The third in three hearings about proposed Kenai National Wildlife Refuge changes has been canceled with no explanation.
An outpouring of concern for proposed refuge regulation alterations — which would change how the refuge handles trapping and bear baiting, among other policies — prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to hold a public hearing. The service added two additional hearings when space for public comment filled up.
Around 115 commenters were slated to speak at last night’s hearing, held on Zoom, though only 22 ended up showing up to testify — two in favor of the rule changes and 20 against. Dozens of others attended the meeting as listeners.
A public hearing on proposed Kenai National Wildlife Refuge regulation changes has been extended over three days, due to hundreds signing up for a slot to comment.
From Monday to Wednesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is holding hearings on proposed changes to refuge policies that would open the refuge up to trapping without a federal permit, allow for hunting brown bears over bait in areas where baiting is already allowed for black bears, and allow for the discharge of firearms along areas of the Kenai and Russian Rivers in the fall and winter, among other changes.
Between Kenai Lake and the Chugach Mountains is the site of one of the peninsula’s most popular Halloween parties.
“Halloween has been huge here," said Arden Rankins, the owner of the Sunrise Inn in Cooper Landing. "People get so excited and they have amazing costumes, and I think they start planning Nov. 1. So it’s probably our biggest party of the year.”
The annual Halloween party is usually a chance for the inn to fill its bar and rooms with customers, some of whom come from as far away as Anchorage.
As coronavirus cases escalate in Alaska and on the peninsula, however, Rankins and her crew made the difficult decision to cancel this year’s Halloween festivities.
With an entrance off Hedberg Road, the Nikiski Community Park spans a mile from the Kenai Spur to the water. There’s a newly installed bike track and 2.5 miles of walking trails that circle a lake and lead to the bluff.
And this summer, there was also a good deal of vandalism, said Nikiski Community Council President Jason Ross.
The chief scientist at the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut is leading a pilot study on the stressors impacting beluga whales in Cook Inlet.
Tracy Romano and her research team received a $10,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to look into genes that help Cook Inlet belugas, a critically endangered population of whales, respond to environmental and manmade stressors.
“And so we’re trying to ground truth some of these molecular sequences and then look at the genes in the skin and compare skin biopsies that we have from the endangered Cook Inlet belugas, but then also some skin biopsies that we’ve archived over the years from relatively healthy belugas from the Chukchi Sea and Bristol Bay, Alaska," Romano said.
Construction to the Salamatof Boat Launch in Soldotna will start Monday.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will fortify the underwater cables that hold the concrete piers of the launch in place, in addition to building a better turnaround area, so users can launch their boats without having to back out.
They’re also going to improve the parking area, says Matt Conner, visitor services manager for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
In a purple qaspeq with blue trim and patterned patches, Nikki Corbett and her sewing machine greet her YouTube subscribers.
“Hi, it’s Nikki with Sew Yup’ik. And today I’m going to show you, I’m going to record a video in various parts. So this first part I’m going to show you how to add the trimming onto your traditional qaspeq.”
She instructs viewers in this video, almost 500 of them, how to make a qaspeq, a hooded garment with a large front pocket and hood typically worn by Yup’ik men and women.
There were 218 active COVID-19 cases reported in the Kenai Peninsula Borough as of Wednesday, not including the positive test results that are currently being processed. That’s a third of all cases the borough has seen since the pandemic began.
The case rate for the last 14 days — or the number of cases per 100,000 people — is 236 on the peninsula. In Anchorage, the 14-day case rate is about twice that, with Fairbanks close behind.
The case rate in Juneau is 218 and in the Mat-Su it’s 206. Case rates are also high on the North Slope and in the Y-K Delta region.
Electronic bikes — or e-bikes — occupy a sort of purgatory when it comes to outdoor recreation — not motorcycles but not really traditional bicycles, either.
Their place on trails is also in the gray zone. Several federal agencies classify pedal-assist e-bikes within the “bicycle” category, so they’re permitted where bikes are allowed. The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, which is managed by the U.S. Department of the Interior, allows both bikes and e-bikes on roads and the new multi-use trail in Soldotna, while prohibiting both on all other trails. The Kenai Fjords National Park, under the National Park Service, functions similarly.
Here on the peninsula, pedal-assist e-bikes are allowed on Tsalteshi Trails, in Soldotna. In Anchorage, they’re permitted on all bike paths as of 2016.
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.