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.

Kenai Fire Department

The Kenai and Nikiski fire departments worked together to remove a sunken boat from the mouth of the Kenai River late last night.

The boat reportedly swamped on Sunday due to the wake from another passing vessel near Kenai’s city dock. Many personal use dipnet fishermen float near the dock while they’re fishing, but it’s also a high-use area frequented by commercial boats and other sportfishing boats passing through. The boat that capsized Sunday was a twenty-foot alumaweld loaded with five to six people, said Kenai Fire Chief Tony Prior.

Nonprofits and businesses inside Soldotna city limits can now apply for some coronavirus relief money through the city’s CARES Act grant program.

The city launched its first phase of business and nonprofit relief on Friday, making $2.75 million available for qualifying organizations, regardless of whether they’ve received other relief funding. The caveat is that the expenses they’re applying for help with can’t have been covered by any other relief funding they’ve received.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Alaskans pretty well know at this point that king salmon are in trouble. Biologists been looking into why for about a decade now, without a single smoking gun. And that seems to the way it’s going to be—no single answer.

A group of researchers led through the University of Alaska published a study this week probing a little more into the freshwater part of the lives of king salmon, also known as chinook. They focused on fifteen streams in the Cook Inlet basin, from the Chulitna in the north to the Anchor River in the south, to find some answers about how what happens in the freshwater affects king salmon survival. And, like other studies have shown, it’s complicated.

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

Fred Meyer and Safeway are joining Walmart in requiring all customers to wear face masks starting next week.

Safeway’s policy goes into effect on next Tuesday and Fred Meyer’s next Wednesday, while Walmart’s goes into effect on Monday. Fred Meyer says small children and people who medically cannot wear a mask will be exempt and are encouraged to consider alternatives, like a face shield, and if not, requested to use curbside pickup or delivery. All three companies say they are doing so to protect communities and help slow the spread of coronavirus, which is rapidly spreading in many regions of the country.

Last Friday, Kenai launched the second part of its relief program for small businesses, and this time, it includes commercial fishermen.

Applications for this round of coronavirus relief became available last Friday and don’t close until August 30. That’s in part because commercial fishermen are busy, well, fishing right now.

When we’re stressed, it can be easy to rely on junk food. After all, fresh produce can be expensive in Alaska, too. But a number of central peninsula groups are trying to make it easier to stock up on delicious produce.

The Kenai Peninsula Food Bank has been extra busy this summer, with the pandemic putting extra pressure on the peninsula. The food bank is based in Soldotna but serves the entire borough and has been making runs with fresh produce out to more of the outlying communities as part of a “farm-to-family” program. Executive director Greg Meyer said the food bank was able to use donations to purchase a used refrigerated truck, too, which helps now that they are able to distribute fresh milk, too.

Redoubt Reporter

Commercial fishermen in Upper Cook Inlet are having a somewhat slow fishing season so far.

So far, only 361,000 salmon have been landed, which is only a little bit ahead of last year, when they ended the season with about a third less than the recent averages. Fish tickets are coming in on Wednesday, but they’re not event quite halfway to the average harvest by this time, said commercial fisheries management biologist Brian Marston. Average right now would be about 800,000.

Homer Electric Association has seen a sharp increase in the number of its members wanting to hook up their own renewable energy setups into the grid this summer, and is planning to ask the state Regulatory Commission to increase how much renewable energy it can buy back from them.

This summer alone, central peninsula residents have installed more than 140 kilowatts’ of solar panel capacity, with more planned for Homer. That adds to the number of people who already had renewable energy capacity at their homes or businesses who can generate their own energy and feed some back into HEA’s grid when they make too much. At the same time, they can also draw off the grid when it’s not sunny enough for their panels or not windy enough for a wind turbine.

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

This fall, Alaskans will vote on yet another sharply divisive ballot initiative about the state’s tax structure on oil production.

Ballot measure one, commonly known as Alaska’s Fair Share, would increase taxes on oil companies that produce at least 40,000 barrels of oil per day and more than 400 million barrels total north of 68 degrees latitude—which is north of the Arctic circle. The sponsors say it’s targeting the largest producers on the North Slope and reverses some of the changes made in 2014 under Senate Bill 21, which added tax credits and aimed to draw additional exploration and investment in Alaska.

City of Seward

The abandoned residential school in Seward where the first Alaska flag flew will come down after the Seward City Council voted to demolish it.

The Jesse Lee Home, which has been abandoned since being damaged in the 1964 earthquake, has long been a source of contention in Seward. On the one hand, it’s where Benny Benson lived—the Alaska Native teenager who designed the state’s signature flag—and a piece of Alaska’s history. On the other, the building is a wreck, and efforts over the years to renovate it have never produced results.

Challenger Learning Center of Alaska

In a summer when most people are stuck at home, a handful of local kids are not only getting to connect with another culture, but also get a glance at the future of space travel.

This week kicked off the first camp the Challenger Learning Center of Kenai is running alongside the Bermuda Ministry of Education. The two regions are very different—besides the fact that one is tropical and one is subarctic and Bermuda is a British territory, the island of Bermuda in total is about 20.5 square miles. In comparison, the City of Kenai alone is about 29 square miles. But they’re connected by the National Aeronautic and Space Administration.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Fishing for king salmon the Kenai and Kasilof rivers will be catch-and-release only starting Wednesday.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced the restriction on Monday. Not enough large kings are coming back to the river to meet the escapement goal, so the restriction is to help preserve more of the fish, according to the department. As of Sunday, 1,699 large kings—that’s kings 75 centimeters or greater from mid-eye to tail fork, the only ones that the department counts toward escapement—had passed the sonar on the Kenai River. Under current projections, there won’t be enough to meet the escapement goal.

Kenai Peninsula Borough

This fall, voters in the Anchor Point and Ninilchik areas will consider whether to join forces on their emergency services.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough assembly approved an ordinance last Tuesday that will ask voters on the Oct. 6 ballot whether they want to become a single service area for fire and emergency medical services. The move has had several public meetings and has been in the works since earlier this spring.

Elizabeth Earl

Since 1998, the Alaska SeaLife Center has drawn people to the very end of the Seward Highway. It is in fact at the end of the road— if you just turn south out of Anchorage, the next time you have to turn to get to the center is into the parking lot at the center. While the center has a wide variety of animals, from many-armed sunflower sea stars to moon jellies and giant Pacific octopuses, it’s most famous for its Steller sea lions and collection of sea birds.

But thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, there may not be anything there by the end of the summer. The block on travel, particularly from cruise ships, has devastated the center’s visitation, and without a lot of fundraising, it may have to close the doors and send the animals away.

Elizabeth Earl

This year has been a rough one for tourism businesses everywhere, but especially in Alaska.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, very few out of state visitors are coming. Alaska relies heavily on them for its summer tourism season. There are only about 731,000 of us, while more than two million out of state tourists arrive every year, the majority of them by cruise ships. But without them, regions of the state are lobbying for those in-state tourists to come and salvage some of the season.   

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

It’s a relatively calm day on the Kenai beach for the opening day of dipnet. Weather is supposed to move in this weekend, bringing some increased winds and rain, but for now, the slack tide in the mouth of the Kenai River is almost glassy.

The beach is actually fairly quiet as well, though it’s still noon on a Friday. At the peak of the fishery, there can be hundreds of people lining every inch of the shore, each with a dipnet and a cooler to fill.

Peter Micciche/Facebook

Every year, Alaskans flock to the Kenai and Kasilof rivers for a chance to scoop up some of the sockeye salmon that pack the estuaries on their way upriver to spawn. Many peninsula residents have mixed feelings about these fisheries, but one thing that's pretty clearly unpopular is the mess the fisheries often generate.

A photo of overflowing dumpsters at the mouth of the Kasilof River, near the personal use dipnet fishery, touched off angry debates on social media this week. The photo, taken Monday morning after a busy three-day holiday weekend loaded with beautiful weather and a healthy sockeye run to the Kasilof, shows four dumpsters packed to the brim with trash and more scattered across the pavement nearby.

Redoubt Reporter

The Kenai River personal use dipnet fishery opens on Friday at 6 a.m. This year, though, dipnetters are not allowed to keep any king salmon they net. They have to let those go immediately.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced the restriction on Monday. The department is concerned about enough king salmon making it up the river for escapement, so dipnetters are restricted from keeping them. Sportfishermen are not allowed to use bait, either, and are restricted as to where they can fish and how many big fish they can keep.

The assembly approved an ordinance Tuesday night that reaffirms its support for Americans’ right to bear arms.

The ordinance repeats some of the language from the Second Amendment to the federal Constitution, which protects Americans’ rights to keep and bear arms. Sponsored by borough mayor Charlie Pierce and assembly members Jesse Bjorkman, Norm Blakeley and Kenn Carpenter, the main change in the ordinance is to declare the Kenai Peninsula Borough a “Second Amendment Sanctuary.” That term comes from a national political movement by gun advocates pushing local governments to pass laws saying they won’t enforce state or federal gun laws, which gained significant attention in Virginia earlier this year.

Wiki Commons

The borough’s addition of a vote-by-mail option, set to go into effect next year, will stand for now, after the assembly overturned borough mayor Charlie Pierce’s veto.

The ordinance allows voters to choose to vote by mail, but polling places and absentee ballots will still be available. It also extends the amount of time between an election and a run-off, and removes proposition statements from the voter information packet. The ordinance came from a stakeholder working group on election reform, following a lawsuit about equal access to voting within the borough.

Wiki Commons

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce has vetoed an ordinance recently passed by the assembly expanding the number of ways to cast a ballot in borough elections.

In his memo to the assembly, Pierce says such a significant change to the borough’s voting procedures shouldn’t be left to the assembly, but rather, put to a vote of the public. Pierce said that such changes would directly impact “the fundamental right to vote.” Pierce also questioned the security of voting by mail, one of the main features of the ordinance.

Elizabeth Earl

Alaska’s summer is short, but one of the ways it softens the farewell each fall is through a parting gift of delicious berries. In the late summer and early fall, Kenai Peninsula residents regularly flock to the wild lands for salmonberries, cranberries, blueberries, and crowberries and more.

Like everything, berry plants are being affected by the changes in the environment as climate change increases the temperature, lengthens the summer and, in many cases, dries it out. But according to University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers, the effect isn’t exactly clear-cut, nor directly in line with what you’d expect.

Kenai Watershed Forum

 The Kenai Watershed Forum’s annual 5K race series is kicking off this week, but don’t look for it on Tsalteshi Trails—this year, it’ll be in town.

The annual run series came from a Caring for the Kenai project by Kenai runner Ali Ostrander and has grown to draw more than a hundred runners of all skills and ages every Wednesday in July and early August. The Kenai Watershed Forum runs the event as a fundraiser. It’s always been on the trails, but this year, Watershed Forum development director Tami Murray said the outhouse at the trails wasn’t going to work for sanitation purposes, so they’re trying it out in town.

Shaylon Cochran/KDLL

Soldotna’s annual Progress Days event is going forward—sort of.

Progress Days usually involves a big parade, weekend market, and live music in Soldotna Creek Park on the fourth weekend of July to mark the founding of Soldotna and its ongoing progress. Big events are not really on the up and up right now, so the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce has released details of how it plans to mark the occasion in the time of coronavirus.

CDC

The deadline for businesses to apply for the Paycheck Protection Program was extended last week and now runs until August 8.

The PPP offers loans to businesses for relief from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. These loans become grants and don’t have to be paid back as long as 60 percent of the money is used for payroll and other eligible expenses. The program surfaced in March, and while many businesses applied for it then, others were left out. Notably, commercial fishermen were largely excluded, as many pay their employees through 1099 forms as independent contractors rather than as W2 employees.

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

He looks like a lot of other soldiers. Shouldering his pack and carrying his gun, he looks out across Soldotna Creek Park from a pedestal beneath the flags, eyes on the horizon. A crowd greets him with applause and cheers.

Iron Mike, a statue representing soldiers and veterans of the U.S. military, was unveiled in the park on the Fourth of July, the culmination of nearly five years of anticipation. The Soldotna VFW post asked the city for permission to put the statue in the park and began raising money for it in 2015, and on Saturday, veterans pulled the tarp off for the final time.

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

 There’s just under a week until the Kenai River dipnet opens on July 10. But if you want to get out and get some dipnetting done this weekend, there’s a little more space at the Kasilof River to do it.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced that the Kasilof dipnet is open to shore fishing all the way from the mouth upstream to the Sterling Highway Bridge. Dipnetting from a boat is allowed, too, but only up to a marker around mile 3 of the river. No king salmon can be kept, though.

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

 The Kenai City Council is going ahead with funding a new bike path along Bridge Access Road, but not without some trepidation.

The project would connect the new bike path along Beaver Loop Road to the existing Unity Path route through the City of Kenai by creating a separated path along Bridge Access Road. Most of it will be paid for by a federal passthrough grant, with a 9 percent match from the city. The city council has no problem with the project; the problem is the cost.

 The Seward City Council approved an emergency ordinance last night in response to the rash of cases in the community in the last week. Masks are now required in all buildings open to the public, city-owned campgrounds are limited to 50 percent capacity, and public gatherings are limited to less than 20 people. Restaurants, tour operators and religious organizations are limited to 50 percent capacity or 10 people, whichever is more.

The new restrictions are set to last 30 days. The mask mandate applies to anyone older than four years old but don’t have to be worn when social distancing is possible, when the group is family members only, or when eating or drinking. People with medical conditions or breathing trouble that prevent them from wearing a mask are also exempt.

The Alaska CARES program has been live for about a month now. The program is supposed to distribute grants to businesses to help with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, with funding that came to the state from the federal government. Gov. Mike Dunleavy said he wanted about $150 million to go out within the first 30 days to help keep businesses from going under.

That’s not how it’s worked out so far. Of the nearly two thousand applications submitted by Monday this week, less than 10 percent had been approved. There a handful of problems with the program, but the biggest one is that any small business that got aid through the federal Paycheck Protection Program or Economic Impact Disaster Loan programs is ineligible for it.

Pages