Imagine applying to college, taking college courses and working a full-time job, all while finishing high school. Here’s how Abby Dial does it:
“A lot of coffee," she said, laughing. "I think to-do lists are really important, and having a planner. My schedule, my school schedule, doesn't get mixed up with my work schedule. So I have a planner for school and a planner for work.”
A decision by the Alaska Local Boundary Commission on Soldotna’s annexation petition has been pushed back a week or longer so the commission can decide whether it wants to put the subject to a public vote.
In the meantime, the commission is again accepting written public testimony — not on the city’s annexation petition, but on whether the matter should be determined by a vote.
Monday marked a changing of the guard for Soldotna. Pete Sprague finished his tenure as two-time Soldotna mayor and Paul Whitney had his first day on the job — though it was also the observation of Alaska Day, so he had the day off.
Whitney is looking forward to jumping into the role after years of serving on city council. He said a big goal of his is to get the city back to its pre-COVID self.
“Once we kind of get back to a normal lifestyle here, continue on one of the things we’ve been doing, we’re right now working on a remodel project at the sports center, and some time maybe look at another expansion of the sports center, there is a need,” he said.
High COVID-19 case rates have shuttered most central and eastern peninsula classrooms, sending kids from over 20 school buildings back home for remote learning. And now that case rates in Homer and the surrounding communities have entered the “high risk” zone, southern peninsula schools don’t appear to be far behind.
But not all local schools are closed to in-person classes. Cook Inlet Academy, a Christain school in Soldotna, has been open since mid-August. The 110 students enrolled this year are divided into classes and pods so if staff or students are directly exposed, the students in that group will be sent home. There is a symptom-free protocol in place and administrators perform daily temperature checks on students. Masks are optional for students and staff.
A 7.5 earthquake near Sand Point this afternoon triggered a tsunami warning in Kachemak Bay communities, as well as across the Aleutians and Alaska Peninsula. The warning has since been cleared.
Following the earthquake, which hit Sand Point around 12:54 p.m., residents of Homer and the greater Kachemak Bay area were told to get to higher ground and were beginning to evacuate. But residents across the peninsula were also warned, which was an error.
The Reindeer Hut is ending its second season tomorrow. For a food truck, that means winterizing the vehicle and parking it in storage until next spring.
The business’s first two seasons were very different from one another. Co-owners Aaron Conradt and Benjamin Peterson were more mobile last year and fed hungry event goers gyros and baked goodies from their orange-trimmed vehicle at events around town.
This year, the truck has been in mainly one spot since April, next to The Brew Coffee — another second-year business — on Kalifornsky Beach Road. Peterson thinks that might be the reason their business grew so much this year, even during the pandemic.
Two long-awaited changes at the Kenai Airport are landing this fall. Ravn Alaska is expected to resume service under its new owners in less than two weeks and the airport will cut the ribbon on its two-year terminal remodel mid-November.
Ravn’s return has been a long time coming. The air carrier, now under FLOAT Shuttle, Inc., recently re-entered an airport lease agreement with the city, following its bankruptcy under previous owners this summer. But it was still working out the details on when it would restart service, pending approval from the Federal Airline Administration and Department of Transportation.
The airline received approval from the FAA Tuesday. Kenai Airport Manager Mary Bondurant says that’s when she heard about Ravn’s new timeline.
A visiting urogynecologist is in town this week to help women who are dealing with pelvic floor disorders. Dr. Michael Carley is based out of Dallas, Texas, but spends a week at Central Peninsula Hospital every three months to see patients for a variety of related conditions.
“I’m a urogynecologist, so the main conditions I treat are conditions in women that include what we call ‘pelvic floor disorders,’ or pelvic floor defects,” Carley said. “So the main problems I treat are urinary incontinence, where women lose urine. I also treat problems with pelvic organ prolapse. I also do treat fecal incontinence.”
Urogynecology is a subspecialty of gynecology that isn’t all that common locally. Alaska has two board-certified urogynecologists, both based at Providence Medical Center in Anchorage.
This year’s commercial salmon harvest was bad. Really bad.
The harvest in Upper Cook Inlet was reportedly the lowest since 1971, with drift gillnet and east side setnet harvests 86 percent lower than their respective recent 10-year averages. On top of that, the price for sockeye salmon paled in comparison with recent years.
That burden hits close to home for a lot of Kenai Peninsula fishermen. At the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting Tuesday, representatives from the United Cook Inlet Drift Association and Kenai Peninsula Fishermen's Association called on the assembly to request that the state of Alaska declare an economic disaster for Upper Cook Inlet commercial salmon fisheries.
Tim Dillon, the executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District and the borough’s census coordinator, thought he had until the end of the month for a final census push. Now that deadline is today, due to a Supreme Court ruling to end counting early.
That’s complicated a process that was already made difficult by the pandemic.
“It’s kind of left us in a scramble,” Dillon said. It’s been so difficult this past year with COVID and the starting and stopping and everything and it’s really been pretty bizarre.”
The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly voted to cover the $250,000 used by the borough to mitigate floods in Seward earlier this month.
Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce issued an emergency disaster declaration Oct. 2 when heavy rainfall from the day before caused flooding on the eastern peninsula, creating a large load of sediment that damaged borough-maintained roads. Among the damaged areas were Dieckgraeff Road, a gravel road that is the only pathway to the borough’s solid waste transport facility in the Seward-Bear Creek area, as well as two subdivisions.
Residents of Kenai, Soldotna and Kachemak have been eligible for housing relief funding for a month or more. Soon, residents from the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s unincorporated areas will be able to apply for rent and mortgage relief, as well.
The relief comes from a partnership with the Alaska Housing Financing Corporation. Much like the programs in the cities, this one will subsidize up to $1,200 per month for eligible households, paid directly to recipients’ landlords.
The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation is now accepting public comment on a plan by Hilcorp Alaska LLC to move a jack-up rig to the Tyonek Platform in Cook Inlet. The department issued a preliminary approval for Hilcorp’s plan Oct. 5.
The rig in question is a Spartan 151 jack-up rig, currently in storage in Seward. The Tyonek Platform, where it would be stationed, is the northernmost platform in the inlet and a previous asset of ConocoPhillips. Hilcorp, an independent energy company with a history of reviving old drilling infrastructure, bought the North Cook Inlet oil field in 2016.
The most recent Soldotna City Council meeting was hardly Quinn Cox’s first glimpse into local government. His dad, Tyson Cox, is the District 4, Soldotna representative on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and a previous city councilmember.
So Quinn, a junior at Soldotna High School, knew what he was getting into when he was elected to be the council’s student representative.
Central Kenai Peninsula schools will follow their eastern peninsula counterparts in shifting immediately to 100 percent remote learning as coronavirus cases spike locally. That’s 17 schools from Sterling to Kasilof, through Kenai, Nikiski and Soldotna.
The central peninsula has been inching toward the red zone for a while. Yesterday, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District issued an “advance warning” that central peninsula schools would shift to remote learning if case counts continued to rise in the region. That was after several new cases were reported locally, part of a trend of rising numbers statewide.
Eleven months out of 12, Elders and Youth Council members from the First Alaskans Institute meet over the phone. Their annual conference is a chance to finally gather in person, along with nearly 1,000 other Alaska Natives, to exchange stories and lessons between generations and tribes.
This year, councilmembers and attendees are conferencing from home, from Southeast to the North Slope. Kenaitze elder Sharon Isaak is attending from Soldotna, where she prerecorded a demonstration on crafting moose-ear booties, one of the myriad workshops taking place virtually between Sunday and Wednesday.
Voter turnout was comparatively high in this year’s municipal election, due in part to to more than double the amount of absentee ballots usually cast in an October election. The Kenai Peninsula Borough sent out absentee applications to every registered voter this year.
The borough counted over 4,500 absentee ballots this weekend, yielding an overall voter turnout rate of 28 percent. The last two municipal elections saw voting rates around 18 percent.
Coronavirus rates are quickly worsening in Alaska. Schools on the central peninsula might suspend in-person classes as a result.
Today, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District issued an “advance warning” that central peninsula schools will shift to 100 percent remote learning as of Monday, Oct. 19 if case counts continue to rise in the region. Schools would remain remote for at least a week.
Four eastern Kenai Peninsula schools are reverting to remote learning amid rising coronavirus case rates, including an active case in a Seward school.
Seward Elementary, Middle and High school, as well as Moose Pass School, closed their doors to in-person learning this morning. Students will continue with classes online until community case rates on the eastern peninsula stabilize.
There was also an active case reported at Redoubt Elementary in Soldotna yesterday. Because central peninsula schools are still considered “medium risk” and the case was quickly contained, that school will remain open.
It’s been a tradition for the last 50 years that the owners of Kenai Fabric Center raise their kids in the store. Geneva Stasek bought the place in 1970 and her three daughters, Wendy McGahan, Gwen Woodard and Lynn Dykema, worked and sewed there until they ran it themselves. Their kids and grandkids were later folded into the business, spending time with aunts and cousins at the Willow Street storefront.
But that pattern will repeat no longer. The store will close its doors for good Oct. 31. While owners were close to selling earlier this fall, it didn’t end up working out.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was flooded this summer with feedback about proposed hunting and access regulation changes in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. As a result, it’s hosting a public hearing about those changes Oct. 26 and reopened the public comment period through Nov. 9.
The Kenai City Council approved a resolution last night that has three main functions relating to COVID-19 relief.
The first involves doubling the aid that Kenai commercial fishermen can receive, from $1,000 to $2,000. Applications for that relief program are available on the city of Kenai website and close Oct. 30. Permit holders who live within Kenai and who had at least $10,000 in landings on their 2019 permits are eligible to apply.
Only votes that were cast in person have been counted as of now. The borough is still counting absentee ballots — 4,574 and counting — and residents will have to wait until Oct. 13 to see how those results impact the existing totals.
Some candidates are behind by just enough that those uncounted absentee votes might boost them to victory.
Others are ahead by large enough margins that they’re calling the elections now, like Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce.
Soldotna’s Peggy Mullen will be inducted into the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame at a virtual ceremony Oct. 20. Along with 11 other Alaskan women, Mullen will be honored for her commitment to community service.
In Soldotna, that community service has taken many forms. Her daughter Mara Carnahan said it’s deeply woven into who she is.
You could not ask for a better, more bluebird afternoon for some election-day sign-waving. Around noon today, a dozen or so Kenai candidates and supporters were doing just that.
“There’s been honking. I think positive honking,” said Henry Knackstedt, a candidate for Kenai City Council. He was stationed out on the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Bridge Access Road today, encouraging passersby to hit the polls. He already voted absentee.
Tomorrow is municipal election day. But many Kenai Peninsula Borough residents have already voted.
In a typical year, around 300 to 500 people vote in borough elections by mail, said borough Clerk Johni Blankenship. This year, the borough sent out absentee ballot applications to every registered voter in the borough — about 3,000 — in mid-August. Blankenship says they have received about 2,000 back.
As of this morning, another 1,200 residents had voted early in person. That’s consistent with prior years.
The Alaska daily total for new resident cases yesterday was 142, one of the highest since March, and the state’s 14-day average has been peaking, per data from the state Department of Health and Social Services. The week of Sept. 27 to Oct. 4, the state saw six reported deaths from COVID-19. Anchorage and Fairbanks currently have the highest number of cases.
Kenai Peninsula Borough mayoral candidate Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings raised more for her campaign than Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce this election, according to most-recent campaign donation reports from the Alaska Public Offices Commission. As of today, Farnsworth-Hutchings has a total reported income of nearly $34,000, with Pierce around $26,000.
Farnsworth-Hutchings also out-spent Pierce, with expenditures coming in at around $21,000. Pierce has reported spending closer to $20,000.
Commercial fishermen had a rough season this summer, for myriad reasons. As such, CARES funding from the Kenai Peninsula Borough and city of Kenai could be welcome relief.
However, while borough and city programs both target commercial fishermen, their terms of eligibility are very different. To receive funding from Kenai, you have to be a resident of the city but you can fish anywhere in Alaska. For borough funding, you don’t have to be a resident of the borough, you just have to do your fishing here.