septic system is affecting your drinking water. The reason we recommend the nitrate test at colder temperatures is because when everything freezes up, that bacteria can die if it gets cold enough, but you’ll still see nitrates.”

For residents choosing to stay at home, the Borough has provided clean-up kits and dry-chemical toilet units. Those are available at the Central Emergency Service Fire station on K-Beach.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Tesoro-Owned Company To Begin Construction Of Cook Inlet Pipeline Next Year

The 8 inch pipeline would be anchored above the sea floor in areas where it can't be buried. (Image: Alaska Department of Natural Resources)

Construction on a subsea pipeline to bring crude from the west side of Cook Inlet to Nikiski could start as early as next May.


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The project that’s been submitted to the Department of Natural Resources for consideration is basically the same as the one Cook Inlet Energy pitched last year; a 29 mile long, 8 inch diameter, U-shaped pipeline, joining production facilities at Kustatan with refining operations in Nikiski.

The work is being done by a subsidiary of Tesoro, a limited liability corporation called the Trans-Foreland Pipeline Company, which is wholly owned by Tesoro. Calls for comment from the company were not returned in time for this story, but last month, Cook Inlet Regional Citizen’s Advisory Council spokesperson Lynda Giguere told the Kenai Chamber of Commerce, a pipeline is the way to go.

“And although we are extremely supportive of Hilcorp’s effort at the Drift River terminal, we believe a pipeline is just safer.”

The Drift River terminal is one of many reasons for installing the pipeline. It’s a tank farm located at the base of Mt. Redoubt. When the volcano erupted in 2009, production was shut down entirely, with thousands of barrels of oil left at the site. An easy-to-see cause for concern for environmentalists. And, because of lost productivity, a concern for the industry as well. That’s cited in the project description Trans-Foreland submitted to DNR.

The company calls it “eliminating the business interruption risk of volcanic activity and ice movements to oil shipments through Drift River terminal.”

The pipeline will run 29 miles between Kustatan and Nikiski. (Image: Alaska Department of Natural Resources)

What this means for the Drift River terminal is unclear. Hilcorp spokesperson Lori Nelson says the pipeline doesn’t change their plans.

“Right now in the process, it really means nothing. There are really too many commercial and regulatory uncertainties surrounding the Trans Foreland pipeline project right now for us to make any definitive decisions moving forward.”

The design life for the pipeline is thirty years, and it will be continuously computer monitored for leaks or changes in flow or pressure that will move more than 60,000 barrels per day. According to the Right of Way application submitted to the state, the $35 million project comes with 130 construction jobs. Twelve people will be needed to maintain and oversee the pipeline once it’s in service.

Work is already underway clearing paths on the west side. Construction will begin in February. The pipe will be laid across Cook Inlet in May and September, to avoid the fishing season and Beluga whales, and the whole thing is scheduled to be done next October.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-