Dipping into big crowds — Kasilof fishery seeing highest rate of growth

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. The personal-use dip-net fishery at the mouth of the Kasilof River is looking more and more like the crowded Kenai River, with crowds of fishermen descending to the beach and shoreline to attempt to pack their coolers with fish.

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. The personal-use dip-net fishery at the mouth of the Kasilof River is looking more and more like the crowded Kenai River, with crowds of fishermen descending to the beach and shoreline to attempt to pack their coolers with fish.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Personal-use dip netting for salmon is a rite of summer for an increasing number of Alaskans, who ply the waves of Fish Creek, the Kenai River or Kasilof River. According to data collected from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, more personal-use permits — 35,211 — were issued last year than any year since the fisheries began in 1996. And of the these three fisheries utilized for dip netting, none is growing as fast as the Kasilof River.

“There is a heightened interest in the dip-net fishery,” said Robert Begich, area management biologist for Fish and Game’s Division of Sport Fish in Soldotna.

According to Fish and Game data, in 1996 only 14,575 permits were issued for personal-use fishing, of which household days fished at the Kasilof River dip-net fishery totaled 1,300. By contrast, the Kenai River experienced 10,503 household days fished that year.

Jumping ahead to 2013, of the 35,211 permits issued, records reveal an eight-fold increase in household days fished at the Kasilof, with 8,556 days fished. The Kenai River, which still draws more people overall, has only had a three-fold increase during this same time period, with 33,193 household days recorded in 2013.

And unlike the Kasilof, which has experienced a steady increase in days fished since 1996, 2013 was the first year the Kenai River had less days fished according to permits records, dropping from an all-time high of 34,374 household days recorded in 2012.

Salmon harvests for this time period also correlate to the increase in days fished, as the Kasilof dip-net harvest swelled from 11,701 salmon caught in 1996 to 88,233 in 2013, while the Kenai harvest increased from 107,627 to 354,727 for the same time period.

Of course, the population of Alaska is increasing, and as more people become residents, more people are allowed to take part in the dip-net fisheries, but Begich said that the rate of increase in the Kasilof fishery is not necessarily related to a growing population.

“We haven’t seen that much of an increase in license sales,” he said.

So what is drawing more people to the mouth of the Kasilof? It depends on who you ask.

“We’ve fished in all three. We fished Fish Creek and the Kenai last year, so decided to try the Kasilof this year, and this is definitely going to be our spot,” said Pedro Bencid, of Anchorage, who swatted away flies while filleting his full bag limit Saturday afternoon at his camp at the mouth of the Kasilof.

Bencid said that while the Kasilof is crowded, and may be growing more so each year, it’s still less overall people than at the Kenai River mouth.

“The Kenai was just way too packed, and also you can’t drive and live right on the beach like you can here,” he said.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under dipnetting, Kasilof

Pinnacle of honor — Cooper Landing starts effort to name peak, ridge after pioneers

Photos courtesy of Mona Painter. Pat and Helen in the bar at Gwin’s Lodge in 1952.

Photos courtesy of Mona Painter. Pat and Helen in the bar at Gwin’s Lodge in 1952.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Helen Gwin spent 26 years looking out for residents, visitors and travelers through Cooper Landing as the proprietor of Gwin’s Lodge, which she and her husband, Patrick “Pat” Gwin, started in 1946. Even after retiring in 1976 and until her death at age 92 in 2007, she still kept an eye out for the community she loved and had lived in for 61 years, by volunteering for several organizations integral to the character of the town, many of which she helped found.

If Cooper Landing gets its way in the coming year, this pioneer of its past will have a permanent link into the area’s present and future, giving Gwin a spot to peek down on her lodge site along the Kenai River and her beloved community beyond it, by naming a mountain peak in her honor.

Mayme Ohnemus and Mona Painter, members of the Cooper Landing Historical Society and friends of Gwin’s, have researched, compiled and submitted the application and documentation required to request an unnamed peak of the mountain directly to the south behind Gwin’s Lodge, at Mile 52 of the Sterling Highway, be named Helen Gwin Peak, and a ridge running to the west of the peak be named for Helen’s husband, Pat.

Ohnemus said the idea came from a previous owner of Gwin’s Lodge, Bob Siter, who had mentioned it to Helen, who was tickled at the thought of a mountain bearing her name.

“She was so pleased with that. She just really was pleased he wanted to do that,” Ohnemus said.

But a little research made it clear the idea was a dead end at that time — as Gwin currently wasn’t. The regulations governing the naming of geographic features after individuals state that the honoree must be dead for five years before an application may be considered. Gwin died in 2007, and Pat before her in 1986. Ohnemus didn’t forget the idea, just like she couldn’t forget Helen and Pat.

The two came to the Kenai Peninsula from Colorado in 1946, landing in Seward and settling in Cooper Landing, which is as far as the existing road at the time would take them. But they saw potential in the tiny town, then with a population of only about 100, but with ample hunting and fishing resources all around them. The Gwins applied for a roadhouse license, thinking business would grow along with traffic along the new road being planned for the area. They started out operating a small packaged goods store out of a tent until starting construction of the lodge in 1950, cutting, hauling and hand-peeling the logs themselves. The lodge opened in January 1953 to serve Cooper Landing residents and the trickle of travelers and fishermen that were starting to traverse the Sterling Highway, completed in 1950, and the Seward Highway connecting the peninsula to Anchorage, completed in 1951. They added a kitchen in 1953 and the restaurant and bar in 1954, with Helen doing the cooking and cleaning.

Helen and husband, Pat, divorced in 1959 and Helen remained to run the lodge. They stayed friends, though, in a cantankerous fashion that suited them, not inviting anyone else’s opinion on the matter, with Pat returning to live out the rest of his days at the lodge.

“He was kind of an old rascal and she called him ‘Old Buzzard,’ and he loved it when she did,” Ohnemus said.

Helen herself had a reputation for being a tough old bird, once reportedly swatting a brown bear away from the back door with a broom. But there was some downy softness to her, as well — particularly for animals.

“She was tough when she had to be tough but other times her heart would just melt. She loved animals and there were all these rabbits around the lodge. Pat would come in with a little baby rabbit, and hand her one of these little rabbits that would have to be fed with an eyedropper and her heart would just melt — and he knew how to work her that way,” Ohnemus said.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Almanac, Cooper Landing

Bed tax, by-mail voting on the line

By Naomi Klouda
Homer Tribune
The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly faced two key decisions at its meeting Tuesday night that could depend on voters, one that would change how voters register their ballots and one that would levy a boroughwide bed tax.
The idea to have voters cast ballots by U.S. mail didn’t get a lot of public attention, said Assemblyman Dale Bagley, who set the matter before the assembly for a second vote at Tuesday’s meeting.
“Only about 10 people testified on it, mostly against. I would like to see a public advisory vote before we make such a fundamental change in the way people vote,” Bagley said. “The first motion failed for this year but there is still a chance the assembly will put it to a vote (on the Oct. 7 ballot.)”
At the July 1 meeting, a resolution asked to place the question on the ballot: Should borough elections be conducted by mail? Reasoning included reaching remote areas more efficiently and conveniently. It would also reduce staff expenses and money spent training election officials. In places where mail voting is underway, voter turnout has increased, Bagley said. Traditionally, the borough sees dismal turnouts at the polls — 17 to 19 percent.
But the measure failed with three “yes” votes, five “no” and one assembly member absent (Charlie Pierce, of Sterling). Bagley said he felt that if the matter were up for reconsideration, it might pass this time, and so he asked for the re-vote. Those voting “no” were Bill Smith, Sue McClure, Mako Haggerty, Hal Smalley and Wayne Ogle.
The state of Alaska paved the way for municipalities and boroughs to adopt voting-by-mail procedures in its Senate Bill 214 this spring.
“The state opened up the question,” Bagley said. “I think they want someone else to be the guinea pig. If the Kenai Peninsula does it first, they can see how it goes.”
One problem is that the plan wasn’t well vetted before the public. If the assembly had passed the measure at the July 1 meeting, a lot of voter confusion could result on Election Day, Oct. 7, Bagley said. At that point, they would have been handed the change without voting on it.
“I think this is too big of a change for nine members of the assembly to make. I don’t want to imagine the headaches it would create if we went this fall to voting by mail. A lot of people might throw away their ballots in the trash without realizing it,” Bagley said. He proposed to change the ordinance originated by Homer Assemblyman Bill Smith to allow voters’ input first.
Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under elections, Kenai Peninsula Borough, tourism

Plugged In: Quality not all smoke and moving mirrors

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

Although bulky, moving-mirror SLR cameras still dominate the American market for serious cameras, that dominance is unlikely to endure. Mirrorless compact-system cameras will likely succeed older SLR designs, a trend that’s well underway in other technically sophisticated countries.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be comparing mirrorless CSCs from all major vendors. We’ll start with Sony.
As its consumer electronics business weakened a few years ago, Sony announced that digital photography would become a pillar of its revamped business model. Since then, a re-energized Sony has marketed many innovative, or at least different, cameras. Sony makes some of the best imaging sensors, an obvious benefit to the company’s camera division.

Some Sony digital cameras, such as its fixed-mirror models, achieved no technical or market breakthroughs. Other Sony designs, such as its mirrorless CSC products, are an important presence in the upper-tier digital camera market.

Until recently, most Sony CSC products used an APS-C size sensor, which has roughly half the area as the “full-frame” sensors found in more expensive, prograde cameras. Modern APS-C sensors, though, can produce better photographs than even the full-frame cameras made only a few years ago, so there’s now little practical difference between full-frame and APS-C cameras under routine circumstances. Sony, though, has placed convincing bets on both full-frame and APS-C interchangeable-lens camera lines, as well as making even more compact cameras using smaller, but still relatively large, “1-inch” sensors.

Sony’s new, full-frame A7 series is quite compact, nearly as small as CSC cameras using Micro Four-Thirds sensors with only one-fourth the imaging area. The A7’s extra sensor area results in better low-light imaging performance.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under photography, Plugged in

Health center is well of care, renewal — Wellness facility represents sea change for Kenaitze Tribe

Photos by Patrice Kohl, for the Redoubt Reporter. A “Łuq’a Nagh Ghilghuzht” sculpture by Joel Isaak depicts traditional Dena’ina life at fish camp outside the Kenaitze Indian Tribe’s new Dena’ina Wellness Center in Old Town Kenai.

Photos by Patrice Kohl, for the Redoubt Reporter. A “Łuq’a Nagh Ghilghuzht” sculpture by Joel Isaak depicts traditional Dena’ina life at fish camp outside the Kenaitze Indian Tribe’s new Dena’ina Wellness Center in Old Town Kenai.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

For the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, a new building in Old Town Kenai is an indication that the tide has turned.

A gradual erosion of culture, connection and community has reversed, and what was washed away, grain by grain, as if by the lapping pull of receding waves, is rushing back in, not only replacing what’s been lost, but reaching a new high-water mark.

That mark is a substantial one, both in its 52,000-square-foot physical form — the Dena’ina Wellness Center in Kenai — and in what it represents for the tribe.

“The Dena’ina word for it is ‘naqantughedul.’ For the tribe it means the tide is going out and it’s turning and going back in,” said Jaylene Peterson-Nyren, executive director. “It means the culture, the people, the land and just the lifestyle has been going away for many, many years, and it has taken a turn with this facility. It’s coming back.”

The building isn’t just a health clinic, nor was the motivation to construct it simply some tipping of an equation of funding and client base and service needs. It grew from a need to come together — to reconnect, strengthen and grow — and to improve health beyond just the physical.

The lobby of the new, 52,000-square-foot Dena’Ina Wellness Center is meant to be an area for gathering and socializing, more than just a medical clinic reception lobby.

The lobby of the new, 52,000-square-foot Dena’Ina Wellness Center is meant to be an area for gathering and socializing, more than just a medical clinic reception lobby.

“We wanted to design not just a health clinic, but we wanted to look at wellness from a holistic perspective, and that means not just that you’d have your checkups and you check out well. It means social and economic wellness, it means educational wellness — knowledge. It encompasses relationships across the board with customers who come in to seek services and for staff who are all working together on behalf of our customers,” Peterson-Nyren said.

Fittingly, then, the facility consolidates the tribe’s three health services programs under one roof — medical, dental and behavioral — as well as expands new services to address the wellness of a person as a whole, not just whether they’re running a fever.

“We try to focus on prevention and intervention. We want to encourage people to return. That’s one of the reasons we built the Gathering Space (building entrance room) is we want people to want to be here,” she said.

Along with being a center for holistic wellness, the brand-new facility, with construction starting in August 2012 and the grand opening ceremony June 12, is also a hub of social connection — an area of wellness which the tribe believes also needs care.

It’s designed to facilitate both — new equipment and the latest technology to aid the delivery of quality medical services, and a welcoming, calming, comfortable design to encourage people to come and enjoy the facility. The entry leads into the Gathering Space, with a large, open, airy design and windows stretching floor to the second-story ceiling above. A stage area anchors the wall facing the doors, while a reception desk, curved as if beckoning a visitor further into the building, stands to the right of the stage. To the left of the entrance is a wide staircase giving the feel of floating upward as it parallels the windows looking out over Old Town toward the mouth of the Kenai River and Cook Inlet. Upstairs are balcony railings to allow a bird’s-eye view of the stage and circular Oculus feature below, which will have a commissioned art piece suspended above it.

The whole space can be configured for large gatherings, such as the grand opening of the facility, which was packed to standing room only. Over 1,000 people came through the facility during the two days of tours, presentations and festivities, Peterson-Nyren said.

“I think the response has been tremendous,” she said. “It was amazing to feel that community support, just everyone showed up.”

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Dena'ina, health care, Kenai, Kenaitze

Fish passage no longer abridged — New bridge over Soldotna Creek removes old culvert

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Robert Ruffner, executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum, takes in the view from a new foot/bike bridge over Soldotna Creek. The bridge project was done to remove an old culvert that inhibited fish passage.

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Robert Ruffner, executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum, takes in the view from a new foot/bike bridge over Soldotna Creek. The bridge project was done to remove an old culvert that inhibited fish passage.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Compared to the much larger Kenai River, its banks teeming with hopeful fishermen during the summer months, little Soldotna Creek doesn’t get near the annual attention from tourists, but it is an important stream to the year-round “residents” of the peninsula.

Not only do bears — brown and black — drink and feed from the stream, as well as the occasional coyote, but Soldotna Creek also is home to several species of anadromous fish, including chinook, sockeye, silver and pink salmon, and trout species, including Dolly Varden, rainbow and steelhead.

These fish rely not only on the 8.6 miles of Soldotna Creek itself, but also the eight major lakes that feed into the creek, which is why an old culvert less than a half mile from the stream’s confluence with the Kenai was removed recently.

“The significance of this project is there were miles of fish habitat out there that fish couldn’t get to because it was previously inaccessible to them,” said Robert Ruffner, executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum, which oversaw the project.

The culvert was part of Mullen Drive, an old road primarily only used by area residents, under a bridge on private property behind the now-demolished building at the “Y” in Soldotna that housed River City Books and other shops, where construction is currently underway on a pharmacy. It was due to this construction that the Watershed Forum decided on replacing the culvert as part of ongoing fish passage projects around the peninsula.

“Around 10 years ago we inventoried all streams crossing under roads as part of our culvert assessment,” Ruffner said.

The Watershed Forum wanted to focus on keeping the connections open between salmon nursery areas and Cook Inlet, rather than duplicating efforts of other environmentally minded organizations in the area that focus on bank restoration and protection projects, such as when constructing access to waterways.

“We believed it was important to provide the most amount of restored habitat per dollar spent, and so from a cost-benefit ratio, you get much more bang for your buck replacing these old culverts versus just restoring 100 feet of bank,” Ruffner said.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under ecology, Kenai Watershed Forum, salmon

Rigged to wait — Buccaneer’s former rigs sit in limbo

Homer Tribune file photo. Buccaneer’s Endeavour jack-up rig sits idle outside Port Graham, tied up in the company’s bankruptcy proceedings.

Homer Tribune file photo. Buccaneer’s Endeavour jack-up rig sits idle outside Port Graham, tied up in the company’s bankruptcy proceedings.

By Naomi Klouda

Homer Tribune

Companies owed money by Buccaneer Alaska Energy are in the process of filing necessary paperwork with South Texas District Court, among them the village of Port Graham, where the Endeavour jack-up rig presently moors, idle.

The small Alutiiq tribe will need to stand in line along with an assortment of companies owed money by Buccaneer. The bankrupt Australian energy concern owes $30.8 million in outstanding liabilities to a long list of creditors.

Villagers who like to fish on the old Load-Transfer Freight Dock, which juts out into the tranquil channel, aren’t liking the way the rig “hovers” over them, said resident Daryl Kreun. The Spartan 151 jack-up also remains in the bay, though this is peak drilling season.

“The LTF (dock) is where most youth and elders fish for halibut, salmon, rock cod, flounder … , ” Kreun wrote in an email. “We do not like fishing from LTF and the docks. Both rigs just seem to hover over you.” The Load-Transfer Freight Dock, used for fisheries in the 1980s, became a popular spot for young people and others to access the deeper water for fishing.

A series of requests by Buccaneer’s attorneys were scheduled to be taken up in separate hearings this month in South Texas U.S. District Court. On Wednesday, the court hears arguments on whether to allow Buccaneer and its subsidiaries employment so work can carry on while bankruptcy decisions move. It also hears motions asking to proceed with paying for and receiving services.

On July 23, the court hears motions to allow stock voting and disclosures to proceed. It also takes up an emergency motion to approve bidding procedures in a future auction.

On Aug. 12, the court will hear an expedited motion for consolidating cases under Chapter 11.

While plans for paying its debts are getting worked out in a distant Houston courtroom, the Endeavour rig can still proceed with work, said Karsten Rodvik, external affairs officer with the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority. It isn’t tied to the Buccaneer or the bankruptcy. AIDEA owns $24 million interest in the $137 million-valued Endeavour.

The jack-up rig is no longer tied to Buccaneer or the bankruptcy, but it needs more fittings to make the rig suitable for working in harsh Alaska conditions, Rodvik said.

“The rig can work,” Rodvik said. “The bankruptcy does not relate to the rig since Buccaneer has no ownership of the Endeavour.”

Kenai Offshore Ventures is the entity that owns the rig, Rodvik said. AIDEA is a preferred member in KOV. Ezion Holdings Limited and its affiliate, Terras Investments, are the common members, and Buccaneer is no longer a member of KOV, Rodvik said.

Now KOV is working with Spartan to continue refurbishment work on the rig in anticipation of late summer drilling activities, he added.

KOV, as owner of the rig, also has the authority to lease the Endeavour. Under the bankruptcy action, the charter agreement Buccaneer subsidiary Kenai Drilling had with KOV was canceled. KOV is therefore actively looking at other leaseholders that might have an interest in chartering the rig.

“It is important to remind again that the bankruptcy has nothing to do with the rig,” Rodvik said

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under industry