Sabine Poux

Reporter/evening news host
Sabine Poux/KDLL

Three trailheads are better than one. At least that’s the guiding philosophy behind the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge’s new Ski Hill Road Multi-Use Trail, which opened to the public Saturday.

The trail winds through the woods between the Sterling Highway and Ski Hill Road in Soldotna, covering a bit over a mile and a half on an 8-foot path. It’s accessible from three points — on the south side of Ski Hill Road, near Skyview Middle School; on the north end of that road, near Spenard Building Supply; and at the refuge’s visitor’s center.

 


Jenny Neyman/KDLL

Kenai Peninsula College will be mostly online again this spring.

All University of Alaska Anchorage campuses, including KPC, will remain in Phase B — the second reopening phase in a scheme of five. In Phase B, some classes, like labs, are taught in person, and on-campus housing is open at reduced capacity. 

Chancellor Cathy Sandeen wrote an email to the UAA community last week that current and future infection patterns made sticking to Phase B the most advisable plan going forward. She said that releasing the decision now gives students, faculty and staff time to prepare for another mostly remote semester.

In a newsletter to KPC students sent out today, College Director Gary Turner reiterated that the decision applies to KPC.

Kenai Peninsula Borough

The application window for the second round of Kenai Peninsula Borough CARES funding for nonprofits, small businesses and commercial fishermen closed Friday. While the second round functioned in many ways like the first, there was a noticeable difference in the applicant pool.

“This round, we definitely had an uptick in those commercial fishers that wanted to submit applications, either online, or even coming in for assistance with the applications,” said Brenda Ahlberg, the borough’s community and fiscal projects manager.

Courtesy Kathy Romain, Kenai Senior Center

The Kenai and Soldotna senior centers are putting the pedal to metal for their Meals on Wheels programs. Both have at least doubled their home-delivered meals to residents, while centers remain closed to in-person meals and gatherings.

The centers are also using calls and wellness checks to get in touch with local seniors. Neither center has set a date for reopening yet.

Courtesy of Virginia Morgan

Books are said to expand new horizons for readers. In Cooper Landing, the new library cards offer a vista, as well.

Each card is a small, laminated copy of a scratchboard drawing by Tony Morgan, an artist who grew up in the unincorporated riverside town and now lives in St. Helens, Oregon. It shows a book with the name of the library on it, set against the backdrop of a mountain and layers of trees. 

“The scratchboard has a clay backer on it, and it’s painted with ink, and then you go in and scratch out the parts you don’t want, basically,” Tony said.

“Then I kind of, with the color and everything, I went through and I drew it,” he added. “I think I did another hand-drawn ink layer and then just did it in my digital spot color, so it looks kind of like those WPA posters from the ’40s.”

The keychain version of the card shows the Kenai River weaving through the mountains, a view apropos of Cooper Landing.

 There’s a real method to the way this store is arranged.

“As you go around the space, you’ll see all of these beautiful pieces of art that are really inspired by Alaska. I’m looking right now at some pieces of octopus and moose and polar bears and just all of these images that we love about Alaska,” said Ana Scollon, the store’s owner. “And then, as you move around the rest of the space, my hope is that as we think about all these wonderful things that we love about Alaska, we can also … basically change some of the things that we do to protect this space.”

This is The Goods, a Soldotna shop-to-be that sells zero-waste products and local art. It’s opening Oct. 17.

Individual Soldotna households can apply for coronavirus relief funding this October.

It’s called the Economic Relief for Residents Program, and is the latest in a string of coronavirus relief packages offered by the city of Soldotna. The city is hoping to have the program open between Oct. 1 and Oct. 30, according to John Czarnezki, Soldotna’s director of economic development and planning.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is short on subs.

As a result, staff, teachers and existing substitutes are straining to work more than they want to.

“We absolutely have to build up our substitute pool,” said Anne McCabe, president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association, at the Sept. 14 school board meeting. "We have many employees who are in a heightened state of work because they know they can’t take time off. There is no one there to sub for them.”

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

Researchers from the University of Alaska Anchorage and the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health are collaborating on a pilot study to better understand the psychological impacts of Alaska wildfires on residents.

They’re looking for adults who lived on the Kenai Peninsula or in Anchorage last summer, during the Swan Lake Fire, to participate in interviews and workshops about how that fire affected their mental health. The study is entitled, “Understanding and Supporting Mental Health and Well-Being in the Context of Intensifying Wildfires in Alaska.”

Kenai Peninsula Borough School District

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has seen its first case of COVID-19. Director of Communications Pegge Erkeneff said the case is at Soldotna High School and the school became aware of it midday Tuesday. She didn’t specify whether the case was a student or staff member. The school will remain open, in accordance with its mitigation plans.

The district is not releasing more information about the case’s identity, in compliance with privacy regulations, but close contacts of the case have been notified. This could include players on an athletic team, a colleague or a bus driver, for example. All close contacts must quarantine at home for 14 days.

School Principal Tony Graham sent a letter to staff and families notifying them of the case.

Courtesy of Jennifer Joanis

A few years before Barack Obama’s famous trip to Alaska, the state had another visitor from the capital. She left quite an impression.

“She gave this amazing lecture which I have remembered to this day about the power of dissent and the role of dissenting opinions,” said Jennifer Wells, a Kenai Superior Court judge. “And it’s something I’d never really given any thought to.”

The speaker was Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She delivered an address at the Alaska Bar Association Convention in Anchorage back in 2008.

Ginsburg, a beloved Supreme Court justice and staunch advocate for women’s rights, died Friday. She was 87.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

Today marks two weeks until the borough’s municipal election day. It’s also National Voter Registration Day.

Borough residents have just started voting in person. The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot for that election is Sept. 29. 

For state and national elections, the deadline to register to vote is Oct. 4.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

The fourth annual Kenai Silver Salmon Derby ended yesterday, awarding $3,600 in prize money to six fishermen whose fish were not too big, not too small, but just right. The city of Kenai and Kenai Chamber of Commerce are now counting the rest of the funds raised, which the Kenai Community Foundation will use for river and anadromous water preservation.

The derby, which ran from Sept. 15 to Sept. 20, awards fishermen whose catches best approximate a daily “magic weight,” randomly generated at the end of each derby day. Don Morrison was the overall winner and will receive $3,000 in prize money. That’s three times the cash the derby awarded in last year’s grand prize.

Alaska State Troopers

A 22-year-old Nikiski woman died this weekend following a reported car chase.

According to an Alaska State Troopers report, officers attempted to stop Olivia Mapes around 2 p.m. Saturday for swerving across the center and fog lines on the Kenai Spur Highway. Mapes didn’t stop, and when she turned off the highway, a pursuit ensued, according to the state’s online trooper dispatch.

Are you prepared?

Sep 18, 2020
Sabine Poux/KDLL

Try to count how many disasters we saw this year and you will run out of fingers. 

2020 is most certainly going down in history as the year of emergencies. September, however, is all about guarding against emergencies. For this year’s National Emergency Preparedness Month, Dan Nelson, emergency manager for the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management, is doling out some advice about what it means to expect the unexpected.

Jacob Caldwell’s family purchased Kenai Aviation from Bob and Jim Bielefeld two years ago. The Bielefelds’ operation flew workers from Kenai Municipal Airport to the oil fields, but their business waned when oil companies started making their own flights in house. When the Caldwells took over, they sought to make charter flight services and pilot training part of their operations. 

And that’s exactly what they did.

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

Enrollment is down 18 percent at Kenai Peninsula College this fall.

Last year, there were 2,072 students enrolled in the fall semester, 174 of whom were taking classes full time. This year, there are 1,729 students enrolled, 121 of whom are full time. Students are also taking fewer classes this semester — enrollment by credit hours is down by 20 percent.

There are a few reasons for that dip, said President Gary Turner. 

Avery Lill/KDLG

The Kenai City Council approved a resolution Wednesday that served two connected purposes: end the lease with the old Ravn Alaska and start a new lease with the new Ravn Alaska, now operated by FLOAT Shuttle, Inc.

FLOAT bought a large portion of Ravn’s assets for $8 million this summer, after Ravn filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Ravn, which was previously Alaska’s biggest rural air service, flew with the airlines Corvus and PenAir. FLOAT is based in Southern California.

Kenai City Attorney Scott Bloom said the resolution approved by the council did not stipulate any specific terms for Ravn’s terminated lease. Generally, it will allow the bankruptcy judge to reject Ravn’s ongoing lease with the Kenai Municipal Airport. Ravn will also pay the city its leases that are past due.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly will ask the state to count the number of students enrolled in the school district last year, rather than this year, to determine how much funding the district will get in the 2021 fiscal year.

The assembly voted unanimously to put forth the recommendation at its meeting Tuesday.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

It’s Spirit Week at Kenai Central High School. Which is fitting, since students are particularly excited to be back in class this year.

“I think everybody is so glad to be back here,” said high school junior Katie Stockton. “So many people don’t like the remote learning. It just gets hard, it’s a lot more difficult to motivate yourself to do it.”

Stockton and her peers have just completed their first full week back at school in over six months and their third week of school this school year (the first two were remote).

Schools in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District opened their doors back up last Tuesday because of reduced COVID-19 rates across the peninsula. Now, students can engage in the parts of high school that have been impossible to recreate over Zoom, like hallway socializing and after-school activities.


 

Sabine Poux/KDLL

Brittany Brown identifies getting Kenai and its businesses safely back to normal as both a hurdle and first priority in her first months on the job. But she’s well equipped for remote work, if need be.

“Being in public relations, community relations in rural Alaska, that’s been a lot of my career,” she said. “And it hasn’t always been possible for us to get out there. And, so, a lot of what we did was virtual. … I have a feel for how technology works and how we can really use it to accomplish our goals.”

CDC

There are more ways than one that the flu shot might protect people against COVID-19.

There’s the fact that getting vaccinated will reduce an individual’s likelihood to experience the flu and coronavirus concurrently. Furthermore, protection against the flu will lessen the risk that influenza cases stress Alaska’s hospital capabilities.

But widespread efforts to administer the flu shot might also prove handy in prepping the peninsula for the eventual arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine. Think of it as a “dry run,” said Bud Sexton of the Borough Office of Emergency Management.

“Since we know there’s going to be a large percentage of the population who will want to get vaccinated with COVID, there’s a lot of timing that goes underway to make sure everything goes well whenever the vaccine is ready for distribution,” Sexton said.

The application window for the second round of borough-distributed CARES funding opens Monday morning. Small businesses and nonprofits located in the borough’s unincorporated communities that did not receive grants from the Kenai Peninsula Borough during its first round of funding are eligible to apply.

Commercial fishermen who fish within borough boundaries are also eligible, says Brenda Ahlberg, the borough’s community and fiscal projects manager.

She said there’s about $2.5 million allocated to round two.

“However, we are aware that if there are more applications than there is funding available, that the administration is prepared to go back to the assembly to provide money for the remaining balance,” Ahlberg said. 

The borough assembly approved two rounds of CARES grants earlier this summer, and this round will operate much like the first. In August, the borough distributed $6.1 million during round one. 

Farmers Almanac

New gardeners who sprouted green thumbs during the pandemic will soon face their first Kenai frost.

Night-time temperatures could dip into the high 20s this week in the Kenai-Soldotna area. For the scores of newbies who just started gardening during the pandemic, this might mean learning to clean up outdoor beds, bring plants inside and prep early for next spring.

Aspiring gardeners everywhere used this stay-at-home summer to get planting for the first time, with Alaskans especially reaping the benefits of the long summer days. Renae Wall, secretary of the Central Peninsula Garden Club, said there’s been increased activity in the club’s Facebook group, where local gardeners commiserate about the approaching cold and share advice about transitioning to fall.

“Really, the preparation is just dealing with all your harvest,” Wall said. “That’s the fun thing about talking to other gardeners, is finding out how they put away their harvests. You can do it in a root cellar, you can blanch and freeze, you can dry, you can pickle, there’s lots of different creative ways people do it and add their own variety.”

Sabine Poux/KDLL

The last time Charlie Pierce and Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings campaigned for the position of Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor, in 2017, voters were buzzing about the borough’s stance on cannabis legislation and the Pebble Partnership.

The center of attention this round, unsurprisingly, has been COVID-19. At today’s 2020 mayoral candidate forum, moderator Merrill Sikorski asked the candidates about their strategies for handling coronavirus and what they thought about funding for schools and deferred maintenance projects.

The forum was part of a luncheon held by the Kenai Chamber of Commerce at the visitors’ center. Around 50 people attended.

Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce was an early proponent of opening Kenai back up following state-mandated coronavirus closures, and he spoke proudly of his position at the forum.

“I was the individual that took the lead in Marchm” Pierce said. “Following the very next day, after the governor reduced some of his mandates, I was out on the streets the very next day saying that I believe we’re all essential. I believe we’re open for business and I believe that’s the best way to save our businesses is to continue to keep government out and off of the backs of individuals in the way of taxation and the growth of government.”

Generally, Pierce said he thinks he’s done a pretty good job over the last three years. But when asked about what she would have done differently, Farnsworth-Hutchings said she would have handled borough issues “in a completely different way” than her opponent.

“I work very well one on one with everybody,” she said. “I believe in having management meetings once a week so that you can deal with all of your department heads, [seeing] what’s going on in their departments, and making sure that your employees feel like they are appreciated and are doing the most that they can do.”

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