City of Kenai

Sabine Poux/KDLL

To win the Kenai Silver Salmon Derby, you don’t have to catch the largest coho, or even the second largest.

The Kenai derby is all about hitting the magic weight. City Manager Paul Ostrander said that’s to limit the number of salmon injured by catch and release fishing.

For our second set of election 2021 interviews, we spoke with James Baisden, Deborah Sounart and Alex Douthit, three of the five candidates for Kenai City Council. There are two seats open on the council this election.

We spoke with the other two candidates, Jim Duffield and Victoria Askin, last week. You can listen to those interviews here and read more about all five candidates here.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

Rewind several decades. Kenai’s waterfront was buzzing with business. 

“There’s always been a lot of activity down there," said John Williams, Kenai mayor from 1986 to 2004.

He said the cannery scene by the Kenai Dock has changed since then as the commercial fishing presence has declined. Now, there’s just one processor there. 

For our first set of election 2021 interviews, we spoke with Victoria Askin and Jim Duffield, two of the five candidates for Kenai City Council. There are two seats open on the council this election.

Later in the program, we talked to Sammy Crawford from the Central Peninsula League of Women Voters about why it’s so important to vote in local elections. She also remembered her own first time voting.

Photo: Sabine Poux/KDLL

When you start laying out the expenses line by line, a weekend of dipnetting doesn’t sound so cheap.

How much does it cost Kelly and Larry Williams?

“A ton! I was just thinking about that," said Kelly Williams. "We’ve spent, like, hundreds of dollars already and we haven’t gotten anything."


Sabine Poux/KDLL

Triumvirate Theatre has been without a home since its Nikiski facility burned down this February. 

Now, the operation’s moving to Kenai. The Kenai City Council approved a land donation for the nonprofit this week.

City of Kenai

Tourism took a serious hit last year worldwide, with travel restricted and people staying home. The Kenai Peninsula got a little bump from in-state travel traffic, but overall, it was still a pretty quiet year here, and many tourism businesses received aid through local programs supported by federal relief funds last summer and fall.

However, in Kenai, the city council thinks the tourism industry has recovered enough where they don’t need help anymore.

Photo: Sabine Poux/KDLL

Triumvirate Theatre might be moving to Kenai. The nonprofit is asking the city for a donation of two acres for a new building after its Nikiski theater burned down this February.

The Kenai City Council isn’t making a final decision on the parcel until next month. But at a meeting Wednesday night, council members were enthusiastic about the donation.

Redoubt Reporter

The state will test water in Kenai, Ketchikan and Hoonah this summer for bacteria, part of its continuing program to detect waterborne illnesses at recreational beaches around Alaska. 

Environmental Program Specialist Laura Eldred said the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has been monitoring the north and south Kenai beaches since 2010.

City of Kenai

Kenai is negotiating a contract with engineering firm HDR for the design phase of the bluff stabilization project.

It’s the latest step in a decades-long project to stop property on a 5,000-foot stretch of the Kenai bluff from falling into the river. The city hopes to have a berm constructed at the foot of the bluff to prevent further erosion from waves and storms.

Photo: Redoubt Reporter

Imagine if you could catch a couple salmon and then get your coronavirus vaccine, all without even leaving the beach.

This summer, Kenai’s popular dip-net fisheries might also be public health hubs.


If you were a city or borough official in 2020, you had a hard task in front of you — divvy up CARES Act funds without knowing how much demand there would be for each program.

Sometimes, cities underestimated that need. The city of Kenai set aside $400,000 for its rent and mortgage relief program last fall. As more calls came in and the demand became apparent, it upped the ante to $1 million.


Sabine Poux/KDLL

Kenai is pursuing its own shop local program this spring, called “Shop Here All Year in Kenai.”

Much like the program in Soldotna, which ran in November and December, it rewards shoppers who spend  $200 on discretionary purchases in Kenai with $100 vouchers for Kenai businesses. Those who spend $100 will get vouchers for $50.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

Heidi Hanson has seen a lot of rookie ice skaters this winter at the AK Sk8 Shop in Soldotna. It’s not hard to tell who’s new.

“A lot of them, I’ve tried to teach them how to put the skates on and how to lace them," she said. "They have never skated in their lives.”

Skating has become a popular answer to the winter blues in Soldotna. With the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex closed to public skate, new and experienced skaters alike are turning to the city’s natural rinks to get their fix.

City of Kenai YouTube

The Kenai and Soldotna city councils both filled council vacancies last night, appointing Victoria Askin in Kenai and Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings in Soldotna.

Askin, a 35-year resident of Kenai, is a technician at Hilcorp. Before that, she worked for Marathon and Cook Inlet Spill Prevention and Response, Inc." class="wysiwyg-break drupal-content" src="/sites/all/modules/contrib/wysiwyg/plugins/break/images/spacer.gif" title="<--break-->">

Kenai City Council

Just as Gov. Mike Dunleavy has left decisions on mask mandates up to Alaska cities, all but one Kenai Peninsula city has left those decisions up to businesses.

Local officials say they’d rather give owners the option to enforce — or not enforce — mask wearing. But that hands-off approach has put some in a bind.

NOAA

The southern half of Cook Inlet will have a new fishery management plan in under a month. Commercial fishermen are organizing with the help of their city councils to make sure that plan is not the proposed “Alternative 4,” which would close off federal waters south of Kalgin Island to commercial salmon fishing.

Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel is bringing forth a resolution to oppose such a closure at a special Kenai City Council meeting tonight.

“I hate to be overdramatic in a lot of cases, but you could almost call it a deathknell for drift fishing in Cook Inlet,” he said.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

Some Kenai and Soldotna buildings are closing to the public following Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s emergency message.

That message was publicized a day before the Kenai Peninsula Borough reported 90 new cases of COVID-19, a record. The borough has one of the highest coronavirus case rates in the state.

Kenai City Hall will close to the public for the remainder of the month. The Kenai Community Library will also be closed then, though curbside pickup and book drops will remain open in the interim.

Department of Health and Social Services

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.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

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.

City of Kenai

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.

AHFC

Residents Kenai and Soldotna with income affected by COVID-19 can get help with their rent or mortgage payments through the end of the year.

The cities are partnering with the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation to localize an assistance program AHFC started this summer.

City residents can apply for up to $1,200 each month, to be paid directly to the mortgage holder or landlord. The relief amount will be the lesser of the household’s drop in income or whatever their housing payment is each month. It’s for households that earn less than 80 percent of the median area income. For the Kenai Peninsula Borough, that’s $71,760. Households must be able to show income has been negatively affected by COVID.

“Their income has to have been impacted by COVID 19,” said Laura Rhyner, assistant to the Soldotna city manager. “So, either they’ve lost employment or they had a reduction in hours. Or maybe they had to leave work to stay home and care for kids that aren’t able to attend school — something like that.”

City of Kenai

The city of Kenai’s decades-long effort to stop the Kenai River bluff erosion that’s eating away an average three feet a year of valuable Old Town property reached a milestone this week. By Monday, the city and Army Corps of Engineers will have signed a preconstruction engineering and design agreement. 

City manager Paul Ostrander said that’s cause for celebration.

“Big news on the bluff erosion project, absolutely,” he said.

The agreement begins the design phase of the project, which should take about a year.

“That planning phase, which, like I said, is 30 days following the singing of the PED agreement by the district commander, is key in outlining what, exactly, it’s going to look like,” Ostrander said.

City of Kenai

The Kenai bluff stabilization project is another step closer to construction, after decades of effort by the city to stop Kenai River bluff property from inexorably crumbling into the water.

At its Aug. 18 meeting, the council gave City Manager Paul Ostrander the go-ahead to sign a PED — preconstruction engineering and design — agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Ostrander said the agreement is the culmination of about three years of work.

“This is really a significant milestone and this allows the actual design of the project to begin,” Ostrander said.

The city of Kenai has rolled out another way to boost businesses through the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s now taking applications for grants to help with online marketing and e-commerce.

“As they look to recover, marketing is going to be a key element to bringing folks into the door or growing their business, so we felt that this was something that folks probably were going to need and this was, we felt, an innovative way to get money out into the community for that specific purpose, said City Manager Paul Ostrander.

The marketing grants are $1,000 for businesses located in the city that have experienced a loss of sales or changes in their operations due to the pandemic.

The money can be spent to build or redesign websites, develop systems for online sales, expand social media marketing, improve search engine optimization or anything along those lines.

The money can’t be spent just anywhere, though. Businesses must work with Divining Point, LLC, which provides website and online marketing services in Alaska and Texas. Divining Point had a contract to update the city’s logo and marketing. Ostrander said the city issued a request for proposals for a company to do the marketing work for the grant program and Divining Point was the only proposal received.

Businesses can develop their own scope of work with Divining Point. Once the $1,000 grant is spent, they can choose to pay for additional work, or not. Applications are due Nov. 6 and the money must be spent by the end of the year.

In the middle of a year with a hotly contested state legislature election, congressional election, and presidential election, it can be easy to forget about municipal elections. But the Kenai Peninsula has those this year, too, with some major seats up for grabs.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough’s municipal candidate filing period opened today and runs through noon on August 17. The borough mayor’s office and three assembly seats, including the ones from Kenai, Sterling/Funny River, and Homer are up for election. The Board of Education has four seats up for election, including those representing Nikiski, Soldotna, East Peninsula, and Central. All of those are three-year terms.

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

From a bird’s eye view, or maybe a pilot’s view, the Kenai Airport hasn’t changed much. The footprint is almost exactly the same, but to visitors arriving through that terminal, it’s a totally different place than two years ago.

The City of Kenai took on a comprehensive airport terminal overhaul starting in 2018. The terminal hadn’t had a serious remodel in decades. With about a $12 million price tag, the vast majority of the money came from the Federal Aviation Administration. A small match—about $1.5 million—came from the city.

CDC

 Friday is the deadline for nonprofits and businesses to apply for CARES Act grant funding through the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

The borough has made $15 million available in the first round of funding for nonprofits and businesses outside city limits for pandemic-related relief, whether or not they have previously received relief. The catch is that only expenses that haven’t been covered by other relief are eligible, and the borough will require proof of how the funds were spent.

Last Friday, Kenai launched the second part of its relief program for small businesses, and this time, it includes commercial fishermen.

Applications for this round of coronavirus relief became available last Friday and don’t close until August 30. That’s in part because commercial fishermen are busy, well, fishing right now.

CDC

The deadline for businesses to apply for the Paycheck Protection Program was extended last week and now runs until August 8.

The PPP offers loans to businesses for relief from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. These loans become grants and don’t have to be paid back as long as 60 percent of the money is used for payroll and other eligible expenses. The program surfaced in March, and while many businesses applied for it then, others were left out. Notably, commercial fishermen were largely excluded, as many pay their employees through 1099 forms as independent contractors rather than as W2 employees.

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