Local News

News

KPBSD

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is considering changing how it evaluates contact tracing in its COVID mitigation plan to allow more kids to stay in school.

The Board of Education held a work session Monday to discuss alternatives. In the board meeting Monday night, superintendent Clayton Holland said the district is trying to keep kids in school as much as possible.

NOAA

Residents along the banks of the middle and lower Kenai River should prepare for elevated water levels in the next few days. The Skilak Glacier dammed lake started releasing Friday and that extra water is making its way downriver. The National Weather Service predicts the water level will crest at the outlet of Skilak Lake and the low-lying Kenai Keys area Wednesday or Thursday. The river is expected to be bank full but flooding is not expected.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough municipal election is today.

Kenai and Soldotna city councils have contested races for council seats. In Kenai, you vote for two candidates among five hopefuls. Victoria Askin, James Baisden, Alex Douthit, Jim Duffield and Deborah Sounart are running for the two open seats.

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities

While the Kenai Peninsula still has fall colors near sea level, winter is slowly but surely lowering its white curtain across the mountains. Lowland drivers can probably put off tire changes for a bit yet, but anyone planning a trip to Anchorage should prepare for inclement conditions.

“Turnagain Pass, because it gets the moisture from the ocean, it can really be very different than Kenai Peninsula or Anchorage weather. It’s its own system. So, just be cautious, make sure you’re checking that before you head out,” said Shannon McCarthy, spokesperson for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. “Be prepared, be sure that you have good tires, you’re prepared for the potential of winter driving conditions at all times. Make sure you have some stuff in the car that, should you get stranded, you can at least be comfortable.”

McCarthy says the Silvertip Maintenance Station, at the junction of the Seward and Hope highways, is staffed and ready for winter. The station was closed due to budget cuts and declining fuel tax revenue in 2019, leaving maintenance operators to come from Girdwood and Crown Point to cover Turnagain Pass and the Summit Lakes area. After a public outcry, the station was re-opened last year. McCarthy says four of the five positions are filled but it’s a tight labor market, so hiring has been challenging.

“You almost can’t go to any business without seeing those help wanted signs. … Yeah, we are literally competing for good employees and, hopefully, we’ll have that position filled shortly,” McCarthy said.

KTOO

Seward Olympic champion Lydia Jacoby added to her medal collection in a FINA World Cup short-course meet in Germany this weekend. The 17-year-old won a bronze in the 100-meter breaststroke Saturday, followed by silver in the 50-meter breaststroke Sunday. She was fifth in the 200-meter breaststroke Friday.

Jacoby’s silver time of 30.04 seconds in the 50-meter was a personal best and an unofficial record for Americans 18 or younger. Her bronze time of 1 minute, 5.20 seconds in the 100-meter set another unofficial record for junior Americans.

We’ve all heard the adage — weather is what’s happening now, climate is what happens over time. That is the case in the National Weather Service’s recent Alaska and Northwestern Canada quarterly climate outlook report.

The report covers observations and analysis of June through August and offers predictions for October through December. As with all the quarterly reports, there are snapshots of anomalies, synthesis and predictions of temperature and precipitation throughout the region, and writeups of significant events, like flooding and wildfires. In this particular report, there are also opportunities for recency bias in action.   

 

Brian Brettschneider is a research physical scientist with the weather service in Alaksa who contributes to the quarterly reports. Though the data shows that summer temperatures and rainfall were overall pretty much normal in Anchorage and on the western Kenai Peninsula this year, residents might not feel like that’s the case. 

 

“All summer long, I heard, almost on a daily basis, ‘Wow, this has been a really cool, rainy summer. And in reality, it was warmer than the vast majority of summers. And for most areas, it was drier than normal. … We compare against what we have become accustomed to. So, yes, it was cooler than almost every summer in the last decade but by historical standards, it was actually pretty warm,” Brettschneider said.

 

That’s recency bias — putting more weight on what we’ve recently observed. 

 

Kenai Peninsula Borough

There’s another hat — sort of — in the ring for the Kenai seat on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Board of Education.

Kenai’s Hal Smalley, who has served in the state Legislature, Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and Kenai City Council, says he’s agreed to a write-in campaign.

“A couple weeks ago I was asked by some folks if they could put me as a write-in, they said because there was a lack of choice for the school board. They weren’t happy with what was there,” Smalley said. “And I said, ‘Sure, that’s fine.’ And they said, ‘Well, if you were elected, would you serve?’ And I said, ‘Well, by all means, I would.’”

Smalley is retired from a career in education. He was a guidance counselor and language arts teacher in Ninilchik starting in 1976 and finished his career teaching English at Kenai Central High School. He volunteers for the breakfast program at Kenai Alternative School, as well as at the food bank, and serves on the Kenai Peninsula College Council. He says he’s enjoying doing what he likes in retirement but is willing to be conscripted back into public service.  

“I’m sort of a, I guess, somewhat declared write-in candidate. But, again, I’m not campaigning. It’s a very long shot,” he said.

KCHS

Operating school programs during COVID is an uncertain endeavor in the best of circumstances. The latest wrinkle for cross country teams on the peninsula is a scramble to get to the Region III Tournament in Kodiak this weekend, with most Kenai and Soldotna runners missing out on what would have been their last meet of the year.

Several teams had planned to take the ferry Tustumena from Homer to Kodiak for the region meet, Oct. 1 and 2. But the Alaska Department of Transportation canceled all Tustumena sailings until Oct. 5, citing crew shortages. Kenai Central coach Todd Boonstra heard the news in the middle of the Borough meet last weekend in Seward.

“So we didn’t even know going into the meet that, ‘Hey, this is going to be our last race.’ So, yeah, it’s unfortunate,” Boonstra said. “They’ve been working really hard and running really well and looking to end the season there but unfortunately got cut short for them.”

From space, the Kenai Peninsula looks like it has a lot of water. After all, it’s surrounded by water on three sides, and pockmarked with lakes and two major rivers as well as dozens of smaller ones. So it may come as a surprise to hear the Kenai Peninsula has limited freshwater for consumption.

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

Veterans in the Soldotna area will have a brand new medical clinic to visit soon.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough’s municipal election falls on next Tuesday, with candidates running for school board and the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, among other local offices.

Katmai National Park and Preserve

Wednesday marks the beginning of a distinctly Alaska holiday—a whole week of celebrating chubby ursine creatures. That’s right—it’s Fat Bear Week.

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

Just from looking at the crowd gathered outside the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center on Sunday morning, you’d have no idea that temperatures were in the twenties. Frost covered the grass, and a large number of people in the crowd were wearing nothing but shorts and light shirts. Granted, though, most of them were about to run at least 13 miles.

Photo: Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media

Real estate agents can often take a breather after the summer, when the busy season slows.

And this year's busy season was busier than ever, as buyers outnumbered listings and house prices shot through the roof.

While the market isn't quite as chaotic as it was earlier in the summer, Soldotna real estate agent Marti Pepper said those trends are still lingering as fall begins. And she doesn't see a huge correction coming any time soon.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

School boards around the country have been in the spotlight throughout the pandemic, amid heated conversations about COVID-19 and mitigation protocols in schools.

That’s been true in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. And it’s partly what’s inspired some candidates to run for school board this election cycle.

City of Kenai

Five candidates are vying for the two open seats on the Kenai City Council this October.

KDLL has been interviewing the candidates for that race and other municipal races on Kenai Conversation. You can play those interviews online any time and learn where the candidates stand on city issues — including COVID-19 relief funds, bluff erosion and economic development.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

Three seats on the Soldotna City Council are up for grabs this October.

KDLL has been interviewing the candidates for that race and other municipal races on Kenai Conversation. You can play the interviews in full and learn where the candidates stand on city issues — including riverfront development, COVID-19 mitigation policies and 911 dispatch services — online any time.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

The Kenai Art Center is calling all pandemic painters and potters and photographers for its October show.

“We’re not turning anybody away," said Alex Rydlinski, executive director of the Kenai Art Center. “Because the idea is —  we’re pretty sure that people have been working on art all this time during the pandemic. And we want to see what they’ve been doing.”

KPEDD

Every few years, the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District steps back and builds a comprehensive economic development strategy, or CEDS — a document of plans and priorities the federal government encourages organizations to have before it distributes funds like coronavirus relief.

Tim Dillon is executive director of the district. He said KPEDD submitted and received approval on its new 2021-2026 CEDS this summer.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

Over half of all beds at Central Peninsula Hospital are now occupied by COVID-19 patients and the hospital is almost a third overcapacity, said hospital spokesperson Bruce Richards.

Richards said Tuesday the strain pushed the hospital to cancel all in-patient elective surgeries for at least two days. CPH is holding some patients in the emergency room overnight for lack of space.

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

Temperatures dipped below freezing in Kenai this weekend. Each year, that first frost is a reminder that the Central Kenai Peninsula still doesn’t have an emergency cold-weather shelter for its homeless residents.

“In the short term, it is worrisome," said Leslie Rohr, executive director of Love INC. "And we go through this every winter, ‘What are we going to do?’”

Sabine Poux/KDLL

September is National Suicide Prevention Month.

The Kenaitze Indian Tribe is holding workshops for people who want to be able to recognize signs and intervene when someone is struggling with suicidal thoughts.

Courtesy of Todd Salat

Fall hunting season has started in Alaska. But it’s not the only kind of hunting underway.

“Historically, September has been one of my favorite times of the year to go aurora hunting," said Todd Salat. He's an aurora photographer based out of Anchorage.

Photo: KTOO file photo

Alaskans can expect their Permanent Fund Dividend checks in mid-October. The Legislature signed off on $1,100 PFDs this week.

It was a scramble to get the PFD plan across the finish line in the final hours of the Legislature’s third special session.


Courtesy of Nathan Erfurth

Teachers and staff in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District have finalized their new contracts, which lay out a new tiered healthcare system and wage raises for some support staff, among other changes.

The district’s Board of Education ratified the new agreements this week. They’ll be in place until 2024.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

Health providers are now administering COVID-19 shots to immunocompromised individuals who’ve already received their first and second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Soldotna Professional Pharmacy co-owner Justin Ruffridge said his pharmacy administers multiple third shots, both Pfizer and Moderna, to immunocompromised individuals every day. Those third shots are meant to help them build more immunity to the virus.

KTOO file photo

New maps from the Alaska Redistricting Board will change the shape and boundaries of the state’s legislative districts, based on population changes recorded in the 2020 Census.

But on the Kenai Peninsula, not much is likely to shift.

Courtesy of Indy Walton

Locals might know Indy Walton from the ice rink, where he coached the Soldotna High School hockey team. Or they might recognize him as a financial adviser with the local branch of Edward Jones.

Now, he’s on deck to join the powerful state Board of Fisheries, the body that makes decisions about fish allocation and management in Alaska’s waters. Gov. Mike Dunleavy appointed Walton to the seventh open seat on the board Sept. 3, months after his previous nominee was rejected by the Alaska Legislature.

A Kasilof man is charged with sending death threats to people in Vermont.

Federal authorities said they arrested 34-year-old Benjamin Tarbell before he was set to fly to Vermont from the Kenai Municipal Airport on Friday afternoon. He faces six felony counts of sending threatening interstate communications.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

Local and national medical experts have recommended universal masking in schools to prevent the spread of the contagious Delta variant.

But the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District announced at a work session today it’s sticking to its policy of recommended masking districtwide and instead considering temporary mask mandates at individual schools depending on how those schools are impacted by COVID-19.

Pages