News

Sabine Poux/KDLL

ATVs will soon have the greenlight to drive on many Alaska roads. 

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration passed a set of regulations to allow all-purpose vehicles on roadways where speed limits are 45 miles per hour or less. The new regulations go into effect Jan. 1, 2022.

Courtesy of Dan Olsen / North Gulf Oceanic Society

Scientists in Homer and Seward have spent the last several decades tracking a population of mammal-eating killer whales called the Chugach Transients in the Gulf of Alaska.

Mitch Michaud

You might see smoke coming from parts of the Chugach National Forest this week and next.

But it’s no cause for alarm. The Forest Service said it’s burning slash piles in Cooper Landing and Moose Pass, partly in an effort to mitigate the local spruce bark beetle problem.

Courtesy of ShakeOut.org

Each year, Alaskans drop, cover and hold for a minute as part of the Great Alaska ShakeOut — an earthquake drill held across the state each third Thursday in October.

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is awarding the Kenai Peninsula Borough with a competitive grant to create a community-wide composting project, making it possible for more individuals and businesses on the central peninsula to send their organic waste to farms instead of landfills.

“Oh man, I’m so excited about this project," said Kaitlin Vadla, regional director for Cook Inletkeeper. "It’s a huge win for the borough and for our area. It’s hard to get these big national grants. And so the fact that we got it is really exciting.”

Courtesy of Justin Hansen

A River City Academy senior and biathlon racer will represent the U.S. at the Winter University Games, an international competition for student athletes.

Seventeen-year-old Justin Hansen has been cross-country skiing since he was in middle school. He picked up biathlon this year and has competed with the Anchorage and Alaska biathlon clubs. 

Sabine Poux/KDLL

Residents say there have been more power outages in Cooper Landing and Moose Pass this year. The local utility, Chugach Electric, says it’s working on the problem as part of a regular capital improvement project.

Arden Rankins hopes those repairs help. She owns Sunrise Inn on the Sterling Highway and said she had to close several times when the power went out this summer.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

Winter trapping season is coming up in Alaska. 

But recreationists hoping for trapping restrictions along trails in Cooper Landing will have to wait. This week, members of the Federal Subsistence Board voted down a proposal to place setbacks alongside area trails — a plan advocates hoped could mitigate conflict between user groups.

Photo: Sabine Poux/KDLL

There's a lot that needs to come off a boat when it docks. And it’s not uncommon that some of that waste ends up in the ocean instead of the trash.

Bristol Bay fisherman Tav Ammu wants to gather more data on how clean Alaska’s harbors are and how the people who use them think about harbor cleanliness. He’s interviewing and surveying harbor users for an Alaska SeaGrant project and is basing his study in Ninilchik.


Sabine Poux/KDLL

An Alaska State Trooper based in Soldotna is jailed on charges he sexually abused two girls, and authorities are asking the public for information about other possible victims.

Thirty-nine-year-old Benjamin Strachan was arrested Wednesday on one count of sexual abuse in the first degree and six counts in the second-degree. Strachan moved to Soldotna to be an Alaska State Trooper in June 2020. 

C. Spencer/National Park Service

Voter turnout in local Kenai Peninsula elections was really low this fall.

But there’s one competition in Alaska that saw its highest voter turnout ever this year. That’s probably because its contestants are thousand-pound brown bears.

Emily Kwong/KCAW

A small chunk of money from a multi-billion-dollar settlement over the opioid crisis could reach the Kenai Peninsula.

Alaska’s one of a few dozen states that signed onto a class action lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson and three drug distributors, alleging those companies helped fuel the country’s opioid crisis by distributing addictive painkillers, even as rates of addiction were high. 

Sabine Poux/KDLL

The last of the absentee ballots are in and all votes have now been tabulated for this year’s Kenai Peninsula elections.

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

For most of us, COVID has meant life, work and social interruptions, logistical hurdles, stress, cumulative days lost to Zoom meetings and, hopefully, physically, nothing more than temporary flu symptoms. But for some of our family, friends and neighbors, a struggle with COVID has been life or death.
That was the case for Roger and Jodi Helvie, of Soldotna. Eleven months after coming down with COVID, they're finally on the other side, getting back to life in their new normal.
Thanks to the Helvies for sharing their story.

Courtesy of Rhonda Johnson

It’s hard to believe Rhonda Johnson doesn’t have more time in the day than everyone else.

Over the last seven years, the Soldotna resident has volunteered more hours than she can count to help build at least 45 houses for low-income Alaskans through the Rural Alaska Community Action Program, or RurAL CAP.

This fall, the national Community Action Partnership chose Johnson from volunteers around the country for an award celebrating her years of service. The organization flew her out to Boston to accept the award last month.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

A 68-year-old man incarcerated at Wildwood Correctional Center died last week — the fifth COVID-19-related death at Central Peninsula Hospital this month.

The Department of Corrections said Monday the man, John Andrew, died Friday after being in custody for a decade. The department said Andrew’s was the ninth death in its custody this year.

Farmers Almanac

If you’ve found yourself stumped with a gardening question, you may have queried the hive mind at Central Peninsula Garden Club.

The club saw a slight drop in membership earlier in the pandemic while its meetings were held virtually, said Larry Opperman, who’s on the club’s board of directors.

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

Soldotna's Roger and Jodi Helvie aren't taking any part of life for granted, after a harrowing experience with COVID-19.

You can hear more about Roger and Jodi's experience on next week’s Kenai Conversation at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 13, rebroadcast at 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, on KDLL.

It takes a good idea, the right market and a lot of research, planning and preparation to get a new business off the ground.

Ready cash doesn’t hurt, either.

If you’ve got the first part, the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce has the second in its Spark Soldotna competition.

It’s patterned off the “Shark Tank” TV show, where entrepreneurs submit a business pitch for a panel of sharks — experienced businesspeople — to review. Five finalists are selected to pitch their ideas to a live audience, and one will win $4,000.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game

If you’re looking for a less-rustic approach to rainbow trout fishing on the northern Kenai Peninsula, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has a spot for you.

The department recently finished improving access to Barbara Lake, about 30 miles north of Kenia. Access is off Ballard Drive, off Halibouty Road.

Fish and Game has been stocking the lake since 1980. It’s not one of their highest-use fisheries, but this project might help hook some more interest.

“It’s more just improving the access and experience for anglers that either live out in Nikiski or choose to travel out there and go look for fish,” said Colton Lipka, area management biologist.

Courtesy of KPEDD

Among the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act are pockets of funding that could advance projects on the Kenai Peninsula.

Tim Dillon, executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District, is working with communities and organizations to match projects with available sources of money.

Municipal election day saw low voter turnout across the Kenai Peninsula Borough but a nail-biter for a Soldotna City Council seat, and a few upsets in the works.

Polls closed at 8 p.m. Tuesday for in-person voting across the borough, but absentee, questioned and special-needs ballots still need to be counted before results are certified. Across the borough, 7,395 votes were cast on election day, which is about 14 percent turnout.

Courtesy of Bend the Light Photography

Editor's note: James "Hobo Jim" Varsos died Oct. 5 at his home in Tennessee. KDLL's Sabine Poux interviewed Varsos two weeks ago.

Alaska’s State Balladeer announced last week he’s been diagnosed with end-stage cancer.

James Varsos, best known to Alaska and the world as “Hobo Jim,” said his cancer is untreatable and that doctors told him he has three to six months to live.


100 Women Who Care Soldotna-Kenai

There are many ways to support the organizations that matter to you, whether you’ve got funds, time or just word of mouth to share. Tami Murray, with 100 Women Who Care, and Rhonda McCormick, with the Soldotna Cash Mob, join the Kenai Conversation to talk about easy, direct ways to give.

To find out more about 100 Women Who Care Soldotna-Kenai, email Murray.

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. 

 

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