City of Soldotna

Sabine Poux/KDLL

Three seats on the Soldotna City Council are up for grabs this October.

KDLL has been interviewing the candidates for that race and other municipal races on Kenai Conversation. You can play the interviews in full and learn where the candidates stand on city issues — including riverfront development, COVID-19 mitigation policies and 911 dispatch services — online any time.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

The Soldotna Public Library, Soldotna Regional Sports Complex and other city buildings will require face masks starting Monday morning, as COVID-19 case counts continue to climb locally.

Kenai Peninsula Fair

 Every year, the students in the Kenai Peninsula 4-H program show off and auction the livestock they’ve been raising all year to the highest bidder. For years, it’s been at the Kenai Peninsula Fair, which takes places in mid-August in Ninilchik.

 

But this year, it’s moving to its own Agriculture Expo at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. Scheduled for August 6–8, the fair will feature the regular livestock auction as well as a horse show and variety of agriculture-focused workshops.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

At best, the lack of nearby parking in downtown Soldotna every Wednesday in the summer is a nuisance for marketgoers.

But Soldotna Wednesday Market organizer Annette Villa said it can also drive away customers.

“When they drive through and there’s no parking spots, then they tend to leave," she said.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

Getting a coronavirus vaccine on the Kenai Peninsula nowadays is a little like ordering a pizza. You can get it delivered to your house, at a music festival with friends, or you can call ahead.

Now, you can also walk in and get it when you want it. Soldotna Professional Pharmacy is operating a new walk-in clinic in Soldotna on the corner of the Sterling Highway and Kenai Spur.

It’s prime real estate, and pretty hard to miss from the road. It’s also Anne Zink-approved.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

In Ohio, there’s a vaccine lottery. Kristy Kreme’s doling out free donuts.

In Alaska, Girdwood’s Alyeska Resort is promising a free day-of lift ticket to anyone who comes to it’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic this Sunday.

City of Soldotna

There’s coronavirus relief funding for local nonprofits yet. Soldotna opened a new grant program last week for organizations that have been impacted by the pandemic and address homelessness prevention, mental health support, food security, youth services, transportation, or are involved in COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

Shaylon Cochran/KDLL

The Kenai River Brown Bears have been back in town for over a week after a year Outside. But they're not playing any home games quite yet. 

The team pushed back its at-home opener against Fairbanks, originally slated for this weekend, after rising coronavirus case rates triggered a drop in spectator capacity at the rink. The Brown Bears are now scheduled to play those games mid-May and their first home game of the season on April 23.

Shaylon Cochran/KDLL

Brown bears are just starting to wake up on the Kenai Peninsula, stepping out into the sun after their long winter naps. 

They're not the only brown bears reappearing. The Kenai River Brown Bears are coming back to Alaska to play eight games in Soldotna next month — their first games in Alaska since last March.

City of Soldotna

Ten Wednesdays from now, Soldotna Creek Park will again be buzzing with the sights and smells of the Soldotna Wednesday Market.

This time, people can also expect the sounds they're used to. After a year hiatus, the daytime performances and evening concerts will return to the park in full force.

Mitch Michaud

Soldotna is waiting on a federal grant to remove beetle kill trees that could fall and pose a fire risk. But the beetles themselves aren’t so patient.

“Needless to say, the wheels of government don’t work as fast as the beetles do," said local forester Mitch Michaud, who's helping Soldotna forge a path forward among a persisting spruce bark beetle problem.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

You may have seen it in Soldotna Creek Park — a big chalkboard with the words “Before I die” written across the top.

“Before I die I want to find peace,” reads one line. “Before I die I want to fall in love,” says another.

It’s part of an existing network of similar walls in at least 78 different countries. Shari Conner, of Change 4 the Kenai, brought the concept to the peninsula. 

City of Soldotna

Soldotna is further loosening COVID-19 restrictions at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. This time, it’s bringing back hockey games and removing the on-ice mask requirement for players and officials.

The city closed the center in November, as case rates worsened locally, and opened it back up in a limited capacity last month. But it still required that players wear masks on the ice.

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 Soldotna

Soldotna approved a mitigation plan to reopen the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex this Friday.

The plan opens up the center to hockey practices and allows spectators, as long as they wear masks and socially distance in the stands.

Parents from the Kenai Peninsula Hockey Association have been asking the city to remove spectator limits at the rink since this fall. In mid November, Soldotna closed the complex and several other buildings to the public.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

Soldotna shoppers blew through the $100,000 set aside for the Holding Our Own shop local program. With two weeks left to go, the city’s doubling the amount of funds available.

“Going into the program, we had all talked about the fact that we had no idea how the program would go, how enthusiastic people would be so we just settled on the $100,000 hoping that that that was a good number," said Shanon Davis, executive director of the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce.

Elizabeth Earl/KDLL

The Soldotna City Council decided at Wednesday’s meeting not to hold a vote on a potential mask mandate, quashing the ordinance before it could reach a public hearing.

But dozens of Soldotna residents weighed in on the virus anyway during the comment period for another resolution, which established a citywide COVID-19 education campaign under the city manager. It passed unanimously at the meeting.

That resolution didn’t sit well with many attendees.

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-->">

Sabine Poux/KDLL

Ahead of tonight’s meeting, the Soldotna City Council received nearly 400 comments in opposition to a proposed mask mandate. Almost 100 were submitted in favor of the proposal, several from hospital administrators and staff.

The comments were in response to Ordinance 2020-28, which would temporarily require face masks in public spaces in Soldotna.

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.

Soldotna Chamber of Commerce

Two days in, a program to incentivize shopping at Soldotna businesses is already very popular.

“I’m drowning in vouchers right now," said Shanon Davis, executive director for the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber and city of Soldotna are sponsoring the program, called “Holding Our Own,” which rewards shoppers who spend $200 or more in Soldotna with two $50 vouchers to redeem at participating Soldotna businesses — currently, a list of 36 vendors.

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.

Local Boundary Commission

The Alaska Local Boundary Commission voted 3 to 2 to put the annexation of 2.63 square miles of land around Soldotna to a public vote.

The commission will reconvene Nov. 25 to draft and approve a written decision on the matter, which will finalize LBC’s role in the process. After LBC files that report, the Soldotna City Council will decide how to move forward with the process.

This is the first time the commission has converted a petition from legislative review to public action. In August, a commissioner motioned to leave the matter up to residents. The commission opened up a seven-day written comment period on the matter last week.

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.

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.

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.

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 Soldotna

A decision from the Alaska Local Boundary Commission on the city of Soldotna’s petition to annex 2.63 square miles of surrounding territory is rescheduled for October.

The commission met for over eight hours Aug. 3 and 4 to hear public testimony and debate the city’s petition. Commissioners split on the city’s need to have control over neighboring areas, versus opposition from landowners not wanting to be annexed.

City of Soldotna

The Soldotna Regional Sports Complex has been a bot topic at Soldotna City Council meetings. On the agenda for this week’s meeting, at 6 p.m. Wednesday, the council will discuss the COVID-19 operating plan for the facility.

At the council’s last meeting, Aug. 26, council members voted on renovations to the 37-year-old building. The city is moving forward on a phased plan to rehab the facility. City Manager Stephanie Queen says the first phase is updates to the function of the building. 

“It’s a suite of improvements that are really a lot of deferred maintenance at our sports center,” Queen said. “We’ve gotten a lot of life out of that facility. It’s an aging facility. The administration had a small group that got together and worked with some design professionals to identify some projects that could really improve the functionality of that space for the users and for our staff there.”

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

The central Kenai Peninsula homeless population isn’t as visible as in Anchorage or other big cities, but it does exist. And the worst time of the year to not have housing is just around the corner.

Twyla Mundy, with the Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness Continuum of Care Committee for the Kenai Peninsula, spoke to the Soldotna City Council at its meeting last week. She advocated for a cold-weather shelter to give people a place to go in the winter when temperatures pose a risk to health and safety.

It’s not a new idea. Love, INC, is coordinating the project. Working with churches in Nikiski, Kenai and Soldotna, they came close to having a shelter system up and running last year but snagged on the occupancy approval process. This year, COVID issues make church housing a nonstarter. 

Mundy says she can’t stand for a shelter not to be available again this winter.

“We have a plan but we got stopped because of all of the fire requirements and I understand that, but we never actually opened and my heart — I can’t walk by empty buildings this winter and know how many people are freezing in their cares. That can’t happen in the town I live,” Mundy said.

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