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.

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.

Outer Coast Adventures

The North Pacific Fisheries Management Council approved a proposal in a special meeting May 15 that would make going on a halibut charter more attractive to Alaskans this year, as a way to help mitigate the impacts COVID-19 is having on the industry. 

Councilmember Andy Mezirow, who owns a charter business in Seward, motioned to enact a proposal that will relax restrictions on charter operators in area 3A, Southcentral, and 2C, Southeast.

“Clearly no amount of regulatory change is going to make this a profitable year but this action, in conjunction with federal assistance, will contribute to a coordinated effort to help Alaska charter operators make it through this pandemic,” Mezirow said.

Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys

The threat of a large tsunami is looming in Prince William Sound, where a landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and others frequenting the area.

Geologists say that the rapid retreat of Barry Glacier from Barry Amy, 28 miles northeast of Whittier, could release millions of tons of rock into Harriman Fjord, triggering a tsunami that could rival or exceed the largest slide-caused tsunamis in the state’s recorded history.

The loose slope is on the western side of the arm, now bare and hanging at a precarious angle since the retreat of the glacier. Steve Masterman, director of the Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys, says the slope could release 10 times the amount of rock as the two most noteworthy, slide-triggered tsunamis in Alaska history.

Redoubt Reporter file photo

The Kenai City Council on May 6 agreed to allow bacteria sampling at the mouth of the Kenai River again this summer, with some misgivings.

The Department of Environmental Conservation has partnered with the Kenai Watershed Forum the past several years to sample water quality at the mouth of the river. That sampling has found levels of fecal coliform and enterococci bacteria that exceed state water quality standards. 

The bacteria are found in the intestinal tracks of warm-blooded animals and can cause stomachaches, diarrhea and ear, eye and skin infections in humans, especially if swallowing water with high levels of bacteria.

Parents, teachers and administrators in the Kenai Peninsula School District jumped into the new reality of eLearning March 30, with school facility closures due to the coronavirus pandemic. Of the eve of the change, KDLL visited with Crista Cady, music teacher at Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science, Skyview Middle School Principal Sarge Truesdell and Nikiski mom Ambger Douglas about their hopes and concerns for the new reality of education.
This week, we check back in to see how things went.

Avery Lill/KDLG

RavnAir shut down operations and filed for bankruptcy in April after a steep drop in travel due to COVID-19, leaving a transportation hole in many regions of the state. Alaska Airlines is stepping into some communities to fill that void. 

The airline plans to provide year-round support to Dillingham and King Salmon. Alaska Air spokesperson Tim Thompson said the airline does not have a definite schedule yet but plans to gauge demand once they are able to take off.

“Those schedules could change, just like we do throughout other places in the state of Alaska where we might have a daily service during the summertime, because there’s so much demand,” Thompson said. “We may do every other day, or two-day service in the wintertime, but the goal is to be able to provide year-round service to the region.”

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education voted to seat a superintendent search oversight committee at its meeting May 6. Current Superintendent John O’Brien announced his plans to retire in June.

O’Brien started his career in 1993 as a special education teacher in Maine. He also became an athletic director, assistant principal and principal while in Maine. He and his family moved to Nikiski in 2005 for a job as principal of Nikiski Middle-High School. In 2011, he became director of Secondary Education for KPBSD, and in 2015 became the assistant superintendent of Instruction.

He was offered the job of superintendent for the 2019-2020 school year when none of the candidates that had applied were chosen for the position. He had indicated he was not planning on serving in that role for multiple years. O’Brien underwent surgery and treatment for kidney cancer just before spring break in March. 

Kenai Community Library

It’s been a long time since libraries were only about providing reading material, so when they shut down amid the coronavirus pandemic, it wasn’t just books that patrons were missing. As the weeks have passed, the Kenai and Soldotna libraries have figured out ways to still offer much of what they did before.

“You know, I was looking at our calendar and I was really surprised and impressed. I was kind of comparing it to where we were a year ago and we have the same number of programs every week as we just normally would, maybe even more,” said Rachel Nash, director of the Soldotna Library.

Programming at the Kenai and Soldotna libraries has moved online. Storytime for kids, Lego building challenges, DIY projects for all ages, art classes, science lessons and more learning experiences are offered on the libraries’ Facebook pages and websites. Creating that content has been a learning experience for librarians.  

“I think the major adjustment has just been getting to learn each of the different technologies we’re using and kind of figuring out what works better for people,” Nash said. “… And, of course, there’s always technical issues — did you push the right button, what does that button do? I think what everybody’s going through right now.”

North Peninsula Recreation Service Area

Though the state of Alaska’s Phase II for scaling back COVID-19 restrictions allows for the opening of swimming pools, no one on the Kenai Peninsula is going to be making a splash in public pools anytime soon.

Kenai Peninsula Borough School District facilities remain closed. Pegge Erkeneff, KPBSD communications director, says the district does not have any immediate plans to open the seven school pools across the peninsula.

“It’s actually fairly complex when you really start looking at everything from entrances, capacities, social distancing, shower requirements, and if DEC waives shower requirements prior to a swim then what does that do to the pool water and chemicals needed? And then the energy savings and the financial savings are a really big thing right now for the school district, as well, as we face really unknown budgets coming up in the next couple years,” Erkeneff said.

Phase II of the state of Alaska's plan to scale back COVID-19 restrictions goes into effect today. If you want to go out and have a beer to celebrate or watch a movie at a theater, that is now allowed.

Not all businesses are choosing to participate but there are some new options on the central Kenai Peninsula.

Bars are allowed to open to 25 percent capacity. The Vagabond Inn on K-Beach Road plans to be open until 11 p.m. or midnight, depending on patronage.

"Even though the bar was closed, we had a lot of people call and come up and try to patronize, (want to) come in and have a drink. I don't know if they weren't aware of the situation or not. But a lot of people would like to get back in here. And I think it's just the social aspect, people are missing that," said owner George Bowen.

Bowen is excited to get the bar back open and bring his staff back to work. The Vagabond includes a liquor store, which stayed open during the shutdown, but Bowen says sales have been down about 70 percent.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough is looking at instituting voting by mail as early as the 2020 elections. Initially, the reason was part of a conciliatory agreement with the Alaska Human Rights Commission over a complaint that borough polling locations lacked accessibility. 

These days, the coronavirus pandemic is adding even more reason to pivot from in-person voting. The borough commissioned a feasibility study on voting by mail from Resource Data, Inc. Dennis Wheeler presented a summary in a work session for the assembly Tuesday. 

“Poll workers are not going to want to get together in confined areas where it’s difficult to social distance and deal with an influx of public to hand out ballots,” Wheeler said. “It’s something to think about — what impact would COVID have on your ability to staff up, as well as what are the voters going to do and how are they going to react.”

Homer Electric Association’s annual meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. tonight at Soldotna High School. For the first time in the co-op’s 70-year history, though, HEA is encouraging members not to attend.

HEA is required by its bylaws to hold an annual meeting the first week of May but the bylaws did not foresee a global pandemic. HEA doesn’t want to encourage a crowd, given state health mandates on social distancing and large gatherings. That means no free meal or prize drawings, as HEA usually provides at the annual meeting.

If 50 or more people show up, an official meeting must be held. If less than 50 members attend, HEA can reschedule or cancel the meeting.

Kenai Performers

Life in pandemic, hunker-down mode leaves many craving entertainment. The internet is certainly here to help but doesn’t usually offer much of a sense of community. Enter the Kenai Performers, who figured out a way to present local theater where the only risk of contagion is smiles.

The organization streamed a Throwback Concert on Facebook Live on Sunday evening, featuring musical performances from shows going back two decades.

Zak Overmeyer/Alaska Division of Forestry

With the coronavirus pandemic creating difficulty in getting wildland firefighting personnel and equipment to the state this year, not to mention challenges in training and housing crews with social distancing requirements, the Alaska Division of Forestry wants to prevent human-caused fires as much as possible.

Couple that with the fact that spring conditions in between snowmelt and green-up create high fire danger, Forestry issued a statewide burn ban that went into effect Friday.

Apparently, that message was not very well received, as Forestry responded to 14 wildfires around the state over the weekend. Most were the result of burning activities that are now banned, including burn barrels and debris piles.

A 34-year-old Nikiski man died in a car crash Sunday on the Seward Highway near Moose Pass. According to Alaska State Troopers, Arleigh Bacarella, of Nikiski, was driving north on the Seward Highway in a 2002 BMW sedan when the car crossed the centerline at Mile 45 a little after 7 p.m. The car hit a tandem-axle trailer carrying a six-wheeler, being towed by a 1994 Suburban. The BMW then skidded into the path of a 2014 Ford motorhome, which was towing a 21-foot boat. The boat broke loose from the trailer and became lodged in the back of the motorhome.

Money from the federal CARES Act, $562.5 million, is slated to go to local municipalities in Alaska to help with the COVID-19 public health crisis. That’s great news for local governments that are reeling from the unexpected blow to tax revenues caused by the slowdown of the economy.

But there is confusion about how, exactly, that money may be spent, leaving some cities concerned that they’ll face penalties or even have to return money in the future if they spend it incorrectly.

Kenai City Manager Paul Ostrander testified to the House Finance Committee on Thursday.

“I do think that it’s critical that these funds are distributed to the municipalities and the boroughs across the state,” Ostrander said. “That local control is critical. Communities know where that need is within their community, so I think that is very important.”

HEA ballots due soon

Apr 30, 2020

If you haven’t sent in your ballot for the Homer Electric Association Board of Directors, now is the time. HEA will announce the winners May 7.

Two candidates are running for a District 1 seat, covering Kenai, Nikiski and parts of Soldotna. Jim Duffield, of Kenai, comes from a financial background, having been an accountant and auditor. He is a shareholder and the managing member of JMJ Tax Relief in Kenai. Duffield says he would bring his financial background to serve on the board.

“The rates seem to have continually climbed steadily in the last few years,” Duffield said. “And I don’t feel like that’s really justified. And there’s been a number of good projects that they’ve gotten involved in that have paid off well for the company and for us as users, but there’s also some projects that have not worked out quite so well.”

Alaska Division of Forestry/Howie Kent

Alaska Division of Forestry firefighters responded to two small fires on the Kenai Peninsula on Thursday. The Robinson Fire, near Sterling, started from an escaped debris burn that ignited nearby grass Thursday afternoon. It was quickly brought under control but is a reminder that fire season is upon us. Even though snow covered the ground not long along, warm days and wind are drying things out quickly, especially before green-up.

In Homer, firefighters put out an escaped debris burn on Grewingk Street off Skyline Drive on Thursday afternoon.

St. Elias Brewing

Breweries are being crafty to survive the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic — St. Elias took the shutdown as a chance to remodel, Baleen Brewing in Ketchikan is rethinking its expansion timeline and Magnetic North Brewingin Anchorage is focusing on homebrew. Listen to this month's Drinking on the Last Frontier to find out more.

Kenai Peninsula Borough

Monday would have been Marilyn and Hank Every’s 68th wedding anniversary. Hank died in 2014, but the day still brought a commemoration of their life together, the last 58 years spent on a lake in Nikiski, which is now a step closer to bearing their name.

“He wanted to name it Lake Marilyn after me. But you have to be gone five years before they’ll even consider naming it after somebody, so we just decided to use our family name,” Marilyn said.

Marilyn submitted a proposal to the Alaska Historical Commission to name it Every Lake. The commission agreed and the proposal now goes to the federal level. If it’s approved by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, Every Lake will appear on official U.S. Geological Survey maps.

In this week's show, we hear from candidates for the Homer Electric Association Board of Directors:
District 1: Jim Duffield and Erik Hendrickson

District 2: C.O. Rudstrom

District 3: Troy Jones, Pete Kinneen and Jim Levine

Find candidate resumes here.

Anna DeVolld

Busy as a bee, is how the saying goes.

In Anna DeVolld’s case, it’s busy on behalf of bees. The ninth-grade Soldotna homeschooler has been pouring her heart and time into a Promote Our Pollinators project to offer education about the importance of pollinators, increase their numbers and inspire the next generation to be good stewards of the environment.

“I love gardening. It’s one of my favorite things to do. And one day I was looking at my sunflowers and there was this clump of bees on there and I wondered, ‘Why were they there and what were they doing?’ So I did some research and I just fell in love with pollinators,” Anna said.

DeVolld placed third in the 2019 Caring for the Kenai competition and last week was announced as the President’s Environmental Youth Award winner for Region 10 of the Environmental Protection Agency.

“I was super honored and, really, this was a community award. My idea started with Caring for the Kenai and the community has really embraced it,” she said.

The Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District is collecting follow-up information to identify the economic impact of COVID-19 on businesses in the borough. This peninsula-wide, confidential survey is live until 7 p.m. Friday, May 1. The overall data will be used to identify the needs of the region to the state and federal governments. An identical version of the survey was conducted last month. This one wants to see how things have changed. Businesses and organizations large and small, in all sectors are welcome to take this survey, even if they didn’t take the first one.

The Soldotna City Council got an early look at the beginning of the fiscal year 2021 budget at its meeting Wednesday. City administration wanted to give the council a heads up on what they might see in terms of financial repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sales tax is a huge chunk of Soldotna’s revenue. City Manager Stephanie Queen says the city anticipates the biggest hit being in March and the current quarter, with things slowly recovering over the next fiscal year.

“We are anticipating a reduction of sales tax revenue in the current fiscal year of about $800,000, essentially about 10 percent of the year in total reduction. And then, for FY21, the budget we’re building, we’re anticipating essentially double that, so, a 21 percent reduction, which is equivalent to $1.7 million reduction,” Queen said.

Provided photo

Though Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s loosened health mandates allow restaurants to open for dine-in service today, not many are immediately jumping on the opportunity. The allowance comes with a sheaf of regulations that some restaurants are finding challenging to meet.

Restaurant capacity has to be reduced to allow for social distancing. Only household members are allowed to sit at a table together and must be separated by 10 feet from other occupied tables.

Big Daddy’s Pizza on K-Beach Road switched to take-out and delivery orders only on March 18. Jake Perry works at Big Daddy’s. He said they’re revamping to allow customers to place and pick up orders inside if they would like, including a single slice to go, but they’re holding off on dine-in due to their small space.  

“Everyone’s kind of on the fence about what’s going on, everyone feels a little bit one side or the other. But we’re trying to do our best chance at not only protecting the community but protecting ourselves,” Perry said.

Redoubt Reporter file photo

Soldotna’s Music in the Park series will sound different than expected this year but the show might still go on.

Soldotna Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Shanon Davis spoke to the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday night. The chamber secured another $25,000 grant from the Levitt AMP Foundation to fund an expanded music series this summer, bringing in bands from outside the peninsula and Alaska. But with the uncertainty of the pandemic, the chamber decided to take Levitt AMP’s offer to defer the money until next year.

“A month ago I was absolutely convinced that there wasn’t going to be a need for that but as time’s gone on, I realized this could be a real opportunity for us because it would be dangerous for us to take that grant not knowing if we can actually fly the bands that we booked here to Alaska or if we’ll even be able to gather because our number-one priority is the safety of the members of our community,” Davis said.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly passed a resolution at its meeting Tuesday, promoting the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Assemblymen Willie Dunne was one of the resolution sponsors.

“To increase awareness that we need to protect our fisheries, our wildlife, our wild areas, I think this is just one little tool in increasing awareness and, as somebody else said, being good stewards for the Earth,” Dunne said.

Carrie Henson, of Kalifornsky, called in to the Zoom meeting to talk about the correlation of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.

“From how quickly our air quality around the world has improved with everyone hunkering down to how our state’s dependence on oil has put us in grave economic jeopardy, as oil prices go into the negative. A window into the future of when oil is no longer a resource we can rely on,” Henson said.

Jan Wallace, with the recycling organization ReGroup, called in to say that individual Earth Day efforts are still encouraged, even if group activities had to be canceled due to the pandemic.

“You can have a cleanup in your area, especially of plastic, which is damaging our wildlife. If you take pictures of an area before and after your cleanup, post it to hashtag trashtag,” Wallace said.