Monthly Archives: December 2011

Winds wreak havoc — HEA responds to latest in month of storm outages

By Jenny Neyman

Photos courtesy of Homer Electric Association. An HEA crew works to repair a power line on South Miller Loop in Nikiski after a downed tree took out the line in a Nov. 2 storm.

Redoubt Reporter

Getting angry at the weather is an exercise in futility. Getting angry at the utility service for power outages caused by the weather is just about as productive.

Kenai Peninsula residents have had their patience tested on both accounts the last month and a half, as a series of winter storms have blown through Southcentral Alaska, dumping snow and rain, turning roads into rutted ice chutes with thawing and refreezing temperatures, and whipping up wind gusts clocked at 50 mph. The storms have clobbered the power grid, causing hundreds more outages among Homer Electric Association customers in November and so far this December than any of the five preceding years, with some outages affecting thousands of customers at a time, and some lasting a day or more.

The latest outages came with strong winds Sunday, with an outage Sunday morning affecting about 2,300 homes in Soldotna, and outages Sunday night affecting about 1,800 homes between Kenai and Soldotna, about 590 homes from the start of Kalifornsky Beach Road in Kasilof to the VIP subdivision in Kenai, and along Echo Lake Road.

“We’re doing pretty good as of right now, we’ve got everything taken care of,” said Joe Gallagher, HEA spokesman, on Monday. “It was a busy weekend.”

As frustrating as it may be to lose power repeatedly and for long stretches — especially in winter in Alaska when loss of electricity can also mean loss of heat and water — Gallagher said that HEA customers have been patient with the situation.

“These outages, as inconvenient as they are, people really are understanding about what’s going on. Even though we’ve had a number of outages, they’ve all been related to storms, and so while people’s power is out, they’re just looking out their front window and seeing the trees blowing back and forth,” Gallagher said. “On the public relations part of things, it has been actually kind of an eye-opener that people are really understanding about their power being out because they realize the conditions.”

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Windy low-pressure fronts hightailing it out of here

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Anyone wishing for a reprieve from recent windstorms and a return to more normal winter weather on the Kenai Peninsula may just get that wish for Christmas.

According to Dave Stricklan, a hydro-meteorological technician with the National Weather Service’s Anchorage Forecast Office, Southcentral is in line for one more low-pressure system to blow through early this week — though nowhere near as severe as recent storms to hit the area in November and December — before the pattern is expected to change.

“By Thursday we’re going to start seeing the highs in 20s and lows in the teens, more normal temps compared to the 30s we’ve been seeing. It’s going to be kind of a gradual change. It’s not going to be a big, all-of-a-sudden huge cold air in behind it, like we see a lot of times,” Stricklan said. “You guys should be done with the winds for a little while.”

Southcentral has been pummeled by winter storms with high winds recently, resulting in widespread power outages and dangerous driving conditions. Anchorage has clocked extreme gusts of up to 105 mph. On the peninsula, winds have been less intense, though record keeping isn’t as thorough here as in Anchorage, so it’s possible winds have been stronger than official records let on.

Still, Stricklan said that the Kenai Municipal Airport recorded a gust of 51 mph Dec. 18. Also on Dec. 18, a gust of 51 mph was recorded in Seldovia, and 47 mph in Nikiski. On Dec. 10 and 11, Homer recoded wind speeds of 41 mph, and winds were whipping at 38 mph in Nikiski and 44 mph in Seldovia. On Dec. 4, winds were recorded at 41 mph in Nikiski and in the 30s at other stations on the peninsula. Continue reading

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Tough row to ho ho ho — Playing Santa not all fun and games

By Joseph Robertia

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Rocky Laster, dressed as Santa, listens to what 4-year old Jordin Berzanske, of Kasilof, wants for Christmas. Laster entertained children for several hours last Saturday as part of the holiday festivities at the Kasilof Mercantile.

Redoubt Reporter

Perhaps it was as a child, or it was bringing a child or grandchild as part of a holiday tradition, but it’s likely that most folks have spent time on Santa’s knee, whispering in his ear what they’d like to see under the tree Christmas morning.

It’s much more challenging to have a bright red coat, big black boots, a bushy white beard and a belly like a bowl full of jelly — either stuffed with a pillow or developed naturally— than it is to simply don a smile and smile for the camera.

It takes a lot of work to transform from a regular guy into Father Christmas, as Rocky Laster learned this year. Laster, owner of Rocky’s Café in Kasilof, dressed as Santa at the Kasilof Mercantile over weekend to bring a helping of seasonal cheer to his community.

“When the holidays get close, you always get behind, so I started getting ready for this last January,” Laster said.

The first part of the process was finding a suit to wear. Laster said he thought this would be as simple as a few clicks of his computer’s mouse, but as he typed “Santa suits” into his search engine, he found there were a lot more options than he ever dreamed.

“There were at least 30 different sites that popped up, from santasuit.com, and a bunch in between. There were thousands of different suit options, and some of them that were really plush, and with all the belts and loops, and bells and whistles, they were pretty spendy. I had to surf the Web for hours to find a good one, but one I could afford,” he said. Continue reading

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2,000-mile Alaska jet ski race revs up planning

By Jenny Neyman

Photos courtesy of Alaskan Wet Dog Race. Alaskan Wet Dog Race organizers head into Kenai during a “Paving the Way” tour in the summer of 2009 to scope out possible checkpoints for 2,000-mile personal watercraft race.

Redoubt Reporter

Organizers of the 2,000-mile Alaskan Wet Dog Race, planned to be the longest-distance endurance personal watercraft race in the world, are waiting out a public comment period to see if they will get approval of a permit from the Alaska Department of Natural Recourses that they need to proceed.

But they don’t have to wonder if they’d get enough entrants to make the race a reality, in the wake of a wave of comments coming in from racers all over the world, to the effect of:

Bring it on.

“We have gotten a tremendous amount of interest. In fact, that’s where we made the call that we have to (limit entries) to 500 teams. We’re very pleased that we actually have 27 states, and that does not count Alaska, that are interested, and 37 countries so far. And we have tremendous support from here in Alaska — 15 or 20 teams,” said John Lang, race director.

“I had a guy from Australia just call me and he said, ‘I’m in.’ Actually, he said, ‘Is this thing next week? I can’t really tell when it is. Well, if it was next week, I’d be there. I want you to know,’” Lang said.

The race, which is planned to go from Prince William Sound around the Kenai Peninsula, up Cook Inlet as far as Kenai, down around Kodiak, out the Aleutain Chain to False Pass, up through Bristol Bay and finishing in Iliamna in Iliamna Lake, will not be next week. If permits are approved and logistical work is completed as smoothly as Lang hopes, the inaugural run of the Alaskan Wet Dog would be May 1, 2013.

So far, it’s already been several years in the making.

Lang, of Wasilla, has himself pioneered a lot of cold-water ocean riding on personal watercrafts, also called jet skis, Sea-Doos or wave runners, and has operated a jet ski tour business in Prince William Sound out of Whittier. Though he’s never done personal watercraft racing he has researched the sport, including the handful of long-distance, 1,000-mile “jet raid” events around the world, and the thousands of small, circuit races, such as relaying around buoys in a lake or bay. From his experience and research, Land said he thinks the world is ready to up the ante on these events, and Alaska is the place to do it.

“Obviously the scenery is going to be very appealing to everybody. Just the out and out experience of being able to go to these areas where very, very few people in the world ever get to see and experience. And just the thought of being able to complete such a prestigious event,” Lang said. Continue reading

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Good gravy! Christmas giving offers boatload of rewards

By Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter

This Christmas, I’m up that proverbial creek without a boat, much less a paddle.

Yes, I am shamelessly shilling for readers’ attention here, since boat woes are as unifying an experience in Alaska as cast iron and Carhartts. In truth, the sinking of my holiday season has zilch to do with potential fishing trips, lake crossings or river floats. It’s nothing that would anoint me with the outdoorsman cred of fish slime, I’m afraid.

No, I have been bested by a vessel meant for a different kind of slime:

A gravy boat.

I wanted to get one for my mom for Christmas, but fell victim to the age-old gift-shopping pitfall of figuring, “How hard could that be? I’ve got plenty of time.”

This is the tendency of overconfident procrastination that results in the giving of scratchy sweaters, packages of socks, sets of cheap flashlights and other incarnations of “oh-crap-I’ve-got-to-give-them-something” presents. How else to explain the biblically epic gift failure of the baby Jesus getting gold, frankincense and myrrh as his welcome to the world?

Had the Three Wisemen not waited until Christmas Eve to do their shopping, they could have gotten to a department store and bought something useful, like a stroller with sand tires, a Diaper Genie or a donkey car seat. But no, they waited until stores were closed and had to scrape around for something they could regift so they didn’t show up empty-handed. It’s a good thing As Seen on TV hadn’t been invented yet, or else Mary would have been saddled with a Slice-o-Matic, the “Ove” Glove, and a hot pink leopard-print Snuggie.

In my case, I decided at Thanksgiving that I wanted to get my mom a gravy boat for Christmas. After spending all day cooking, she went to the extra effort of getting out her family heirloom china to display all the time-intensive deliciousness on. Gold-leafed plates, sterling silver utensils and cut glass dishes sparkled on the table, next to a regular old cereal bowl for the gravy. Continue reading

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The fright before Christmas

Hunting, Fishing and Other Grounds for Divorce, by Jacki Michels, for the Redoubt Reporter

’Twas mere days until Christmas, and I gasped at the house!

There were droppings all over, then, eeeeeek! I spied the mouse!

I know it is Christmas, but I didn’t wanna share

my house with a mouse! Oh I know it ain’t fair.

 

But I set out a trapline, and baited with care,

In hopes that one little rodent soon would be (trapped) there.

The dog was nestled all snug in her bed,

And when mousey ran by she barely turned her tired head.

The hub was a’snoozing, Worthless the cat, on his lap.

When’s my turn to lie down for my long winter’s nap?

 

When out on the porch there arose such a clatter.

I sprang from my tasks to see what was the matter.

First was a bark, then a big crash!

To the front door I flew like a flash.

 

Was greeted with paws and a big wet tongue — splash!

’Twas our neighbor dog, Hunter, a big old Lab fellow.

He was dressed all in wet fur, so damp and so yellow.

To the food bowl he ran, his teeth they did gnash!

Then he sniffed at my pockets, as if looking for cash.

When, what to my wondering eyes did appear,

But that miniature rat and my heart shrank with fear!

 

I knew in a moment he was up to some trick.

Then, more rapid than beagles, those big doggies they came.

And I whistled, and shouted, and called them odd names.

 

“Now, Beggar! Now, Shedder! Now, Stroke hound and Woofie!

On, Slobber! On Dog Breath! On, Flatulent and Fluffy!

To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!

They chased not after mousey, but after that stinky old ball.

 

Then, as moms do before things hit the fan and do fly,

I looked all about, and I started to cry.

“Christmas is coming and there’s too much to do!”

I sobbed while wiping dog poo off my shoe.

 

And then, in a twinkling, I started to scream.

“I’m done with this whole holiday-ho-ho-ho scheme!

“Forget the festivities and all the Yuletide traditions!

“Skip the whole nonsense; I wanna go fishing!”

 

Phone the family down in the Lower 48.

Tell ’em forget it! Their gifts will be late!

In fact, tell ’em Christmas is canceled all together,

since Santa’s elves were experiencing another power outage, due to bad weather!

 

I starting feeling right guilty, like a grouchy, Grinchy, Christmastime thief.

So I turned myself around and dug out the old wreath.

Set out the savior, the wise men, the camels and hay,

and I smiled at the thought of celebrating the day.

 

As I admired the quaint scene on my china hutch shelf,

Gasp! Out popped ol’ mousey!

And I screamed when I saw him, in spite of myself.

Across the floor he did race, a frightened look on his poor little mouse face.

 

You see, I’d terribly frightened the little guy.

Now he was hiding, so scared and so shy.

So I fluffed up the hay where Jesus laid his sweet head.

Thus making for mousey, a soft little bed.

I then called out to my friend, so little and furry,

“There’s room at the inn, so no need to worry.”

 

As I stoked the wood stove and turned out the light

I quietly whispered, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a warm night!”

 

Grounds for Divorce No. 7,437: Uttering something unflattering about the wife’s garlic chicken while under the mistletoe.

Jacki Michels is a freelance writer, a wife and a mom.

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Almanac: Stock up on holiday good cheer

By Clark Fair

Photos courtesy of the Stock family. Barbara Jean and Billy Stock are seen in the early to mid-1950s.

Redoubt Reporter

A series of events that culminated with the playing of “Pomp and Circumstance” began simply enough with a roasted holiday turkey and some after-dinner music. It was a case of “paying it forward,” decades before that phrase was in vogue.

It all started in December 1954 when Barbara Jean and Billy, the children of Bill and Dee Stock, decided to invite three of their new teachers at the Kenai School to Christmas dinner in their Soldotna home. Putting in their RSVP notices that December were first-year teachers David and Beth Duddles and Rachel “Ricky” Weinberg (who married the following year and became Ricky Thomas).

The Duddleses had come fresh from the University of Minnesota, and they had dreams of teaching overseas one day.

“We came to Kenai to get some teaching experience before leaving the USA,” David said.

Two years later, they would travel to Africa to teach in the Belgian Congo, where David would also direct a band at the Institut Chretienne Congolais near the equatorial city of Mbandaka (formerly Coquilhatville).

At the Kenai School, Beth taught sixth grade, while David taught high school math, science and physical education. Weinberg taught high school home economics and some P.E.

All three had been hired by Kenai principal and superintendent, George J. Fabricius, for the 1954-55 school year. Enrollment at the school had boomed, leaping from 86 pupils in 1951-52 to 178 in 1952-53, 197 in 1953-54, and 285 in 1954-55.

The Stocks, meanwhile, had moved to the area from Richland, Wash., in the spring of 1951 so Bill could take a job with the Alaska Road Commission, as his friend, Chell Bear, had done a short time before — and as their friends, Jake Dubendorf and Paul Tachick, would do a short time later. Continue reading

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Cheery, chirpy Christmas Bird Count

By Naomi Klouda

Photos courtesy of Kachemak Bay Birders. A female grosbeak was one of 64 species recorded in the Christmas Bird Count in the Kachemak Bay area. Below is a woodpecker.

Homer Tribune

Kachemak Bay birders counted 12,395 individuals during the 112th annual Audubon Bird Count on Saturday, a blustery day around Kachemak Bay that ushered in yet another storm and dim visibility.

A surprise guest is generally among the tally, and this year brought forth the rough-legged hawk. It’s a migratory hawk that lives in the Alaska and Brooks Range, and hadn’t been seen in Kachemak Bay before. Another new sighting was the chestnut-backed chickadee that showed up at a feeder on West Hill Road.

“They occur on the south side of the bay in dense forest. But we virtually never see them up here except for this year,” said Dave Erikson, who is Homer’s foremost birding authority and has been studying species and compiling numbers in the annual count for the past 35 years.

As the numbers were compiled from Saturday’s effort, it became apparent some populations are benefiting greatly from the abundant snowshoe hare population. Gosshawks and owls are in healthy numbers, though the count tallied only a few of the great-horned owl.

“They are nocturnal, to begin with, so we try to listen for their calls on the night before,” Erikson said. “The wind and rain was loud, however, so we couldn’t hear them.” Continue reading

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Art Seen: Cupp overflows with color, design

By Zirrus VanDevere for the Redoubt Reporter

“Snowhoppers” by Rick Cupp is display at the Kenai Fine Arts Center in December.

Rick Cupp has a body of work on display at the Kenai Fine Arts Center’s Gallery One this month. I’ve seen most of what he’s offering, here and there — this has been a big exhibition year for him — but it holds together as a nice exhibit.

There are times his titles come on a little strong for me, but he has a sensibility of subject, color and light that I find inviting. When he allows for noise and chaos he really lets it in, and, conversely, when he’s going for a clean, sharp line and order, the effect is complete and accomplished. The converging lines and rich colors of  “Mercy Drops” are mesmerizing and draw me in like Alice’s adventures did her. It is mounted on some

“Mercy Drops” photo by Rick Cupp.

kind hard panel that adds to its slickness.

“Snowhoppers” is equally as finished, a gorgeous portrait of an ice blade in saturated colors and a point of view that creates a visual abstraction I appreciate. “Fire From Above” is creepy and wonderful, and I’m not sure how “Lines of Force” was created, but it has the feel of old-time darkroom magic.

On display with Cupp’s work is a wall of silent auction pieces, mostly pottery, that the time had closed on, but it was neat to see the offerings. I believe the guild has done this silent auction in December for a number of years now, and it is always worth coming by for. Continue reading

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Family business, easy as pie — Bub’s Pizza endeavor topped by father-son team

By Joseph Robertia

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Ryan Mercier, general manager of Bub’s Pizza, in Soldotna, pulls a fresh pizza from the oven. Ryan and his father, Bub Mercier, run the pizzeria together.

Redoubt Reporter

If Bub Mercier were to accidentally nick himself while slicing and dicing his mountains of veggie prep work, it is quite possible he would bleed marinara sauce. That’s how deep the love of making pizza runs through his veins, and it is a trait he has passed on to his son, Ryan, 24, who has worked for and with his dad many times over the years, including the last six months since opening their newest restaurant, Bub’s Pizza in Soldotna.

“I haven’t had a slow day since the doors opened,” Bub said.

This newest eatery isn’t his first time serving up hot slices. Bub comes from a line of Italian-themed restaurateurs.

“My folks had a place in Anchorage and I worked there as a kid, and when I turned 21 I opened my first place up there called Big Al’s Alaskan Pizza Company, which I owned for four years before selling it,” he said.

Since opening that first restaurant in 1979, Bub has been busy. He has six children, each working with him at various establishments he owned or worked at over the years, including the other Bub’s Pizza, in Sterling, which he owned from 1993-98, before the establishment was sold and its name was changed to the current Magpie’s Pizzeria. Bub worked as a bakery manager at Fred Meyer for a lengthy stint, but when his youngest child finally graduated, he decided to return to being a restaurateur.

“I returned to doing what I love,” he said. Continue reading

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Starvin’ Marvin’s opens pizza factory

By Naomi Klouda

Photo by Naomi Klouda, Homer Tribune. Starvin' Marvin's Pizza owner Larry Albertson, and his granddaughter, Crystal Harrington, show off their new pizza factory at the former site of Pudgey's Store. This is the first USDA certified pizza wholesale company in Alaska.

Homer Tribune

The only pizza factory in the state of Alaska opened quietly on East End Road recently when the owner of Starvin’ Marvin’s Pizza became the first in state history to win U.S. Department of Agriculture approval.

Larry Albertson, who answers to the name of Marvin, even though it’s not his real name, spent the past five years gaining USDA certification. It wasn’t easy, and at least twice he grew so frustrated he almost quit, but now he has the distinction of being the only pizza vendor who can wholesale pizzas to grocery stores and grocer chains.

“They’re very strict, but I can see why they do it. It was worth it because now I could sell pizzas anywhere in the U.S.,” Albertson said.

On Friday, his crew of four made and boxed 200 pizzas destined for customers at Three Bears Grocery and Country Foods in Kenai, Save U More in Soldotna and Kachemak Wholesale in Homer. Called Starvin’ Marvin’s Pizza Factory, Albertson gutted the former Pudgies Store and rebuilt it inside. Now he sells pizza for local orders in the front while using the back for his factory.

He also supplies space for the USDA inspector who moved to Homer specifically to fill a requirement at the pizza factory. Randy Cooper came from Idaho.

“I was told by the previous USDA inspector who came here that they had a guy in Idaho who had been wanting to relocate to Alaska. So now he’s here and he’s a great guy,” Albertson said.

Albertson supplied Cooper with a desk, a filing cabinet and phone in the same building, as required by the USDA.

“He needs to be there whenever we are making pizza as a factory. My workers wear hairnets and special covering on their clothes. My kitchen is all stainless steel. It’s shiny. You can eat off the floor in my kitchen it’s so clean,” Albertson said.

The USDA requires a whole list of activities in order to be in compliance. The kitchen has to be sanitized each day upon closing. Then it needs to be sanitized again in the morning before food operations commence. Freezers must be kept at a certain temperature. Foods are checked for a variety of conditions. In order to achieve the USDA certification, Albertson had to pass eight tests, achieving a passing score of 80 or above.

“I was told from the start that it would take a long time to get licensed. They tell you people get disinterested and quit. It takes a lot of money. You have to fill out a lot of paperwork and go through a lot of bureaucracy and a lot of frustration,” Albertson said. “But if you keep plugging along, you get it done.”

A few times when Albertson was about to give the whole thing up, his granddaughter, Crystal Harrington, said, “Grandpa, you can do it. You can do it.” Continue reading

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Plugged In: You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

We’ve received a lot of reader questions of likely general interest over the past few weeks and we’ve got answers, too. Hopefully useful ones.

  • Our most recent question was probably the easiest: One reader wondered whether to retain a just-purchased Nikon P9100 compact superzoom camera ($290) or to return it for a much less-expensive Fujifilm at a local department store. We suggested retaining the Nikon P9100. Aside from the hassle and cost of returning an Internet purchase, the Nikon P9100 is actually quite a good camera within its amateur class. It’s recommended by several highly regarded professional camera review sites, as well.
  • Another reader wondered about attachments for the iPhone 4’s built-in camera. Although no one with much photo experience will mistake an iPhone photo for one taken with a regular camera, the iPhone has become ubiquitous. It’s the single most popular camera, judging from postings on Flickr and other Web photo-sharing sites. Continue reading

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