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 Peninsula Fair

The latest victim of pandemic-related closures is the annual Kenai Peninsula Fair in Ninilchik.

The board for the fair announced the closure Tuesday, saying in a statement that the decision was difficult. The fair’s been going on for nearly seven decades and is usually one of two big gatherings in Ninilchik each year, the other being music festival Salmonfest. Salmonfest announced its cancellation in May, and the fair had delayed the decision, hoping things would get better.

The City of Seward will have an emergency meeting tomorrow at 5:30 to discuss measures to help control the spread of coronavirus in the community. The measures would include temporarily closing city-owned campgrounds, prohibiting gatherings of more than 20 people, requiring masks inside buildings open to the public, and limiting restaurants, bars, and retail stores to fifty percent capacity.

Alaska’s midnight sun is going to work for more peninsula residents as they install more and more solar panels.

The Solarize the Kenai campaign kicked off this summer, offering discounts to people who wanted to install solar panels on their homes or businesses. The campaign, headed up by community action group Kenai Change, brought residents together to ask for bids from solar installers so they could get a bargain group rate on the panels before installing them.

Elizabeth Earl

A new outbreak of COVID-19 cases in Seward has the community on edge and events cancelled.

Since last week, about a dozen people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Seward. The first signs appeared Thursday when two people were reported to have tested positive and the Department of Health and Social Services notified the public that patrons at two area bars might have been exposed. Anyone who visited the Seward Alehouse on June 21 from noon to seven, June 22 from 9 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., and June 23 from noon to 7 or 9 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. or who visited the Yukon Bar on June 23 was asked to be tested.

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

When the pandemic began shutting down schools and businesses in March, the best advice to avoid getting sick and getting others sick was to stay home as much as possible. As the weeks and months dragged on, though, it became clear that just staying home wasn’t really going to be possible. So businesses began reopening, and when they did, some of the employees were masked.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing a cloth face covering whenever going out, primarily to avoid giving the virus to someone else if you are asymptomatic. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services highly recommends wearing a mask in public settings when it’s hard to socially distance, like in grocery stores or other indoor retail facilities. Because of the shortness of supply, both agencies are recommending people make cloth face coverings or use cloth to cover their noses and mouths, as opposed to using medical PPE, which medical workers need.

Like nearly every corner of the economy, commercial fishermen have had to adapt to the pandemic as Alaska heads into its busy salmon season. However, unlike other parts of the economy, commercial fishermen haven’t been eligible for all the federal aid available.

Until this week, a big chunk of fishermen’s payroll wasn’t eligible for help under the Payroll Protection Program, or PPP. That’s because many of them pay their crewmen with 1099s, as independent contractors. Until yesterday, they couldn’t use that to apply for the PPP. United Fishermen of Alaska executive director Frances Leach said that presented significant challenges for the fleet.

The city of Kenai has been working on a way to stabilize its eroding bluffs for nigh on four decades. The city is now in the final phase of pre-construction design before being able to lock down funding and potentially get the project on the ground.

The bluffs that the city of Kenai sits on have been eroding, badly, for years. As the groundwater goes out, it pushes material out of the bluff to the bottom, where the river perpetually washes it away, accelerating the erosion. If the material falling out could build up, it could establish a slope over time that plants could grow on, making a more stable bluff that could in turn protect the buildings on top from tumbling into the river.

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

Several popular trails closed after being damaged by the Swan Lake Fire last year are reopening to the public.

The Skyline Trail, which takes hikers up a steep mile to the tops of the Mystery Hills, and Hideout Trail, which takes off from near the eastern entrance of Skilak Lake Road, are now open again. Fuller Lakes Trail has been open this year up to the lower lake, but closed up to the upper lake. That upper part is now open as well. All three trails are popular but were closed due to extensive damage during the fires in 2019.

CDC

The Kenai Peninsula Borough and the cities are getting their plans in place for distributing CARES Act funding to help with the impact of the coronavirus, with the goal of getting it out before the summer’s over.

When the federal government passed the CARES Act for coronavirus economic relief, the state of Alaska received all of it. The state would then pass it along to municipalities. Kenai was the first city on the peninsula to get a plan on the books and is getting its first round of checks in the mail this week. Larry Persily, a consultant working with the city on its CARES Act grant program, said 186 individuals applied for the initial phase, for a total of just over $2 million. The city council set aside $3 million for its grant program to businesses and nonprofits, so there’s a little left over in case the council wants to do more with it in the future.

AK LNG

The Alaska LNG Project has been stalled for years, but the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation is hoping a new, lower cost estimate will make it more competitive.

The corporation released the revised cost estimate during a board meeting on Thursday. The new estimate sits at $38.7 billion, about $5.5 billion less than the previous estimate, which was done in 2015. The new estimate was put together by AGDC with BP, ExxonMobil, and Fluor Corporation, a consulting company with experience in LNG.

U.S. Forest Service

Most of the Kenai Peninsula, and most of Southcentral Alaska, is covered by what’s called boreal forest. The forests are dominated by birch, cottonwood, alder and spruce, as well as a handful of other species. That's not a huge amount of biodiversity but boreal forests are home to several different kinds of spruce trees.

On the western peninsula, it’s mostly black spruce, which are the spindly, Nightmare Before Christmas-esque conifer trees growing in wetlands. But white spruce also grow in the Kenai-Soldotna area.

Jenny Neyman/Redoubt Reporter

When public schools closed in March, it left many families scrambling for child care.

But child care facilities had to deal with pandemic risks, too. Though Alaska designated those facilities essential and said they could stay open when other businesses had to close, some ended up closing their doors anyway, for various reasons.

Redoubt Reporter file photo

The annual throngs of fishermen that come from all over Southcentral Alaska to the Kenai River personal-use dipnet fishery are due to arrive in about three weeks, and the city of Kenai is letting them know to expect a few changes this year.

The fishery usually involves big crowds of people congegating on Kenai’s north and south beaches, all filling coolers full of salmon for the winter. In 2018, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game recorded more than 20,000 angler days fished in the Kenai River dipnet fishery. This year, the city of Kenai is making a few changes in hopes of preventing the spread of COVID-19 among the crowds.

Voters in the Kenai-Soldotna area will have a handful of candidates to choose from this fall when deciding who they want to represent them in the state House of Representatives. One caveat: they’re all conservative, and three are running in the primary on Aug. 18.

District 30 is currently represented by Gary Knopp, a two-term representative from Kenai. He’s running for a third term, but Ron Gillham of Ridgeway, Kelly Wolf of Kenai, and James Baisden of Kenai have all stepped forward to challenge him. Gillham and Wolf are running as Republicans in the primary, while Baisden is running as a nonpartisan candidate in the general.

The cities of Kenai and Soldotna each have local trail improvement projects in the works for this year, but a change in state policy has thrown wrenches into them.

Kenai is planning to build a paved bike path between the junction of the Kenai Spur Highway and Bridge Access Road down to Beaver Loop Road. This would connect to the newly paved separate bike path along Beaver Loop, creating a completely separated bike path loop between Kenai and Beaver Loop. Soldotna is planning to pave paths in Soldotna Creek Park and expand a path along Homestead Lane toward Swiftwater Campground.

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

The platform next to the city of Kenai’s dock will get a new name—the Tarbox Wildlife Viewing Platform.

The name comes from longtime volunteers and wildlife enthusiasts Connie and Ken Tarbox, who helped coordinate the effort to establish the platform at the edge of the Kenai River Flats. Today, it regularly attracts bird viewers, who come to watch the Flats’ many seasonal winged visitors as well as the caribou that regularly crisscross the area.

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

It’s a conflicting feeling, to see a huge group of kids laughing and hanging out at a sports practice. On the one hand, the state guidelines to prevent the transmission of coronavirus say to keep six feet apart and wear a mask when you’re in a public facility. On the other hand, hearing people have a good time doing what they love with their friends is a welcome relief after months of isolation and pandemic restrictions.

At the Soldotna Whalers wrestling club practice this week, kids of all ages were busy practicing techniques in advance of a tournament scheduled for Friday and Saturday. Club president Sarah Michael said they’re taking precautions to keep the members safe.

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

Frequent hikers in the Cooper Landing area may be familiar with one of the favorite community hikes: Slaughter Gulch. The trail meanders through a forested half mile before jaunting up a grueling mile and a half to an alpine ridge, leading hikers up another steep peak ascent that looks down over the bright teal ribbon of Kenai Lake and the Kenai River.

Until the last month or two, it was uncommon to see more than a handful of hikers on it at any time. But starting in May, dozens of cars started showing up at the trail, parking on the Sterling Highway shoulder and anywhere nearby they could find.

Like most government bodies, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly has been meeting online since mid-March to promote social distancing. But while other governments have resumed in-person meetings, the assembly hasn’t made that move yet, and won’t for the foreseeable future.

Some members of the assembly are pushing to go back to meeting in person. Assembly member Jesse Bjorkman of Nikiski introduced a resolution Tuesday that would have the assembly and public gathering in person again at the upcoming July 7 meeting. Because the assembly chambers are too small to be practical, Bjorkman suggested asking the school district to use a local high school auditorium to allow for social distancing.

Oil and gas producer Hilcorp is continuing its Alaska expansion with three new exploration leases in the Cook Inlet basin.

Hilcorp, which operates most of the platforms in the inlet as well as a number of onshore gas wells and the cross-inlet pipeline, won three leases in the state’s areawide Cook Inlet and Alaska Peninsula oil and gas lease auction this week. The three leases cost the company about $178,000, with an average price of $21.43 per acre.

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

The borough assembly voted to establish a commission on climate resilience and security on Tuesday without much opposition.

The commission will be advisory and include nine members with experience in at least one of the commission’s areas of focus representing the various regions of the peninsula. They will recommend policies for the borough on items like reducing waste going to the landfill, improving energy efficiency, increasing local use of renewable energy, and improving food security, among other areas. The commission will meet once per month and collaborate with the borough, utilities, communities, and other entities to adapt or mitigate significant changes to the environment, according to the ordinance.

Alaska Division of Forestry

The first ghost of the Swan Lake Fire showed up on Tuesday east of Soldotna.

With big wildland fires that burn deep into the terrain, pockets of hot material can remain, even into the next year. These hotspots can then ignite and cause a secondary burn, called a holdover fire.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game

King salmon fishing on the Kenai River will open with no bait, with retention of kings less than 34 inches long. The Kasilof River will also start July with no bait.

Both rivers have seen low king salmon runs so far this season, with the Kenai River going to no fishing for June. Starting July 1, king salmon fishing will open, but only from a marker just downstream of Slikok Creek down to the mouth. Upstream of Slikok Creek all the way to Skilak Lake will stay closed through July 31, according to an emergency order issued Monday from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The department will continue to monitor the run as the season goes on.

Residents of the Ninilchik and Anchor Point areas may soon get to decide whether they want to band together for fire and emergency medical services. The borough assembly is due to decide on whether to place a question for it on the ballot this fall.

Anchor Point has a formal service area, funded by property taxes and with about five professional staff. Ninilchik, on the other hand, has a nonprofit that runs its fire and EMS service, paid for by community donations and grants. In February, an upheaval in the nonprofit gave the community a scare about not having services at all, spurring a conversation with the borough about formalizing the fire and EMS department there.

CDC

The only surefire way to know if you have COVID-19 is through a test. But if you are coughing, sneezing, and have a fever, some of the most common symptoms of the disease, it may not be as easy as walking up and asking for a test, and like a lot of things in healthcare, it may not be clear what it costs.

Like people and businesses, many nonprofits statewide had to shut down offices, services, and events in March to help slow the spread of coronavirus. As things have opened back up, the nonprofits have a few more stressors than businesses may, including keeping up donations and volunteership.

Nonprofits in Alaska run the gamut from arts and culture-focused, such as the Kenai Fine Art Center, to life and safety, such as the Ninilchik Fire and Emergency Service Department and the peninsula’s two hospitals. While some make money through shops or contracts, helping to support their services, others rely on fundraising and community support. Those may be harder in the future.

Local governments all over Alaska are trying to figure out the best way to get relief funds to their communities. The Kenai Peninsula Borough, being the largest local government on the peninsula, is getting the largest amount and is working on a plan to issue grants quickly and responsibly.

The borough is getting about $37.4 million through the state, which received the CARES Act funding from the federal government for coronavirus relief. That's going to go out in three payments, the first being about $21.2 million, followed by two more just over $8 million.

Like most colleges and schools, Kenai Peninsula College made an emergency switch to entirely distance education and shut down its campuses around mid-March. The college is planning to go forward next fall with mostly distance-delivered  classes but there will be a handful of in-person classes when possible.

The college has summer classes but they’re all online, the way the spring was. By the time fall semester starts in September, some classes will be back to meeting in person — but only some, and in smaller numbers, with protective measures in place. Other typical functions, like the art galleries, will stay closed for the fall.

Kenai Performers

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown the performing arts for a loop, hitting the pause button for the majority of the spring. But, like many organizations, they’re figuring out ways for the show to go on.

Kenai Performers is getting auditions underway for a winter production of “Murder in the Cathedral,” a drama about the historical murder of English Archbishop Thomas Beckett in the Canterbury Cathedral in the Middle Ages. In the past, auditions have been open, with aspiring actors showing up whenever they want. This time, hopefuls have to sign up ahead of time for slots over the course of three days.

The effort to establish a borough-wide commission on sustainability and climate resilience is gaining broader support coming up to the assembly’s vote on it.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly is scheduled to consider whether to establish the commission during its June 16 meeting. The commission would be charged with advising the assembly and administration on goals like reducing waste, improving energy efficiency in buildings and transportation, and increasing local clean energy use, and work with borough staff and communities to plan for adaptations to environmental changes, among other goals. The commission would have nine members representing the various regions of the borough and four at-large seats appointed by the mayor and approved by the assembly.

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