Elizabeth Earl

Reporter/evening news host

Elizabeth Earl is the news reporter/evening host for summer 2021 at KDLL. She is a high school teacher, with a background writing for the Peninsula Clarion and has been a freelance contributor to several publications in Alaska.

Courtesy of Kenai Performers

Jo March isn’t afraid of “blood and guts stuff” in the stories she writes. The second of the four March sisters and the main character of the Kenai Performers’ new show "Little Women," it’s the attitude Jo takes toward everything in her life. The story of "Little Women" follows her as she and her sisters grow up and navigate the difficulties of life together. The Kenai Performers are bringing the classic novel to the stage for the next two weekends.


Photo: Sabine Poux/KDLL

The western Kenai Peninsula is car territory. Even for locals, a car is pretty necessary to run most errands or to take part in most fishing, kayaking or hiking trails in the area. That’s the case for tourists, too, particularly those who fly here and want to explore the state on their own.

Unfortunately, this year, rental cars are thin on the ground. Really thin.


Ryan Hagerty/USFWS

It’s pretty well established that Alaska has more rivers and streams than any other state in the United States — which is hardly surprising, since it’s the largest state. Exactly how many of those rivers and streams host anadromous fish, though, is still a mystery.

Anadromous fish are those that spend part of their life at sea and part in freshwater, like salmon. Trout Unlimited and the Kenai Watershed Forum are trying to solve a little more of that mystery this summer.

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

If you’ve been around town a few years, you know how drastically different Kenai and Soldotna look now than they did two summers back. That’s in part because of the loss of a vast number of spruce trees, killed by the spruce bark beetle.

The Kenai Peninsula is in the middle of a spruce bark beetle outbreak, the worst in recent years. The little brown beetles burrow in and eat the tree’s phloem, which is the connective tissue that allows trees to move sugar around after photosynthesis. Bark beetles are a native part of the ecosystem here, but in the last three or four years, their activity has spiked.

Doug Koch of Pro Tree Service in Kenai has been felling trees on the peninsula since 1993. In the last four years, he said he’s seen a big uptick in the number of dead spruce trees.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly is in the middle of its annual budget process, and it’s facing some tough decisions of how to pay the borough’s bills.

Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce presented his proposed budget for the upcoming year to the assembly back in April, which includes about $8 million in spending from the borough’s fund balance. That would spend down the fund balance below the minimum recommended level, requiring the borough to bring it back up by fiscal year 2025. The assembly has been workshopping the budget since the end of April and has to finish it before July 1.

In the middle of a year with a hotly contested state legislature election, congressional election, and presidential election, it can be easy to forget about municipal elections. But the Kenai Peninsula has those this year, too, with some major seats up for grabs.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough’s municipal candidate filing period opened today and runs through noon on August 17. The borough mayor’s office and three assembly seats, including the ones from Kenai, Sterling/Funny River, and Homer are up for election. The Board of Education has four seats up for election, including those representing Nikiski, Soldotna, East Peninsula, and Central. All of those are three-year terms.

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

From a bird’s eye view, or maybe a pilot’s view, the Kenai Airport hasn’t changed much. The footprint is almost exactly the same, but to visitors arriving through that terminal, it’s a totally different place than two years ago.

The City of Kenai took on a comprehensive airport terminal overhaul starting in 2018. The terminal hadn’t had a serious remodel in decades. With about a $12 million price tag, the vast majority of the money came from the Federal Aviation Administration. A small match—about $1.5 million—came from the city.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Troopers have identified the victim of a fatal bear mauling last Thursday near Hope.

46-year old Daniel Schilling of Hope was found dead by family and friends after he was overdue to come home. Troopers say he was out clearing a trail about a mile behind his property, which is about mile 8 of the Hope Highway, that day, but his wife became concerned when he was late and his dog came home without him.

High Adventure Air Charter

On Friday, the central peninsula was shocked when two small planes collided above Soldotna and killed all seven people aboard. Around 8:30 a.m., a deHavilland Beaver from High Adventure Air Charter on Longmere Lake collided with a Piper PA-12, piloted by state house Rep. Gary Knopp of Kenai, sending both planes down around Mayoni Street just east of town. It’s still not entirely clear what happened, but until it is, the community is mourning the loss.

The pilot of the de Havilland Beaver plane, Greg Bell, had been flying for a very long time. Bell, who was 57, was a co-owner of High Adventure Air, a lifelong Soldotna resident. Friends, colleagues and clients remember a cheerful, skilled pilot and a man of faith.

ConocoPhillips

Drivers headed out the Kenai Spur Highway to Nikiski pass through a highly industrialized area with huge tanks, fences, and smokestacks. Those are shared among the old Nutrien fertilizer facility, the Kenai Liquefied Natural Gas terminal, and the Marathon Petroleum refinery (which most locals still call Tesoro). Most peninsula residents know what they are, but may not know that the Kenai LNG Plant actually represents a significant piece of oil and gas history.

Representative Gary Knopp of Kenai was reportedly killed in a plane crash outside of Soldotna this morning, along with six other people.
 
Knopp was reportedly flying his own plane, a Piper Aztec, outside of Soldotna when it collided with a de Havilland Beaver around 8:30 a.m. The collision reportedly happened above Mayoni Street between Soldotna and Sterling, about two miles northeast of the Soldotna airport.The Beaver was reportedly owned by High Adventure Air, and co-owner Greg Bell was also confirmed dead in the crash. Knopp flew alone, and the other four people killed were passengers in Bell’s plane. That included Kansas resident David Rogers, who troopers identified as a guide, and South Carolina residents Caleb Hulsey, Heather Hulsey, Makay Hulsey, and Kristen Wright.

Patrick Quiner/Alaska Division of Forestry

Two more trails that were damaged by the Swan Lake Fire last year have reopened.

The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge announce Friday that the lower Kenai River Trail and the Seven Lakes trails are now open to the public again after crews finished mitigating the damage. Both trails were in the heart of the burn zone for the massive Swan Lake Fire last year, and have been closed all summer so far.

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District will require cloth face coverings for all staff and most students as the school year starts.

Superintendent John O’Brien announced the policy in a video on Friday morning. He says the policy applies to all staff, all students in third grade and above, and for all parents and volunteers visiting the schools.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough’s CARES Act grant program closed for applications last Friday, with hundreds of businesses and nonprofits seeking aid.

The borough received 632 completed applications, with 40 being nonprofits. Borough community and fiscal projects manager Brenda Ahlberg says there were another 176 applications started but not finished—maybe because the applicant realized they didn’t qualify, or maybe they just forgot to hit the submit button.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

A man was killed by a bear last night near the town of Hope.

The Alaska Wildlife Troopers say the man was clearing brush near his property off the Hope Highway, around mile 8, near the community of Sunrise. Troopers say his wife became worried when he didn’t return on time and his dog returned without him.

Casey Lasota/Alaska Division of Forestry

By this time last year, the Kenai Peninsula was starving for rain. This year, we’re getting plenty of it, and that’s keeping wildfires down.

Wildfire danger is low enough that the Alaska Division of Forestry is comfortable sending Alaska’s fire crews out of state to help with fires burning in the Lower 48. Division of Forestry Public Information Officer Tim Mowry said that includes the Kenai Peninsula’s Yukon Crew.

Redoubt Reporter file photo

July and August are the height of the Kenai River sportfishing season, but fishermen are going to have to work a little harder for their catches for the first couple weeks of August.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced that bait and multiple hooks will be prohibited on the Kenai River from the mouth to the outlet of Skilak Lake starting Saturday at midnight. The change lasts through August 15.

The sponsors of the referendum to repeal the borough’s ordinance offering a vote-by-mail option have turned in their signatures.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough clerk’s office is still evaluating the petition booklets for validity. Borough clerk Johni Blankenship says they have until Aug. 6 to ensure that the petitioners gathered at least 1,362 valid signatures from Kenai Peninsula Borough voters.

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

Seward is keeping its emergency coronavirus restrictions in place for now after another jump in cases.

At its meeting Monday night, the Seward City Council debated increasing capacity for restaurants, city-owned campgrounds, and the size of gatherings from 10 to 20 people. Mayor Christy Terry and council member Sue McClure told the council they originally drafted it up to continue the emergency declaration, as the original was set to expire, and had put together the percentage guidelines based on the low case numbers over the last few weeks.

Ionia

When restaurants and other food services closed this spring, many people found themselves cooking at home a lot more often. While some people relish that, others may be more… novices at it. While in-peson cooking classes probably aren't going to be around for awhile, one peninsula community is reaching out online to help educate some aspiring cooks.

Ionia, a holistic living community near Kasilof, is offering online cooking classes every second Saturday through October. Eliza Eller, who runs the classes, says they're all plant-based and focused on macrobiotics--essentially, whole foods like grains and vegetables.

Alaska Department of Health and Social Services

Between Friday and Sunday, Alaska reported than 400 people had tested positive for COVID-19. Of those, 333 are residents. That’s more than 13 percent of all the resident cases since the pandemic began in the state.

Another 78 were nonresidents, including 34 in Seward at a seafood processing plant. Sunday marked a record high, with 231 total cases reported in a single day. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services says this comes from a variety of factors, including widespread community transmission from social gatherings and seafood plant outbreaks, but also a test backlog.

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

The Kenai Peninsula is seeing some of its most beautiful weather of the year right around now, which is getting a lot of people outside. But it’s also getting the bears out, and where they overlap with people, there can be trouble.

On Sunday, a brown bear was reported to have bluff charged a hiker on the Skilak Lookout trail off Skilak Lake Road. No one was reportedly hurt, but running into a bear can be scary. Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Park Ranger Leah Eskelin says some are taking actions like firing warning shots into the air to scare off bears, but that’s not the best way to go.

Seward Chamber of Commerce

Seward is going ahead with a version of its annual silver salmon derby this August.

Starting August 8 and running through the 16th, fishermen with an itch for silvers will get a chance to win some prizes from the Seward Chamber of Commerce. But in light of the pandemic and outbreaks in Seward and surrounding communities, the chamber is announcing some changes as well.

Central Peninsula Hospital

Though most of the attention around health care is focused on the coronavirus pandemic right now, Central Peninsula Hospital also recently finished a project to expand its services in Soldotna.

This winter, the project to remodel the hospital and stand up a new catheterization lab, childbirth facility, and to rearrange part of the hospital for more room and security was finished. It cost about $32 million, with about $27 million of that coming from Kenai Peninsula Borough bonds. The construction was started about two years ago as part of the hospital’s long-term service expansion plan, and it opened just in time to have the hospital lock down under the COVID-19 mandates.

CDC

 Friday is the deadline for nonprofits and businesses to apply for CARES Act grant funding through the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

The borough has made $15 million available in the first round of funding for nonprofits and businesses outside city limits for pandemic-related relief, whether or not they have previously received relief. The catch is that only expenses that haven’t been covered by other relief are eligible, and the borough will require proof of how the funds were spent.

Redoubt Reporter file photo

The Kenai River drainage will officially close to king salmon fishing Friday due to low numbers.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced the closure on Wednesday, set to last through July 31, which would be the end of the king salmon fishing season on the Kenai anyway. The river was already restricted to catch-and-release only due to low returns, but the closure goes a step further and prohibits bait everywhere in the river from the mouth upstream to Skilak Lake.

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

The Kenai Peninsula is one of the best places in the world for outdoor recreation, but sometimes the weather is less than great and the lakes are too cold to swim in. Usually, there are community pools and indoor recreation facilities to help with that, but like most things, the coronavirus pandemic has interrupted that.

Most of the pools in the central peninsula area are operated by the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, as they’re inside the schools. Because of the pandemic, the schools have been closed to the public since mid-March, but the district reopened the pools on a reservation basis in early July. But rising case numbers triggered the district’s “high-risk” scenario starting on Monday, leading it to close the pools again until cases come back down.

Rasmuson Foundation

Every person has their own history within the broader history of a place. That may be family, personal, or generational. How you remember it may be different than how it actually was. For Kenai musician Nelson Kempf, that means digging into his own history—family and beyond.

Along with 24 other Alaskan artists, Kempf recently received a $7,500 individual artist grant from the Rasmuson Foundation to pursue making a new album. He calls it a chance to “decolonize” Alaska’s history and look at his own.

Kenai Fine Arts Center

The Kenai Fine Art Center closed its door earlier this spring along with most other businesses and public facilities, but unlike others, it won’t reopen this year.

The board of the Peninsula Art Guild, which runs the center, announced Tuesday that it won’t reopen the center in Old Town Kenai until 2021.

City of Soldotna

This week, Soldotna will be celebrating its community and businesses with a scaled-back version of its regular annual festival, Progress Days.

Instead of the usual fanfare, parade, live music, and barbecue, the more modest event will coincide with the Wednesday market. The Soldotna Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the event, scaled back its plans in response to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic and the City of Soldotna’s regulations about large events, particularly in Soldotna Creek Park.

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