Jenny Neyman

General Manager

Jenny Neyman has been the general manager of KDLL since 2017. Before that she was a reporter and the Morning Edition host at KDLL.
She also worked in print journalism for 15 years, including 7.5 years as owner, publisher and editor of the Redoubt Reporter community newspaper in the central Kenai Peninsula.
She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Whitworth University in Spokane, WA, and grew up listening to KSTK public radio in Wrangell, AK.

The city of Kenai has rolled out another way to boost businesses through the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s now taking applications for grants to help with online marketing and e-commerce.

“As they look to recover, marketing is going to be a key element to bringing folks into the door or growing their business, so we felt that this was something that folks probably were going to need and this was, we felt, an innovative way to get money out into the community for that specific purpose, said City Manager Paul Ostrander.

The marketing grants are $1,000 for businesses located in the city that have experienced a loss of sales or changes in their operations due to the pandemic.

The money can be spent to build or redesign websites, develop systems for online sales, expand social media marketing, improve search engine optimization or anything along those lines.

The money can’t be spent just anywhere, though. Businesses must work with Divining Point, LLC, which provides website and online marketing services in Alaska and Texas. Divining Point had a contract to update the city’s logo and marketing. Ostrander said the city issued a request for proposals for a company to do the marketing work for the grant program and Divining Point was the only proposal received.

Businesses can develop their own scope of work with Divining Point. Once the $1,000 grant is spent, they can choose to pay for additional work, or not. Applications are due Nov. 6 and the money must be spent by the end of the year.

Overdue fines are being assessed into history at the Soldotna Public Library. The Soldotna City Council voted Wednesday to approve an action item allowing the library to waive fees as long as an item is returned.

Library director Rachel Nash said this is a trend sweeping libraries across the nation.

“Over the last couple decades, public libraries in America have really been moving toward going fine-free. It’s become more and more apparent that they do not serve the purpose that they were originally used for, which is to encourage people to return items on time. Rather, they’re actually discouraging people from returning items or coming back at all because they’re afraid of these fines,” Nash said.

Kenai Community Library

Kids can dig into a good book and a good meal a little longer at the Kenai Community Library.

The library has been distributing lunches since June 1, through a partnership with the Food Bank of Alaska. Anyone 18 and under, or parents of kids, can stop by the library from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and pick up lunch to go or call from the drive-through and someone will bring lunch out to the vehicle.

The program was set to end today but James Adcox, children’s librarian, says it’s been extended until Aug. 21, the last weekday before school starts.

“We asked the Food Bank of Alaska to get permission to do that and they approved that, just to fill a community need. And we felt like the need was there and the need is still there to do it as long as we can until school starts,” Adcox said.

Adcox doesn’t have numbers for August yet but says the library provided lunch to over 350 kids in June and July. And not just PB and J.

“In every meal pack there is a milk and then there’s always some protein and an additional dairy product,” Adcox said. “They had chicken bites and there’s a beef jerky one. There’s a cheese stick with a beef stick. And then there’s always sunflower seeds and some additional, like applesauce. There’s a chicken salad spread with crackers, so a variety of different meals. I think we had 14 different meals that we were distributing.”

Anna DeVolld

The 30th annual Caring for the Kenai program ended up finishing virtually, given the coronavirus pandemic, but the winning projects will make real-world differences.

The program usually ends in April with students giving their presentations and standing for questions from judges. But that part was put on hold until August, with the final judging happening over videoconferencing Aug. 6.

“We did a lot of planning, a lot of thinking and we had a lot of ideas of what we wanted to do for our 30th anniversary and, of course, everything changed. And this shows how the real-world experience of Caring for the Kenai helps the next generation change. And what you’ve learned from this, what we’ve learned from this, gives us all a lot of hope for the future,” said Merrill Sikorski, program founder and director.

Caring for the Kenai challenges high school students to come up with a project to better care for the environment of the Kenai Peninsula or improve the area’s preparedness for a natural disaster. Finalists and their schools get cash prizes. Students can participate with the same project more than once but repeat entries are judged on what they’ve done to further their project in the last year, rather than the initial idea.

City of Soldotna

The city of Soldotna — and areas that might become part of Soldotna — will have to wait a little longer to see if the state of Alaska Local Boundary Commission will approve the city’s petition to annex 2.63 square miles of surrounding territory.

The commission held meetings last week over Zoom conferencing, hearing the city’s presentation and public testimony for over four hours Tuesday, then debating the issue for just about another four hours Wednesday.  

After all that, the commission postponed its decision until legal issues could be further researched.

LBC staff found that Soldotna’s petition met the bar for annexation — that it would be in the best interest of the state in shifting services to the city, the proposed areas fit the character of current city boundaries and that the city would be able to offer services to the new areas.

City Manager Stephanie Queen said they’re looking to incorporate a modest amount of territory. If approved, she said Soldotna would grow to about 10 square miles and still only be about a third the size of an average Alaska city.

Forest Service-USDA

Today is the deadline to submit comments on proposed regulation changes affecting the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

The changes would allow the state of Alaska to regulate trapping on the refuge, which would do away with the requirement of an orientation class and a buffer zone disallowing trapping around trails and trailheads. It would allow baiting as a harvest method for brown bears in areas where baiting is already allowed for black bears. Use of bicycles and game carts would be allowed for the first time on the refuge. The discharge of firearms would be allowed along areas of the Kenai and Russian Rivers in the fall and winter. And ice-fishing lakes would be open to snowmachines and ATVs in the winter when there’s adequate snow and ice cover.

While the coronavirus has interrupted just about every aspect of life, there is a bastion of normalcy this summer — fresh, local produce from farmers markets.

Market managers and vendors were anxious in May, not knowing how or if they’d be able to operate this summer. The markets operated differently — more spacing between booths, masks, hand sanitizer and the like. But some things haven’t changed this year — gardens are still growing and people are still shopping.

In-person criminal and civil jury trials in Alaska will be postponed until at least Nov. 2 to prevent the possible spread of COVID 19.

Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Joel Bolger signed the extension order Thursday. Jury trials were first postponed beginning March 16 by a similar special order given shortly after Gov. Mike Dunleavy declared an emergency in response to the coronavirus pandemic. In June, the order was extended from July 6 to Sept. 1. With COVID case counts on the rise in Alaska, it’ll now be at least November before trials resume.

Cometwatch.co.uk

Though some might mourn the dwindling daylight as a harbinger of summer’s end, the increasing darkness does give stargazers a chance to view the comet Neowise.

It’s a newly discovered comet, identified in March by NASA’s infrared space satellite. It came closest to Earth on July 22 but it was still too light at night for Alaskans to get much of a glimpse. 

These days, in Southcentral Alaska, the sun sets after 10 p.m. and rises around 6 a.m. We’ve still got over 16 hours of daylight but there’s an expanding window of nautical twilight, between about 1 and 3 a.m., where skies should be dark enough to see the comet. 

Alaska Legislature

Gary Knopp’s name will still appear on the Aug. 18 primary ballot. The Kenai Republican was among the seven killed in a midair collision early Friday morning just outside Soldotna. Knopp was seeking a third term in the state House, against fellow Republicans Ron Gillam and Kelly Wolf. The winner of the primary will face James Baisden, who registered as non-affiliated, in the general election.

Rogers family

A GoFundMe account has been set up to benefit the family of David Rogers, one of the seven people who died Friday morning in a midair collision near Soldotna.

He was a guide at High Adventure Air, which flies out of Longmere Lake, east of Soldotna. Rogers, pilot Greg Bell and four clients from South Carolina were in a de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver. Kenai Rep. Gary Knopp, who was running for reelection to his Kenai District 30 seat, was the sole occupant of a Piper PA-12.

Investigators from the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash.

Maddy McElrea works at High Adventure Air and set up the GoFundMe account to cover the expenses of getting Rogers and his dog home Kansas, as well as funeral and other expenses. Rogers had a wife, Rhonda, and three kids. 

“And just really anything that’s going to help them get through these next few months. Because I know that David was kind of the worker in the family for them,” McElrea said.

Thanks to Marti Pepper with Redoubt Realty for her perspective on the local real estate market.

On this month's Drinking on the Last Frontier, Bill talks to Erik Slater, of Seward Brewing Co., and delves into what makes British beer worth a slow pour.

NOAA

A magnitude-7.8 earthquake activated the national Tsunami Warning System late Tuesday night. The epicenter was 8 miles deep, south of Perryville and Chignik on the Alaska Peninsula. It was initially estimated at magnitude 7.4 but was revised upward.

The U.S. Tsunami Warning System activated about five minutes later, issuing an alert across coastal Alaska, from Seward to Unalaska, sending text messages to cellphones and triggering tsunami warning sirens in Kodiak, on the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands, as well as in Homer and Seward. 

Mike West, a seismologist and director of the Alaska Earthquake Center, said this type of earthquake is the kind they worry about for tsunamis. 

“It is the style of earthquake which tends to generate tsunamis,” West said. “All early signs indicate that this is on what we refer to as the subduction zone. It’s the interface, the plate boundary between where the Pacific Plate thrusts underneath North America. A very standard type of earthquake in this area.” 

On Monday, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District unveiled its Smart Start plan for opening schools Aug. 24 amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

Superintendent John O’Brien outlined the plan to the Board of Education during an afternoon work session.

“Really, the hallmark of our KPBSD plan provides parents with choice, consistency, continuity and, of course, we are very firm on symptom-free schools being an aspect of this Smart Start plan if we’re going to be able to keep students in school this year,” O’Brien said.

A committee has been working on the plan since May. Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Clayton Holland, who chairs the committee, says the plan takes into account parental feedback.

“Parents will have the choice to decide if they’re going to be our neighborhood school in person with the kids or be part of our neighborhood school and participate remotely and/or join our Connections homeschool program,” Holland  said. “So we’re offering those choices between there. We’re hoping that that meets the needs of our families.” 

Proposed regulation revisions would change access and hunting opportunities on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. John Morton, retired refuge supervisory biologist, Rick Johnston, retired refuge law enforcement officer, pilot and ranger, and David Raskin, president of Friends of Alaska Refuges, talk about what the changes would mean on the refuge. Click here to read the proposed changes and comment by Aug. 10.

Kenai River Brewing

Doug Hogue with Kenai River Brewing joins Bill for a live Drinking on the Last Frontier as past of KDLL's 2020 Spring Membership Drive. Your questions, their answers and the debut of the Champski.

Soldotna Chamber of Commerce

The Soldotna City Council’s three hours of debate Wednesday raised every nuance imaginable regarding the liability, practicality and morality of allowing large events on city property this summer but did not produce a policy going forward.

The city is struggling to decide how best to protect public health in preventing the spread of COVID-19 while still allowing commerce and community in the city’s most popular park.

In past summers, Wednesday night concerts, community festivals — pretty much any time there was music, a beer garden, food trucks and vendor tents, thousands of people crowded into Soldotna Creek Park.

This year, the Centers for Disease Control recommends limiting large events to 250 people, with proper signage, social distancing, hand sanitizing and personal protective equipment. But limiting entry to Soldotna Creek Park, in the heart of downtown, is difficult, as the perimeter is about as defensible as Swiss cheese.

Parks Director Andrew Carmichael warned the council to expect whatever attendance cap they might set to be exceeded.

“How do you track 1,000 people or (what) do you say to the second 700 people that show up on Wednesday, because all they heard was the blurb that it was out — ‘Wednesday music is happening.’ That’s a guaranteed 2,000 people with weather like this — boom,” he said. “… We saw 80 percent capacity in our campgrounds over Memorial Day because Alaskans could get out.”

It’s going to be a little less fashionable for women on the central peninsula, with a much-loved clothing design businesses leaving town. After 14 years creating colorful, cozy hoodies, pullovers, pants, skirts and more in Soldotna, Susanna Evins is buttoning up Mountain Mama Originals and selling off her fabric, trim — even her signature chunky buttons.

Her family is moving back to Montana. The move isn’t completely COVID-19 related but the pandemic has been an impetus to embrace life as it comes.

“I think that’s kind of what I’ve heard with a lot of people in the last few months. They’re kind of readjusting and figuring out, ‘OK, this means the most to me, so I if want this, then I need to make it happen,’” Evins said. “Yeah, family does (matter). And that’s where it comes down to is I want a better balance. And not even just family, I want to have time to learn other things besides just hustling and bustling, doing the same thing.”


Jenny Neyman/KDLL

A federal rule change is in the works that would increase hunting and access opportunities on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

The modification of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rules would more closely align state and federal regulations on national refuges in Alaska, following a 2017 Trump administration order.

The new rules were published in the Federal Register on Thursday and are open for public comment for 60 days. The changes would allow hunting brown bears over bait on the refuge. Trappers would no longer need to get a refuge-specific permit, which requires a seldom-offered orientation class. The discharge of firearms would be allowed along the Kenai and Russian rivers from Nov. 1 to April 30. There would be more access for snowmachines, ATVs and utility vehicles on ice-fishing lakes and there would be more allowance for bikes and game carts.

Rick Green, special assistant to the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, says the state sees this as a rightful return to state management of wildlife.

“Unlike most other states in the union, Alaska is one of the only ones that the federal government steps in and manages wildlife when it’s really a state’s rights issue,” Green said.

The city of Soldotna’s petition to annex 2.63 square miles along Funny River Road, Kalifornsky Beach Road, the Kenai Spur Highway and the Sterling Highway south of town cleared another hurdle. Local Boundary Commission staff released their preliminary report on Soldotna’s annexation petition May 18 and found the petition meets state standards for annexation.

Staff found that the petition reasonably argues that annexation would be in the best interest of the state, because it would shift services to the city. The proposed annexation areas compliment the profile and character of current city boundaries. And it provides evidence that the city would be able to expand services to the new areas in an effective and efficient manner.

Through the CARES Act, municipalities are receiving millions of dollars to help recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

But governments can only use the money for direct costs related to COVID-19, like paying emergency responders or buying protective equipment. In Alaska, the biggest economic hit to local governments has been lost revenue, primarily a drop in sales taxes, which isn't an eligible use of CARES money. Cities and boroughs can’t use most of the money they’re being given.

So, municipalities are coming up with ways to pass CARES Act money on to their communities. The city of Kenai has developed a grant program that is becoming a template for other municipalities in the state.

The Kenai City Council approved the program at its meeting June 3.

Kenai Peninsula Relay for Life is going virtual this year.

KPBSD

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is working on contingency plans for reopening schools in the fall. At a Monday night school board meeting, Superintendent John O’Brien said the “Smart Start” workgroup, made up of parents, teachers, staff and administrators, is working with the state to develop various options, since no one knows what the COVID-19 situation will be in August.

“Scenarios for low-risk, medium-risk and high-risk situations that are plans that can be developed and implemented, not necessarily as a one-size-fits-all for the entire district, but that will be agile enough and flexible enough to be implemented in various parts of the school district, depending upon the situation,” O’Brien said.

There’s a lot brewing at Kassik’s these days — new beers, new branding and a new season of food trucks on site. Bill hears from Hoodoo Brewing in Fairbanks and Midnight Sun in Anchorage on how Alaska breweries are staying in business during COVID-19. And, ever wonder why your favorite IPA starts to lose its appeal? The lupulin threshold shift might be to blame. Find out more in this month’s Drinking on the Last Frontier.

To require 14 days of quarantine or not to require 14 days of quarantine — that is the question state officials might answer today. While many of the state’s COVID-19 health mandates have been rolled back as Alaska re-opens for business, the mandate requiring arrivals to the state to self-isolate for two weeks is in effect until June 2. That requirement is particularly challenging for Alaska’s tourism industry.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy in a virtual town hall Thursday, said state officials are trying to balance public health with easing impacts to the economy.

“We’re working on some protocols to be able to try to have some outside folks come to Alaska to help with the very business that we’re talking about today that are seasonal, that are tourist-related, fishing-related, etc. We’re going to do our best to this thread this needle where we keep Alaskans safe but also try to get our economy back up off its knees,” Dunleavy said.


 

Now that the Alaska Legislature and governor have come to an agreement about how federal COVID-19 relief funds will be distributed on the Kenai Peninsula, the final details are being worked out to get that money passed through to communities.

Just under $290 million will be made available to small businesses and certain nonprofit organizations through Alaska CARES grants. The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority will be the umbrella organization overseeing the grant program and Credit Union One was selected to be the financial institution processing applications and making payments. 

The Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District is tasked with public outreach about how the program will work.

“I know folks have been kind of frustrated over the last couple of months about what was going on and when moneies will become available,” said Tim Dillon, executive director of KPEDD. “For the $290 million that will be out there for small business relief, that is statewide and it’s all in grants. There’s no loan with the potential of it being a grant, it is a straight grant right from the beginning. So we’ve been working through the polices and procedures. And everybody had their ideas on what they thought should happen. And the bottom line was there was a variety of us that said, 'We need to get money and we need to get it to our small businesses and we've got to get it to them ASAP without nine million strings attached to it.'”

While the borough budget usually draws lively debate, this year puts the assembly in a particular pickle. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the borough is expecting a significant drop in revenues, which leaves a shortfall that the administration and assembly will have to find some way to cover.

Most of the time, that would be taxes. But there is one other possibility this year: federal relief funds. Since March, the federal government has been working on distributing money to businesses, individuals, and states to help with the impact of the pandemic. Alaska so far has received about $1.5 billion.

But there are particular ways those funds can be used. For example, until the Secretary of the Treasury made an exception, they couldn’t be used to pay police and firefighters. Cities and boroughs, including the Kenai, have lost revenue through declines in sales taxes and property taxes as fewer people shop and eat out and properties—particularly oil and gas—have lost value.

An unstable slope caused by the retreat of Barry Glacier, northeast of Whittier in Prince William Sound, has geologists worried about a potential massive landslide and resulting tsunami.   
“It would be about the size of around 500 Empire State buildings falling into the fjord at once if it did release as a solid mass on the unstable slope.”
The resulting tsunami wave could be 30 feet or more in Whittier, arriving about 18 minutes after the landslide.

The city of Soldotna is working toward a more ecologically prepared future. The council passed two measures at its May 13 meeting meant to help plan for and mitigate impacts due to climate change.

The first is agreeing to participate in a climate action planning cohort with the University of Alaska and other partners. Dr. Micah Hahn, with the University of Alaska Anchorage, explained the program.

The plans involve looking at historic climate data and future climate models, identifying potential impacts of climate change and doing an inventory of a city’s greenhouse gas emissions. Then using that baseline data to develop and prioritize resilience strategies, looking for opportunities to become more energy efficient, coming up with a framework to monitor progress and updating the plan to make sure it stays relevant.

She’s been working to develop a plan with Anchorage for the last couple of years and realized the process could be shared with other cities.

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