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.
Officials are still processing applications but as of Tuesday, the Alaska CARES grant program had approved relief funding amounting to over $128 million for businesses across the state. A sizable portion of those funds have been allocated to the Kenai Peninsula — over $21 million, to around 500 different applicants.
Nothing I’m about to say will be journalistically neutral because Todd Ritter cooked me maybe the best breakfast I ever had.
In the kitchen of The Flats Bistro, where he was helping with dinner prep, Ritter made a breakfast that included potato hash tossed in pesto, salmon he cured in vodka, Moroccan preserved lemons and dill, and a red bell pepper sauce whose contents included ground-up sourdough bread. In case that wasn’t enough, there was a poached egg on top and bruleed bananas on the side.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough recently closed its second phase of CARES grants to businesses and nonprofits located outside city limits. But the cities of Kenai and Soldotna are just getting started on their second rounds for small businesses, in addition to several new programs.
Starting today, eligible Kenai businesses and nonprofits can apply for grants that will be equal in amount to those offered by the borough. These grants will be larger than those offered in the first round, said City Manager Paul Ostrander.
Cook Inletkeeper is holding its annual electronics recycling event at the landfill in Soldotna this Saturday. The event was postponed due to the pandemic — it usually takes place in May — but will otherwise function much like it does every year.
Volunteers will be wearing masks and encouraging social distancing when possible.
At their respective meetings earlier this month, local council and assembly members had very different conversations about the same joint resolution for preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Without any real muscle, the resolution encouraged — not mandated — that residents follow CDC guidelines, like mask wearing and social distancing. The mayors of Kenai, Soldotna and the borough sponsored the resolution to show a united commitment to coronavirus caution. Homer was later added to the group.
Ultimately, all three bodies passed the resolution. But the conversations were very different.
The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is opening certain areas to personal firewood collection.
Starting today, those with permits may collect up to five cords of firewood for noncommercial use. People can pick up a free permit anytime at a self-serve station at refuge headquarters in Soldotna. Permits are good until March 31, 2021.
The refuge is opening to firewood collection earlier than usual this year. The season normally begins mid-October, said Leah Eskelin, a lead project ranger and visitors center manager for the refuge.
Today is International Coffee Day. And Alaskans drink a lot of coffee. A 2017 study by market researchers at The NPD Group found that Juneau is the country’s highest-ranking metro area in terms of coffee shops per capita. Anchorage ranked second.
It’s not hard to guess why. But coffee can be more than brain and body fuel during Alaska’s cold and dark winters.
Since Alaskans will drink coffee with just about anything, Hollis Swan, of Soldotna’s Declination Roasting Company, offered suggestions for pairing coffee with regional culinary classics.
It’s becoming harder these days to stay in denial about the turning of the seasons.
This past weekend was Kenai’s first real blustery storm of the fall, and another onslaught of rain and wind is expected to hit as soon as tomorrow. Those winds won’t be quite as strong as the winds that hit Sunday, said Adam Przepiora, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Anchorage.
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.