Opinion

Guest editorial, July 30, 2014: King closure is ‘deja vu all over again’

In another life, Yogi Berra, the iconic baseball figure perhaps best known for his creative truisms, must have been a victim of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s questionable Kenai River king salmon management.

One of Mr. Berra’s most famous quotes of all time is, “It’s like deja vu all over again!”

Of course, Yogi Berra’s statement is redundant and makes little sense, just like Fish and Game’s latest Emergency Order. On our beloved Kenai River this year, during the third week of July, we once again find ourselves with the sudden and very questionable sportfishing closure that prohibits all king salmon fishing. Boom — closed! Just like last year. Indeed, deja vu all over again.

What’s so questionable about this recent Emergency Order? In their actions, Fish and Game is stating that, we are in jeopardy of not meeting our escapement goals, thus we cannot afford to lose one single Kenai king, so anglers cannot even fish catch and release. Yet the previous three weeks the very same managers allowed full retention of all kings by sport anglers, as well as numerous Emergency Orders that extended commercial fishing time, actions that resulted in nearly 2,000 dead kings (539 by in-river sport anglers and 1,302 reported by set-netters). Just like last year.

Boy, wouldn’t it be nice to have those kings back? Which prompts my own version of a Yogi-ism: “You can’t go back and un-kill what’s already been killed!”

What if managers had started the sport fishery with the more conservative and reasonable approach of catch-and-release king fishing on July 1 and assessed the run from there, as proposed (and defeated) at last winter’s Board of Fish hearings? Then by the third week in July, if the late run of Kenai kings was strong, liberalize the fishery to allow harvest. And if the late run turned out to be weak, then restrict it with a full closure. There is no arguing that starting the late-run sport fishery with catch and release would put us in a more favorable position to meet our escapement goals, and provided more opportunity to fish. Imagine that — a management strategy that provides for conservation and opportunity — what a concept!

Instead, just like late July last year, sport anglers are not allowed to even participate in catch and release, a practice that by Fish and Game’s own studies shows mortality to be less than 8 percent. Using simple math, present sportfishing “effort” times “angler success rate” times 8 percent mortality equates to approximately one dead fish a day. Multiply that by six days (what was left of the king season when the closure was initiated) and it means that Fish and Game’s decision to not allow catch-and-release king fishing saved less than 10 fish.

For those who question my rough math, go ahead and double the numbers — it’s still a fairly miniscule amount in the grand scheme of things. And before you bash me and say, “Yes, but every fish on the spawning bed counts at this point, so how can you justify any mortality at all?” let me remind you that Fish and Game already allowed users, just like last year, to harvest nearly 2,000 kings on the front side of the run. Do you see the big picture now?

The real question is, “Why?” Why would our managers repeatedly use a management strategy that maximizes harvest but minimizes opportunity, ultimately handcuffing them near the end of the season (when we fail to meet our escapement goal) and jeopardizing the sustainability of our big, native chinook?

The answer: Politics and money. So sportfishermen can sport fish. So guides can guide. So set-netters can set-net. So drifters can drift. I hate to say it, but we all have a hand in this debacle.

And who loses? The kings. Once again, greed trumps conservation. As I said, deja vu all over again.

What can we do about it? First, educate your neighbors, friends and guests. Then, make some noise, from the top down, in the form of letters to the governor and Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell. Tell them catch-and-release fishing is a genuine management tool, one that minimizes mortality but still provides reasonable opportunity. Demand accountability from our managers. And put sustainability of our resource as priority one.

Ask for change, then pray that July 2015 doesn’t turn out to be, “Deja vu all over again!”

Greg Brush, of Soldotna, is owner of EZ Limit Guide Service.

Guest editorial, July 23, 2014: Alaska owns oil, should use it wisely
The debate over Proposition 1, the repeal of SB 21 that has lowered taxes for large, multinational, oil companies, rests on two competing principles.
The first is that the boards of directors of the various corporations have a fiduciary responsibility to institute policies that maximize profits for their shareholders. A key factor in the complex formulae of profit strategies is taxes — specifically, how to get constituencies to lower taxes. Boardroom concerns are not the quality of schools, fire or police protection, or any of the other services needed for tax-based infrastructure to create a modern culture. Their concern is shareholder profit.
They are modern Ebenezer Scrooges. But, unlike Scrooge, they will not have an epiphany of good will toward humankind. They will not because they do not live at this place. The faceless shareholders are scattered across the globe and their decisions are based on profit.
Nor are they the “Atlas Shrugged” of Ayn Rand, whose noncorporate owner-capitalism meant offering a good product at a fair price. (Although John Gault would not like any taxes.) To shareholders and the directors they elect, the product is an abstraction, the real product of the corporation is profit.
Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share taxation system diverted windfall corporate profits in the $100-plus a barrel range from corporate shareholders to the state treasury. Consequently, the slogan, “It’s Our Oil,” emphasizing the other competing principle — the people of Alaska own its natural resources and our constitution dictates that those resources be used for the maximum benefit of the people. That’s what legislators and the governor swear to do.
Had we followed this principle to its logical conclusion we would have created our own state oil corporation, similar to Norway’s Statoil. And our permanent fund might be approaching the size of Norway’s $700 billion, compared to our $50 billion. Norway took the “it’s our oil” concept and turned it into one of the highest standards of living in the world.
Big Oil has been fighting to reduce its taxes for as long as it has been taxed in Alaska. In the 1980s, it hired the likes of the affable Big Ed Dankworth to lobby the Legislature for favorable treatment, including taxation. It didn’t work well for them.
In the 2000s, Big Oil moved from bluster to bribery, hiring VECO’s Bill Allen to ply his craft in Juneau hotel rooms. The FBI taped his phone communication with ConocoPhillips head, Jim Bowles, who gave Allen instructions about how to carry out Big Oil’s wants. That didn’t work for them, and we got ACES.
So Big Oil went a different route, working toward the election of employees or ex-employees to influential state positions, in effect blurring the obligation to maximize profits for the corporation and the obligation to maximize resource wealth for the people of the state. With his election, Gov. Sean Parnell, a former ConocoPhillips employee, proposed SB 21, and two ConocoPhillips employee/senators, Kevin Meyer and Peter Micciche, the latter with a little gerrymandering help, pushed it through the Legislature.
That worked for them, and we got SB 21.
Big Oil’s supporters argue that the overall lower tax on oil will provide incentive for them to drill more, produce more and thereby Alaska comes out further ahead than in the ACES tax structure.
Maybe, but probably not. The reason is that it is a lot cheaper to drive down a dusty North Dakota road or pull into a Nigerian bay, throw in a wellhead and frack out some oil than it is to push a road over a well-regulated and permit-intensive tundra and drill in the cold, unforgiving and very expensive Arctic.
North Slope oil is finite and dwindling because we’ve been pumping it through a 4-foot-diameter pipe for four decades. There are pockets to be found, true, but they are costly pockets, even if the tax rate is lowered. Bottom line — it is more profitable to produce oil elsewhere. Alaska’s graying oil industry is in late middle age. The day may come when we should reduce the windfall profits tax of ACES, but that day is not now.
In the time we have left, Alaska can transform oil into wealth of a different kind. Wealth in the form of schools, universities, health care and cultural institutions. And we can use oil wealth to help solve our myriad social problems. Taxes collected in a progressive and fair ACES system can build a modern culture of the North. That’s what is at stake Aug. 19.

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College. This column was published in the Alaska Dispatch News.

Guest editorial, April 2, 2014: Indian Country: Coming soon to Alaska?

If you were speeding across the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico you could be stopped by a Navaho cop, given a citation, and you’d pay your fine to a Navajo Nation court. The same could happen on most reservations in the U.S. The legal basis is part of a complex set of laws that come under the general title of “Indian Country” that provide for limited tribal sovereignty.

Indian Country may be coming to Alaska soon. Based on U.S. District Court case Akiachak vs. Salazar and findings such as those of the bipartisan Indian Law and Order Commission, the Bureau of Indian Affairs is prepared to remove regulatory language that has prevented Alaska tribes from putting their lands into BIA trust. That would allow Alaska villages the same Indian Country limited sovereignty as tribes in the Lower 48.

Indian Country is a federal concept harkening back to pre-Revolutionary laws such as King George’s Proclamation of 1763, when the king declared lands east of the Appalachian Mountains to be England’s and gave the tribes control of the territory west of the Appalachians. With the Revolution, the Confederation Congress Act (1783) and the six Indian Nonintercourse Acts (1790 to 1834) affirmed the concept of Indian Country.

With the Indian Wars of the 1800s and accompanying legislation such as the Dawes Act of 1871, Indian Country rights were significantly eroded. Then, before World War II, the pendulum swung the other way and legislation such as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Indian Reorganization Act gave back many of the rights taken away. All presidents from Roosevelt through President Obama, Republican and Democrat, have generally supported the concept of limited sovereignty afforded Native Americans through Indian Country.

It has been argued that the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act extinguished Indian Country sovereignty in Alaska in favor of the regional and village corporate model. ANCSA corporations made a lot of money for some regional and village shareholders, and some corporate entities set up nonprofits to deal with education and health issues. But, in the end, corporations are designed to make money for shareholders, not solve social problems. That takes something tougher, something like the concept of Indian Country to express values and solve problems through an indigenous legal framework.

When Alaska villages work, they are beautiful places. I have been in villages where children treat adults, including teachers, with respect and elders with a kind of reverence. Adults are cordial. The land is respected and fish and game are hallowed. In these villages, the suicide rate is almost nonexistent. But I’ve also been in villages that don’t work and they are hell on Earth. Drug and alcohol abuse and physical abuse of all types are everyday experiences. Some are numb to yet another suicide. Most villages, of course, are somewhere between this nirvana and hell. The function of Indian Country laws is to provide limited sovereignty so local people can create their unique legal structure to solve social problems.

An example is the recent tragic trooper killings in Tanana. The accused will be dealt with through the regular justice system. But Tanana dealt with two local bullies who reportedly had a negative influence on the shooter and the community by banishing them from the village. Banishment is not in federal or state statutes and probably is not legal. It would be under Indian Country law if the village chose to enact it. Many villages, in cooperation with the state, have aspects of Indian Country such as tribal courts and these are working well. They need to be solidified in regulation to create permanent institutions.

There are limits to Indian Country legislation. The BIA must approve laws. In most civil cases, Indian Country laws apply to both Natives and Non-Natives (hence the Navajo speeding ticket) but criminal law enacted by a tribal process only applies to Native Americans.

The Parnell administration has objected to the concept of Indian Country in Alaska, in part because, if enacted, it would erode state authority and create a dual legal system on the small amount of tribal (vs. corporate) lands that would become Indian Country.

I believe Indian Country in Alaska will give extra tools for villages to deal with abusers, rein in bootleggers and run bullies out of their villages. You have until June 30 to comment; go to http://www.regulations.gov and search for “Alaska Natives.”

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College. This column was previously published May 9 in the Anchorage Daily News.

 

Guest editorial, April 2, 2014: Protect state’s ability to protect against spills

Twenty-five years has passed since the Exxon Valdez oil spill and this recent anniversary reminds Alaskans, and the world, of the importance of oil spill prevention and need to improve oil spill response. Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council has worked hard since the spill to ensure that prevention and response measures are as strong as possible.

Clearly the Alaska State Legislature has also been mulling over these same issues with the introduction of House Bill 325.

HB325 was introduced this past February by Rep. Cathy Muñoz (R-Juneau), and supported by Reps. Paul Seaton (R-Homer), Peggy Wilson (R-Wrangell), Scott Kawasaki (D-Fairbanks) and Sam Kito III (D-Juneau).

The bill would amend state law and bring the state’s oil spill prevention and response fund into the 21st century. The amendments proposed by the bill would largely fill the current budget gap faced by the Spill Prevention and Response Division in the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. The fund and the SPAR division’s twofold job, of responding to disastrous oil and hazardous substance spills and working to prevent spills, is at risk unless this budget gap is filled.

The SPAR division budget comes almost entirely from the 5 cents per-barrel surcharge on oil transported through the trans-Alaska oil pipeline system.

Under the Oil and Hazardous Substance Release Prevention and Response Fund (formerly known as the 470 Fund), 1 cent of the surcharge goes to the response side, while the remaining 4 cents goes to prevention. The prevention portion pays for SPAR’s daily operations, which includes both preventing spills and preparing to respond to spills that do occur.

However, with inflation and declining throughput (and therefore declining oil revenues), this funding has eroded. In addition, SPAR has taken on more and more duties, including overseeing refined product spills and hazardous substance releases.

The current funding regime no longer covers SPAR’s operations and will not support this essential program into the future.

Amendments suggested by state legislators in HB325 would increase the cap on the response fund to $75 million (currently capped at $50 million) and also increase the surcharge on oil transported through the trans-Alaska oil pipeline system to 7 cents per barrel, instead of the current 5 cents.

The Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council supports HB325 and its amendments The council would also consider supporting alternate approaches as the bill moves through the house and senate, as long as the final version permanently stabilizes the SPAR budget.

If nothing is done, the value of this fund will continue to shrink, quickly becoming inadequate for a meaningful response to a major spill.

The council feels that a failure to maintain the response fund, and the spill prevention and response programs managed by SPAR, would put at risk the health of the marine resources that member organizations and residents of our region depend upon for subsistence, recreation and livelihoods.

With effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill still experienced 25 years later, let’s ensure that state agencies have the funding they need to do the vital prevention and response work they were tasked with. Please join us in supporting HB325 and its amendments.

Mark Swanson is executive director of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council. The council, with offices in Anchorage and Valdez, is an independent nonprofit corporation whose mission is to promote environmentally safe operation of the Valdez Marine Terminal and the oil tankers that use it. The council’s work is guided by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 and its contract with Alyeska Pipeline Service Company. The council’s 19 member organizations are communities in the region affected by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, as well as aquaculture, commercial fishing, environmental, Native, recreation and tourism groups.

Guest editorial, March 19, 2014: Water rights bill recalls Canada’s Idle No More

The similarities between Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s attempt to streamline permitting for resource development projects involving rivers in Canada and Gov. Sean Parnell’s House Bill 77 are striking. You’d think their respective administrations went to the same seminar on restructuring Northern water rights: constrain water initiatives within the executive branch and restrict public involvement and appeals.

In 2011 the Harper administration enacted Bill C-45 overhauling the Navigable Waters Protection Act of 1882. The old NWPA required public approval and consultation particularly by First Nations, Métis and Inuit, before any construction could take place across navigable rivers. The new law largely did away with tribal consultation, reduced public participation and put development decisions, such as Athabasca Tar Sands pipelines, squarely in the hands of the Ministry of Transportation.

A maelstrom of protest ensued including testimony at hearings, opinion columns, and nonviolent civil disobedience to draw attention to the threat to clean Northern water. Canada’s aboriginal people called their protest “Idle No More.”

In 2013 the Parnell administration forged similar legislation in HB 77 that would limit public and tribal participation in water use decisions and put it largely in the hands of the Division of Natural Resources. Some of the most controversial aspects of HB 77, such as restricting public, tribal, and NGO rights regarding in-stream water reservations, were buried within the convoluted bill. It sailed through the House and now a modified version is in the Senate.

The Parnell Administration says the reason for the bill is to streamline permitting but much of that streamlining is in the form of limiting existing rights. For example, current law allows a corporate mine, or other entity such as a municipality, to apply for water rights to take water out of a stream. On the other hand, tribes, public interest NGOs, Fish and Game and other entities can apply for “in-stream water reservations” to keep water in a stream. Corporate mining, for example, takes water out of a stream to process ore. Subsistence, commercial and sport fishermen want to keep water in a stream for salmon and other fish.

At a December Southwest Alaska Salmon Habitat Partnership scientific conference, Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell and Deputy DNR Commissioner Ed Fogels presented the governor’s case for HB 77. Among other things, Fogels identified what the Parnell administration believes to be capricious attempts by outside environmentalist NGOs to apply for in-stream water reservations as a tactic to prevent mining as an argument against in-stream water reservations.

In fact, between 2000 and 2010 25 in-stream flow reservation applications were made to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources in Southwest Alaska near proposed large mines — 11 by the Curyung Tribe, 10 by Trout Unlimited, three by the Southwest Alaska Salmon Habitat Partnership and one by The Nature Conservancy, all in the name of protecting salmon. However, the Curyung Tribe, Trout Unlimited — with many Alaska members — and the Southwest Alaska Salmon Habitat Partnership are not naïve outside environmentalists. They are Alaskans with a legitimate interest in the future of salmon and the water that supports them.

Contrary to court decisions, the Parnell administration has simply refused to act on these and other permit requests. The original version of HB 77 would have eliminated nongovernmental entities from applying for in-stream water reservations to protect salmon, and put the process solely within DNR with no appeal. The bill’s revision now would allow tribes and NGO entities to apply for in-stream water reservations, but no matter who or what group applies — a tribe, an individual or an organization — the water right would only be awarded to a governmental agency. Mining interests and other entities could still apply to take water out of a stream.

Streamlined yes, but in whose interest?

Alaska protests over this and other aspects of HB 77 have been overwhelmingly against limiting the public’s right to participate in and appeal decisions regarding rivers and streams. This fall Campbell, Fogels and State Sen. Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna) held hearings in Soldotna and Homer. Later the commissioners held hearings in Anchorage. Hundreds of Alaskans testified against HB 77. Almost no one was for it. The same picture emerged with recent hearings on a modified bill.

In news articles Sen. Micciche has argued for compromise, stating, “You never get everything you ask for.” Micciche should be reminded that the public did not ask for HB 77, it came unilaterally from the governor. Moreover, the public is not testifying, “We can work with this, a few tweaks here and there and we’ve got something good.” Alaskans are not only saying no, but hell no. For the sake of salmon and clean water, there is no reason to change the existing law and there never was a good reason for HB 77 in the first place.

With HB 77, Idle No More is emerging in Alaska.

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College. This column was previously published March 14 in the Anchorage Daily News.

Guest editorial, Feb. 19, 2014: Heed threat to Wood-Tikchik State Park

House Bill 77 is being pushed by the Parnell administration to streamline the Department of Natural Resources’ permitting process to apparently benefit mining companies and corporations. This bill was approved by the House in 2013. It has not been passed in the Senate. There is an apparently unrelated project in HB 77 to develop a hydroelectric facility on remote Chikuminuk Lake in a state wilderness area in Wood-Tikchik State Park. The park is located north of Dillingham on Bristol Bay. This project was included in HB 77 at the request of Anchorage Sen. Lesil McGuire.

Nuvista Light and Power Cooperative, a part of Calista Corp., has been awarded $10 million of state funds to study the feasibility of this power project. Nuvista has also received a three-year temporary permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to proceed with their investigation. The FERC may not know that Nuvista does not have any electrical generating equipment. Nuvista’s proposal calls for a 128-foot-high dam on the Allen River at the outlet of Chikuminuk Lake. Their proposal also included a 118-mile transmission line from the dam site to Bethel. The transmission line would cross the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge, where a utility corridor permit would be required. A March 2011 final report by MWH estimated the total cost of this power project at $507 million. Produced power was estimated to cost $0.58 to $0.70 per kilowatt hour.

The Alaska Energy Authority administers the Power Cost Equalization Program that subsidizes electricity to make it affordable to rural Alaskans. Because of this subsidy, Bethel residents paid $0.16.3 per kwh in 2011. This cost per kwh suggests that Bethel residents would pay only about one fourth of Chikuminuk Lake’s power costs. The remaining power cost would apparently be paid by the Alaska Energy Authority. Nuvista would be generating a subsidized revenue stream to Calista with resources outside their corporate boundary. If this expensive project is completed, Bethel residents may not see a reduction in their monthly electric bills.

The 1.55-million-acre Wood-Tikchik State Park is the largest state park in the United States. Years ago the federal government had their sights on this unique area for consideration as a national park. This gem of a state park, even by Alaska standards, was set aside by Gov. Jay Hammond in 1978. The park includes two river systems and 10 large Clearwater lakes. This park’s lakes and streams contribute about 20 percent of the sockeye salmon harvest in Bristol Bay.

The March 2002 park management plan put Chikuminuk Lake in a state wilderness area. Hydropower developments are not permitted in this wilderness area. Nuvista will not be permitted to complete their geologic studies unless the park’s enabling legislation is amended. Efforts to amend the park’s legislation have already been introduced by Sen. McGuire in SB 32 and in HB 137 by Rep. Millett.

MWH reported that the demand for power at Bethel is highest in the winter and lowest during the summer. The flow of the Allen River’s 248-square-mile watershed is just the opposite. Its greatest flows occur in June and July with the lowest flows during the winter. In order to meet the wider power demand at Bethel it will be necessary to store water in Chikuminuk Lake during the summer months.

The Allen River appears to contribute the greatest flow to the Tikchik Lake system. One of the biological realities in the Bristol Bay region is the substantial predation by Arctic char on sockeye salmon smolts. I observed this activity one night in mid-June, 1983, at the Tikchik Narrows. You have to experience this feeding frenzy to appreciate it. Lower summer flows would result in higher densities of sockeye salmon smolts at constriction pints in this watershed. Lower flows could result in increased predation on these salmon from Arctic char.

If legislation passes to eliminate the wilderness status of Chikuminuk Lake, then Wood-Tikchik State Park could become the first casualty of Gov. Parnell’s corporate-friendly administration. To protect the wilderness status of remote Chikuminuk Lake, in this gem of a state park, HB 77 and 137 and SB 32 need to be thrown in the trashcan.

Jack Dean

Sterling

Guest editorial, Feb.5, 2014: Bristol Bay too important to risk

Many Kenai Peninsula residents depend on the health of the Bristol Bay fishery, some as commercial fishermen, or perhaps one of the many local lodges or flight services that regularly shuttle their clients across the inlet for a day of fishing. My brother and I, both Kenai Peninsula residents, operate a remote fly-fishing business in the Bristol Bay drainages during the summer season. All the supplies, aircraft maintenance, etc., are procured here on the Kenai Peninsula. In fact, we all depend on it indirectly, as the health of our state’s largest sockeye fishery is a direct reflection on all fisheries and affects the perception and reputation of our entire state.

It is also not a far stretch to compare what might happen in Bristol Bay to what has happened here recently with our king salmon. The impact felt to our economy, especially by many of our guides and commercial fishers, was just a small taste of what would happen in Bristol Bay if even modest contamination of groundwater were to occur. That’s why numerous Alaskans, including Bristol Bay tribes, commercial and sportfishing organizations, as well as a wide range of individuals and businesses throughout the state, asked the EPA to initiate an assessment of the possible effect of large-scale mining within the Bristol Bay watershed.

Now, after several years, the EPA has released its final assessment. It is a document which takes into account a wide range of previously conducted studies, draws upon hundreds of peer-reviewed published reports and scientific findings, and uses the best available science regarding large-scale mining in salmon waters. In addition, it draws directly upon documents prepared for and released by Northern Dynasty Minerals, the company seeking to develop the Pebble deposit — one of dozens of mining claims in the watershed. During two extensive rounds of peer review, national experts weighed in on the scope, structure and content of the assessment, far exceeding the requirements of the traditional peer-review process. And the facts of the report are irrefutable — Pebble and other large-scale mining in Bristol Bay would cause irreversible harm to Bristol Bay’s salmon and jobs, even if nothing ever goes wrong.

The Pebble Mine, if developed, would be almost 20 times larger than all the other hard-rock mines in Alaska combined, and would sit at the headwaters of the world’s most prolific sockeye fishery. The assessment shows that more than 90 miles of prime salmon spawning and rearing habitat would no longer exist, with large tracts of wetlands drained or dug up, and as much as 10 billion tons of waste would have to be stored behind tailings dams only a few miles from Lake Iliamna. Kenai Peninsula and Cook Inlet residents may also want to consider the possible ramifications of the planned slurry line, deep-water mining port, and transfer station on the west side of the inlet and the direct risks that poses to Kenai-area fisheries.

As most Alaskans know, Bristol Bay’s salmon runs are unique in size and status, even by our standards, supporting over 14,000 fishing jobs, a thriving lodge and tourism industry and adding $1.5 billion dollars annually to the economy. It supports my business as well as many others in Bristol Bay, Kenai, Homer and beyond. Salmon are the real gold keeping many Alaska businesses open. Our salmon resource, if we take care of it, will keep giving year after year, for our children and even their children and grandchildren.

Fortunately, Alaskans have the opportunity to protect Bristol Bay, its fisheries and our reputation, by using section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act. Numerous Alaskans have asked the EPA to use the Clean Water Act to protect the rivers and wetlands of Bristol Bay by prohibiting mine waste from being disposed of in specific waters that are essential to salmon, wildlife and recreation.

In most cases it would certainly be preferable to handle these matters in-state and without the “interference” of the federal government. Asking them to intervene in this case, however, is warranted, because the state permitting system simply does not work. It has been seen time and again — permits for other operations have been returned, but only for adjustments, and in the end the project is always permitted. In the case of Pebble, or any other mine in the region, the system is designed to approve the project. There is no no-mine option. There are also numerous bills being considered in the Legislature this session, such as HB 77, that would lessen protections on fisheries and silence Alaskans. The permitting system as it currently stands is broken, with no sign of it being repaired anytime in the near future. With this in mind, Alaskans who care about our fisheries and their future have been forced to ask for help via the Clean Water Act, and hopefully the EPA will take the next step in invoking protections for the amazing fisheries resources of Western Alaska.

Today we can honestly tout the Bristol Bay fishery as the greatest on Earth, truly an Alaskan and American treasure that, if taken care of, will not only continue to feed the imaginations and souls of countless visitors, but will continue to bolster Alaska’s reputation and our economy for generations to come.

John Hohl, of Soldotna owns Alaska Fly Anglers, Inc.

Guest editorial, Jan. 15, 2014: Count blessings, not cards, in nature’s deal

On the morning of Feb. 11, 1861, eight Dena’ina men guided Father Nokolai, the Orthodox priest at Kenai, 90 miles into the interior of the Kenai Peninsula. There he would conduct the business of the church among the interior Dena’ina villages.

Off they went to do God’s work. Each man was on snowshoes with a backpack, and each carried a walking stick useful for going through brush and getting over downed trees.

They set out across a swamp, probably the flats behind the Kenai airport that the Dena’ina call Ken Ka’a, “Big Flats.” As they traveled the worst happened, the weather turned warm. Father Nokolai wrote their snowshoes “drowned in the deep snow,” and, “I felt as if I could go no further.” But they pushed on until 9 p.m., well past dark, and made camp.

The Dena’ina dug a snow cave, lined it on the inside with alder branches and built a fire outside the entrance. They ate salted fish and the equivalent of Pilot Bread and drank tea. Father Nikolai wrote, “Such a humble meal is more pleasant than the most luxurious dinner.” Amen to that.

Traditionally the Dena’ina made a sleeping bag of Dall sheepskin with the wool on the inside. Hopefully someone made one for the priest, as well. They slept in the snow cave that night.

The next morning they pushed on again in warm weather. Their route took them into heavy timber and rolling terrain. We “had to climb hill after hill,” the priest wrote. The snow was still soft, yet they kept going all day and into the night. Near midnight the Dena’ina guides dropped down onto the frozen bank of the Kenai River where the first Dena’ina house of Stepanka’s Village stood. The priest wrote that the people welcomed them, warmed them and fed them.

The next morning they pushed into the mountains still in warm, soft snow. The Dena’ina, the priest wrote, offered to carry him over the difficult places, but he declined. When they camped that night the weather turned cold. They kept a teapot on the fire all night, drinking occasionally to stay warm.

Feb. 14 was another arduous day. The Dena’ina offered to go to the village, probably Skilantnu at Kenai Lake, and come back for the priest with a sled and haul him in. He declined. That evening they arrived in the village with the priest’s dignity intact.

They stayed for three days. The priest baptized six infants, performed services, heard confessions and gave communion to 75 Dena’ina.

On the fourth day the weather turned warm as the priest and his Dena’ina companions headed home to Kenai. They traveled via Skilak Lake, which had become a mirror of ice and beyond it the heavy weight of soft snow turned their snowshoes to lead weights. Father Nikolai wrote that the snow-laden snowshoes made it almost impossible for him to step over even a hummock.

On the evening of Feb. 20 they reached Stepanka’s Village, where the next day the exhausted priest performed his duties. Two days later they continued in warm weather. The wet snow stuck to their snowshoes so they were dragging, the priest estimated, 20 pounds on each foot. The priest wrote, “everything around us is wet.” Then it began to rain. As they crossed the swamps they were ankle deep in ice-cold water.

Finally, they reached Kenai. Father Nikolai wrote, “I don’t know how, possibly by God’s help, I hobbled to my house.”

Through it all, Father Nokolai was astounded by the attitude of the Dena’ina. They did not become morose. They did not complain. They did not drag everyone down by incessant whining. They dealt with conditions as they encountered them. Father Nikolai wrote, “These Kenaitze are good to travel with … no hardship makes them upset.”

As I write this it has been over 40 degrees in Southcentral Alaska for a week. Everything is wet and icy. Some are practicing the noble art of grousing. But many are angrily complaining over what they cannot control.

In the card game of life, nature is the dealer. We don’t get to deal, we only get to react. We can whine and complain, or like the Dena’ina of old, we can accept the hand nature deals us and make the best of it. When that happens, we will have achieved a culture of the North like the indigenous people before us.

Father (Hegumen) Nikolai’s account is translated by Andrei Znamenski in “Through Orthodox Eyes” pp 85-88.

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College. This column was previously published Jan. 24 in the Anchorage Daily News.

Guest editorial, Jan. 15, 2014: Don’t shoot the golden goose of wildlife viewing

One of the Alaska’s most popular outdoor activities is watching wildlife — for instance bears, wolves, moose, Dall sheep, sea lions or songbirds. Each year, viewers pour nearly a billion dollars into our restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, sporting goods stores, motels, air taxi services and many other businesses. Over $600 million pour in as income for private business owners, as well as employee salaries and wages. Another $275 million comes in through tax revenues — $150 million state and local, $125 million federal. Sightseeing adds an additional chunk of money. Each time those dollars are again spent locally the economy gets a further boost. Directly or indirectly, most Alaska families benefit from ecotourism.

Wise government would do everything possible to assure the health and growth of this golden goose. Yet I see no evidence that Juneau or the Alaska Board of Game makes any real effort to do so. On the contrary, when their predator control program decimates wildlife viewing opportunities, and takes the bread out of the mouths of Alaska families, their tacit response seems to be, “then let them eat meat” — as though man can live by meat alone (paraphrasing two historic quips).

Anyone making the transition from the Bush to citified living learns all too quickly that utility companies don’t accept roasts or sausages as barter, nor do grocery stores, or gas stations. Even sporting goods stores require payment in dollars.

I enjoy eating moose, sheep and hare as much as anyone. I grew up harvesting wild meat and took great pride in living off the land, especially while deep in the Wrangell Mountains when failure meant starvation. But, like most other Alaskans, I now live in town where other considerations outweigh my preference for wild meat.

The only way I know to leave enough harvestable animals for people who truly rely on subsistence meat, or who simply enjoy killing wildlife, is for the rest of us to settle for just watching the animals. Suppose that 1,000 people had equal rights to the benefits from 100 potentially harvestable moose. If everyone wanted their benefits as meat, each person would get only one-tenth of a moose. However, if 900 of the people accepted their benefits through viewing 10 moose, the remaining 90 harvestable moose would be divided among only 100 people — a nine-fold gain in meat per hunter. The same principle applies to all game species. And every Alaskan does have an equal right to wildlife benefits, just as we have an equal right to bear arms.

Aren’t hunters just shooting themselves in the foot when they try increasing the popularity of hunting, while denigrating viewing? Far from being the enemies of hunters, viewers are potentially their strongest allies — except when hunters become game hogs, and insist on destroying viewing opportunities. Killing viewable animals, especially right in front of viewers, is not only utterly crass, but it just alienates more people against hunting.

Wise management would acknowledge the multiple ways in which Alaskans benefit from our wildlife, and design regulations to assure that all of us receive a fair share, rather than focusing almost exclusively on putting meat on tables and trophies on walls for a favored minority.

Piecemeal token gestures, such as the Board of Game’s measures for “protecting” Wolverine Creek bears, have proven grossly inadequate. Worse, public proposals to obtain better protection of viewable animals have been greeted with barely veiled hostility, contempt, and utter disregard for the negative impacts current practices inflict on Alaskan families. Benefit/cost ratios for each regulation need to be considered for everyone, not just for those of us who buy a hunting license.

The BOG should do comprehensive, systematic planning with representatives of ecotourism businesses and organizations. Prime sites for viewing bears, wolves, moose, caribou and other species should be identified, and viewing designated as the highest and best use for these areas and their wildlife.

Would that protection substantially reduce hunting opportunities? No, far from it. The book “Bear Viewing in Alaska” identifies only a few dozen prime bear viewing sites in all Alaska. Prime sites for viewing wolves, moose, caribou, Dall sheep and mountain goats, for example, are even scarcer. Protecting prime sites and their wildlife would encumber only a tiny fraction of 1 percent of the state and a comparably small fraction of our wildlife populations — some of which are already inside or adjacent to national parks. Enhancing viewing opportunities could bring hundreds of millions in additional profits, salaries, wages and tax revenues to Alaska each year, some of which could end up in your pockets or your kids’. And the more people who view instead of hunt, the less competition there will be among remaining hunters. Win-win.

Of course, win-win solutions satisfy only those of us who care about fairness and about our neighbors, whether or not they prefer hunting over viewing, or vice versa. Unfortunately, all too many people see other folks only in terms of allies versus enemies, and define success only in terms of conquest. Even worse are people who benefit from polarizing the public to sustain the artificial conflict between hunting versus viewing. In truth, Alaska is big enough for both, and many of us enjoy both.

When either hunters or viewers spout rhetoric about the sacredness of “our” way of life, and absolutely refuse to share Nature’s bounty with “them,” this is sometimes just narrow-minded selfishness. But all too often it’s more fundamentally a way of manipulating the public for the provocateur’s own gain — either financial or political. So long as a war rages, warriors can make a good living and climb the career ladder, sometimes with their eyes on the governor’s mansion.

Stephen F. Stringham, Ph.D., is a wildlife biologist specializing in the behavior and ecology of predators (mainly bears) and prey (mostly moose and other hoofstock). He is also a former hunting guide turned wildlife viewing guide and director of the Bear Viewing Association. He is owner of WildWatch, an information services company.

Guest editorial, Jan. 8, 2014: Put the breaks on copper-addled tadpoles

As a squadron of dragonflies flew low over the bogs of the Kenai Peninsula, the drone of their wings struck terror into the prey in their path. Mosquitoes, flies, even bees scattered. But this day they were not after bugs. This day they were after much bigger and much easier prey.

The head of the dragonfly squadron called over his headset as they approached the Sterling flats west of the Kenai Mountains, “This is Blue Leader, approaching target, everyone ready?”

“Roger, Blue Leader,” one by one the squadron called back.

“We’ll do the same maneuver as before, but this time we’ll work the south side of the highway. Wingman, you’ll go first.”

“Roger, Blue Leader,” Wingman called back. “I’m salivating already. They don’t call us the Pollywog Marauders for nothing.”

As they came to the highway the squad slowed and tightened formation. The drone of the hovering dragonflies spread panic through the potential prey below. All were hoping their camouflage or quickness would keep them from the dreaded predators circling above. All, that is, except the dimwitted tadpoles that lived near the road.

According to studies on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, copper toxicity and pesticides have led to a significant proportion of deformed frogs. In the case of copper, the culprit is brake pads that are made of softer material then the brake disks, usually involving copper. Every time you apply the brakes, friction slows your car and a little copper dust settles onto the highway.

The well-traveled highway accumulates copper brake dust from the hundreds of thousands of vehicles that travel the road yearly. Think of the Sterling Highway in July with miles-long strings of traffic accelerating and braking as they maneuver for position to gain precious minutes on the Kenai or Kasilof fishing grounds. Rain and melting snow washes the copper dust into the ditches where, if there is a bog or stream, aquatic animals ingest some of it.

In humans a little copper is necessary for proper neurological function, among other things. Human copper toxicity happens when the body can’t expel excess copper and it builds up first in the liver, then in the brain. The body has an intricate mineral ratio system — when one goes down, its counterpart will increase to take up the function. Zinc and copper are partners in numerous functions, including reactions to stress and adrenal function. Stress reduces zinc levels and copper replaces it. In the short term copper can be involved in reactions acting as a stimulant bringing energy back to normal levels. But if long-term copper toxicity occurs, the mind is racing while the body is fatigued and causes an increase in stress.

Something like this appears to happen with tadpoles. Experiments placing tadpoles in water with high copper concentrations led to lethargy. And tadpoles stoned out on excess copper can’t get away from marauding dragonflies as well as their noncopper toxic relatives. Consequently, near highways on the Kenai Peninsula, there are a high number of frogs with limbs missing, the result of dragonfly predation during the tadpole stage.

“Wingman, this is Blue Leader. Do you see that slow-moving tadpole at five o’clock?”

“Roger, Blue Leader, I’m on him.”

The wickedly efficient killing machine breaks from formation and dives, approaching 50 mph. Below, the stupefied tadpole is vaguely aware of danger as nearby insects scatter. It reacts too late. Bam! The dragonfly takes a chunk out of what would have been, after metamorphosis, the frog’s leg. Tasty.

The satisfied dragonfly returns to formation. “Nice job,” Blue Leader says, and another moves up to take her place. After a few minutes the dragonfly squad returns to its home base with full bellies, where they will rest and return to the Sterling Highway feeding frenzy another day.

If copper break dust affects amphibians, it probably affects fish, as well. Two states, Washington and California, began phasing out copper in brakes in 2010, and similar bills have been introduced in Rhode Island, New York and Oregon. The legislation requires copper be replaced by synthetic substances. It also requires brake pad manufacturers to reduce asbestos, cadmium, chromium, lead and mercury to minute amounts.

While all aspects of the environment, even tadpoles, are a concern, we should be especially concerned about the effect of copper toxicity on salmon. For the sake of our tadpoles, our salmon and ourselves, we should join the movement to phase out copper in brakes. The sooner the better.

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College. This column was previously published Dec. 27 in the Anchorage Daily News.

Guest editorial, Dec 18, 2013: New generation on HEA’s horizon

After nearly six years of study, planning, designing and construction, HEA is set to begin generating its own power on Jan. 1, 2014. The move to self-generation signals an end to a decades-old contract under which HEA purchased wholesale power from Chugach Electric Association.

As of Jan.1, HEA will no longer be paying for generation facilities and jobs that are located in Anchorage. Instead, we now have three HEA-owned generation plants on the Kenai Peninsula and the people operating those plants are Kenai Peninsula residents. In addition, many contractors that helped build the new plants are also based here on the peninsula.

The decisions to build generation plants in Nikiski and Soldotna, as well as purchase the Bernice Lake Power Plant, were not made lightly. Six years ago, it was clear that new power plants were going to be needed in Southcentral Alaska. The dilemma facing HEA was to either continue being a wholesale power purchaser and pay for someone else’s new generation plants, or build and operate our own facilities.

The studies and analyses showed that in either case, the cost to HEA and its members was about the same. Rather than pay the bill for a plant someone else owned, HEA’s Board of Directors decided to move forward with a plan to build, operate and pay for our own generation plants. In short, it was determined that if we are going to have to pay for new facilities, it made more sense to own and employ local residents than to enter into another long-term lease on assets not located in our communities.

Today, we have a combined cycle plant in Nikiski that features a new steam turbine and generator that uses steam to produce approximately 18 megawatts of power without using any additional natural gas. With the addition of the steam turbine to the existing natural gas combustion turbine, the Nikiski plant has the capability of producing 80 megawatts of power. We are also in the process of building a 48-megawatt plant in Soldotna that features a very efficient natural gas combustion turbine. And for meeting our members’ demand for electricity during peak periods, HEA receives a share of the Bradley Lake Hydroelectric Plant near Homer. Lastly, for backup and reserve requirements, HEA owns the Bernice Lake Power Plant in Nikiski.

The common theme for the new power plants here on the peninsula and around the rest of Southcentral Alaska is that they all use natural gas for fuel. Without another source of fuel, the cost of electricity will continue to be tied to the price of natural gas. Homer Electric has secured a contract for gas supply through March 2016 with an option to extend the contract two additional years. We are fortunate to have the contract in place, however, the rising price of gas paid by all Railbelt utilities is pushing electric rates upward. Unfortunately, the trend is not likely to reverse itself anytime soon and HEA’s increase in rates scheduled for Jan. 1 is tied directly to the cost of gas.

Knowing how dependent we are on natural gas, our goal is to make sure we operate as efficiently as possible and at the same time push forward on alternative energy projects. HEA is continuing to study the feasibility of a small hydro project at Grant Lake near Seward. We also have a partnership with Ocean Renewable Power Company and are working with them to install a tidal pilot project in Cook Inlet. HEA continues to encourage members to look for ways to reduce their energy usage and has offered valuable information at recent Energy and Conservation Fairs in Kenai and Homer.

While we are about to embark on a new and exciting chapter in our cooperative’s history, it’s important to remember our main mission. HEA is a member-owned cooperative that is committed to providing safe, reliable, and fair and reasonably priced electricity to its members. That will never change.

Brad Janorschke is general manager of Homer Electric Association.

Guest editorial, Dec 18, 2013: Subsistence the antidote to rural suicide

Suicide is a tragic and accurate indicator of social problems. If suicide rates are high, something is wrong.

The suicide rate in Alaska is twice the national average. Much of that is because of the magnitude of suicide in parts of rural Alaska. In the Northwest Arctic Census Area the suicide rate is six to nine times the national rate. In the Bethel Census Area in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta the rate is two to six times the national rate.

The cause of suicide in rural Alaska is not winter darkness or isolation. The surface cause is overt or covert assimilation practices by educational, government, religious and corporate institutions, each with their own agenda. But the root cause is the lack of freedom to practice subsistence (culture) in a traditional manner resulting in a hopelessness that spawns high suicide rates.

Mental health issues that might lead to suicide are easily measured in the villages. A full freezer or two and a big woodpile are the sign of a healthy household. If not, something is not right.

Suicide is not rampant everywhere in rural Alaska. In the Nushagak and Kvichiak villages of Southwest Alaska, suicide rates are low. During the 10 years between 1999 and 2009 in the Dillingham census district there were a total of 26 suicides in a population of 5,000. For all but one of those years the rate was too low to be statistically valid. During the same 10-year period in the Lake and Peninsula Borough there were a total of seven suicides in a population of 1,500 people — again, a rate too low to statistically measure. Meanwhile, just to the north in the Kuskokwim drainage villages, the suicide rates are among the highest in the state. Why?

Certainly programs supported by organizations like the Suicide Prevention Council have an impact, but these are statewide, not just in the Nushagak and Kvichak villages. There are two factors that make this Yup’ik and Dena’ina region more resistant to suicide than their Native brethren in other areas of Alaska — strong, healthy subsistence and a Christianity that embraces indigenous beliefs.

Unlike the Yukon and Kuskokwim areas, the king salmon runs on the Nushagak River remain strong, contributing to the best diet in the world. Many of the subsistence fishermen from the Nushagak villages also fish the Bristol Bay commercial fishery, providing the cash to live a subsistence lifestyle. Many live a preferred lifestyle of fishing, hunting, gathering and wood-cutting that is the envy of every Alaskan. (Well, maybe not every Alaskan.) With enough cash to buy gas and occasionally replace the four-stroke Yamaha, the subsistence fishers and hunters put up enough wild food to live a very comfortable, family-based lifestyle.

Moreover, the subsistence hunters, fishers and gatherers are in control of their own destiny. Having the freedom and accompanying responsibility to exercise the practices your grandfather taught you in the land of your ancestors is a very empowering thing. Control of your own destiny is an antidote to the malaise that causes suicide.

And on Sunday the people of the Nushagak and Kvichak villages go to the Russian Orthodox Church where a Yup’ik priest holds the service in Church Slavonic, English and Yup’ik. The people continue to practice a version of the first salmon ceremony and every January they participate in the Great Blessing of the Water, sanctifying the waters for the return of the salmon.

The villages of the Nushagak and Kvichak have successfully made the transition from prehistory to now. The keys are strong salmon-based subsistence lifestyle and a religion that embraces the old beliefs of sacred water and sacred salmon. Consequently, suicide is negligible.

A state policy supporting strong subsistence rights in all of Alaska would go a long way to creating a healthy Alaska. We should act on Gov. Egan’s 40-year-old promise and institute a subsistence priority for rural Alaska:

“Let me assure you (Native leadership) that the state’s commitment to preserving subsistence capability in our fish and game resources is of the first priority and will continue to be. Continuing attention to the Native for maintaining subsistence capability is an integral part of the state’s overall fish and game management program. It always has been, is now, and will be so in the future.” — Gov. William Egan, 1973

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College. This column was previously published Nov. 29 in the Anchorage Daily News.

Guest editorial, Dec 11, 2013: Bear management takes logic to extreme

One of my best friends was up visiting me from the Lower 48 last week when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hosted the public hearings about bear season closure. He tagged along with me when I went. Since he is not from Alaska, he had a few questions for me afterwards.

“Why do so many people want to kill all the bears,” he asked. “Don’t they know that Alaska is famous for its bears?”

“They don’t want to kill all the bears, just the problem bears.” I explained.

“I’m a little confused about what defines a problem bear,” he said. “At the meeting, one hunter said he would shoot any bear he saw and bragged about shooting them from his front porch. Was it a problem bear because he could see it?”

“No, it was coming into his yard to destroy things like his beehive and his chickens,” I explained.

“I didn’t think chickens and bees are native to Alaska — doesn’t he have to buy a new hive and new chickens each year?”

“Most people do, but it is his right to raise a farm,” I replied.

“I thought farming and ranching is completely impractical on the Kenai Peninsula.”

“It is but that doesn’t stop us from trying, we are pioneers on the Last Frontier.”

He just wouldn’t let it go. “If he is so concerned about bears, why in the world would he put the best bear attractant imaginable in his yard?”

“It isn’t as simple as that,” I replied. “He has to feed his grandkids and the only way he can do it is to raise a crop.”

“But he says the bears all try to kill his grandkids because they are attracted to his yard.”

“That’s right, they break into his house and eat his grandkids so he needs to shoot every bear he sees.”

I sensed victory as he finally changed the subject a little. “If there were 1,258 licenses issued to kill the problem bears and there are only 600 bears on the peninsula and all the bears are in the yards killing chickens, bees and grandkids, why didn’t the hunters kill them all this year?”

“You don’t understand the first thing about being Alaskan — that 600 number comes from the federal government and is therefore erroneous. The only facts you can ever believe are from the people who have lived here the longest. Outsiders don’t know anything.”

“So you base all your decisions on the bias of the oldest person in the room?” he asked incredulously.

“Of course, provided they have lived in Alaska the longest. Someone here 97 years and one day is always better informed than someone who has only been here 97 years. Even though someone else may be 98 years old, all that counts for knowledge is length of time in the state. Therefore we are much more scientific than believing the oldest in the room.

“The next thing to realize is that the state always knows more than the feds, the borough knows more than the state and the city knows more than the borough, and the private citizen always knows the most and can therefore break any laws he pleases. If he is arrested, he can claim government overreach and is always acquitted.”

“I see,” he said. “That is why at the meeting we had to believe the fellow who said there are obviously over 2,000 bears on the peninsula so we can shoot as many as we want to, and the other fellow was applauded for breaking the law and shooting five bears from his porch.”

“Right, since nobody on the peninsula can go out of their house without being attacked by one of the thousands of problem bears that have developed a taste for our grandkids, we always have to carry a gun and kill every bear we see and we are obligated to fight for our rights to do so.”

“What about the studies that the vast majority of Alaskans and visitors want to see bears in the wild?” he persisted.

“Government lies financed by out-of-state tree huggers,” I retorted, but politely refrained from adding “obviously.”

Feeling smug and self-assured, I suggested we go fishing and I could explain to him how we manage our king salmon. That might be slightly more difficult to explain to an out-of-stater, but at least I could quit answering stupid questions about bears.

Ed Schmitt, Soldotna

Guest editorial, Dec 4, 2013: HB 77 drilling up public debate

Local HB77 hearings slated

  • Public meetings will be held in at the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly Chambers in Soldotna on Dec. 9 and the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitors Center in Homer on Dec. 10 with a presentation by DNR Deputy Commissioner Ed Fogels and Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell from 4 to 5 p.m., an invited stakeholder panel discussion from 5 to 6 p.m., and recorded public testimony (two minutes per participant) from 6 to 7 p.m. Additional written testimony is welcome.

District O constituents and interested stakeholders:

Join us to learn about HB77. The bill has generated the most correspondence to my office than any other legislation (by proponents and opponents alike) since I became the District O Senator in January. Considering my district’s high level of interest in the bill, I requested meetings with Department of Natural Resources and Alaska Department of Fish and Game leadership. I’m pleased that they were willing to accommodate the request. My objective is to provide a forum for the DNR to present the bill, and for interested District O stakeholders to provide feedback and have an opportunity for their questions to be answered in an orderly, respectful discussion.

The current version of HB77 is, “An Act relating to the Alaska Land Act, including certain authorizations, contracts, leases, permits, or other disposals of state land, resources, property, or interests; relating to authorization for the use of state land by general permit; relating to exchange of state land; establishing that performance of a feasibility study for the development and operation of a hydroelectric site at Chikuminuk Lake is not considered an incompatible use of the Wood-Tikchik State Park; relating to procedures for certain administrative appeals and requests for reconsideration to the commissioner of natural resources; relating to the Alaska Water Use Act; and providing for an effective date.”

Please feel free to contact my office for additional information.

Sen. Peter Micciche represents Kenai Peninsula’s District OR-District O. Session: (907) 465-2828. Toll Free: (800) 964-5733. Kenai: (907) 283-7996

Public should weigh in on water reservations

I would first like to thank Sen. Peter Micciche for scheduling a hearing on the controversial House Bill 77, especially after the Department of Natural Resources cancelled their own hearings, in what many see as a deliberate attempt to keep the public in the dark and at bay.

This bill, a bill that the governor is pushing and that is currently lingering in the Alaska Legislature, is expected to be taken up during the next legislative session. It is a bill that a large number of people have proclaimed to be an outright assault on our fisheries. Many even characterize it as an assault on our very rights as citizens. While that language may sound strong, when one delves into this long and unwieldy piece of legislation, it is a characterization that is difficult to dispute. Probably the most alarming aspect of House Bill 77 is the massive concentration of power it bestows upon just one person. The commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources, if this contentious piece of legislation passes, would have unprecedented powers to issue general permits for just about any activity on state land. Under current law, Alaskans are given notice and have an opportunity to comment on impacts to water, fish and human health. This bill would make preliminary notice and a comment period no longer mandatory in many cases, basically silencing the citizenry and taking away our say on many issues, issues that could easily have an effect on our daily lives.

Another very concerning aspect of this bill is that it attempts to significantly curtail citizens’ ability to apply for water reservations. Until now any citizen or group could apply for water reservations, which simply means maintaining enough water in a particular stream or river to protect traditional use of our natural resources. In many cases these are fisheries that have been used over long periods of time by sport and subsistence fishers. The proponents of this bill say it streamlines permitting. However, if it passes, Alaskan citizens could only apply for water reservations through a public entity, such as a borough or municipality. What this does is create an additional layer of bureaucracy for ordinary Alaskan citizens, while large outside corporations need only ask the commissioner of DNR for the rights to use our water and land, and in many cases without notice to us or without allowing us to comment.

Much of Alaska’s reputation has been built upon our world-class fisheries and the sustainability of our natural resources. Our commercial and sport fisheries employ 63,000 Alaskans, and last year generated more than $2 billion in income. Our U.S. senators and governor regularly travel out of state and even overseas touting the health of our fisheries and our supposedly rigorous permitting process that maintains them, but with this bill we are on the verge of heading down the same road to ruin so many other states have traveled, where our fisheries and our voices take a back seat to lobbyists, large corporations and special interests.

Most Alaskans would agree that clear and concise permitting is a good thing, but this bill would leave Alaskans out in the cold, without a voice, and unable to weigh in when it came to protecting our own property and access to our resources. It is government overreach at its worst, putting state and Outside interests ahead of local communities.

Gov. Parnell says his House Bill 77 will streamline permitting, but what this fish-killing bill does in actuality is streamline every Alaskan out of the process, and it needs to be stopped. All Alaskans should contact their state senator and urge them to do everything in their power to halt this piece of misguided legislation before our fisheries and our reputation suffers the same ill fate that so many around the world have suffered. The time to act is now to protect our fisheries and our rights.

Dave Atcheson is a sport-fishing advocate and writer who lives in Sterling.

Government overreach in HB 77

Last year the Parnell administration threw a bomb that could blow up all your rights and protections under our state Constitution. The state House passed Gov. Sean Parnell’s HB 77, “The Silencing Alaskans Act.” It sits in the state Senate now, fuse burning, ready to explode in our face with the opening of the 2014 Legislative Session.

HB 77 ignores Constitutional protections.

According to Article 1, Section 1 of the Alaska Constitution, “… All persons are equal and entitled to equal rights, opportunities, and protections under the law.” Section 2 goes on, “All political power is inherent in the people. All government originates with the people, is founded upon their will only, and is instituted solely for the good of the people as a whole.”

The various sections in Article 8 reserve Alaska’s natural resources for the maximum benefit of its people for our common use and require conservation measures, including utilization of “replenishable” resources on a sustained yield principle (fish, wildlife, surface and subsurface waters). Article 8 also requires prior public notice and other safeguards when disposing or leasing of state resources.

Why worry?

So much for all that. Under HB 77, the Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources could authorize any activity on state land by fiat (general permit). The decision would override any other state law as long as the commissioner decides it will not result in “significant, irreparable harm to state land or resources.” Those terms are not defined, of course.

At the same time, HB 77 would blindfold and gag Alaska citizens by allowing the DNR to bypass normal public notice and comment practices. This could even mean elimination of the present requirement for a “best interest finding” before DNR proceeds with land and resource sales or leases. HB 77 would make it very easy for outside corporations to get anything they want, but very hard for an ordinary citizen to even know about it, let alone successfully challenge anything authorized by DNR.

Clearly Gov. Parnell and too many of our legislators have come to feel that Alaska’s resources are theirs to do with as they see fit, which seems to focus mostly on rewarding corporate campaign funders.

Do you value your constitutional rights? Worried about government overreach? Why not start making some noise. Sen. Peter Micciche, R-District O, was one of the two senators who stalled passage of HB 77 last session. He has arranged for hearings/stakeholder discussions at the Kenai Borough Assembly Chambers on Dec. 9 and at Homer’s Islands and Ocean Visitor Center on Dec. 10. Both meetings start at 4 p.m. It’s a chance to let Sen. Micciche know you appreciate his efforts and to tell him how you feel about HB 77.

Michael O’Meara, Homer

Guest editorial, Nov. 27, 2013: Protect spawning areas to promote kings

In recent years we have seen a troubling pattern of near-record low returns of both early and late-run Kenai River chinook salmon. We believe the declines in statewide chinook fisheries are largely due to marine survival issues, however, we also feel that part of our Kenai River decline can be linked to in-river harvest patterns, fishing on middle-river mainstem spawning fish throughout July, insufficient spawning area protections, selective harvest of our larger age-class fish, and multiple years of over-harvest of the population due to biased high sonar counts.

History seems pretty clear that factors such as population growth, increased use, commercialization and development make it difficult for us to sustain indigenous wild chinook salmon populations. Unless we alter our behavior we will join the long list of streams dependent on hatchery-produced fish. We will not be able to sustain the high-density fishery that has developed on the Kenai unless we consider a more conservationist approach of protecting production to secure future run strength sustainability.

In order to provide for recovery and certainty in future Kenai River king salmon production, the Kenai Area Fisherman’s Coalition, a private angler “Joe Fisherman” group, has forwarded proposal No. 219 to the Board of Fisheries for consideration during its February Upper Cook Inlet meeting.

This proposal would allow the season to start normally so that everyone along the river has an opportunity to fish for kings, but then, as the season progresses, two permanent spawning conservation areas would occur, in a timely fashion, as fish move upriver to the middle section. The lower river would remain open throughout the entire season for a vibrant sport fishery to continue.

The first, Spawning Conservation Area 1, would commence starting July 1 and would close the waters from the Moose River to Skilak Lake for fishing for king salmon. This closure is designed mainly to protect early run chinook stocks, which have seen a much steeper decline than the late run. Funny River weir data indicates about a 70 percent decline since 2006, and Slikok Creek weir data shows an 80 percent decline since 2004 with very few females returning.

We believe the mainstem component of the early run may be in even more peril because they enter the fishery in May and June and are vulnerable to harvest longer than any other segment of the Kenai River king salmon population. They are also the largest fish in the early run and have been targeted throughout the years by selective harvest.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game research indicates that the median spawning date for early run mainstem fish is around July 20. This means that they are the only segment of our chinook return that isn’t afforded protection during spawning. All of our tributary fish are protected once they reach the sanctuary areas of the tributary mouths.

The late-run chinook don’t spawn until around the middle of August and the season closes July 31 so they are protected. We even have a spawning closure period for rainbow trout.

Spawning Conservation Area 2 would commence July 10 from the Sterling Highway bridge in Soldotna upstream to the Moose River. This closure would protect both early-run and late-run fish that spawn in that area. Almost all late-run kings are mainstem spawners, and there is currently no spawning sanctuary area afforded to them. This closure would provide an area of certainty for late-run spawning production.

We believe these types of proactive conservation measures are both prudent and necessary as we face the future of a growing population with increased demands on our king salmon resources. This more conservative management approach reduces several current aspects of our fishery that continue to jeopardize our ability to protect the quality and sustainability of our king salmon stocks.

1) Selective harvest of our largest fish would be greatly reduced because of these protective spawning areas. Recent data suggests there may be a link between multiple generations of selective harvest practices causing a shift in the genetic character of the stocks, resulting in a general reduction in the size of fish because of a shift in the age/sex composition of returning adults.

Additionally, smaller returning fish producing fewer eggs reduce the aggregate spawning contributions and future recruitment. Researchers also suggest that improvements would be slow to materialize and require multiple generations within a new selection regime.

2) Catch-and-release mortality would also be reduced by the establishment of these spawning conservation areas, because fishing for kings would no longer occur in these important spawning areas. Catch-and-release mortality occurs often in our fisheries because we sort through a lot of fish looking for the big “bragging rights” and trophy fish. It also occurs more often lately by regulation when our fisheries are limited to catch-and-release restrictions.

Research also indicates that there are several negative factors that can occur when fish are disturbed on their spawning beds and some released fish are stressed to the point that they may not spawning at all.

3) Sonar counting irregularities would not matter as much if we had established spawning protected areas. Sonar counting issues bring into question what our actual mainstem spawning component really is on an annual basis. Until we can have more confidence in sonar reliability it is paramount that we operate on a more conservative path.

Our inability to accurately count our kings by the use of sonar and test netting are well documented and bring into question our production models. We have changed our Kenai king escapement goals four times in the last decade alone.

Our organization believes this will be the most important Kenai River proposal before the Board of Fisheries at its upcoming Upper Cook Inlet meeting. It presents us with a real opportunity to change our management philosophy on the Kenai to a strategy that offers the best chance at recovering our king populations, bringing back the larger age class fish and providing long-term sustainability for future generations to enjoy.

We don’t know what the future holds for our king salmon populations in the marine environment, so it becomes our responsibility to provide this resource with the best options we can for in-river survival and future propagation.

You can view all of the Kenai River and Upper Cook Inlet proposals on the Board of Fisheries website, and if you would like to comment on this proposal, or any others, you can do so in a “comment box” they provide.

Dwight Kramer is an avid Kenai River sport fisherman, “Joe Fisherman” and chair of Kenai Area Fisherman’s Coalition.

Guest editorial, Oct. 30, 2013: Alaska should say no to GMO ‘frankenfish’

The word on the Internet is that the federal Food and Drug Administration is on the verge of final approval for human consumption of AquaBounty’s genetically modified salmon. The initial approval has already been made. The FDA is now responding to public commentary, including over 2 million objections to GMO salmon. The FDA has approved corn and other genetically modified plant foods for human consumption, and Monsanto and sister corporations are booming. But Atlantic salmon with an eel pout gene to trigger a king salmon growth gene would be the first GMO animal approved for human consumption.

Economically, cheap “frankenfish” will almost certainly deplete the commercial market for wild, more expensive, salmon. That would be ruinous to Alaska’s commercial salmon industry. Moreover, as canneries and fishermen go out of business, the primary mechanism biologists have to manage escapement and, hence, stable fish runs, would also disappear. With Riker models run amok, salmon runs will be chaotic.

Environmentally, escaping GMO salmon will have unknown consequences to healthy, wild salmon stocks. AquaBounty says it will sterilize the female frankenfish. What are they going to do, assembly-line fish hysterectomies? Howard et al. estimated that if 60 GMO salmon were disseminated among 60,000 wild salmon, the natural stock would be decimated in 40 generations.

Brady Dennis (Washington Post, Oct. 18, 2013) quotes AquaBounty chief executive Ron Stotish as saying critics of GMO salmon are engaged in “fear mongering” and portrays his little company as bravely trying to help supply the world’s food resources. But they are not a little company. AquaBounty is owned by biotech giant Intrexon Corporation, one of the world’s leaders in genetic modification, whose slogan is “Synthetic Biology Through Better DNA.” It is run by the former head of Monsanto, Thomas Kasser. The company claims to be developing technology that modifies the message of messenger RNA. Control the way an organism is constructed and you control life. Moreover, corporations will own that life — the Supreme Court says so.

We are living in a horrible science fiction movie. We should be worried.

According to Olivier Le Curieux-Belfond et al., the FDA testing protocols don’t account for long-term genetic complications potentially contributing to human diseases already linked to genetically modified foods, such as cancer and diabetes. Instead, the FDA relies on tests conducted by the applicant — AquaBounty in this case. The FDA only compares the nutritional characteristics of Atlantic salmon compared with GMO farmed Atlantic/king/eel pout salmon. On that basis the FDA deemed the GMO salmon “safe.” Testing for genetic interaction is a lot more complicated and has not been done.

For simple organisms, like tsetse flies, genes operate like independent little instruction manuals. Replace one gene with another and you got an extra leg, or no leg — one gene, one trait. But that is not true of more complex organisms where genes not only interact with other genes to produce a trait, but interact in complex and poorly understood ways with genes that may have nothing to do with the trait in question. This is particularly a problem if the gene modification technique of random insertion is used in gene modification as is done with AquaBounty salmon. Maybe the desired effect, rapid growth, will occur. Maybe something else.

Some potential problems include the fact that genetically engineered salmon have 40 percent more IGF-1 growth hormones than regular salmon. This hormone causes rapid growth in GMO salmon but has been linked to cancer in humans. Another is that rapidly growing salmon do not have time to naturally eliminate toxic substances, potentially transferring them on to whatever eats them, humans in this case. Healthy Omega-3 fatty acids are much reduced in farmed salmon, which is proposed for GMO salmon. And that’s just for starters.

If GMO salmon consumers develop health problems they will have done the FDA’s research. But they will have done it in the grim real-world laboratory of life and death.

GMO salmon are just the beginning of irreversible transgenic modification of our animal food system. GMO trout have been produced and await FDA approval. Caribou, moose, along with familiar barnyard animals, will be modified to be fat, slow and dumb. We, in turn, will become what we eat.

We can’t do much, but Alaska can ban GMO salmon from being made in, imported to or sold within our state. We must do what we can to make Alaska a refuge for what author David Montgomery has called “The King of Fish.”

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College. This column was previously published Oct. 25 in the Anchorage Daily News.

Guest editorial, Oct. 2, 2013: Dena’ina exhibit highlights important history

The name of the recently opened exhibit at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmussen Center, “Dena’inaq’ Huch’ulyeshi,” should be a signal that this is no ordinary exhibit about exotic people from distant places. “A Dena’ina Way of Living” is about the original inhabitants of this place, a people who have occupied Cook Inlet and parts of the Kvichak and Kuskokwim drainages for thousands of years. During that time the Dena’ina forged one of the world’s great sustainable societies.

Of course, they were helped along in that endeavor by having salmon as the keystone species of their subsistence. Salmon — until recently one of the world’s most secure, predictable and nutritious food sources. The summer flood of salmon to our northern waters is a biomass of unmatched proportions.

Early anthropologists forged the concept of culture to understand why people behave the way they do. They understood that one of the driving forces was subsistence — how people obtain and distribute food energy. Eventually the Marxian idea of economic determinism was rejected, but it is still a well-established principle that subsistence (or economics) is a primary driving force that shapes how family is structured, what values become core values, and what beliefs constitute the force of supernatural power.

For the Dena’ina and the other salmon cultures of the world, the Saami, Micmac, Hupa, Haida, Ainu and others, it was the king of fish that shaped their language, their values, and their reason for being.

But those core values were also formed by something else, the mystery of the northern forest. We in the modern world have insulated ourselves from those mysteries with the light switch and centralized heating. We don’t spend much time miles from anywhere camping out on a cold winter night. Only then with the fire crackling and the shadows alive can we truly understand this place. It is telling that in the ancient stories the animals called the Dena’ina the Campfire People.

And so you will see in the artifacts assembled from far-flung museums by curators Suzie Jones, James Fall and a young Dena’ina scholar named Aaron Leggett, a statement about this place through the lens of the people who have been here the longest. The message is not of vicarious time travel into the past, but a statement about the present. The Dena’ina are saying, “We’re still here and we will continue to be here.”

In urban areas, the old sustainable culture was to be truncated by Captain Cook and Russians, and especially canneries, miners, homesteaders, oil workers and a glut of service workers — doctors, lawyers and college professors that inundated Dena’ina territory, each in their way writing them out of history.

In 1970, if you had asked a person on the street the name of the indigenous culture that occupied Cook Inlet you would have gotten a shrug, or maybe, “Eskimos, I guess.” Like its southern counterparts, the northern version of manifest destiny is made problematic by the presence of indigenous people with indigenous rights. Better to eliminate them by writing them out of history so you can feel good about transforming the landscape from raw to civilized, or as the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, put it, from raw to cooked. But the Dena’ina would not die at the stroke, or lack thereof, of a pen. They would not be written out of the history of their land and their landscape.

To be sure, many Dena’ina succumb to one of the powerful tools of cultural dominance — disinterest. Disinterest means a dominant culture convincing a minority through assimilation tactics to not act in their self-interest, but in the interest of the dominant culture.

Teachers and other newcomers, subtly or not so subtly, enacted measures to convince Dena’ina that it was not in their best interest to embrace their Dena’ina identity. Their mouths were washed out with soap for speaking their language in school, and their traditional clothing was mocked. In later years, little Dena’ina girls were too brown or too poor to be invited to birthday parties, and boys had to fight or slump away in schoolyard encounters because they were not from the mainstream. To cope, many Dena’ina denied their heritage. Disinterest is a terrible thing with devastating psychological consequences.

Now one of Alaska’s premier museums has finally seen fit to tell the story of this place, and to do it from the perspective of the Dena’ina. Haunting the display cases at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmussen Center’s exhibit is the backstory of payback, payback for a century of being ignored and marginalized in their homeland. Congratulations to the museum and its curators for making progress in the war against the cancer of ethnocentrism.

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College. This column was previously published Sept. 27 in the Anchorage Daily News.

Guest editorial, Sept. 25, 2013: Research first, then got to the polls

Voters should force conservatism

City and Kenai Peninsula Borough elections are here, with absentee voting already started. There are many important seats to be filled and issues decided. Now is the time for everyone to become informed, not when standing in the polling booth Oct. 1.

Good government requires voters making well-informed decisions. The borough election pamphlet is a good place to start, as it provides all the basic information. However, it does not tell the whole story, and additional research is required. There are public forums where candidates and issues are discussed.

You can attend in person or listen in on talk radio. Ask hard questions before making your decision. Probing questions are acceptable and necessary in the decision-making process. Voting is your civic duty and should never be taken lightly.

Voters in Nikiski, Soldotna, Kasilof, Clam Gulch, Happy Valley, Ninilchik and Nikolaevsk will choose an assembly member. You have a choice between the incumbent liberal assembly members running for re-election and their more conservative challengers.

Unlike the borough assembly candidates, which are voted on by district, borough ballot propositions are voted on by all voters. These are important decisions that will affect you for a long time.

Ballot Proposition 1, if approved by voters, will increase your borough property tax exemption from the current $20,000 to $50,000. This saves the average homeowner several hundred dollars a year on their borough property tax. The voters’ pamphlet claims local service areas lose revenues, but this is not the full picture.

Based on information provided by the borough, but not included in the voters’ pamphlet, less than two-tenths of a mill increase will offset the revenue loss, assuming there is no growth in the borough economy.

However, there has been and likely will continue to be growth that will more than offset lost revenue. Why did the borough withhold this important information? The answer is simple — because half-truths support its position.

Another example of the borough using half-truths in the voter information pamphlet is Ballot Proposition 2. In the original ballot language, the borough implies our Legislature will repay 70 percent of school bonds. At the insistence of former state legislator Kelly Wolf and a few more conservative assembly members, additional language was added to clarify the state’s actual participation.

If approved by voters, Ballot Proposition 2 commits taxpayers to accept ultimate responsibility for repayment of this $23 million school bond. This is in addition to the $106 million taxpayers currently owe, according to the borough. The borough implies the state Legislature is going to pay 70 percent of the bond payments each year. What is not widely known is that the state Legislature is not required to pay this bond debt.

Each Legislature makes bond payment decisions based on available revenues for that specific year. While the Legislature has funded most bond payments in the past, continued decline in oil production makes it highly unlikely this will continue for much longer.

Those of us who support a top-notch education for our kids have no doubt these schools need repairs. However, school roofs can last longer with better maintenance and better budgeting. The borough’s ongoing failure to plan and properly budget does not constitute a crisis compelling enough for me to authorize a $23 million loan. High government borrowing is not working well anywhere in America and our borough is no exception.

Finally, Ballot Proposition 3A and 3B is a two-part question about assembly term limits. Yes, the assembly has brought it back again hoping we have changed our minds. They want to argue the merits of term limits and downplay the fact that three times voters have told them we want a two-term limit on the assembly.

For some reason they just don’t get it. The solution to their ignorance/arrogance is simple. To keep a two-term limit on the borough assembly members, you must vote “No” and “No,” just like scolding a misbehaving child, and a very good argument for keeping the current two-term limit.

Do your own research, talk to your family, friends and neighbors and then vote. Your vote does count, so make it an informed one. See you at the polls Oct. 1.

Mike McBride is a board member of the Alliance of Concerned Taxpayers and lives in Nikiski.

Proposition 2 protects investment

Couldn’t agree more with the opinion from Mike McBride — research first and then vote. I’d take a little different view, based on my research and my years on both the Kenai Peninsula Borough School Board and Assembly. These are my personal views.

Regarding the $50,000 exemption, that will shift the tax. Let me explain. The two-tenths Mr. McBride says is required to make up the borough loss, only applies to the general government portion, it does not include the service areas. For South Peninsula residents the combined mill increase needed, just to keep revenues the same, would be more than half a mill. For KESA, .16 mills, South Peninsula Hospital .11, Road Service Area .06, and the general government .19 for a total of .52.

On the Eastern Peninsula, Bear Creek Service Area and the Flood Service Area would see an increase of .81 mills. Keep in mind that the increase will affect all real properties, raw land, business, rental and other commercial properties. They will see a significant tax increase. The property tax exemption increase only applies to residences, not businesses, and only to qualifying residents. It is a tax shift. I do not believe there will be adequate property value increases to cover, especially for the service areas that must allow for increased costs, as well. This is an issue each voter must weigh.

About the bond issue. I very, very strongly support this. The borough has close to a billion dollars invested in buildings, and school buildings. That investment must be protected. Just as you and I protect our investments in our homes, so, too, the borough must act. There is a limit to the maintenance that can be done on a yearly basis, likewise with our homes. I believe it is the borough’s obligation to the public, who helped pay for these buildings. And, don’t I wish, when I replace a 40-year-old-roof that someone would pay 70 percent of it?

Mr. McBride suggests that the Legislature could not fund it. That the Legislature must appropriate the funds each year is true, but they are obligated to do so every year. The PFD is “subject to appropriation.” It is a constitutional provision. The Alaska Legislature authorizes the debt reimbursement program and qualifications in statute. The projects included on the bond have all been approved by the Department of Education, as they have statutory oversight.

I have known this program since 1982, and I can say the Legislature has never failed to fund the debt reimbursement program. Not only will passage of this bond proposition result in replacing some roofs that are over 40 years old, but with additional insulation and more modern products, it is estimated the borough will save $250,000 in heating costs. To me, this is responsible stewardship of the borough facility assets.  And we only pay 30 percent of it.

Please vote yes on ballot Proposition 2. Thank you.

Milli Martin, of Homer, is a former Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member.

Guest editorial, Sept. 4, 2013: Awareness key to FASD solutions

Sept. 9 is international Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Awareness Day. FASDs happen when a pregnant woman drinks alcohol. Even in small amounts, alcohol does damage at a cellular level that changes the way the brain develops.

Early in the pregnancy, before a woman even knows she’s pregnant, is when some of the most significant damage can happen. It may show up right away in a newborn baby’s inability to be soothed, or months down the road as they fail to meet developmental milestones on time, like crawling, walking, talking and toilet training. It may show up a few years later in difficult behaviors, learning problems or the way a child’s sensory system works. It may not really show itself until a child is older and has to make decisions, think abstractly, use good judgment, figure out relationships or negotiate independent living.

We already know that FASD is a problem in our area. Although there are stereotypes that we like to hang on to, the problem is not selective to Native Alaskans, low-income families or undereducated moms. It can happen wherever there is pregnancy and alcohol combined. If 50 percent of pregnancies aren’t planned and somewhere around 65 percent of young Alaska women drink, there’s a good chance that unborn children are being exposed to alcohol before the mom knows she’s pregnant.

Some of our school-aged kids who struggle with learning and behavior difficulties may have undiagnosed problems related to alcohol exposure. They may end up with all manner of diagnoses that describe their problems but don’t get at the source of them. To that, we can add some fairly new science that is coming to light about another cause of brain development problems — early childhood trauma.

“Differences in the behavioral and emotional impact of prenatal alcohol exposure and postnatal trauma are often clinically indistinguishable,” according to Dr. Mark Sloane, a developmental pediatrician from Michigan.

Did you catch that? Exposure to trauma causes the same type of physical brain changes that alcohol does. Alcohol is a poison that acts as a solvent on the developing brain. Dr. Sloane states that a child witnessing domestic violence, experiencing significant neglect or directly experiencing abuse can cause the same sort of brain damage as alcohol. He wrote this article in 2007, but it didn’t get much attention until recently. There has since been further study on the subject that verifies his findings. At present, the world of human services is becoming much more savvy about what we call “trauma-informed care.” That is, recognizing the effect of exposure to emotional trauma and how it impacts individuals, even as adults.

So then, what if we combine these two things, alcohol and trauma? Isn’t that a double whammy on the brain? Indeed it is. If we take a brain that is already vulnerable and add another major stressor to it, the impact may be even greater than the sum of those two parts. What if a mom and dad were careful to not consume alcohol or other harmful substances during pregnancy, but didn’t realize that the stress of their fighting and chaos was still damaging their child’s development? In good faith they were working to protect their baby’s brain, not realizing that their difficult relationship itself was causing damage.

An in-depth study was done a few years ago called the Adverse Childhood Events Survey. It took place over several years and had a lot of people participating. It showed that bad things happening early in life can cause all sorts of health problems down the road, including a shortened lifespan, and chronic illness much later in life.

Last year at this time, I wrote an article about why women drink during pregnancy. It’s a compelling question, isn’t it? We found that, in this day and age when we have knowledge and resources, women are still knowingly drinking during pregnancy. It turns out that more than 90 percent of these women have significant trauma histories. And around it goes.

The occurrence of FASDs in Alaska hasn’t really gone down much. It’s still a big problem. So, rather than saying, “It’s 100 percent preventable. If women just don’t drink during pregnancy, we won’t have any FASDs,” maybe we need to dig a little deeper, start a little sooner and begin to address the underlying issue of emotional trauma in our culture and in our community.

Vickie Tinker is coordinator of the Developmental Clinic and FASD Program at Frontier Community Services.

Guest editorial, Aug. 21, 2013: Don’t shackle future students to debt

Alaskans working through academic schooling or vocational training should not be crippled by debt to better themselves, and in doing so, better our economy. In our state, a debate about student loan rates is going on that parallels the one just resolved in Congress. The Alaska Student Loan Corporation issues loans at adjustable interest rates, which currently stand at 7.3 percent — almost double what a bipartisan agreement in Washington agreed on for federal student loan interest rates, and triple the rate of a used car loan at some local banks.

After several weeks of political brinkmanship, which allowed federal rates to double to 6.8 percent, Congress settled at an improved, but imperfect, treasury note indexed rate. This compromise reduced rates currently to 3.8 percent but allows them to rise along with interest rates. Meanwhile, Alaska’s rate remains 7.3 percent and will rise with interest rates, as well. However defective the federal loan rates may be, the state programs are doubly so as things stand currently.

Reps. Les Gara, Geran Tarr and others have begun a push for reform here at home, and rightfully so. Most Alaskans aren’t wealthy enough to pay the entire bill for college themselves, and many need even more than the $8,500 or so in federal loans they can obtain. Thus, our students must be provided a chance to obtain an affordable student loan from the state as well. Gara and Tarr have called on all their colleagues, regardless of party, to work together to produce a comprehensive, permanent and bipartisan solution. The bill was introduced to start such a discussion last year, and yet the bill was referred to the education committee and ignored. All the while the sponsors and proponents have stated they don’t care who gets the credit, as long as we get a solution, and offer Alaskans a more equitable chance of an affordable education.

House Bill 17 would help make academic and professional schooling for all Alaskans more affordable. Higher wages, stronger families, less dependency on public assistance, lower crime rates and countless other benefits would certainly follow as more Alaskans receive the education they deserve. The bill would effectively reduce the interest rate by 3 percent if the borrower maintains residency in Alaska, and was crafted in consortium with the Student Loan Corporation, which favored an annual 2.5 percent principal reduction, which equates to a 3 percent interest rate reduction.

The proposal would also help alleviate the major problem Alaska has filling professional jobs. Many teachers, for example, are hired from out of state because of necessity and their retention rates are abysmal. Instead, HB 17 helps keep Alaska’s best and brightest here, to strengthen our economy, whether they attend Alaska schools or go outside and return with the skills we so desperately need. While the bill currently relieves those who remain or return to Alaska and complete their education in a limited period of time, Gara proposes to amend it so a student can complete their program based on their own schedule and plans to strengthen this part of the bill when the Legislature convenes in 2014. The rate reduction would be waiting for them as an incentive to graduate, and this would reduce Alaska’s college level dropout rate, which remains the highest in the nation.

House Bill 17 would be a strong and cost effective step in the right direction to fill professional jobs with professional Alaskans, ensure equal opportunity for all, strengthen our economy and in doing so create a better future for ourselves and those who come after us. However, any bill or policy that can achieve these same goals will be much welcomed by students. Student loan debt is the second largest form of debt burdening Americans, after mortgages. Debt is crippling our students’ ability to keep themselves afloat, let alone to plan for a future in Alaska where the cost of rent, food and fuel are already exorbitant.

It’s time for the Legislature and governor to work together, like Congress did, and produce a viable, meaningful solution; and that begins with moving this bill through the legislative process.

Andrew Lessig is the University of Alaska Anchorage student government president and a member of the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education.

Guest editorial, July 10, 2013: Clean up your boat-cleaning routine

You know the drill — finish a long day (or week) of fishing, and it’s time to clean the boat. Get out the soaps, the degreasers, the scrubbers and the hose. Products that often hit the deck include bleach and branded general cleaners, such as Simple Green or 401. Before you know it, the suds are flying and you’re feeling good about a Spic-and-Span vessel — knowing it will only stay that way until the next trip out.

This repeated cycle of washing can send gallons of cleaners into our harbors, increasing nutrient loads (leading to increased algal growth followed by smelly decomposition) and potentially harming marine life. Small amounts of chemicals and washed-off petroleum products can damage the hearts and other organs in developing fish. In addition, we often use more cleaner than is necessary and/or don’t dilute concentrated products correctly. These are both oversights that not only send more chemicals into the water, but also waste money.

While our harbors are work zones, they are also places where we congregate as boaters, as recreational or commercial fishing families, and where we introduce our kids to the marine environment. There are plenty of ways to reduce our impacts in the harbor while still maintaining our vessels and keeping them clean. As the saying goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, so remember that there usually are several ways to get something done. So take these steps — identify waste streams, understand the alternatives and take the path of least pollution.

Here are some ideas for keeping you and your crew safe, protecting marine life and saving money when purchasing cleaners for your next round of boat washing:

  • Look for third-party certificates for less-harmful products. These include the EPA-certified “Design for the Environment” label, or Green Seal Certified products.
  • Read and follow instructions. Dilute as recommended and use more elbow grease than chemical. This will save you money.
  • Read the label and avoid these ingredients: ammonia, sodium hypochlorite, chlorine, petroleum products or lye.
  • No bilge cleaner on the market “eats” fuels and oils. While they do disperse, they are still in the wash water, and we know that in small concentrations they still are toxic for marine life, including small fish and embryos. Dispose of oily bilge water onshore as proscribed.
  • Use alternative cleaners whenever possible. For example, straight white vinegar is a great stainless cleaner, and careful use of baking soda and water, rinsed with lemon or lime juice, is an effective stain remover on fiberglass.
  • Be wary of products that aren’t certified and heavily market themselves as “green” or “environmentally friendly.” Be an informed consumer and read labels.

DANGER = extremely flammable, corrosive or toxic;

WARNING = moderately hazardous; and

CAUTION = less hazardous.

Find more ideas on alternative cleaners at Cook Inletkeeper’s Clean Boating website, www.inletkeeper.org/clean-water/clean-boating/clean-boaters.

Rachel Lord is the outreach and monitoring coordinator at Cook Inletkeeper. She can be reached at rachel@inletkeeper.org or 907-235-4068 ext. 29.

Guest editorial, May 15, 2013: Trash pickup good for the mind and roads

I’m a Trash Picker — collector of litter and a self-appointed cleaner of the roadways.

When I was 10 my family moved from the crowded suburbs of Camp Hill, Penn., to the majestic mountains of Jackson Hole, Wyo., fulfilling my father’s dream of living in the Wild West.

Along with fresh air and an abundance of natural beauty, he discovered that the roadways were littered with soda pop bottles, beer cans, old tires, rotten tarps and a plethora of other discards.  Being a conversationalist all his life, he knew something had to be done and it would start with us.

My brother was only 3 when my dad decided that our small family of four would clean up the roadways. Thus began a family tradition. Each spring Dad would park our big blue station wagon along a stretch of road that he found most objectionable, strap on a backpack containing refreshments and trash bags, and off we’d go. My parents donned neon-orange hunting vests to warn drivers of our whereabouts as traffic screamed past us at 60 miles per hour or better.

Ignoring my objections, Mom insisted that I wear a red bandana on my head so that drivers might see me, too. For my brother’s safety, she tethered us together using a long piece of clothesline and tying it around our waists, giving us about 5 feet of freedom. Mimi and Niki, our two toy poodles, always accompanied us and were under my mother’s careful supervision. While the five of us stuck to the ditches in relative safety, Dad cleaned up the edges of the highway.

I don’t remember finding anything of real value, but my brother had a genuine flair for finding money — once even finding a $20 bill! But, it was 1968 and recyclers were paying up to 32 cents a pound for aluminum. Separating the aluminum from everything else, it didn’t take long to earn enough for a reward of hamburgers, french fries and strawberry milkshakes at the local drive-in burger joint.

Spending time outdoors as a family was high on my father’s list of priorities and he never voiced any concerns about what others may think of our strange outings. He was more interested in impressing upon us the importance of caring for and protecting our surroundings.

Now in my 50s, I still enjoy picking up trash. After the snow melts and before everything bursts into full foliage, I head out for my usual morning walk with trash bags stuffed in my pockets and work gloves on my hands. Walking and collecting trash is good for my body and mind. I walk farther and with all the bending, stooping and squatting I get a pretty good workout. My mind stays busy tracking down the next paper drink cup or beer can, and it’s satisfying to drive down a stretch of litter-free road.

Alaska can be a trashy place, especially with the ever-present wind. At times it feels like anything lighter than a Volkswagen could be blown into the next hemisphere. However, can’t we all be more thoughtful about battening down our personal trash receptacles and securing loads on our way to the dump?

If everyone policed a mile, a block or even 10 feet of roadway in front of their residence or business, litter would not be much of a problem. As the snow melts, won’t you join me in cleaning up a little stretch of roadway? Let’s show our “pride of ownership” and collect some trash!

Deb Rhoades is a former central Kenai Peninsula resident who now lives in Homer.

Brown bear involved in Kasilof attack tests negative for rabies

Staff report

A brown bear sow that attacked a Kenai family walking on the north beach of the Kasilof River on April 21 has tested negative for rabies, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Fish and Game collected the head and spine of the sow for testing after it was shot and killed by Alaska State Troopers because of its aggressive behavior. The bear attacked the family, as well as reportedly attacking a telephone pole and a moving pickup truck.

The bear’s remains were examined by Fish and Game veterinarian Kimberlee Beckmen, who gauges the bear to be about 20 years old and negative for rabies. Beckmen did discover that the bear was blind in its right eye, with a ruptured cornea from an old injury. The cornea of the left eye was clouded, suggesting that its vision in that eye was impaired, as well.

“Impaired vision could explain the bear’s behavior,” Beckmen stated, adding that a bear that is blind or suffering from severely impaired eyesight might behave defensively or aggressively in encounters with objects or beings it is unable to recognize. For example, the bear might have ran blindly into the telephone pole and swatted at it in fear, according to Beckmen.

Fish and Game asks that anyone witnessing wildlife behaving aggressively or abnormally contact the nearest Fish and Game office or appropriate law enforcement authorities. For more information about bear behavior and safety tips for encounters with bears, visit www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=livingwithbears.main.

Guest editorial, May 1, 2013: Evil is an action, not a presence

One of the most common metaphors of evil in Western mythology is darkness. “The prince of darkness,” “He turned to the dark side,” or Charles Manson’s “From the world of darkness I did loose demons,” are among many examples of dark as evil. There are 350 references to dark or darkness in the Bible. Almost all are bad.

But darkness is not a good metaphor of evil in the north where dark prevails as a natural phenomenon much of the year. Darkness as evil is the subconscious foundation of seasonal affective disorder. In reality darkness is simply the absence of light and is one of the most beautiful parts of winter.

For the Dena’ina, who have lived in Southcentral Alaska for thousands of years, the metaphor of evil is not darkness; it is a rogue bear.

On April 21, the Burke family of Kenai encountered evil in the form of a rogue bear at the Kasilof River flats on the Kenai Peninsula. Like my neighbors I’ve been to the Kasilof River mouth hundreds of times. I throw sticks for the dogs, with my wife I look for agates. It restores me. I’ve never seen a bear or bear tracks and I seldom carry a gun or bear spray. Of course, the dogs help. It’s a wide-open place with few trees in an estuary that is remarkably pristine.

According to Jenny Neyman, writing in the Redoubt Reporter, unbeknownst to the Burke family, a rogue bear had been prowling the north bank on that sunny, chilly Sunday afternoon. They were there with a spotting scope to see if any yellowlegs or other returning birds had marked the renewal of the seasons. Dad, mom, two subteens and a 7-month-old baby in mommy’s baby pack were walking the beach, a stone’s throw from their vehicle, when the old sow attacked them.

A rogue bear is an unpredictable bear and that’s what makes her evil. Most brown bears are predictable. You come upon them, they look at you, you look at them, you yell and wave your arms, they snort and amble off, and you slowly back away, bear spray in hand. Predictability is sanity, for you and the bear.

Unpredictability is unsettling, unstable, it robs life of its meaning because there is no context in which to understand it. Unpredictability is random and random is evil. An unpredictable rogue bear is the perfect metaphor of evil in the North. And it frames evil as an action rather than a presence.

When cowardly brothers randomly placed a bomb at the Boston Marathon finish line and blew innocent bystanders’ legs off, that’s evil. When a wimpy 20-year-old killed 20 random kids in their classroom, that’s evil. When a nutcase kidnaped a young woman he’d never met from her coffee stand and raped and killed her, that’s random and that’s evil. But when a squad of Navy Seals stormed Bin Laden’s compound and killed him, that’s not evil. That’s the predictable consequence of an evil act.

Random, senseless acts are the foundation of evil. They upset stability, they upset predictability, they instill chaos. One of the Dena’ina names for a spring brown bear is “riptide,” a powerful, swirling, relentlessly chaotic Cook Inlet phenomena.

The bear at the mouth of the Kasilof had attacked a vehicle and a power pole before it attacked the Burke family. Neither the mother nor the children ran. The baby didn’t even wake up. They stood behind their dad, who did what he could. He punched the bear and hit her with his spotting scope. When it broke, he stabbed her with the jagged edge. The bear struck at him and bit him, but because of his warm clothes, it only bruised his arm.

The unpredictable bear eventually turned, heading in the direction of some distant beach walkers. The family scrambled to its nearby vehicle, called 911, and troopers came and killed the bear.

Maybe the bear was rabid, maybe she was just cranky from old age and a hard winter. Maybe she was rattled by a kid on a four-wheeler hot-rodding on the beach. Whatever it was, she was dangerously unpredictable.

We can take a lesson from the courageous little family. They did not play dead (although there would be a time to do that). They did not run — never run. They stood up to a powerful force and confronted it with what they had.

Dr. Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College. This column was published May 3 in the Anchorage Daily News.

Guest editorial, May 1, 2013: Board misses point of ‘refuge’

The Alaska Board of Game met in Kenai in March and was followed with much interest by the Friends of Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Unfortunately, BOG members appear to be confused about their basic authority and ethical responsibilities.

The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is clearly being targeted for predator control. There is something about the purpose of a National Wildlife Refuge that BOG members don’t understand or value. Kenai Refuge management is guided by federal law, and incompatible state policies are simply out of bounds. Please note “refuge” is a key part of the Kenai Refuge’s name. Attempts to compromise federal mandates amount to wasted time and energy, which would be much better spent on matters within the BOG’s purview.

The Friends include longtime residents who cherish Alaska. We value and have taken part in all forms of outdoor activities for many years. BOG thinking on the Kenai appears to be steered by a mistaken belief that imposing predator control will result in significantly larger numbers of moose for harvest. We understand what Fish and Game and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service professionals have said about the moose population being totally dependent upon the amount of browse available. More food equals more moose. Unfortunately, moose browse is currently in short supply. Mother Nature is likely to correct this situation in time. The predator take of moose is considered to be close to a natural balance, and killing more predators is not justified by valid science.

Shooting brown bears at black bear bait stations was approved. The BOG appears to want to quickly reduce the brown bear population. We question this approval because brown bears have been professionally termed to be a species of concern on the peninsula. A healthy population is important biologically and also represents high economic value for our communities. Tourism is an important contributor to our local economy. We have yet to encounter tourists who visit Alaska in order to see an industrial area.

Additionally, bait stations should never be confused with fair chase hunting, which all of us were taught early on to honor. The Friends do not believe there is a “hunt,” without fair chase.

BOG actions include approval of a year-round open season on coyotes, which was adopted without hope of Kenai Refuge approval. This was also proposed for wolves, but not adopted. Contract trapping of wolves was approved just outside Kenai Refuge boundaries.

The BOG also voted to approve open hunting on the Kenai Refuge within the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area for wolves, coyotes and lynx, specifically including road-accessible Kelly and Peterson lakes. The Skilak WRA was specially set aside for wildlife education, viewing, and photography. Limited winter youth hunting is allowed west of the Seven Lakes Trail. Outdoor public education opportunities are routinely provided by National Wildlife Refuges. The Skilak WRA also serves as an important large animal corridor to prevent isolation of northern and central peninsula populations.

Singling out Skilak WRA makes no sense when it is only two percent of the Kenai Refuge, which has hundreds of miles of other roads and trails offering good access. It is also the only place on the Kenai Refuge where hunting is limited to provide viewing opportunities.

Yes, initially an open season would find a human-acclimated, less-wary population of wolves, coyotes, and lynx in the Skilak WRA, for novices to stop by and shoot. Sorry, but we will work hard to see that cherry-picking the abundant wildlife in this special area does not happen.

BOG members, you visited and offered your opinions. However, the long-established purpose of the Kenai Refuge will not change. This is a wildlife REFUGE.

Bob Baldwin is president or the Friends of Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Inc.

Guest editorial, May 1, 2013: Kenai king management snags contention

Ignoring management principles sets back king conservation, by Ricky Gease

The basic principles of fisheries management are simple. The fish come first. Use science to ensure adequate escapement and then allow harvest by users. When uncertain about the science, act conservatively to prevent overfishing. If precautionary measures must be taken, share the burden of conservation fairly between all users.

When these principles are not followed, troubles arise, usually at the expense of the fish. Human history shows our nature wanting to test the line between fishing and overfishing — and far too often we roll the dice in favor of short-term profits only to see another fish stock run aground.

Kenai River king salmon are the largest salmon in the world — Les Anderson’s iconic 97.3-pound world-record fish was recently inducted into the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame. Boasting eight of the top 10 world records, Kenai kings draw global interest. Last year’s closure for king fishing on the Kenai made front-page news in the Wall Street Journal.

Unfortunately, like most every other major king stock in Alaska, Kenai kings are facing hard times with historic low returns, poor ocean survival, and uncertain future productivity. The science behind why kings statewide are in such low abundance is unknown. Already preseason restrictions and closures due to low king abundance are being announced by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which likely will effect almost every king fishery in the state.

The noticeable exception — Kenai kings. Why?

Because history is repeating itself, and immediate gains in a commercial fishery are being put ahead of the fish. Despite conservation bells ringing out across Alaska for kings, some want you to believe everything is fine on the Kenai and there is no cause for concern for these majestic fish. But when basic principles of fishery management are ignored and violated, it is a significant setback for king conservation and a true cause for alarm. It cries out that people take notice, demand accountability and call for action.

Kenai River Sportfishing Association is doing just that. Our recent activities to educate the public and legislators about former Alaska Board of Fisheries member Vince Webster were fact-based and truthful, centered and focused on the conservation of Kenai kings. Within days, a KRSA call to action garnered more than 10,000 Facebook views.

The public listened and many contacted their legislators asking that Webster not be confirmed. KRSA’s well-reasoned and researched stance resonated across the sport and personal-use anglers who utilize Upper Cook Inlet and they let their voices be heard unlike any time before. Many of these legislators took notice and listened to their constituents. On a close vote, Webster was not confirmed.

Our concerns regarding Webster’s confirmation spotlighted the fact that basic principles of fishery management were not being followed. These included his failed leadership to provide adequate board oversight regarding an alarmingly low new interim escapement goal for Kenai kings, which drops by one third the minimum number of king spawners from 18,000 to 12,000 (DIDSON sonar counts); his advocacy to set an optimum escapement goal even lower than the new minimum so that commercial set netters could keep on fishing; and, his failed attempt to shift the burden of king conservation solely onto one user group, the personal use fishery, when no other group faced restrictions. These and other similar past actions added to the foundation and argument that he should no longer serve on the board.

Unfortunately, Fish and Game is not without its share of responsibility on this issue. It rushed a new interim escapement goal for Kenai kings at a strikingly low escapement level without adequate peer review. Contrary to professional and standard department protocols, Fish and Game lowered the new range so much so that two-thirds of the new goal has no escapement data to support it. What was the motivation to set the lower end of the escapement goal less than 50 percent below the lowest known escapement ever seen? It seems simply to reduce the likelihood that fisheries, primarily the commercial set net fishery, would face restriction this year. The lone independent peer reviewer stated that the same result could be said for a lower end of the escapement goal at zero.

Alaskans who directly benefit from Upper Cook Inlet noncommercial salmon fisheries want salmon escapement goals set based on the best available science. When the best science is uncertain, as it is with the new Kenai king goal, the resource must be adequately protected. If there is a harvestable surplus, allow reasonable opportunity for all user groups, not just commercial set netters.

As a result of Webster’s blockage while on the Board of Fisheries of a reasonable management plan to pair all users in precautionary step-down measures for Kenai king conservation, Fish and Game seems content to roll the dice this year.

Are you? If not, follow this story at http://www.krsa.com and share our conviction that the fish come first.

Ricky Gease is executive director of Kenai River Sportfishing Association.

Guest editorial, May 1, 2013: Facts, truth found lacking

By Dwight Kramer

A recent article by Ricky Gease, executive director for Kenai River Sportfishing Association, claimed to enlighten us on two different issues in a “fact-based and truthful” manner when in fact they were neither. Instead, he chose the route of misinformation intended to mislead our community into believing their recent lobbying efforts to oust Board of Fisheries member Vince Webster, of Naknek, were justified.

KRSA’s actions in this regard were sleazy at best and further illustrate how far this organization will go to maintain control over all aspects of fisheries management on the Kenai River and Upper Cook Inlet.

In retrospect, I suspect Mr. Webster was probably too honest and knowledgeable for KRSA’s liking. They claimed that the main reason for wanting him gone was that he voted to support the new Kenai River late-run chinook escapement goals and advocated for a lower optimum escapement goal in times of low abundance presented by the Board of Fisheries task force he co-chaired. When in actuality, all seven members of the Board of Fisheries voted unanimously to accept the department’s escapement goal recommendations, and while co-chairing the task force, Mr. Webster stated several times that a lower OEG would probably not be acceptable. The task force acted on its own and as co-chair he was not part of the vote. The simple truth is that they wanted him off the Board of Fisheries because he was one of the members they couldn’t find a way to control.

This article also claimed that the new lower-end adjustment of the late-run escapement goal from 17,800 down to 15,000 was bad for the resource and an attempt by the department to provide more fishing opportunity for commercial fishermen. This is simply not true, but it makes for a good sound byte to further vilify the commercial fishing industry. The facts are that department scientists recognized the necessity to convert these numbers to be more reflective of the actual counting differences in transitioning to a technically improved sonar system.

The old split-beam sonar counts were biased high because they counted too many sockeye as kings, and the new Didson sonar is supposed to eliminate much of this duplicity and give a more accurate count of actual kings passing by, thus producing a lower count but relative to the old sonar numbers historically calculated. It had nothing to do with allocations to any particular user group.

KRSA is an advocate for the guided sport fish industry with an agenda to eliminate commercial fisheries from Cook Inlet to perpetuate and advance their cause. Their bullying tactics, in this regard, are cause for a lot of conflict and economic uncertainty within our community and completely uncalled for.

KRSA has also been instrumental in keeping the Board of Fisheries meetings in Anchorage because they know private anglers and other users, without a financial iron in the fire, cannot afford to attend, thus they can control the outcomes of regulatory changes with the barrage of individuals and consultants they can afford to send. This political maneuvering has also cost our local businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years in lost revenue they could have derived if some of the meetings were hosted in our area.

Guiding/tourism and commercial fishing are both valuable assets to our economic structure and an important part of our community lifeblood. It is important that they work together on harvest allocations and resource protection. It will probably not happen, though, as long as we have one aggressive entity, such as KRSA, that strives to control all outcomes for the benefit of one segment of our community based on the destruction of another.

Their current business model is causing too much friction in our community and pits guides against private anglers and sport fishermen against commercial fishermen. It doesn’t have to be this way and is unacceptable. We should all be able to work together to resolve our fishery issues.

Local mayors, politicians, administrators, chambers of commerce and businesses leaders should weigh their relationships with KRSA until they change various aspects of their business model to project a more respectful nature. Right now they are not very well liked in their own community. Money and power aren’t as important as how you treat your neighbors and fellow citizens.

Dwight Kramer is a private angler, chair of the Kenai Area Fisherman’s Association and was a member of the Board of Fisheries’ Upper Cook Inlet Task Force.

Guest editorial, May 1, 2013: Politics muddies management

By Todd Smith

Recently, the executive director of Kenai River Sportfishing Association, a 501c3 nonprofit organization “dedicated to ensuring the sustainability of the world’s premier sportsfishing river,” wrote an editorial in which he appropriately gave his organization credit for leading the successful charge to block the legislative confirmation of Vince Webster to the Alaska Board of Fisheries. In a swift and organized character assassination, KRSA spread false and misleading information vilifying Mr. Webster.

In their attack, they blamed Mr. Webster for (among other things) the Board of Fish’s unanimous 7-0 decision to codify the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s new scientifically established and defensible escapement goal for Kenai River late-run kings, something that Board of Fish Chair Karl Johnston stated was a “necessity.” While KRSA claims that their “educational” activities against Mr. Webster were “fact-based and truthful,” many disagree. In fact, even Gov. Sean Parnell stated that, “It is disappointing, discouraging and disheartening when bad information or politics prevent a qualified Alaskan from serving our state.”

As a third-generation Alaskan and fisherman, I am proud of Alaska’s fisheries and feel that the success of our fisheries benefits everyone. Recent poor returns of king salmon have been a statewide issue, and have affected many of us greatly. As a Cook Inlet set-netter and member of a community that depends on a diverse and healthy fishery, I can honestly say that many of my friends, family and neighbors were among some of the hardest hit.

After a devastating season, it was very encouraging to get a chance to participate in the public process of the Upper Cook Inlet King Salmon Task Force, led by Board of Fish members Mr. Webster and Mr. Kluberton. It was through this task force that new and enlightening data was published by Fish and Game that shaped the discussion of Kenai River late-run kings.

While KRSA did manage to suggest a conspiracy between Fish and Game and the relatively small and politically disorganized group of Cook Inlet Eastside set-netters, they left out some very important facts released in these new department reports. First, a historic run reconstruction of Kenai River late-run kings using independent and historically accurate data showed that we have exceeded current escapement goals for these fish 15 of the last 26 years. Fish and Game indicated in a recent report to the Board of Fish that current, below-average Kenai late-run king returns are likely a product of low ocean productivity combined with past years of chronic and substantial overescapement.

Fish and Game data also indicates that this stock shows no signs of overharvest. According to biologists, the relatively low total combined exploitation rate of Kenai River late-run kings (39 percent) means it would be quite difficult to endanger this stock by overharvest, even on a year of low return. New genetic testing shows that Cook Inlet Eastside set-nets only harvest 13 percent of the total Kenai River late-run kings return. Additionally, most biologists agree that the only risk this new goal carries is a certain amount of risk to future yield if Fish and Game is wrong.

Fortunately, all of the data we do have both from this river and others support Fish and Game’s conclusions and shows that in most Alaska rivers, king salmon are quite productive at low escapement levels, and substantially less productive at high escapement levels. If this new Kenai River late-run kings escapement goal provides more fishing opportunity, it will provide more opportunity for all user groups. If it results in less king salmon abundance, we will all suffer. As Alaskans, it doesn’t matter whether we fish for sport, personal use, commercially or not at all — we’re all in this together.

All available data shows that despite current below-average returns, the Kenai River late-run kings stock is still quite healthy and productive. In fact, they are much healthier than the Kenai River in which they spend the most sensitive and important years of their life. KRSA has been busy. They have created a ruckus over Fish and Game’s scientifically defensible escapement goal. They continue pursuing their founding member’s lifelong goal of promoting an ever-increasing sport fishery and eliminating Cook Inlet set nets. During the last Cook Inlet Board of Fish meeting, the board considered 14 proposals submitted by Kenai River Sportfishing Association — eight proposals to increase bag limits on either cohos or kings, three proposals to increase escapement goals in our already overcrowded rivers, and three proposals to increase sportfishing opportunity and further limit commercial fishing opportunity. Interesting that an organization that prides itself for promoting sustainability spent none of its considerable resources drafting proposals to address any of the numerous glaring habitat issues on the river it considers home.

While the Cook Inlet “fish wars” wage on, sportfishing participation, commercial guided activity and powerboat traffic have all been allowed to grow completely unabated in our river. The Kenai exceeds EPA pollution standards for turbidity caused by powerboats in much of our vital king habitat area. Millions of pounds of unprocessed fish waste and dangerous levels of fecal coliform choke our river mouth. Belugas and harbor seals that once occupied the intertidal area to feed on sockeye have all but vanished, likely due to traffic and pollution from the in-river fisheries. Low king returns have spurred an increase in sport and guided sockeye shore fishing, which has had significant impacts on our riverbanks — the most vital king salmon habitat in our river.

Despite the fact that Kenai salmon management plans require it, we have no current data to assess the extent of the negative impacts this fishing pressure has had on riparian habitat. Commercial development along vital stretches of riverbank continues despite the known negative effects. Last year, in-river fisheries were opened 24 hours a day despite residents’ complaints of noise, pollution and bank erosion due to boat wakes.

Fishermen and residents of our community are left wondering when enough is enough. Surely a healthy river needs some healthy limits, and creative solutions are badly needed. Unfortunately, the organization “dedicated to ensuring the sustainability of the world’s premier sportsfishing river” is too busy trying to destroy the set-netters and dominate statewide fisheries policy to address these issues.

Todd Smith and his family are Kasilof district commercial set-net fishermen.

Guest editorial, May 1, 2013: Webster deserves to serve

By Paul Dale

Considerable controversy and misinformation has developed regarding escapement goal measures for late run Kenai River king salmon. Numerical restatement of the sustainable escapement goal, was established by Alaska Department of Fish and Game staff and peer reviewed. It was introduced to the public at an Upper Cook Inlet Task Force meeting, and then adopted by the Board of Fisheries with a unanimous vote to make no changes to the late run king salmon management plan for 2013. The board chose to leave the department sufficient flexibility and authority to manage the commercial, subsistence, sport and personal-use fisheries with their existing plans. In March 2014, the board will be conducting its triennial review of Cook Inlet salmon fisheries, which encompasses all aspects of management, including allocations.

Claims of Board of Fisheries member Vince Webster’s role in reckless reduction of escapement goals have no basis in fact or science. The numerical restatement from a lower end of 17,800 to 15,000 and an upper end from 35,700 to 30,000 is reflective of Fish and Game’s change to newer, more-accurate DIDSON sonar fish-counting devices. These new sonars replaced traditional, less-effective split-beam sonars that did not cover the depth and width of the river as well as the new equipment. There is widespread agreement that the previous sonar was significantly undercounting fish passages, complicating in-season management.

After last year’s disastrous season, the final escapement count was 27,710 fish — 12,710 kings over the newly revised escapement goal. Of a total run of 28,550 kings, set-netters took only 484 fish, or 1.6 percent of the run. Despite the hue and cry for drastic conservation measures regarding Kenai kings, it is noteworthy that the escapement goal for kings has been met in every one of the past 25 years, and exceeded the upper end in 17 of those years.

The task force did not agree on any specific plans for different management of kings for 2014. That should come as no surprise to anyone, nor be considered an indictment of the process. Kevin Delaney, KRSA’s paid consultant, and a task force member was quoted, “You know, I think I’ve been doing this since 1976. Today was the most interactive, productive discussion I’ve ever seen hosted on this. Honest to God, people did a great job.”

Local participants agreed, the dialog was unprecedented and the information made available to the task force by Fish and Game was very illuminating. The week prior to the April 8 Legislative vote on the Webster appointment, the Alaska Salmon Alliance directed a letter to Karl Johnstone, chair of the Board of Fisheries, which included appreciation of the task force leaders, Tom Kluberton and Vince Webster. Within 24 hours, Mr. Johnstone responded with clarifications. He noted, “By law, Fish and Game was solely responsible for setting the new SEG escapement goals. … The vote of the Board was simply to continue the current management plan which by necessity had to include the escapement goals established by the department.” Johnstone concluded by saying that, “It is likely the subject of escapement goals will be revisited during the Upper Cook Inlet meeting in 2014.”

There is nothing in this, or any previous record, that would cause us to think less of Mr. Webster. He represented Alaskans honorably for six years and was willing to serve another three. KRSA has purposefully distorted facts to cause his rejection, and did so only to further their interests in salmon allocation at the 2014 Board of Fisheries meeting. That Mr. Webster cannot continue his service is a loss not only to the fishing community, but a loss to a system intended to fairly represent all Alaskans and the fisheries they enjoy and depend upon.

Regarding the vote, Gov. Sean Parnell was quoted that, “It is disappointing, discouraging and disheartening when bad information or politics prevent a qualified Alaskan from serving our state.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Paul Dale, of Kenai, is president, Snug Harbor Seafoods, Inc., and the Alaska Salmon Alliance.

April 3, 2013,  Guest Editorial: Sales tax on Internet trade worth debate

How to make web-based commerce equal to other transactions is a conundrum that evades solution in many industries. Bookstores, paying property taxes and what not, go out of business while Internet giants like Amazon prosper. Online publications aren’t the only businesses that have yet to crack the code for making the service equal to what subscribers pay. Now Congress seems to be warming to the question: How to collect sales tax on Internet purchases? Mostly states stand to benefit, but there’s a federal angle to any taxes hopeful enough to quicken the heart of most politicians.

Washington State beat Congress to its newfound awareness. Our neighbor to the south figures that collecting sales tax from online commerce could generate about $284 million in the years 2013 to 2015, and $845 million in 2015-17, according to the Seattle Times. Washington currently struggles with a revenue shortfall of $1.2 billion that means more budget cuts again this year. The fault for the revenue shortfall is laid at the doorstep of Medicaid, as it is for many small towns and big cities, alike.

Nothing like necessity forcing the wheels of progress. Collecting sales tax from its online industries will fill revenue gaps in Washington.

As part of the ongoing budget debate, a supermajority of 75 U.S. senators endorsed the Marketplace Fairness Act. It was not a binding vote, but suggested a decade-long battle over online sales taxes is nearing an end. The act, pending in the U.S. House and Senate, streamlines collection by requiring states to sign onto a multistate agreement.

Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, supports the Marketplace Fairness Act, which would allow, but not require, states that have sales taxes to collect them for online sales.  This bill is designed to level the playing field for brick-and-mortar businesses, he said. Because Alaska does not have a sales tax, Alaska business under the $1 million exemption will not have to change their current practices.Alaska businesses over the $1 million exemption will need to change their practices when making online, out-of-state sales to states with sales taxes. But overall, there will be minimal impact on Alaskans who buy or sell online, he said.

In Washington State, businesses are to collect sales tax under these conditions:

  • If the goods are located in Washington at the time of sale and the goods are received by the customer or its agent in this state.
  • If the seller has a branch office, local outlet or other place of business in this state which is utilized in any way, such as in receiving the order, franchise or credit investigation, or distribution of the goods.
  • If the order for the goods is solicited in this state by an agent or other representative of the seller.
  • If the delivery of the goods is made by a local outlet or from a local stock of goods of the seller in this state.
  • If the out-of-state seller, either directly or by an agent or other representative in this state, installs its products in this state as a condition of the sale.

The Marketplace Fairness Act takes into account that many states do not have a uniform sales tax, such as Alaska. Rates in Kenai Peninsula communities vary, depending on the borough’s usual 3 percent tax, plus what incorporated cities charge, while Anchorage collects no sales tax.

The concept may need more work to smooth out legislative wrinkles, but it’s worth vigorous debate to treat commerce in cyberspace and physical space more fairly.

Naomi Klouda is editor of the Homer Tribune.

Feb. 20, 2013,  Guest Editorial: Modified salmon threatens wild stocks

A biotechnology company called AquaBounty Industries and a principal investor, Intrexon, are poised to become the Monsanto of salmon production. Last April, the Food and Drug Administration found “no adverse affect” for human consumption of a salmon AquaBounty created called AquaAdvantage. After public comment, it could be on restaurant menus and in supermarkets as early as next year.

AquaBounty modified Atlantic salmon DNA with a king salmon gene to cause it to grow twice as fast and larger than an average Atlantic salmon. The eggs would be sold to fish farmers and reared, as is aquacultural practice, in densely packed pens. The translucent meat would be artificially colored to make it more palatable, but will still be jellylike because the fish get no exercise. The new salmon won’t have the same Omega 3 amounts as wild salmon, one of the properties that make wild salmon so nutritious and able to combat diabetes, depression and other diseases.

The mutant salmon won’t be labeled so you won’t know you are eating genetically modified salmon. It would be the first genetically modified animal approved for human consumption.

Approval will likely be the beginning of the end of Alaska’s wild salmon industry, which will become, at best, a small niche market. The world won’t buy wholesome, healthy wild salmon rich in Omega 3 when it can get cheap, genetically modified McSalmon burgers.

The escape of transgenic salmon into wild ecosystems is inevitable. It’s a problem limited to Alaska because the only appreciable wild salmon ecosystems left are in Alaska. The rest are gone. AquaBounty says it will render the females sterile and its scientists say the smaller, lethargic transgenic male salmon will be at a breeding disadvantage with the larger, aggressive wild males.

But, according to experiments by Memorial University biologist Darek Moreau, small transgenic males, like other small salmon males, hide in the weeds while the big strong males fight it out to inseminate a female’s recently laid eggs. The transgenic mutants can dart out and fertilize eggs while males are engaged in breeding battles. It’s only a matter of time before genetically modified fish turn up in Alaska nets. Moreover, AquaBounty or their licensees will own those fish.

But salmon gene replacement would be just the beginning. Forty-eight percent of AquaBounty is owned by Intrexon, one of the giants in the burgeoning field of artificial bioengineering. Intrexon is a private company controlled by billionaire biotech investor Randal J. Kirk. Bioengineering is not simply gene splicing. Intrexon owns several processes like their Ultravector technology that results in the “adjustable control of gene expression.” The details are proprietary but the claim is they can alter the biochemical processes operating between formation of messenger RNA and the final cell protein making a new biological characteristic.

This technology can be used for the greater good such as turning off the growth of cancer cells or reversing diabetes. But by buying into AquaBounty, Intrexon has entered the realm of bioengineered food; specifically salmon they own modified with processes they own. If transgenic fish are approved there is nothing to stop biotechnology from being used to further modify salmon into something bigger, fatter and cheaper to raise. Transgenic technology will further distance salmon from something wild, healthy, natural, sustainable and owned by the commons to something domesticated, less healthy, unnatural, unsustainable and owned by a private company.

It’s win-win for bioengineering corporations. First, bioengineer foods that humans have evolved to eat for thousands of years, contributing to a substandard diet and enhancing the possibility of a diseases like diabetes, depression or possibly cancer. Then bioengineer the transgenic medical treatment to cure the disease and laugh all the way to the bank.

There is a related issue. There is increasing pressure to not enforce environmental laws, such as the Clean Water Act, that protect natural environments, like wild salmon streams. Compensatory mitigation is a regulatory mechanism to allow a corporation to destroy, say, fish habitat for development purposes and then allow that corporation to mitigate the destruction by creating an equal number of fish someplace else. Take out 12 miles of salmon stream, no problem, mitigate it by cheaply produced transgenic-farmed salmon.

Like Monsanto that controls most of the corn and soybean products we eat through their genetically modified brands, we are headed toward companies not just owning the animals we eat, but the species of the animals we eat and engineering them to suit market objectives. You can voice your opinion to the FDA by April 23.

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College.

Feb. 13, 2013,  Guest Editorial: Legislature moves to privatize Alaska’s waters

While a representative for the Alaska Division of Mining Land and Water was making a presentation during Senate Resources Committee hearings on Senate Bill 26 in the Legislature last week, the committee asked him who would be affected by the bill. Remarkably, the response was that the bill, which would limit those who are authorized to apply for an in-stream water right under the Alaska Water Use Code to only state or federal government agencies, would affect only a few private individuals and several dozen nongovernmental entities.

The failure of the division, however, to mention that SB 26 would also prohibit Native Alaska tribal governments from applying for in-stream flows is, perhaps, the biggest indication that the bill represents the latest tactic in Gov. Parnell’s ongoing campaign to quickly and quietly privatize Alaska’s water resources.

The state, for example, routinely processes water-use applications for mining, oil and gas uses, while placing on the back burner simultaneously or previously filed applications to keep water in stream for healthy fish and wildlife habitat, which may violate state law. Similarly, the division often allows the energy industry to take water without even filing an application.

That SB 26 takes this already dysfunctional water right permitting process a giant step further is illustrated by the fact that, in addition to the prohibition on in-stream flow applications, the bill contains numerous attacks on the rights of citizens to protect Alaska’s water rights. These include limits on public comment or appeals when the state issues water right permits, but only for the majority of individuals and entities that would be impacted by the water taken out of stream, eliminating restrictions on transferring water rights and increasing the amount of water that can be obtained without applying for a permit.

More to the point, the fact is that such privatization of water, which attempts to marry the profit motive to something that people need to survive, doesn’t work. The increasing commodification of water on a global scale prompted the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in 2010, to adopt a resolution stating that the “human right to drinking water is fundamental to life and health. Sufficient and safe drinking water is a precondition for the realization of human rights.”

SB 26, which was introduced by Gov. Parnell after he noticed that some of the recent in-stream flow applications were annoying the resource extraction industry, therefore, represents the failure of government entities in the United States to recognize the human right to water. Efforts by citizens and tribes to prevent the reduction of stream flows needed for fish, destruction of habitat and toxic effluent from industrial development, however, are also protected by the Alaska Constitution which, under Art VIII, expressly states that water appropriations shall not have precedence over “general (public) uses for fish and wildlife.”

In an effort to defend these rights, conservation and tribal organizations lined up to tell Senators that it is critical for Alaskans to have a direct voice in decisions affecting our shared resources, and suggested amendments to SB 26 and its companion, HB 77, that would, at least, preserve existing rights to protect water resources. The good news is that, although the proposed amendments where rejected by both the Senate and House Resources Committees, opposition to the bills so far has slowed the progress of the SB 26, at least, and Senate Resources will likely hold more hearings on the bill after taking next week to work on oil tax issues.

We still have a chance, therefore, to urge the Legislature not to strip away the rights of citizens and tribes to keep water in our streams for healthy fish and ask it to reject any legislation that ignores Constitutional and other rights for the majority of Alaskans who depend on water resources for health and welfare.

Hal Shepherd is director of the Center for Water Advocacy. He lives in Seward

Feb. 6, 2013,  Guest Editorial: Bob Bird and Joe Kashi

Editor’s note: The following corresp-ondences are a discussion between Bob Bird, of Nikiski, and Joe Kashi, of Soldotna, on the issue of nullification — the idea that a state might nullify a federal law if the states find it to be unconstitutional. This discussion began with a letter to the editor from Bird in the Jan. 23 Redoubt Reporter and continued with a response from Kashi in the Jan. 30 edition, and concludes with the following discussion.

Dear Mr. Kashi,

Saw your reply to my column. You are a well-educated man. However, your grasp of history seems out of sync with the facts, and not just in small ways but in large ones.

The unchecked power, and the automatic defense of the federal government’s actions is what the issue is. I always see disagreement as an opportunity. When you check the facts, perhaps you might change your mind. In the meantime, your letter provides a way for the people of our community to see that disagreement is healthy. Begin here: http://www.libertyclassroom.com/objections/

My response to your letter is as follows:

I am sure Joe Kashi is an excellent attorney, but a historian he is not. If a person of his education and learning is spouting off the kind of gobbledygook history seen in his letter, it helps to explain why we are facing the federal tyranny that exists today.

I also assume he read my column, and noted that it was the North, not the South, that was practicing nullification in the decade before the terrible War Between the States. Stephen A. Douglas recommended it in his Freeport Doctrine, to nullify the outrageous Dred Scott Decision; that really ticked off the South, by the way, and ruined Douglas’ chances for the presidency.

Jefferson Davis, in his Farewell Speech before resigning his Senate seat to become president of the CSA, denounced the northern nullification of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. Wisconsin, in fact, nullified it, a law that made it a crime to refuse to assist slave catchers.

To say that the war was caused by the South nullifying “locally unpopular federal (anti slavery) laws” is sheer fantasy. Perhaps he could cite for us which laws? He won’t find them, because not a single one ever existed.

Joe’s real purpose in denouncing nullification is, I fear, demonstrated in the passage that says nullification “weakens the United States as a world power.” Joe appears to be a nationalist, who wants consolidated power in a centralized government. He also may be a person who believes that while the USSR, Great Britain, the Third Reich and other empires might have gotten out of hand, the good old U.S.A. would never allow that to happen.

We now have an American dictatorship. It is real, it is here. It succeeds because of ignorance of human nature, American history, and the idea of blind obedience to criminals that parade under the color of law.

Obey the federal government? Perhaps someone could tell us if they are required to obey anything themselves, like the Constitution. And if they don’t, how are we to stop it?

Bob Bird, Nikiski

Dear Mr. Bird,

There’s only so much that one can realistically put into a letter to the editor. However, I suppose that one could argue that constitutionality, like Plato’s Truth and Beauty, tend to be in the mind of the beholder, i.e., it’s very difficult for human beings to tease out any human being to tease out a truly objective view of history, politics, etc. from their own personal prism of life experiences and beliefs and the reinforcement of those whom they choose to read and associate.

That said, I have read fairly widely regarding American history of the period (and have taken Ph.D. level courses in various national histories while in grad school). I can only echo Daniel Webster’s well known, and contemporaneous, speech during the early 1830s debate arising in the context of South Carolina’s attempt at nullification in which he saw Freedom and Union as being inseparable.

When nullification occurs, it tends to recur and ultimately seriously undermine both the consistency of law and thus also the ties that bind the Union. One cannot pick and choose which laws one will observe and which one will not. Everyone will have a different set of laws that they will choose not to observe and we will then revert to a situation that is certainly not the rule of law, and little short of the sort of small and petty princedoms that characterized a weak and disunited Germany prior to Bismarck.

I, for one, do not want to see the United States run into the ground by tending in that centrifugal direction. If we are to be United States, then we must be truly united. The most potent binder of national unity is a consistent view of the social contract and the democratic making of changes as appropriate. One does not simply pick up one’s marbles and go home if, for a time, the prevailing laws are not perfectly to one’s taste.

So, the question is — do we opt out when things are currently deviating from our taste, or do we change them democractically in a manner that is consistent throughout the country?

I do not always agree with what prevails from Washington or from Juneau, but that does not weaken my allegiance and patriotism. I do not ever want to see an all-powerful and repressive government of any sort, federal or otherwise, but so long as we act democractically, then this can be changed as necessary, to the extent that a reasonable consensus exists. The current state of vitriolic partisanship and paranoia on the extremes of both sides of the aisle, and their marshalling of selective views of sociology and history to support those positions, seems to me a larger long-term threat to a “United” States than any current foreign enemy.

As an example of the dangers of ideological gridlock, one need look only to Poland’s decline from John Sobieski through its 1795 partition and disappearance as a nation for 130 years.

Regards,

Joe Kashi, Soldotna

Dear Mr. Kashi,

Thanks for your reply, Joe. Indeed, you prize national unity and homogeneity over all things — even above human freedom. As you said, our life experiences dictate which road we follow.

Below is Daniel Webster’s denunciation of conscription (the draft) about 1814, demonstrating how the executive was abusing its powers — in this case, none other than James Madison. http://files.libertyfund.org/pll/quotes/205.html.

“It is their task to raise arbitrary powers, by construction, out of a plain written charter of National Liberty. It is their pleasing duty to free us of the delusion, which we have fondly cherished, that we are the subjects of a mild, free, and limited government, and to demonstrate, by a regular chain of premises and conclusions, that government possesses over us a power more tyrannical, more arbitrary, more dangerous, more allied to blood and murder, more full of every form of mischief, more productive of every sort and degree of misery than has been exercised by any civilized government, with a single exception, in modern times.”

Yes, Madison — a hero of nullification in 1798 — found that, when given the Ring of Power, could not resist the temptations. Neither could Webster, later in his career, hence the Webster-Hayne Debate is trumpeted as the triumph of nationalism. “Liberty and union, now and forever, one and inseparable.”

Then there’s Calhoun: “Our federal union … next to Liberty, the most dear.”

One looks at the Declaration of Independence and sees that union with the British Empire just wasn’t worth it: “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, persuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism … .”

But as you said, we will formulate our opinions according to our life’s experiences. But I don’t see either you, or myself, as the problem. No, it is the federal government that has gone off the tracks.

Again the question: How do we hold it accountable? The Supreme Court is the federal government, and while I don’t hold with the premise of judicial review coming down from Marbury, I know that would be your answer. Yet I would not expect the World Series to be umpired by ex-Yankees, and expect them to rule fairly.

My compliments,

Bob Bird, Nikisk

Dear Mr. Bird,

Perhaps that’s the fundamental difference between us: I do not see the United States to be the dictatorship, which you stated to be your belief in your prior response. I have not believed that even when state and local matters run counter to what I believe to be sound policy. I have instead tried to understand practical matters without the gloss of ideology and try to understand the reasonable points made by others. My life experiences suggest that the most reasonable social policy tends to be nearer the middle than the extremes.

I see the possibility of democractic change and of human progress and freedom as being compatible with a consistent set of laws equally applied to all. A situation in which people get to pick and choose what they will adhere to is a lawless situation in which freedom itself becomes threatened by the very chaos and the anarchy of the strong that has been the bane of democracy.

That, of course, assumes that such laws do not contravene basic morality. Avoiding that pitfall of inconsistency, to the extent possible, is why we have checks and balances in a federal system, and the need for patience and working together among our legislators as well as our citizens. I believe that our Constitution is the best framework for governance yet put forward by man. I do not see that our national system is consistent with casual nullification by an aggreived few over one matter or another. The breakup of the Union into smaller parts, such as Alaska that would be easy prey to other, more rapacious countries, whether Japan of the 1940s, Russia of the Cold War, or perhaps China today.

I do take exception to your statement that I prize national unity and homogeneity over all things. However, you are correct that I in fact do prize national unity and strength — that is largely what protects our freedom from interference by others. “Gentlemen — we must all hang together or assuredly we shall hang separately.”

Yours very truly,

Joseph Kashi, Soldotna

Jan. 30, 2013,  Guest Editorial: ‘Idle No More’ and the nature of human rights

This fall and early winter, the “Idle No More” protests swept across Canada like a tsunami of indigenous alienation. The movement is now beginning to emerge on this side of the border among some Alaska Natives. In Alaska the issue is generally subsumed under the concept of decolonization sometimes rebranded as a less militant resiliency.

The Canadian protests of First Nations, Metis and Inuit were triggered by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s unilateral revision of some of that nation’s environmental laws that historically have given aboriginal communities approval rights to resource development based on centuries-old treaties.

Harper’s omnibus bill, C-45, for example, took away aboriginal approval of stream crossings in some areas of proposed gas, oil and bitumen condensate (Athabasca Tar Sands) pipelines and mine development. Resource development corporations and Harper’s Conservative government feel the tribes have been an impediment to development because of the lengthy consultation process sometimes resulting in a veto of environmentally sensitive projects.

Neither Harper nor multinational corporations anticipated the pushback. Protestors have mobilized themselves by social media networking. One of the Idle No More anthems reads: “Blog, Tweet, Post, Defend the Indigenous Rights Revolution.” At the click of a tweet, flash mobs were organized in shopping malls, such as the West Edmonton Mall and Toronto’s Eaton Centre. Protestors have blockaded the Canadian National Railway and Trans-Canada Highway, among other freight transportation corridors.

One of the most visible protests was a hunger strike, recently ended, by Theresa Spence, an Attawapiskat chief from a northern Ontario Cree band whose reservation is one of the poorest in Canada, despite the location of a diamond mine on their land.

The target of the loosely organized Idle No More protests is the right to have a meaningful say about resource development in their territory and a critique of the consumerism that drives resource development. On the surface it’s development vs. environmentalism. But at a deeper level, Idle No More questions the very nature of human rights.

In the U.S., the Bill of Rights is a statement of individual rights. Likewise, property rights are embedded in American (and Canadian) law. Together individual property rights are a foundation of pre-corporate capitalism and American democracy. With the shift to corporate capitalism, corporations, largely through the Supreme Court, have increasingly succeeded in defining themselves as individuals (personhood) with the same inalienable rights as a human with a soul.

From a legal standpoint, the Idle No More protests would appear to be futile and will result, at best, in incessant, insincere listening sessions. And, at worst, demonization charging anti-Americanism (anti-Canadianism?) undermining resource development, consumerism and shareholder profits.

But the protests are really asking us to rethink the nature of human rights. The fundamental right of all humans is not property, nor so-called natural law, but the right to self-identity. This is because one cannot have a sense of rights prior to being a person and one is not a person without an identity. For this reason the right to one’s identity as formulated by their culture is the elemental human right and the basis of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Indigenous peoples, especially subsistence peoples of the north, express self-identity in terms of a deep, ages-long relationship to the land. It’s not some touchy-feely thing. You become a person through your relationship of the land of your ancestors by using the land in a respectful, sustainable manner. Indigenous self-identity is bound to language and the right to practices defined by the cultural landscape of their heritage.

So what’s to say some Papa Pilgrimlike group can’t come in and assert rights based on the same concept. Should they also be granted the same rights as indigenous peoples? No, because they do not have millennia-long traditions at a place to support their claim.

It is time for Alaska to recognize the right of her indigenous peoples to a legitimate place at the table (as the federal government is beginning to do) to frame cautious, conservative, sustainable resource development and management. And central to that process is to incorporate into law the right of indigenous peoples to their land-based identity.

For a start we can reject House Bill 47 that would restrict native organizations, local governments, citizens and environmental groups from questioning resource development by requiring these organizations to post a bond which would be forfeited if they lost in court.

Ask Stephen Harper what passage of that bill might cause.

(Thanks to Kenai Peninsula College sociology professor Dr. Tony Lack for helping me think through this column.)

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College. This column was printed in the Anchorage Daily News on Jan. 25, 2013.

Jan. 23, 2013,  Guest Editorial: States should think for themselves

What is nullification?

I will answer the question first by saying what it is not.

Nullification is not: secession, unconstitutional, untried or ineffective. For those who may be a little more familiar with American history and have remembered something from their professors or history books, it is not racist or uniquely the possession of the antebellum South.

The fact is, nullification has a considerable history in the North before the Civil War. The refusal of Northern states to cooperate with the federal fugitive slave laws constituted a de-facto nullification.

It has also been used recently, when some 24 states resisted the implementation of the Real ID Act in 2008; when Montana refused to abide by federal law regarding guns manufactured within its own state. States are adopting nullification in defiance of federal drug laws and by establishing “sanctuary cities” for illegal aliens. The point is, the federal power is very weak when states refuse to cooperate.

To define: Nullification is the action of a state, either officially or through its failure to cooperate, to regard a federal law as unconstitutional. To say that nullification is an unconstitutional and rebellious act presupposes that all actions from the federal government are automatically in conformity with the Constitution, and that the compact between the states and the federal government is to demand obedience from the states but never restraint from Washington.

Historically, nullification was first proposed simultaneously by both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, way back in 1798, when the Sedition Act created an overt and blatant attack on the First Amendment. Jefferson and Madison convinced both Virginia and Kentucky to defy the law and to use the power of the local states to protect its citizens from arrest and confiscation of property — in this case, newspaper editors and their printing presses that did not like President John Adams or his Federalist Party.

Apologists for federal, nationalized power are quick to declare that the Supreme Court, not the states, is the ultimate arbiter of what is and is not unconstitutional. Permitting the states such power, they contend, will create a constitutional crisis.

Without getting into the overthrow of the Constitution that took place in 1803 with the noted case of Marbury v. Madison, to this argument we say that we already have a “constitutional crisis,” that we’ve been living in one all of our lives, and it is the federal power that has created it; that the people and the states, and not the courts, are the authors and arbiters of the Constitution, as defined not only in its Preamble, but also in the ratification process.

And while no state holds a lock on defining constitutionality, neither do the courts, which often reverse their increasingly absurd and convoluted opinions. Alaskans must ask their state legislators to stand in the breach for us. Don Young, Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich will do nothing effective in these matters.

All politics is local. The legislature and governor must realize that gas lines, roads, harbors, permanent funds and other legitimately important aspects of their legislative session, can no longer be their first priority. They too take an oath to defend the Constitution.

It is not an oath to blindly defend the federal government.

In the coming debate, pay little heed to the court historians, nationalists and socialists who cherry-pick American history, or cite nullification as historically unsound or rebellious. It is nonsense. Nullification seeks to restore the Constitution, not violate it.

Bob Bird, of Nikiski, has been teaching the social sciences for 40 years, holds a master’s degree in history and has twice been a candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Jan. 16, 2013,  Guest Editorial: Guns, profanity — youth warrant concern

Future case scenario: An English teacher at a high school near you decides to take the gun-shooting training that allows him or her to be certified for carrying a gun. A principal at a nearby elementary school takes the same training, newly allowed by a bill signed into law in the Alaska Legislature.

Students catch wind of the information. It’s printed in the local newspapers that various teachers and administrators took up the idea for greater protection of their students, should a mad person attack the school with an automatic weapon.

What do the students feel at this knowledge? Some may feel safer. Others might worry about the what-ifs. What if someone brings a BB gun to school or is found with a squirt gun that looks real? Such things fool trained, experienced officers. But now the teacher-turned-police will be entrusted to decide if this incident constitutes a school threat.

A student might take on a distrust or fear, or it could distract him or her from learning by knowing there’s a concealed gun somewhere in the classroom.

The idea of being certified and armed is to empower that person to make a split-second decision on what constitutes a threat. Brought up on television shows featuring crime and a preoccupation with gun violence, many students might start packing new fears along with their books into the classroom.

Granted, we tend to implicitly trust those in our schools. They are a dedicated lot possessing a special tenderness for young people. It’s doubtful many of them would even want to become guardians toting guns.

Yet, the problems and inner conflict that could ensue if a legislative bill passes, as proposed by Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, hangs there like a warning.

Among the pre-filed legislative bills to be taken up is House Bill 55. It would allow schools to write policies for teachers and other permanent school employees to carry concealed weapons on school grounds “for defensive use.” It stipulates that each Alaska school district would be allowed to authorize permanent district staff to carry concealed weapons. Lynn said that he felt such a policy was best left to local districts to decide.

On the face of it, this bill seems hasty and poorly thought out. It reacts to the extreme tragedy this country has seen at a mall in Tucson, Ariz., in 2011, at a theatre in Aurora, Colo., in the summer of 2012, and a Newtown, Conn., school a month ago.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, speaking on the topic of gun control last week before a Kenai group, said that it’s not the guns or preparedness that is our problem. It goes deeper than that. She would like more funding toward mental health counseling in schools.

There’s good sense in that observation. Perhaps instead of inviting the consequences and concerns that could come from allowing guns in schools, we need to think about arming our parents, teachers and principals with another skill: How to spot a troubled soul in need of mental health support.

Naomi Klouda is editor of the Homer Tribune.

Jan. 16, 2013,  Guest Editorial: Profanity, lack of respect could use cleaning up

After covering Homer High School sports for almost a decade now, I assumed I had seen just about everything.

I hadn’t.

As a change of pace, I chose to shoot photos at Homer’s hockey game against Wasilla on Saturday from the Wasilla Warriors’ bench.

The hatred for the Mariners was palpable.

I know hockey is a rough sport. Wasilla racked up 14 penalties against Homer, spending 28 minutes of the game in the penalty box. I understand the concept of having pride in your school, but thought it came in the form of pep rallies and bonfires. I get that emotions run high in athletic competitions, with adrenalin flooding the brain and body.

What I don’t understand is the unwarranted stream of profanity, name-calling and personal insults.

The Wasilla bench was warned about its profanity by game officials, but the team just laughed it off. Even their coach ridiculed the referees, throwing in a little profanity of his own.

Where did such hatred come from and why is it still being referred to as “competition”?

Mainstream media will tell you the anger and hatred does not come from movies or TV. The gaming industry promotes and sells violent first-person shooter games full of blood and gore, but they deny any ill affects on the youth that play these games. And the music industry certainly doesn’t think it should be held accountable for angry, hate-mongering songs. It’s all free speech and one of our constitutional rights.

So is the right to bear arms.

And, while I fully support the concept and entitlement to free speech, as well as the right to carry a gun, where do we draw the line? How many more young people have to die before we stop and look at what kind of anger and hatred we, as a society, are hurling at them on an hourly basis?

Sean Pearson is a sports reporter for the Homer Tribune.

Jan. 16, 2013,  Guest Editorial: Real measures needed to protect Alaska waters

The grounding of Shell Oil’s Kulluk drill rig reminds us again of Alaska’s tough maritime conditions and our vulnerability from coastal shipping and oil activities in the Arctic and around Kodiak, the Aleutians and Southcentral.

Rescue vessel crews persevered through a tough response to save the Kulluk. We Alaskans owe a huge vote of thanks to responders who risked lives and equipment to save the rig.

Maritime activities go on constantly, often in weather too rough for meaningful response to accidents. The Kulluk isn’t the first vessel to lose power or a tow and be blown ashore in Alaska. It won’t be the last. Hand-wringing won’t help.

We have to prevent accidents, including additional oversight. Citizen advisory groups like ours could be an important part of that oversight.

The Kulluk incident is an object lesson in the need for best available technology in towing operations and equipment.

Our council, working with the internationally respected naval architecture firm of Robert Allan Limited, completed a study last fall that recommended, among other things, installation of the best available towing technology on the tugs that escort loaded oil tankers through Prince William Sound.

Specifically, the study called for more modern winches that can automatically pay out and reel in towlines under full load. The winches now on the sound’s tugs represent 15-year-old technology and they lack this capability.

The modern winches recommended by the Allan study permit tugs to apply full towing force and reduce or eliminate the huge towline surges that come from vessels getting thrown around in big seas. These new winches are designed to help prevent towline failure by reducing shock loading on the system.

Most towing exercises in the sound happen in relatively calm weather. The advantages of the new winches do not become apparent until the weather gets rough. With so many successful escorts and exercises behind them, industry and its regulators have grown comfortable with the old-style winches, and they declined to act on our towing equipment study recommendations. Similar recommendations from a study by the international ship classification society Det Norske Veritas a year earlier were similarly dismissed as unnecessary by the industry and the state.

Now, however, we have seen a real-world heavy-weather towing emergency unfold and the results were are not reassuring. The Kulluk incident involved a brand new tug with over twice the horsepower of the Prince William Sound tanker escort tugs, yet it lost its towline no fewer than five times before the Kulluk grounded near Kodiak. This demonstrates just how difficult towing is in severe Alaskan weather.

Bad storms happen all over Alaska, and severe weather just outside of Hinchinbrook Entrance—where loaded tankers leave the sound—is common, more so than in the western Gulf of Alaska where the Shell rig ran into trouble.

It’s also why loaded oil tankers are not allowed to pass through Hinchinbrook if weather there exceeds 15-foot seas and 45-knot winds. But even that is no guarantee they will avoid extreme conditions. The well-known coastal weather phenomenon called barrier jets often creates high winds and big waves just outside Hinchinbrook, even when the weather inside is much milder.

The questions raised are obvious: What if the Kulluk had been a loaded oil tanker experiencing a loss of power in a storm or a barrier jet along the rugged coast just outside Hinchinbrook? Would a rescue have been possible? What happens around the rest of coastal Alaska when a large vessel loses power and no suitable rescue tug is around?

We don’t have answers to those questions, but the Kulluk incident makes a few things clear about what’s needed: An ample supply of equipment—with backups—for preventing accidents, meaningful oversight of maritime risks, and the use of best available technology—such as towing winches that automatically pay out and retrieve—in our rough Alaska waters.

By Mark Swanson is the executive director of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council.

Dec. 12, 2012,  Guest Editorial: Palin as ‘Unlikely Liberal’ is likely good guide to Alaska politics

Former Anchorage Daily News opinion editor Matthew Zencey has written a definitive book on the Gov. Sarah Palin years titled, “Unlikely Liberal: Sarah Palin’s Curious Record as Alaska’s Governor,” now out from Potomac Books.

Palin lovers won’t like it. There is no image adoration that obscures critical thinking. Palin haters won’t like it either. Make no mistake, Zencey is professionally frank, but there are no mean comments about her family, intelligence, looks or other irrelevant spite.

“Unlikely Liberal” is an unexpected title for a book about Sarah Palin, who has rebranded herself as an anti-big government, anti-public spending, pro-oil development commentator appealing to Tea Party conservatives. Writing in clear, concise prose honed from over 20 years of ADN editorial writing, Zencey captures the enigma that is Sarah Palin and the astonishing fact that Tea Party conservatives could overlook the old Sarah in their embrace of the new Sarah.

One of the fundamentals of journalism, Zencey writes, is to focus on what politicians do, not what they say. That’s a good practice for all of us.

Many Alaskans are still on Palin overload, thankful for the quieter days of Gov. Sean Parnell. But political amnesia is political suicide and revisiting those years in the hands of a master writer is an exercise in understanding the present to make good decisions about the future, in this case the very near future. Zencey’s chapters on the history of Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share (ACES) are a must-read for those who want to make Alaska-first choices about the next verse in the saga of Alaska oil taxation.

Zencey reminds us of the origin of the Palin phenomena leading to the present level of taxation. Palin blew the whistle on Randy Reudrich’s use of public time on the Alaska Oil and Gas Commission to campaign for Republicans, establishing her rogue reputation. Gov. Frank Murkowski, meanwhile, had sunk to the lowest approval rating of any Alaska governor, forging unpopular initiatives like the jet, mixing zones and a deal with the oil industry to unconstitutionally give away Alaska’s tax authority in exchange for development of moribund North Slope gas.

Another spear in Alaska’s side was the oil industry-initiated corruption and bribery scandals, in the midst of which it engineered a production profits tax bringing in $800 million less per year than expected. On another front, Exxon and other pipeline owners manipulated tax reporting, costing the state upwards of $10 billion.

Charming, energetic and hugely popular, Zencey describes Sarah Palin’s election as a mandate for reform, resulting in some of the most significant legislation in statehood history: ACES and the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act (AGIA). Zencey points out that ACES oil taxation put a billion dollars a year in Alaska’s coffers. Consequently, while virtually every other state was feeling the bite of one of our country’s worst economic crises, Alaska’s fiscal budget, and its oil industry, has thrived.

While many believe ACES to be of great benefit to Alaska, AGIA is another matter. Zencey describes AGIA’s novel approach of moving natural gas to market by significantly subsidizing a large-diameter, Canada-route pipeline in return for progress toward its construction. Palin’s highly regarded advisors, Tom Irwin, Marty Rutherford and Pat Galvin, crunched the numbers and concluded that only a perfect storm of economic conditions would render AGIA unworkable. Fracking became that perfect storm. Unpredictably, the world is being saturated with natural gas, and Alaska’s expensive North Slope gas will not reach markets soon.

More than an excellent team of natural resource experts helped Gov. Palin through the first years in office. Zencey points out that little could have been accomplished without the bipartisan coalition of Republican and Democratic legislators. Zencey portrays Palin’s role in this reform legislation as progressive, bipartisan, Alaska-focused and even liberal.

But after two years in office a change occurred in Palin precipitated by Troopergate, intensified by Palin’s attack-dog role to motivate the Republican “base” as the 2008 vice presidential candidate, and sealed by incessant ethics complaints — many frivolous, a few legitimate, made possible by the very reforms she championed. Zencey asserts that not only Palin, but also Alaska, had changed.

And now AGIA is as stagnant as the gas it was intended to move. The bipartisan coalition is gone, thanks to an intensive oil industry-backed election initiative to put oil tax-friendly people in the Legislature and, consequently, ACES faces revision if not full-scale dismantling.

If you’d like to weigh in with historically formed opinions during the coming legislative tax battle, Matt Zencey’s book is an excellent homework assignment.

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College. This column printed in the Anchorage Daily News on Nov. 30.

Nov. 21, 2012,  Guest Editorial: Help make progress on pancreatic cancer

As I contemplate this season of giving thanks, I realize how much I have to be thankful for. I live in a wonderful community with some of the most generous and giving people I’ve ever been associated with. I have wonderful kids and grandkids that fill my days with joy and friends that continue to lift me up.

November is also Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. In May of 2010, my husband Jim Cooper was diagnosed with Stage IV Pancreatic Cancer and he lost his battle in January of 2011. In those eight months we fought pancreatic cancer, I learned how deadly this cancer is and how little progress has been made in diagnosis and treatment. During his illness, after every test, oncology appointment, chemo treatment and hospital visit, deep inside I would hold onto hope. Hope that he would be the one that would improve with treatment, hope that he could hold on until a viable treatment would be found. Sadly, that would not be the case for us. We were very fortunate to have the extremely qualified doctors, hospital staff and home health professionals to guide us as we made this journey. No more driving or flying up the road for chemo treatments. Family and friends are able to receive treatment right here in Homer with the oncology clinic and infusion therapy department at our outstanding hospital.

Pancreatic cancer has dismal survival rates. Over 50 percent of people diagnosed with PC don’t make it past the first year. The 5 year survival rate is only 6 percent and there hasn’t been an improvement in survival rates for over 40 years.

Over the past 30 years there has been a revolution in science and medicine, resulting in increased survival rates for many diseases but, unfortunately, pancreatic cancer has not benefited from these advances because historically there hasn’t been enough people who know about it. As a result, pancreatic cancer is the only one of the top cancer killers with a five-year survival rate in the single digits. Even more alarming is that the disease is anticipated to move from the fourth to the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States by 2020, and possibly as early as 2015. We must change this. We can.

After my husband passed away, my mission became “raising awareness.” Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre proclaimed November Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month in the Kenai Peninsula Borough and next week Mayor Beth Wythe will be proclaiming November as Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month in Homer. I thank our elected officials for helping with awareness.  We’ve received amazing support by participating in health fairs, having articles and stories published in our local papers and this year we had a team in Homer’s Relay for Life. We were “Coops PanCan Warriors”. Our team was comprised of our kids, grandkids, friends and high school kids. I can’t begin to describe the energy these youth brought to our event. Awareness translates to more research dollars so one day we may have early diagnostic tests and we may even find viable treatment so if my children, grandchildren or friends have to face this diagnosis, they will have a fighting chance to beat this disease. Currently Pancreatic Cancer only receives 2 percent of the funding allocated for cancer research.

There is a bill before the Senate called the Recalcitrant Research Cancer Act (formerly known as the Pancreatic Cancer Research and Education Act). The bill addresses better allocation of funding for pancreatic cancer and other abdominal cancers. The House passed the bill prior to the election and now it’s up to the Senate. I’m pleased that all three of our members of Congress already support the Recalcitrant Research Cancer Act and are co-sponsors of the bill.

On Thursday, Nov. 29, we will be wrapping up our month of Pancreatic Cancer Awareness by holding a Purple Light in the park on Pioneer Street from 6 to 6:30 p.m. If you have a family member or friend that is fighting Pancreatic Cancer or have lost someone to this disease, please call me at 299-1519 so I can be sure to have a purple glow stick reserved for you to honor your loved one. If you’re a community member and want to offer your support, I hope to see you there.

Now is the time to be a hero in the fight against pancreatic cancer. Please visit http://www.pancanvision.org to learn more. 
Together we can make a difference and thanks Homer for helping with awareness through the power of purple.

Kelly Cooper serves on the South Peninsula Hospital Operating Board and the South Peninsula Hospital Foundation, the board of directors for the Homer Boys and Girls Club and the Homer Relay for Life. She is a longtime Homer resident and frequent volunteer for organizations.

Oct. 3, 2012,  Guest Editorial: Transforming oil to renewable energy via ACES

Gov. Sean Parnell has framed this year’s statewide election as about lowering oil taxes to stimulate oil exploration and production to refill an emptying trans-Alaska pipeline. Lowering oil taxes has been an agenda for petroleum corporations doing business in Alaska since the 1980s, so it’s not new.

What is new is enhanced oil taxation based on the Gov. Sarah Palin-era Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share (ACES) tax structure. Missing from the discussion is what the state should do with its large ACES oil revenue other than piddle it away on more Thanksgiving basketball tournaments of exhibition games or artificial turf high school football fields.

On a recent flight into Anchorage I saw the blades of the Fire Island windmills slowly turning in majestic arcs transforming wind into electricity. Meanwhile Cook Inlet was on a flood tide, its circadian energy cycles offering themselves to be transformed onto the grid. And across the Inlet Mt. Spurr and his volcanic brothers to the south were begging to have their massive magmatic heat reservoirs converted to something useful for humans.

If Woody Guthrie were alive today he’d write the great Alaska song about wind, tidal and geothermal energy like he did for the hydroelectric projects on the Columbia River seventy years ago. “But while you’re rambling, river, you can do some work for me.”

Renewable energy is not some liberal, greenie pipe dream, although it’s often labeled as such by the power elite. A kilowatt is a kilowatt regardless of its source. But, as anthropologist Richard Adams has written, political power is shaped by the structure of a country’s energy system. Renewable energy is a threat to Big Oil and its political associates because it has the potential to transform Alaska from a resource extraction state with neo-colonial control by multinational corporate interests to a small manufacturing and communications state diversifying our economy and elevating our sovereignty.

Once the initial pay-down of investment in geothermal, tidal and wind energy is made the energy is free and all that is left is maintenance. Twenty-first century Alaska has the potential to be like 20th century Washington State. Seattle prospered because the Roosevelt-era dams of the Columbia created cheap energy to produce aluminum and Boeing became an industry giant.

The task we are facing is not to wring every last drop of oil out from every conceivable source using increasingly invasive and dangerous procedures like hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Our task is to convert oil wealth into renewable energy infrastructure using the vehicle of ACES taxation.

To get there our massive oil wealth needs to be spent on equally massive research and development on tidal and geothermal energy. Wind has been done elsewhere. The University of Alaska should be the international leader in geothermal and tidal research. The biggest building on the UAA campus should be the Institute for Geothermal and Tidal Energy and the professors and facilities should be the best in the world. Then apply the result to infrastructure.

ACES derived taxes should be spent subsidizing renewable energy projects just as the Fire Island Wind Farm was subsidized for CIRI. There’s no reason every Yukon River village shouldn’t have a wind and river generation system. There’s no reason every coastal community shouldn’t have tidal power. And there’s no reason Alaska-branded small manufacturing or Internet-based services can’t spring up around the state if there is cheap energy to make them competitive.

But that agenda or one like it won’t happen if Governor Parnell and groups like Make Alaska Competitive Coalition (MACC) succeed in convincing the electorate that oil taxes should be cut effectively transferring more of Alaska’s oil wealth to the shareholders of the big three: ConocoPhillips, Exxon, and BP. (ConocoPhillips for one, currently makes $7 million per day in Alaska.) In this fall’s election the bipartisan coalition of the Senate, which stood fast against legislation to severely reduce oil taxes, is being targeted. Already two members of that coalition have been defeated in primaries: Tom Waggoner by ConocoPhillips manager Peter Micciche and Linda Menard by Mike Dunleavy.

Because of the outrageous Citizens United ruling, we will not know where funding to unseat coalition senators comes from.  But you can bet there is big corporate money influencing the perception that low oil taxes are good for Alaska.

If you’re in a district represented by a bipartisan coalition senator, and he or she is up for re-election, your vote will matter.

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College. This column printed in the Anchorage Daily News on Sept. 28.

Sept. 5, 2012,  Guest Editorial: Socialism smokescreen: Financial capitalism at fault

One of the most vocal criticisms of President Barack Obama is that he’s a socialist. The label is usually accompanied by a statement that the president has created a $15 trillion debt, is leading us to ruin and must be stopped.

The socialist charge is both false and a red herring obscuring the underlying issue of this election — Supreme Court appointments and the rise of financial capitalism — under a cloak of political camouflage.

If you or I have more debt than we can repay, we’re headed for bankruptcy. If the local Ma and Pa store has more debt than it can repay, they’ll go out of business. Local and state governments cannot function with debt they cannot repay.

But the rules are different for the federal government. That’s because the federal government both makes the money and creates the system of value that backs it up.

In simpler times, gold or silver backed up the dollar. Paper money had “gold certificate” (1863-1933) or “silver certificate” (1878-1964) printed on it. But the gold standard created a problem: wealth was finite. The total number of dollars could not exceed the value of the amount of gold at any one point in time, inhibiting rapid economic growth. The gold standard was a good system for an agricultural/industrial economy, but not good for a financial market economy.

Since President Richard Nixon removed us from the gold standard, “Federal Reserve Note” is printed on our money, wealth is tied to the ability to create and repay debt, and has no theoretical limitation. This makes a delicate balance between too much money in circulation, creating inflation, or too little, creating recession.

President George W. Bush, during the latter part of his term, and now President Obama found themselves victim of a new kind of capitalism, called financial capitalism, not based on the gold standard and not based on making something or providing a service. Financial capitalism is based on buying and selling stock, buying and selling companies and buying and selling debt like home mortgages or college loans. The rich were powerful enough to suppress regulation and we found ourselves in a crisis recession heading toward a depression.

The only way to decrease unemployment and get the economy moving for the middle class was to insert massive amounts of money into the system by selling Treasury notes and other debt instruments and using the money to fund roads, bridges and other things that put money in the hands of people. Bill the carpenter makes money working on a government-funded building project and now has cash to buy clothes for his kids from Betty’s clothing store. Betty needs a new car and uses some of that money to replace her old one. And so it goes.

And they all pay taxes on the money they have earned. It’s the taxes rolled over many times that gives the government the money to pay back its creditors ($1 trillion of the $15 trillion debt is owed to China). To be anti-tax is to be anti-American.

Call President Obama anything you like. Call him a warmonger for killing Osama bin Laden and keeping us in Afghanistan. Call him a wimp for getting us out of Iraq. Call him naïve for trying to create a national health care system for everyone. Call him black and therefore “not like us,” if that’s your essentialist inclination.

But don’t call him a socialist. A socialist would advocate for universal government ownership of business and industry. Ironically, President Obama is trying to fix a damaged system that has given extreme wealth to his strident critics, who fund politicians to label him a socialist. Economically, Obama is doing what Bush did and what Romney would have done.

“Obama the socialist must go” rhetoric is a smokescreen for the real meaning of this presidential election. The Republican Party leadership knows full well that this election is about the right to appoint as many as five Supreme Court justices because of death or retirement. Today’s court is the oldest in almost a century. Four justices are in their 70s and one, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is in her 80s. The next president will almost certainly change the existing 5-4 ideological split, and a Republican victory will assure the court’s “corporations as people” rulings will continue to promote corporatism and the new financial capitalism.

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College. This column was previously published Aug. 31 in the Anchorage Daily News.

Aug. 22, 2012,  Guest Editorial: Keep peninsula politics from being too partisan

Alaska is a place where more 60 percent of the voters choose to describe themselves as independent or nonpartisan, rather than Democrat or Republican. That 60 percent may in reality be shades of red or blue, perhaps even a blending into purple.

Is Alaska, therefore, a state where the majority reject party politics?

Or has the national level of polarization between Republicans and Democrats also forged a foothold into Alaska politics?

A new study conducted by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation underscores that the growing gulf between Republicans and Democrats has never been wider. Partisan polarization now presents a potentially insurmountable barrier to governing for whomever wins the White House in November, the study’s analysts say.

The study is based on a poll of more than 3,000 randomly selected adults. It’s no surprise that it finds sharp divisions over religious and social issues.

The two parties are opposite on whether organized religious groups should stay out of politics or stand up for their beliefs in the political arena.

The two parties are miles apart on whether it is better to have smaller government with fewer services or bigger government with more services. On economic matters, Republicans overwhelmingly say people should take care of themselves; Democrats overwhelmingly say government should do everything possible to improve living standards. Republicans see deficit reduction as more important than spending money in an effort to create jobs. Democrats believe the opposite.

On the issues, Alaskans also are divided in these ways. In local elections — city councils and Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly — the rhetoric of party is not often found. But the debate over how much government should do to stimulate the local economy or spend on programs is very much part of the discussion.

As we head into the primary election Tuesday, schisms in the two political parties’ system for organizing what to believe in and what to denounce also roars in the din of legislative campaigns. Is this a good thing?

Probably not. If it’s true that a new sharpness, a new edge of violent opposition to one another’s ideals is part of the national political character today, there is much to mourn. It is why Congress goes into gridlock over matters that desperately need solution, like a balanced federal budget. If it’s gotten so bad at the philosophical level that crossing aisles to make joint solutions is seen as unworthy — even immoral — activity, then we’re in big trouble.

In Alaska politics, it is the Senate and House bipartisan committees that are being attacked in certain political discussions. The national problem of keeping to party politics has, indeed, crept into the Alaska discussion.

We need to ask ourselves whether this is to our liking, and if it is not, talk about it. Talk about it to candidates. Talk about it with one another.

And, most of all, use your vote on Tuesday.

Naomi Klouda is editor of the Homer Tribune.

Aug. 15, 2012,  Guest Editorial: Don’t be misinformed on Ballot Prop. No. 2

In 1972, the federal government created the Coastal Zone Management Program. This was an invitation to the states to participate in decisions regarding development along their coastlines. Under the leadership of Gov. Jay Hammond, the Alaska Coastal Management Plan was passed by the Legislature in 1977, and the plan was approved by the federal government in 1979.

Alaskans began taking control of our own resources. This was a giant step toward being what Gov. Walter Hickel called the “owner state,” and away from being a resource colony.

Since then, there have been many attempts to wrest that status away from Alaska. In 2003, Gov. Frank Murkowski gutted ACMP, making it easier for corporate interests to develop in our coastal zones without the important, and needed, input from coastal residents. Finally, last year, the Legislature, with the encouragement of Gov. Sean Parnell’s administration, let ACMP fade into the sunset when they failed to reauthorize the coastal management plan. Without this tool, the federal government has complete control over development decisions made in our “front yard.”

Alaska’s Coastal Management Plan, at one time, was held up as one of the best in the nation, and for good reason. Alaska has more coastline than all the other Lower 48 states combined, and we have the richest ocean and coastal resources left in America.

Our coastal management program once had active coastal districts with local knowledge helping to shape local development decisions. Alaskans had a seat at the table to ensure local businesses and uses were respected and protected. And the program served as a one-stop permitting hub to coordinate and facilitate smooth and timely project approvals.

But the corporations looking to profit off our coastal resources didn’t like it. They didn’t like local communities having a say in local development decisions, so they lobbied to kill the program.

I am a member of the Alaska Sea Party. We worked hard to re-create and restore a management plan that was true to the original intent of giving a voice to those who live and work along our coastline, Alaska’s front yard. We gathered more than the 26,000 signatures needed to get this initiative on the ballot prior to the beginning of the legislative session, giving the Legislature one last chance to act by coming up with their own plan. Still, they failed to do what’s right: giving Alaskans a seat at the table.

Opponents of the initiative will tell you this is a federal takeover. The opposite is true. Without ACMP, the federal government has full control over our coastal lands.

  • The opponents of this plan will say “it’s another layer of bureaucracy.” In fact, the ACMP helped developers navigate an already complex permitting process.
  • You will hear it’s a “job killer.” This is a laugh. ACMP helps developers get through the permitting process, and here on the Kenai Peninsula we helped expedite permitting.
  • They will tell you it gives veto powers to members of the commission. This is simply not true.
  • Opponents of the ACMP will tell you it is costly. They have been spewing inflated numbers in an effort to scare you, the voter. Don’t be manipulated by their misinformation. Gov. Parnell’s own commissioner of the Department of Commerce and Community Development, Susan Bell, has said the proposed ACMP in Ballot Measure No. 2 will have an annual cost of $2.9 million; not the $5.4 million that opponents are claiming.

It’s a small price to pay for having a voice over what happens in our front yard.

These opponents, Alaska Oil and Gas Association, Alaska Mining Association and the Resource Development Council, have a lot of money and resources dedicated to the defeat of this citizen initiative. What you have is something much more powerful — a vote.

Please use it this Aug. 28 to say we want to be an “owner state,” not a resource colony.

Mako Haggerty is a water taxi owner/operator out of Homer, a Kenai Peninsula Borough assemblyman and a sponsor of Ballot Measure No. 2.

Aug. 8, 2012,  Guest Editorial: Save the kings, ban factory trawlers

On July 20 I stood on the Kenai bluff at Erik Hansen Scout Park and looked down at a temporary city of maybe a thousand pickup campers lining both sides of the Kenai River mouth. Dip-netters had swelled the city’s population and were joyously scooping up red (sockeye) salmon 24 hours a day. Out in Cook Inlet, the commercial drift fleet was also having a good year catching reds.

While the reds are in abundance this year, king (chinook) salmon are in precipitous decline. For the first time in history the Kenai River late-run king fishery has been shut down to sportfishing. Nearby, small groups of trophy king salmon fishers grimly surveyed the scene below. The river closure also shut down the east side set-netters who, like the drift fishers, target red salmon but, since kings tend to follow the shoreline, incidentally catch kings. Consequently, that same day, a few blocks away, about 200 set-netters were holding a rally venting their frustration at being forced to sacrifice their season to put the remaining kings upriver to spawn. The disparity between red and king salmon fishing was stark.

Cook Inlet isn’t the only place with disappearing kings. Dismal escapements are occurring in the Kuskokwim and Yukon drainages where the kings are in rapid decline, in some places decimating subsistence village food sources.

A number of reasons for the ravaged king populations have been offered, including in-river habitat deterioration and Pacific decadal oscillations pushing ocean upwelling and, hence, fish nutrients farther from Alaska. But for the primary reason for the decline of the mighty king salmon we need look no further than McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Arby’s, Carl’s Jr., Dairy Queen and other fast-food restaurants that serve fish burgers. They are the root cause of the demise of the kings.

The fish for this cheap food comes from Alaskan pollock caught in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea. The pollock fishery is the United States’ largest finfish fishery and is said to be the last remaining wild open-ocean fishery, now that cod, tuna and herring have been substantially overfished. Since the 1980s, pollock have been primarily caught by corporate-owned factory trawlers, some setting out nets over a mile long from ships a football field in size. The freezer trawlers can stay at sea for half a year catching, processing and freezing an average of 36 metric tons of pollock per ship for the fast-food industry. There also is a much smaller Alaska shore-based pollock processing industry from a fleet of boats in the 60-foot range.

Unfortunately, king salmon feed on pollock and the factory trawlers catch king salmon as bycatch. Bycatch, such a harmless-sounding word. But the king salmon bycatch is not harmless at all — it’s ecological genocide.

According to Becca Robbins Gisclair, of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, kings may be trapped in pollock nets for as much as four hours. Once on ship, the Bering Sea kings have to be retained until an observer can count them, and then they are discarded, although some are donated to food banks. According to the 2011 Gulf of Alaska Chinook Salmon Bycatch Environmental Assessment, 100 percent of the salmon caught as bycatch die.

In 2010, 51,000 kings were caught as bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska pollock fishery. In 2007, 129,000 kings were killed in the Bering Sea as bycatch by the pollock trawlers. That number has dropped substantially to 12,500 in 2010. Maybe the industry is monitoring itself better. Or maybe the damage has already been done. Maybe 30 years of factory trawler bycatch has taken its toll on the big kings.

In 1997, Sen. Ted Stevens introduced a bill to ban factory trawlers from U.S.waters. If it had passed the bill would have forced all processing on shore, and smaller boats would have been more easily regulated for king bycatch as they are today. Naturally, the Seattle-based factory trawler corporations fought back and, naturally, they won. Had Sen. Stevens prevailed, king salmon populations would likely not be in jeopardy today.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is trying to deal with king salmon bycatch, although powerful industry forces seek to maintain the status quo. Alaskans should weigh in on the side of king salmon and, in the spirit of Sen. Stevens, renew the fight to ban factory processing ships from U.S. waters. The goal should be no less than zero king salmon bycatch in the pollock fishery.

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College. This column printed in the Anchorage Daily News on Aug. 3.

July 18, 2012,  Guest Editorial: Loss of cannery a disservice to history

The last of the early 20th-century salmon canneries on the Southcentral Alaska road system is being torn down. The

A Kenai cannery

Libby, McNeil and Libby cannery at the mouth of the Kenai River started operation in 1912, was rebuilt after a 1921 fire, and canned salmon until 1998, although in later years shifted to freezing salmon.

It is commonly held that the gold rush was the major transforming event in Alaska in the early 20th century. Not entirely. Gold mining certainly had an impact, particularly in the Interior, but economically, culturally and politically, the Alaska canned salmon industry had more influence than mining. There are several reasons for this but, mainly, salmon fishing is a potentially sustainable value-added industry, while gold mining is not.

For its part, Parks Canada has done a remarkable job interpreting Gold Rush history by reconstructing Dawson City into one of the pre-eminent historic sites in the North.

The project began in 1959, and now dozens of buildings have been painstakingly reconstructed to 1900 condition. Even wallpaper patterns have been duplicated. You can see Jack London’s cabin and his writing desk, have a drink at a restored saloon and stay at a whorehouse transformed to a bed and breakfast, if you are so inclined. And you can hear authoritative talks bring the past into the present. The project is so successful that the city has been nominated as a World Heritage Site. Unlike Skagway, which has sensationalized and trivialized its gold rush history, Parks Canada has let authenticity and accuracy be its guide.

The Libby Cannery could have been the site that told the story of salmon fishing, like Dawson City tells the story of the gold rush. Through displays and talks centered on a cluster of reconstructed cannery buildings, the decisions people made to shape Alaska could be told.

It’s a complex story but could include when George and William Hume adapted canning to Sacramento River salmon in 1864, then shifted to the Columbia River in 1866 and had teams of horses hauling seine nets full of king salmon out of the river. A gut-wrenching thought today. It could include that the Industrial Revolution came north and, in 1882, a cannery was established at the mouth of the Kasilof River. The salmon boom was on and canneries, Oriental cannery workers and West Coast and Scandinavian fishermen mixed with the indigenous population, transforming Native villages to cannery towns throughout coastal Alaska.

And it’s a corporate story. By 1891 the powerful Alaska Packers Association had formed and the conglomerate fixed prices and wages but also offered the public a good product at a fair price. The corporations had powerful influence in Congress and limited federally licensed fish traps mostly to themselves. The question was, “Who owns the salmon?” The Alaska Packers Association made sure they did. The battle to control one of the greatest natural food resources in the world became the theme of Alaska statehood. Among the first acts of the first Alaska State Legislature was to ban fish traps, thereby breaking the stranglehold of corporate canneries on the fishing industry. Mindful of corporate collusion, it is not surprising that the Alaska constitutional convention radically gave Alaskans ownership of our natural resources, a decision with resounding implications to this day.

We should tell the story of worker abuse, as well. Chinese and, later, Filipinos worked the gut line cleaning an incredible four to six fish a minute for a wage approximately a fourth what the white trap tenders received. Twelve-hour days were common and it is not surprising the cannery store sold opium. Opiates are still the primary painkilling drug today, mostly in the form of prescription morphine and synthetic opiates, like hydrocordone. Workers on the gut line didn’t smoke opium to get high; they smoked opium to block the pain.

As with the salmon, the question is, “Who owns history?” In 2004 a local developer bought the old cannery, gutted its artifacts and made it into a cannery-themed craft shop and restaurant. It failed, demonstrating once again that private enterprise does not interpret history well. Now, almost a century-old, full-dimensional, 2-by-12 Douglas fir planks are being ripped out and old corrugated metal siding torn off, and the chance to tell the story of the transforming effect of the commercial canning industry on Alaska at an actual cannery site is being lost. We deserve the history we preserve.

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College.

July 11, 2012,  Guest Editorial: Rev up efforts for equitable gas prices

One can be assured that since pineapple is grown in Hawaii, purchasing your pineapple wouldn’t cost as much there as it does in, say, California. Or that potatoes in Idaho would be dirt cheap because that’s the state’s claim to fame. Apples from Washington taste great, and it’s smart to buy them from fruit stands along the highway, if that’s where you happen to be traveling.

In Alaska, we are known for producing petroleum, with a large role here on the Kenai Peninsula. And we know we pay more dearly for the petroleum products that power our cars and heat our homes than just about anywhere else in the nation. This summer’s dishearteningly high price at the pump (though easing now) shows that we continue to suffer some of the highest gasoline costs on the road system.

These high prices don’t just hit us hard at the gas pumps. They also hit our wallets with higher freight charges — which affect a myriad of goods and services we purchase, from milk to construction materials. Not to mention a loss of tourism dollars, with tourists choosing to not travel to Alaska by highway, as well as in-state travelers staying home who might otherwise come to the peninsula for a weekend getaway.

It is welcome news, then, that Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, is again opening the discussion toward exploring possible solutions. The Senate Finance Committee approved his request for $150,000 to hire an expert to figure out ways to get our gas prices down.

“We will be conducting hearings this summer and fall to see what we can do. We will investigate other approaches, such as attracting new suppliers to increase competition and creating more gasoline storage,” Wielechowski wrote in an Anchorage Daily News Compass piece.

One idea is to have the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority build new gasoline storage capacity to enable Outside refiners to bring their lower-cost gasoline into Alaska. The cost of these facilities would be paid for by the companies storing gas.

On June 21, the average cost of gas in Anchorage was $4.10. Today it is down to $4.04. The average cost across the United States was $3.49. The state with the lowest average was South Carolina, where drivers paid $3.01 to fill up. In Homer, the price at the pump June 21 was $4.52 to $4.57.

The last time oil industry officials were assembled, as the Legislature looked into the matter of pricing, a heap of excuses were piled atop each other, and certain questions were evaded as proprietary information. One excuse commonly heard was that the oil needs to be refined elsewhere and shipped back at a higher cost of doing business. And that our gas taxes are too high. A third excuse says the state has limited infrastructure to store and move gas.

Not true. There is a Tesoro gas refinery in Nikiski. It has a very short distance to travel, resulting in minimal transportation costs. And Alaska has the lowest gas taxes in the nation, Wielechowski wrote.

For example, state gas taxes and fees are 49 cents a gallon in New York, 48 cents a gallon in California and 37 cents a gallon in Washington. In Alaska, we pay 8 cents a gallon. Yet all of these states have lower gas prices than we do.

The sad truth is that Alaskans are being gouged because of lack of competition, he tells us.

“We’ve tried legislation banning gouging, which dozens of states have done. This would have a significant impact, but the bills died after heavy industry lobbying. So now we’re going to focus on different ways to ease Alaskans’ pain at the pump,” he said.

Alaskans must be proactive and participate as listeners when the hearings get started and pass in questions to be asked. Take photos of gas pump prices, encourage friends and relatives in other states to do the same and let this Senate committee see those photos.

Another way would be for peninsula tourism companies and individuals to encourage one day a month where motorists avoid the gas pumps — conserve, and do whatever is necessary to hurt them en force in the cash register that day. Make market forces show we aren’t willing to pay these high prices in continued ignorance. Maybe then gas prices for the peninsula would get more reasonable to allow us a more affordable cost of living.

Naomi Klouda is editor of the Homer Tribune.

Letter to the Editor, June 20, 2012: A sarcasm-laden thank you to Alaska Fish and Game

The following is a tongue-in-cheek letter to our very own Alaska Department of Fish and Game, although there is really nothing funny about the situation they have put us in. For those of you with an exceedingly dry sense of humor, I’ve taken the liberty of pointing out my sarcasm.

I want to genuinely thank (sarcasm) Fish and Game for the fine state (sarcasm) of our local early run chinook fisheries.

On the Kasilof River, we now have a mere shadow of the king run of yesterday. What was once the most popular roadside king fishery in the entire state in May and June, today sees only a dozen or so bank anglers a day. There are still a fair amount of drift-boat fishermen on days where you can keep “any” king (Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays) but not for long. Like our smaller rivers south, very few Kasilof early run kings returned this spring and consequently angler’s success rates reflect this.

Frankly, slow Kasilof River king fishing should be no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to the wise decisions (sarcasm) that Fish and Game has made over the past 15 years or so. Cutting hatchery chinook numbers from approximately 400,000 to 200,000 to 100,000 is in itself devastating to the Kasilof River, as well as our May saltwater troll fishery (which is also a shadow of its former glory) but when Fish and Game recently reduced Kasilof River chinook smolt stocks to 60,000 to 80,000, and then skipped one year altogether. You can’t  help but scratch your head and say, “Thanks, Fish and Game.” (Sarcasm).

Fish and Game’s “smoke and mirrors” management with hatchery and naturally produced hatchery fish (let me be clear here: there are no wild early run king salmon on the Kasilof), letting Crooked Creek hatchery fish pass the weir, having only one egg take as late as mid-July, and then implementing a liberal but almost unattainable two fish per day limit just adds to angler’s frustration. Again, thanks, Fish and Game! (Sarcasm).

Our world-famous big river, where questionable hatchery practices don’t come into play, is in even more dire straits, as Kenai River early run chinook numbers prove poor again this May and June. But that, too, should be no shock to anyone even remotely up to speed on basic king management.

Yes, chinook numbers are currently down statewide, but that is not the big problem here — years of not putting enough spawners on the beds is the real culprit. Honestly, how can a Kenai River early run minimum escapement goal of a minuscule 5,300 kings ensure a healthy early run, especially when Fish and Game recently admitted that the sonar they have been managing from for decades may be off by as much as 50 percent? Don’t get caught up in finger-pointing at tourists, guides or commercial fishermen and beware Fish and Game’s complex excuses on why our early run is so weak. Common sense should scream that 2,650 kings over a six-week period (May 15 to June 30) cannot ensure sustainability, nor can 5,300.

Years ago, when the department lowered the early run escapement goal to ensure it reached its management target, it was acting irresponsibly and our resource and community are now paying the price. Thanks Fish and game! (Sarcasm).

What now? Long ago, my parents taught me not to complain unless I was willing to suggest a solution. In this case, I think it is relatively simple. All anglers (local and nonresident) and every business owner (big or small) need to make some noise. Demand accountability and sustainability from Fish and Game. Sustainability of our king stocks needs to be priority one and fishery managers need to be held accountable when their policies and actions repeatedly fail.

Every one of us should contact Fish and Game’s upper managers, our state representatives and even the governor. Write the Board of Fish and request an emergency meeting so we don’t have to wait years for an adjusted management plan. Demand change, starting with raising the Kenai River early run escapement goal to past levels of at least 9,000 fish. Tell them we need to return Kasilof River early run hatchery stocks to historic numbers. Explain that this is an investment in happy residents, satisfied visitors and a vibrant local economy.

But even more important, it is an investment in the future of our fisheries, as our children and their children will surely want to catch a king someday. In a best-case scenario, it’s going to take years to recover, but at least it’s a step in the right direction. And for that, I will be genuinely thankful.

 — Greg Brush, Soldotna, EZ Limit Guide Service

Letter to the Editor, June 20, 2012: Drift River Terminal not worth the risk

Although I welcome renewed oil and gas development in Cook Inlet, I believe that the current proposal to indefinitely extend operation of the Drift River Terminal not only is a bad idea but that discussion about its risks misses the point. Expanding west side oil production by reopening Drift River Terminal is not an all or nothing proposition. I believe that there is a reasonable middle course that takes into account Mount Redoubt’s fairly predictable eruption cycle.

It was folly in 1967, only a year after Redoubt’s major 1966 eruptions and volcanic mudflows, to build a major oil storage facility at the foot of one of the world’s most frequently active volcanoes, on the edge of Cook Inlet and directly in the path of Redoubt’s powerful volcanic mudflows. The Drift River Terminal has roughly three times the capacity of the Exxon Valdez and any major breach would release stored crude oil into the immediately adjacent Cook Inlet waters. Because Upper Cook Inlet has poor tidal flushing, we would be living with that spilled oil for a very long time.

The continued health of Cook Inlet is vital to several major local industries such as commercial fishing and tourism, not to mention our own recreation and enjoyment of where we live. Any significant spill would not only cause long-term damage to Cook Inlet’s biology and reputation (and to the fishing and tourism jobs that depend upon the reputation) but would also hurt the chance of future oil exploration not only in Cook Inlet but also in the Chukchi Sea.

During both the 1989-90 and 2009 eruptions, Drift River Terminal barely avoided oil pollution disasters that would have rivaled the scope and cost of the Exxon Valdez. In 1989, the Drift River oil storage tanks were fairly full, too full to permit rapid off-loading. The containment dikes were partially overtopped or breached by multiple volcanic mudflows. Some of the crude tanks were damaged and nearly floated off their foundations. That would have caused a major oil spill. In 2009, power was lost during the eruption cycle and emergency repair crews were forced to abandon work in the face of renewed eruptions and water intrusion.

During each of these eruptive cycles, the protective dikes generally held, but only barely. After each eruptive cycle, the surrounding volcanic mud deposits became deeper, thus forcing ever-higher dikes. In a sense, the oil storage tanks are now in a fairly deep hole surrounded by deeper mudflow deposits. Future breaches are both more likely and probably more serious than before. Depending solely upon higher and higher dikes around Drift River Terminal is not much different than building ever-higher dikes on the Mississippi River. Sooner or later, natural forces have always breached such dikes and the resulting flooding is a larger, more serious catastrophe that humbles our belief that we can predictably tame huge natural forces like the Mississippi or Mount Redoubt.

I have heard reasonable people argue that we somehow managed to avoid disaster in 1989 and in 2009, so there is no reason not to return to business as usual. I believe that this asks the right question but in the wrong way. When a very valuable and irreplaceable resource like Cook Inlet is at stake, it’s worth asking how close did we come to irreparably damaging a valuable resource during previous eruption cycles? When the at-risk resource is very valuable, then the acceptable amount of risk is much lower because the cost of guessing wrong is much higher.

There is a middle-of-the-road approach that might make both good economic sense and good environmental sense.

Drift River’s oil storage can be rerouted to Nikiski by a much safer re-piping of the west side facilities and construction of another underwater pipeline. I have had the opportunity to discuss the repiping options with several competent oil field personnel who have studied the issue and it’s certainly feasible although more expensive in the short run. In the long term, re-piping and an underwater pipeline makes a great deal of economic and business sense, assuming that there’s a long-term commitment to exploration and production in the Inlet.

Because Redoubt’s eruption cycles are usually about 20 years or more apart, we have some breathing room. Allowing the Drift River facility to operate for not more than another 10 years would have a high probability that its operation would not be subject to any major volcanic eruptions and major mudflows.

During that 10 years of operation, the west side facilities could be re-piped and an underwater pipeline to Nikiski built. That would spread out construction and costs over 10 years of oil production, making the cost more feasible while allowing immediate expansion of west side production. Any permit for re-opening Drift River Terminal should have an automatic expiration at the end of 10 years and be nonrenewable and require a commitment to the re-piping and underwater pipeline that’s needed for long-term, safe oil production in Cook Inlet.

This approach would benefit everyone in the long run and greatly reduce the chance of grave harm to Cook Inlet and to all of the industries and jobs that depend upon the Inlet’s resources.

 — Joe Kashi

Soldotna 

June 13, 2012,  Guest Editorial: Don’t bypass Alaska experience in tour trips

According to a recent news item by KBBI’s Aaron Selbig, come September, Anchorage, Kodiak and Homer will no longer be ports of call for Holland America’s 14-day Alaskan Explorer cruise. This package has reportedly been sold out for every cruise since its inception two years ago and has received rave reviews from tourists traveling aboard the 1,300-passenger MS Amsterdam.

According to Holland America’s website, the cruise leaves Seattle and stops at the usual places for fleece and T-shirts — Ketchikan and Juneau. The Amsterdam then heads across the Gulf of Alaska and up Cook Inlet to Anchorage, where the cruisers get 16 hours to poke around. Then it heads down to Homer for eight hours of shore leave, and next on to Kodiak for another eight hours to experience Alaska. The cruise then sails back across the Gulf to Sitka by way of Hubbard Glacier, then back to Seattle.

The trip costs between $1,700 (cabin with no window) and $4,000 (cabin with window) per person, not counting fleece and T-shirts. Matching jogging suits are not required. (I wonder if tourists are included in the dead-last ranking of Anchorage by the fashion police.) Personally, I love to see retirees from the Lower 48 coming to Alaska for the trip they’ve always wanted to take but for which they have never had time. I love it when they get excited to see an eagle or a moose or marvel at the majesty of the mountains. And it must be pretty cool for them to walk real Alaska working harbors and see “Deadliest Catch”-type guys and their boats up close.

Not that I’d ever want to go on a cruise. Fourteen days with 1,300 people I don’t know would only be slightly worse than 14 days on a ship with people I do know. But they’re presumably having fun, and now that the harbor toilet-flushing issue seems to be resolved to Anchorage standards, where’s the harm?

So, what’s the problem? Why cancel a profitable cruise?

Apparently, for even greater profits. Eric Elvejord, Holland America public relations director, told Selbig the company has chosen to direct its energy toward utilization of “other Alaskan assets” — meaning the hotels, motor coaches and rail cars the company owns. Corporate tourism maximizes its profits by controlling the activities of its clients. Cruise companies make the most money when their tourists travel on company-owned ships, are transferred to company-owned tour buses, are brought to company-owned hotels, fed at company-owned restaurants, and buy souvenirs at company-owned gift shops. Alaska supplies the scenery and weather for free.

There’s too much independence on the Alaskan Explorer cruise. Consequently, Holland America is dropping it for shorter trips that don’t involve passengers the freedom to shop or explore non-Holland America venues for extended periods of time.

I get the part where most tourists are not physically or mentally equipped for even a small foray into the Alaska wilderness and are best kept on a ship or a bus for their safety and comfort. But the Homer Spit, with the exception of occasional nights in the Salty Dawg, is not exactly wild country and probably has more artists per capita selling their creations than anywhere in the country. Art is better than fleece. Kodiak can also be a little rough, but not in the wonderful Alutiiq Museum and other historic sites of interest. And Anchorage is the United States’ only subarctic city, a place to observe firsthand what we have done on the northern landscape.

Holland America, Princess Tours and other corporate tour companies can organize their business any way they want as long as it doesn’t cost Alaska taxpayers any money. But it does cost Alaska taxpayers. State tourism funding is around $12 million annually, much of it from car rental taxes. A significant portion of this funding is diverted to the Alaska Travel Industry Association for tourism marketing to help fill ships, like the MV Amsterdam (a representative of Holland America sits on the 25-member board). That gives taxpayers a dog in this issue.

The number of tourists who visit Alaska each year exceeds the number of Alaskans. If state money is going to help bring tourists north, we want them to have a good, thoughtful experience. That Alaska experience should not be limited to being herded by the corporate tourist industry. Give those, who want to, the option to experience the Alaska they always wanted to visit.

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College.

June 13, 2012,  Guest Editorial: The lasting legacy of Barry Lopez

The Kachemak Bay Writer’s Conference workshop by Debra Gwartney was rapidly filling up Saturday afternoon at Land’s End Resort. Her topic was the memoir, its distinctions from other types of writings also biographical or fact-based. Apparently, a topic of importance among many of the 155 participants of the conference.

Author Barry Lopez, often called America’s conscience and its premier nature writer, is married to Gwartney. He had taken a seat in the back of the room. As more people came in, he first gave up his own seat. Then he picked up chairs and set out more seats for the latecomers. Finally, he was left standing throughout the nearly two-hour seminar on memoir writing. He didn’t seem to mind. He attended to the door as people came and went, to ensure the door didn’t make noise.

The conference continued, leading up to Lopez’s keynote address that evening in the Mariner Theater. There he would talk about the writer’s role in the world today. What are we supposed to be doing? What are the urgencies of our time? Lopez lent insights as he read essays and a short fiction piece of his own.

It’s difficult to condense Lopez, whose lengthy discussions form whole books on his key preoccupations. Yet one simple statement resonated: How do you best take care of each other? How can people take better care of one another?

Lopez finds answers from slow walks he’s taken these past four or five decades in the more quiet areas of the world. He feels more comfortable in Arctic wilderness or with desert tribesmen in Africa and Australia than he does in the metropolitan areas of civilization. In these borderlands, he witnesses the diversity of human arrangements in order to bring their stories of survival back to us. He would have us, together, address problematic conditions created by today’s violent geopolitical environment.

Writers keep going, even during times of doubt and darkness, he told his Homer audience, because. “In some complex way, somebody loves us and we love them back. A storyteller had an obligation to the community. They didn’t work in a vacuum. And neither do we. We strive to help people understand who they are and how they take care of themselves.”

That’s a seemingly simple humanitarian message from a nature writer. Yet, it’s primarily nature that binds us together, Lopez said. The breakdown of the planet through commercialism and the quest for resource profit has hurt or decimated whole societies and rests at the heart of why wars are fought. Getting away from our core humanity occurs in the technology race. Lopez sticks to a typewriter for his own writings. Technology has its place, and he is considering the purchase of an iPhone. But he doesn’t feel comfortable with the hype of the new electronics advertising messages.

“They sound like drug dealers. It’s the language to get a junkie to need more and more,” he said.

Listening to elders, incorporating marginal peoples into public discussions — it will take this to seek unknown solutions for today’s bitterest problems. It is a message tribal people everywhere find true to their core of being. Lopez’s message resonates as important, beyond what he may teach writers at the conference. His message doesn’t bellow from the rooftops. It’s almost a quiet whisper — take care of one another.

When I read Lopez again, I will remember how he practices that in large and small ways, like giving out chairs so all can be involved in the discussion.

Naomi Klouda is editor of the Homer Tribune.

June 6, 2012,  Guest Editorial: Facebook: Beware the pitfalls of antisocial networks

Social media sites like Facebook connect users with old friends, new acquaintances and everyone in between. However, studies are revealing an inverse link with online connections and deeper, face-to-face relationships.

Norwegian researchers recently developed a test for networking sites, called the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale, which likens inordinate amounts of time spent on the networking site to drug and alcohol abuse. The test measures how often people use the site, if they do so to forget their problems and how using the site negatively affects their personal and working lives.

Researchers found the following groups of people most at risk for Facebook addiction:

Women, who are more social than men. Young people, who are more tech savvy than older people. And anxious or socially insecure people.

Social media, and the new emphasis on the importance of multitasking, have helped drive a wedge between family members.

Ironically, people become less social the more time they spend on social sites, and they tend to get less done while multitasking because they do not focus on completing one task at a time, he said.

“When people abuse drugs and alcohol, they are trying to feel better, yet they are worsening their situation. We’re finding this is also true for those who spend excessive amounts of time on social networking sites,” he said. “Perhaps the hardest hit from social media addiction is the family unit.”

Parents should monitor their own time online to ensure it’s not further limiting the already shrinking amount of time available with their children. And they need to safeguard their children by monitoring their time, as well. Here are questions for parents to ask themselves in gauging their kids’ media usage:

  • How much time do your kids spend with various forms of media? There are plenty of distractions from homework. Estimate how much time your child spends with the television, Internet, social networking sites, cellphone, Blu-rays and game systems. The more time spent with media, the lower a child’s academic performance, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study.
  • How much time do your kids spend with you versus online media? Remember, simply being in the same room isn’t necessarily interacting. The less the scales tip in favor of human-to-human interaction, the more likely there may be a problem.
  • Do you know how each device works and how it can be used? Familiarity with your children’s gadgets gives you a better perspective of what their habits may be like.
  • What are the consequences of their tech habits, and what should be changed? Make a list of the good and the bad consequences of your family’s technology use. After comparing the two lists, consider changes that can turn negatives into positives.

Technology continues at its accelerating pace, and we are in unchartered territory. Increasingly, social networking infiltrates our personal lives, but we need to remember that it is created to serve us, and not the other way around.

Psychologist Gregory L. Jantz is the author of “Hooked: The Pitfalls of Media, Technology and Social Networking” (www.drgregoryjantz.com).

May 30, 2012,  Guest Editorial: ‘Big man’ legislative spending needs restraint

Like Viking raiders returning from Lindisfarne, Alaska’s legislators are plying the fjords north from Juneau bringing to their constituencies the spoils of the battle for infrastructure also known as the Alaska state capital budget. As legislative aides man the longboat’s oars, Ragnar the Pugnacious and other legislators hoist their bounty as they approach their legislative districts.

A Little League ball field is hoisted up the mast, and the constituents on shore raise their mead horns and shout in honor of the returning legislator-warrior. Then a senior center goes up the mast and again the mead horns are raised in salute. With every capital budget item that survives the governor’s veto, the frenzy reaches a higher level. That night in the mead hall the people become intoxicated with capital spending.

Well, it’s a little more sedate than that. In actuality, legislators return to tell mild-mannered civic organizations about what they funded and are slapped on the back and toasted with bad coffee. Local newspapers interview the returning heroes, the list of projects is tallied in bullet points and the dollars are added up. “We did pretty good in Juneau this year,” the legislator is quoted as saying.

There are many worthy projects that are funded. But for a state that purports to be fiscally conservative, there is a lot of waste. Every constituency in Alaska has superfluous funding. In my area, two perfectly good natural-turf high school football fields are being resurfaced with AstroTurf, or the modern equivalent. Never mind that only about five games a year are played on a field, or that young knees tend to shatter when they hit a frozen, rock-hard, synthetic-turf field.

The supplicants should be reminded we’re not in Texas anymore.

It has come to be that the measure of a legislator’s worth is determined by the capital projects he or she gets funded. Alaska legislators decry government spending at election time, but try to find a fiscal conservative at budget time. In the past session the seeming lone wolf condemning extravagant spending was Rep. Mike Doogan, D-Anchorage.

This is not a new thing. Since the first stratified societies the ambitious have been doling out the chips and then calling them back in as a way to exercise clout. A classic example is the Melanesian “Big Man” as defined by anthropologist Marshall Sahlins. The Big Man “provides his followers with protection and economic assistance, in return receiving support which he uses to increase his status.” Because of the funding process, Alaska legislators function as “Big Men.”

The Alaska Big Man system needs more scrutiny. We need to acknowledge that there are two parallel systems that fund capital projects (three, if you count federal pass-through dollars). The constitutional system is based on budget requests by state agencies. Requests travel up the system to higher and higher levels until they reach the commissioners and eventually are, or are not, included in the governor’s budget. Legislators can and do amend that budget.

The Big Man system bypasses state agencies and funds nonstate programs, such as the aforementioned Little Leagues, senior activities, high school football fields and myriad other projects that effectively channel state dollars to private, local government or nonprofit sectors. The Big Men legislators play a powerful role in this process because they are the gatekeeper that citizens come to hat in hand. At the beginning of each session each is given a pot of money to spend, and they do.

Whereas the state funding system is — at least in theory — transparent, nongovernment requests via the Big Man system are not. A late-evening phone call, a fishing trip, and presto, a request can easily result in significant government spending. Some of the projects contribute to the general welfare, some don’t.

Alaska could use a little more accountability and restraint in how it funds its Big Man capital projects. It is the duty of the state to fund state agencies. It is not the duty of the state to funnel state dollars to nonprofits or other agencies, although it may be in our collective best interest to do so. For starters, we can identify which capital projects are the results of a state agency budgetary process and which are funded through the Big Man process. The latter should not be a based on who knows who, but how they contribute to a culture of the North. And that is the public’s decision.

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College. This column appeared in the Anchorage Daily News on May 18.

May 23, 2012,  Guest Editorial: Oil storage at the base of volcano a bad idea

I’ve been watching oil and gas corporations in Cook Inlet for the past 16 years, and few things surprise me. But now Hilcorp Corporation wants to resume storing oil at the base of an active volcano on the west side of Cook Inlet.

Hilcorp is the third-largest privately held oil and gas company in the nation (“privately held” means you cannot see their books). Last year, Hilcorp bought from Chevron the major oil and gas production facilities in Cook Inlet, including facilities at Trading Bay and Drift River.

At Trading Bay, Hilcorp uses a “shower head” to disperse over 2 billion gallons of toxic oily waste into Cook Inlet fisheries and beluga whale habitat each year. In other regions, industry re-injects toxic wastes back into the formation. But it’s cheaper to embrace the idea that “dilution is the solution to pollution.” So Hilcorp uses Cook Inlet fisheries as its private dumping ground. Hilcorp’s rationale? It cannot afford not to pollute.

When the third largest private oil and gas company in the U.S. says it cannot afford to properly treat its wastes, you have to wonder how all those smaller companies in the Gulf of Mexico do it.

But the real eye-opener occurs at the Drift River Oil Terminal. There, Hilcorp gathers oil from upstream production facilities, and ships it by tanker, usually to the Tesoro refinery in Nikiski.

In one of the worst planning decisions ever made, the industry sited the Drift River Terminal at the base of an active volcano, Mount Redoubt. In 1989, when the Exxon Valdez consumed the nation’s attention, Mount Redoubt blew ferociously. Volcanic flows inundated the facility, threatening prized fisheries with tens of millions of gallons of oil.

Mount Redoubt lay mostly dormant until late 2008, when alert levels rose. Chevron refused to reveal how much oil it had at the facility, hiding behind “Homeland Security.” And it made no effort to move the oil to reduce the risks to Cook Inlet fisheries.

March 22, 2009: Mount Redoubt explodes. Volcanic flows swarm the facility and Chevron finally announces 6 million gallons of crude remain perched above Cook Inlet fisheries. Chevron had little capacity to implement its oil spill contingency plan because it evacuated the facility. Furthermore, because industry refused to consider a volcanic eruption in its worst case spill scenario, its response capacity was roughly 4 million gallons. That left 2 million gallons of unaccounted oil hanging in the spill response ether.

Industry finally removed most of the oil, but not before putting workers in harm’s way by sending them into an active volcano zone. It then “tight-lined” the facility, to pipeline oil around the tanks and avoid the need for storage at Drift River.

But tight-lining requires more tanker trips, and tankers cost money. So to maximize its profits, Hilcorp now wants to re-open the Drift River Terminal. Yes, despite two catastrophic events, Hilcorp wants to store oil at the base of an active volcano.

Hilcorp recently called the 2009 Mount Redoubt eruption a “non-incident,” because huge oil tanks didn’t get swept into Cook Inlet. That’s like saying a twenty car pileup is no big deal because no one died.

One of Hilcorp’s self-proclaimed “core values” is: Integrity – Do the Right Thing. If Hilcorp has any corporate values at all, it won’t resume oil storage at the base of an active volcano, and will instead build a safer and more efficient pipeline across Cook Inlet.

So, walk your talk, Hilcorp. Do the right thing. Alaska and the world are watching.

Bob Shavelson is advocacy director for Cook Inletkeeper, a nonprofit organization formed in 1995 to protect Cook Inlet fisheries and the local families and economies that rely on them.

April 18, 2012,  Guest Editorial: Prosperity theology and the spirit of corporatism

In 1905, Max Weber wrote “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,” in which he described how a religiously instilled work ethic became a moral imperative reinforcing capitalist economics. Weber went beyond the surface structure of Protestantism and probed deeper political and economic aspects of how religion became the foundation of  pre-corporate capitalism.

The economy has moved on, and so has Protestantism. Today the largest and fastest-growing Christian churches in America espouse a new type of Christianity called prosperity theology, also known as gospel prosperity or Christian materialism, which does for 21st-century corporate capitalism what early 20th-century Protestantism did for regular capitalism — connect economics to God’s blessing.

Today, prosperity theology is promoted by megachurches and televangelists. Its message is if you tithe and attend church, God will bless you with material wealth. Some of the best-known prosperity theology televangelists are Joel Osteen, the late Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson and Creflo Dollar. Osteen is head of the largest church in America, the Lakewood Church in Houston and today’s most prominent televangelist. He is quoted as saying, “God didn’t create you to be average or poor,” and, “God wants you to live in abundance.” Dollar has stated, “Some people say it’s about peace, joy and love. No. It’s about money.” Wealth has become a manifestation of the sacred.

Megachurches catering to middle- and upper-middle-class parishioners are the core of prosperity churches. The surface message may be born-again salvation, but the theological backstory is materialist wealth. The most prominent prosperity theology church in Alaska is the Anchorage Baptist Temple, headed by Rev. Jerry Prevo. In a May 15, 2011, “Judgment Day” sermon posted on YouTube, Prevo concluded, “I’ve got a lot. … God’s blessed me (materially). … I don’t apologize for that. …  God says, ‘Seek you first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you’ (paraphrasing Matthew 6:33). I’ve just tried to do what God says to do and he’s added (wealth to me).”

Were he alive today, Max Weber would almost certainly point out that prosperity theology is much more than the delusion of the blessing of wealth. Prosperity theology is the religious basis of corporate capitalism promoting the sacrament of consumption and unsustainable development for the material benefit of the very rich (who may or may not be religious at all).

The thinking goes: God has chosen people, both in human and corporate form, to be wealthy. We should seek wealth to seek God’s blessing. We should honor that blessing by reducing taxes and other restrictions on the rich and their corporations. It’s God’s will people are rich and secular governments should not impede God’s will. Taxation is tantamount to sin. Poor folks, meanwhile, must be nonbelievers or at least backsliders because they aren’t rich and aren’t worthy of God’s blessing. The sacred becomes the profane.

In Alaska the multinational oil company’s wealth is a sign to prosperity theology adherents of God’s blessing and the demand for lower oil taxes is an instance of divine intervention. Resource development, if not sacred, is close to it. By implication, those who would channel Alaska’s wealth into public use such as roads, schools and communications infrastructure via oil taxes must be the devil’s consorts.

Many prosperity preachers also endorse a pre-tribulation Rapture, which they believe is coming soon. The combination of consumerism, resource extraction and end times does not bode well for sustainable conservation. The recent repurposing of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources promoting the oxymoron of maximum sustainable development of natural resources is in line with this type of theology.

That Anchorage’s most prominent prosperity theology church, the Anchorage Baptist Temple, hopes to erect a cross 100 feet taller than the Captain Cook Hotel would clearly brand Anchorage as the northern capitol of Christian materialism. That, of course, may be true.

Some of the harshest critics of prosperity theology are Pentecostal fundamentalists who call the idea that God blesses through wealth blasphemy. They would note, for example, that a few paragraphs before the passage cited above by Rev. Prevo is Matthew 6:19-21: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth. … For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Traditional Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox churches are also critical of prosperity theology.

But prosperity churches will continue to expand as long as materialism is the dominant value of our culture and the corporation’s sole purpose is wealth for shareholders.

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College. This column appeared in the Anchorage Daily News on April 13.

April 4, 2012,  Guest Editorial: It’s America’s turn

Nearly all great nations and cultures lose their minds; cannot see the forest for the trees; embark on quixotic and impossible quests; believe their own people, race or culture is exceptional, superior or indestructible; and ultimately bring the economy, the people, and quite likely a host of others, to devastation and ruin.

This has happened repeatedly in history: France, Russia, Germany, England, Spain, Italy, China, Mayans and Japan. All have had eras where their nations have been seized by darkness, blindness and pride, falling under a black fog of intolerance, oppression and genocide.

It would appear as if America is now joining this woeful parade of error, and what fruits will come of it can only be speculated upon, but it is a guarantee that none of it will be good.

We are now in the post-Constitutional era of American history. The Bill of Rights, the rule of law and truth are all redefined and packaged for us by the mere dictation of either a fraudulent executive (which extends well prior to the current occupant) or by the politically correct zeitgeist.

Recent months have seen where Americans are to be forced by law to purchase a product; to violate their consciences and their faith; where war is not the province of Congress, but rather the shadowy domain of international and domestic bureaucrats, who might merely keep the Congress “informed”; where a peoples’ behavior (a behavior that in 5,000 years of civilization has been condemned by all cultures as aberrant, abnormal and destructive) might entitle them to privilege before the law; where the government will pontificate to the various religions what the true meaning of their ancient precepts actually are; where basically everything that is innocent, normal and good might be declared illegal; and where the government may define a person as a “potential domestic terrorist” if they dare speak their mind about it all.

The Catholic bishops of the U.S., who have their own errors to account for (and which go far beyond the sexual abuse scandals), have begun the return to sanity by opposing the Obama health care mandate regarding contraception and abortion-inducing drugs and devices. The evangelical and Protestant clergy of America, most of whom have different teachings from Catholicism in this regard, nevertheless understand the concept of religious freedom, and have made common cause in this effort.

On March 23, in more than 140 cities across America (which included Anchorage, Fairbanks and the Kenai Peninsula), more than 61,000 people of various faiths bore witness to this coalition, daring to oppose the tyranny which, in due time, will extend far beyond the elective medical services which the issue currently enjoins.

When a culture goes mad, it will not stop. It roams about looking for new targets, commandeers the opinion-makers, demonizes the victims and portrays itself as heroic. One can reasonably wonder how long it will be before free speech and free press will have to move underground.

A word of caution — not just to the general public, but to also the bishops, clergymen and courageous citizens who desire to redress this injustice — the courts are not our friends. The game is otherwise rigged. To expect a federal court to limit federal power is like having all World Series Games held at Yankee Stadium, with all the umpires ex-Yankees. This past week, “court watchers” all but declared ObamaCare DOA. I’ll believe it when I see it. If you doubt me, recall Bill Clinton’s famous quote: “The era of big government is over.” Uh-huh. Or, George H.W. Bush’s “Read my lips: No New Taxes.”

In addition, a favorable decision by the court that pleases conservatives will only legitimize its power in the eyes of citizens, who erroneously believe that court dictums, even good ones, are Constitutional. They are not, but that is another story altogether.

States’ rights and nullification would be far more effective than the courts, but to achieve a more permanent solution, there can be no substitute other than a spiritual one: prayer, repentance and humility. No election, no one officeholder, no party, no ideology, can alone right this ship. “In God We Trust” must be our rallying cry.

Since the advent of Modern Times with the Renaissance, humanity has worshipped government. This worship has taken different forms, such as monarchy, democracy, republicanism, communism, fascism and socialism. As a god, this idol has demanded a lot of blood sacrifice as the price of its favor.

We must end this worship of government, and look to the one who, as recognized in the Declaration of Independence, is our creator, lawgiver, provider and judge. We must not ask the god of government to repent, fast and pray. We must do it ourselves.

I write this during Holy Week, when Christendom recounts the sacrifice made on our behalf from the only real superhero that ever existed, and stands at the center of history. And if the one, true God will deign to give us a remedy, it will be because we have rediscovered where our trust must be placed.

Bob Bird, of Nikiski, has been a pro-life activist on the Kenai Peninsula for nearly 35 years and is a former candidate for U.S. Senate.

March 28, 2012,  Guest Editorial: Don’t discard that ballot

On Friday, March 30, Homer Electric Association election ballots will be mailed to members. If you buy electricity from HEA, you’re eligible to vote for a person to represent your interests on the board of directors.

Why bother to vote?

HEA directors make decisions that affect your pocketbook and quality of life. They approve hundreds of millions of dollars in loans and purchases. They determine what projects — power plants, transmission and distribution lines, substations, dams and creek diversions — will be built and how to staff them. They decide when and how much to raise your electric rates.

For the last three years I’ve attended most HEA board and committee meetings and watched how the nine HEA directors work. Do they take time to understand issues they deal with? Do they make thoughtful, independent decisions or simply “go along to get along?” Do they treat ordinary HEA members with respect and seriously consider their concerns? Are they dedicated to conducting business in an open manner?

Three candidates have consistently demonstrated all those characteristics: David Thomas (District 1); Ed Oberts (District 2); Jim Levine (District 3). Ed and Jim are completing their first terms. David served one term ending last May. All are diligent, fiscally responsible, and approachable.

There will also be a ballot proposition this year. Members are asked to approve amending HEA bylaws to allow for optional electronic voting. Perhaps that would improve member participation — a good thing. Unfortunately, many local, state and federal elections have been plagued with electronic voting problems. If we approve this we should make clear to HEA directors and management that we want adequate safeguards to protect against glitches, hacking and outright vote manipulation.

Unlike ratepayers who buy electricity from a private power company, HEA members have the right to help determine our cooperative’s policies and direction. The best way to do this is by electing capable, responsible directors.

You won’t go wrong voting for Ed Oberts, David Thomas or Jim Levine.

Mike O’Meara is spokesman for the HEA Members Forum.

March 28, 2012,  Guest Editorial: Emergency response funding faces unsure future

Roughly 250 people have been trained on the Kenai Peninsula as Community Emergency Response Team volunteers. Each of us has invested considerable time, effort and devotion to learning how to minimize the havoc wreaked by disasters big or small.

We haven’t been paid for our time or expenses. Rather, we have donated them, asking in return only that our community reciprocate by providing needed equipment, supplies and training, both in the classroom and through exercises like the tsunami drill and Alaska Shield.

To achieve this, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management has applied far and wide for grants. Small amounts have trickled in here and there over the past few years. But we haven’t hit any jackpots until a few months ago. The borough was finally offered five state Homeland Security Program grants.

  • $23,000 — training CERT instructors and team leaders, CERT background screening and CERT training supplies (instructor and participant manuals, etc.).
  • $15,000 CERT Protective and Emergency Equipment and Supplies — Replenishing our supply of basic gear kits for new volunteers, traffic and scene safety gear (including high visibility vests, light wands, vehicle lights), a CERT trailer, radio/GPS units, helmet chin straps, first aid and triage supplies and etc.
  • $10,250 — Computing equipment for the KPB Incident Management Team that would be deployed to the Emergency Operations Center during a mass disaster: 10 rugged laptop computers with software, charging system, wheeled weatherproof carrying case, wireless and Internet.
  • $5,000 — Security and Vulnerability Study. The Alaska State Vulnerability Team would perform a security and seismic assessment of borough-owned facilities. The results would be used to improve planning strategies and mitigation efforts by the borough and the state and help prioritize projects for future funding.
  • $217,000 — A second, portable, self-supporting medical center and shelter system (three-piece insulated shelter with generator, sanitation system, hot and cold water system, heaters and lighting), basic first aid/mass casualty supplies, and two trailers for storage and transportation.

The borough needs a minimum of three of these shelters, for instance one each at Seward, Soldotna and Homer — points from which they can be deployed to any point on the main Kenai Peninsula, across Kachemak Bay or across Cook Inlet, if needed.

These grants were bundled under Ordinance 2011-19-63 and submitted to the assembly for acceptance. Perhaps OEM thought, as I did, that the need for these items was so obvious that acceptance would be a slam dunk, even without any supportive testimony from community members.

I was wrong. The grants were declined. I spoke with two assembly members afterwards and learned that some members either did not understand the need for these items or they were practicing fiscal frugality — not recognizing that this was a case of penny-wise and pound foolish, where the cost of healing after a disaster dwarfs the costs of minimized damage by thorough preparedness. Not only wouldn’t this cost us a dime, it would save us from having to buy these items out of borough funds.

Perhaps more critically, the assembly saw no sign of community support. Live and learn. Let’s never make that mistake again. When the amended ordinance, now numbered 2011-19-77, comes up for a vote at the assembly meeting at 7 p.m. April 3, let’s crowd the assembly hall with supporters.

And please preface that date by sending each and every assembly member a short email supporting passage. Just go to the assembly website to find an email address for each member. The sooner you write, the better. Let’s win this one!

Steve Stringham is a CERT volunteer

March 21, 2012,  Guest Editorial: ‘Game Change’ in media nothing to take lightly

Fifty years ago media scholar Marshall McLuhan predicted, indirectly, the events portrayed in the HBO film “Game Change.” For those who haven’t seen it, “Game Change” depicts the events surrounding Sarah Palin’s vice presidential candidacy as the poorly vetted nominee copes with the scrutiny that came with potentially being the most powerful person in the world.

Palin, as portrayed by Julianne Moore (who, incidentally, lived in Juneau in 1971-72), has a remarkable ability, as we know, to motivate a crowd. But we sympathize with her as she lies comatose on the floor trying to cope with it all, are flabbergasted at her lack of understanding of basic political affairs, and are angered as she turns attack dog unintentionally inciting ugly, racist comments toward now-President Obama. She’s become the archetype of the electronic-age celebrity politician.

Palin, herself, is not the game changer. The game changer is the effect of electronic technology on the way we think and, consequently, the way we select political leaders. Democracy is in transition. The social contract of Enlightenment-spawned democracy is over.

In 1962 McLuhan wrote “The Guttenberg Galaxy,” an archaeology of thought. McLuhan’s thesis is that the invention of movable type (Guttenberg) created literacy in the form of mass-produced books, newspapers and other print media. That invention caused a transition from the expressive thought of oral tradition to analytical thought. Words create sentences, sentences create paragraphs, and paragraphs create whole works that are lineal, logical (or obviously illogical), and can be broken into parts: analysis.

The first moveable-type book was the Guttenberg Bible setting the stage for the Reformation transforming Catholic ritual salvation into Protestant Bible study. Similar transformations came in economics (Adam Smith), politics (John Locke et al.) and liberalism, in the classic sense, was born. The new thought was realized in the U.S. Constitution in which power is legitimized, not by the divine right of regency, but by the social contract in which people authorize the government through representative democracy. “We the people of the United States … .”

McLuhan correctly recognized that the electronic technology of the 1960s, particularly television, was transforming thought away from texts to an image and sound byte-driven experience in which emotion and passion outweighed analysis.

In the now-famous exchange between Andrew Halcro and Sarah Palin having breakfast the morning after a gubernatorial debate in Kodiak, Halcro marvels that Palin used no facts and figures to back up her arguments, but the people love her. Palin reportedly leaned over the breakfast table, looked Halcro in the eye, and said something to the effect that statistics don’t matter.

She’s right. Statistics, facts and analytic thought do not matter in the new age of electronic democracy. Because of the powerful imagery of electronic media, style, presence and sound bytes matter.

The first election in which television made a difference was the 1952 election between Dwight Eisenhower and Adlei Stevenson. Then, the Federal Communication Commission gave each candidate a weekly half hour of free TV time. Stevenson used his time to deliver brilliant but boring talking-head lectures on foreign policy and other matters after the 10 o’clock evening news. Watchers fell asleep.

Eisenhower, or more likely his advisers, broke his free half hour into short Disneyesque animated clips spread throughout the evening featuring a caricature of Ike and the jingle “I like Ike.” Eisenhower won a close election.

And so was born the political ad, which has become increasingly sophisticated and now determines the outcome of all but the most one-sided elections. Ads are very, very expensive and create images based on emotion and gut feelings. No one reads political essays anymore; few read or understand newspaper opinions. Now people think they are participating in the political process if they watch an ad or a clip of a candidate on the evening news looking handsome/beautiful and delivering a zinger of a sound byte. That’s the game changer: electronic media productions control the outcome of elections.

It’s not just the dumbing down of elections; it’s that power has moved from the electorate to the hidden power behind the ads. Voters are just pawns in a larger more sophisticated game where elections are determined by those who pay for television ads, YouTube segments, Twitter feeds, faux newscasts, and anonymous comments to online newspapers and blogs that effectively sway voter decisions. In the new democracy the people (corporations are people you know) who pay for the ads determine the future as the force behind the celebrity candidates they create.

Game change.

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College.

March 14, 2012,  Guest Editorial: Keystone XL is key for Alaskans, as well

President Obama’s denial of the Keystone XL pipeline may seem like a distant political battle, but there are reasons why Alaskans should care about the project beyond its potential to raise America’s employment levels and energy security.

The reasons for allowing the pipeline are straightforward. It is a genuinely “shovel-ready” project that would bring crude oil from Canada and the American Midwest to refineries along the Gulf Coast.

The $7 billion pipeline is a world-class private-sector infrastructure project. Its construction would put thousands of Americans to work without government subsidies.

The 900,000 barrels of oil the Keystone XL pipeline could deliver daily to American refineries would strengthen our ties with Canada and reduce our reliance on imports from OPEC countries like Venezuela, where President Hugo Chavez continues to advocate against America’s interests.

Keystone XL is exactly the type of project that a nation mired in debt, deeply dependent on expensive foreign oil, and desperate for new jobs should embrace. Unfortunately, what should be an easy decision has fallen victim to election-year politics.

The State Department began reviewing Keystone in 2008, and was expected to make a decision by the end of last year. In January, however, President Obama denied a permit that would have allowed the pipeline to cross the U.S.-Canadian border. TransCanada recently announced it was moving ahead with construction of a small portion of the pipeline between Oklahoma and Texas, but it’s still unable to build the most important part of the line across the U.S.-Canadian border.

Anti-oil lobbyists hailed the president’s decision as a victory, but the decision puts American waters — including the Gulf of Alaska — at greater risk of an oil spill, and could result in higher levels of global pollution.

Canada will develop its oil resources whether America buys them or not. Even the Obama administration’s own Energy Department has acknowledged to ship its oil to growing Asian markets. Indeed, shortly after the president rejected Keystone, Canada’s prime minister boarded a plane bound for China.

Clearly, China is much farther from Canada than the United States. That raises the question of transport. Without Keystone, Canadian companies are now developing plans to build a pipeline headed west, to British Columbia.

From there, Canadian oil would be transported to Asian markets – not by pipeline, but most likely on about 250 Chinese-built, single-hulled vessels with foreign crews.  Those tankers would sail for Asia through Canadian waters that border the Gulf of Alaska.

This should make anyone who remembers the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 nervous. That tanker — also single-hulled — spilled more than 250,000 barrels of oil when it hit a reef in Prince William Sound.

In the wake of that disaster, Congress required double-hulled tankers to minimize the likelihood of future spills. Yet, by rejecting the Keystone pipeline, we are effectively re-inviting those ships back into our waters. Should another terrible accident occur, that Canadian oil once bound for the Lower 48 through a land-based pipeline could instead wash up on Alaska shores.

The risks and impacts do not end at the water’s edge. After navigating the Gulf of Alaska, tankers would land in China and other nations that do not operate under the same stringent environmental safeguards required by the United States. Their refineries will emit more pollution than American refineries — another net loss for the environment.

A final and less obvious reason for Alaskans to support Keystone XL is that we may someday find ourselves in the reverse of today’s situation.  Canada is our neighbor and one of our great friends, but if the United States refuses to act rationally on major joint projects, that could quickly change. Alaska needs Canada’s cooperation on so many critical issues — from natural gas and rail lines to fisheries and even border security.

It may seem incredibly unlikely that Canada will ever be anything but our staunchest ally. But not long ago it was equally unthinkable that the United States would ever reject a Canadian pipeline, bringing oil and jobs we need, solely for political purposes.

The Keystone XL pipeline represents a chance to improve our nation’s economy, strengthen a relationship with one of our key allies, and bolster our energy security. While it may seem like a nonissue for Alaska, it’s also an opportunity to protect our waters — and the world’s environment — from harm.

Lisa Murkowski represents Alaska in the U.S. Senate.

Feb. 29, 2012,  Guest Editorial: Alaskans must stand firm to protect salmon habitat

Alaska stands at an important threshold, and the decisions we make in the coming months will determine the fate of wild Alaska salmon for generations to come.

Some folks from Texas want to strip-mine the Chuitna River watershed on the west side of Cook Inlet so they can send coal to China. To get to the coal, they want to destroy 11 miles of Middle Creek, a beautiful stream that is home to several species of wild Alaskan salmon. This would be the first time in our great State’s history we would allow mining directly through a wild salmon stream. If our Governor and the state agencies allow this project to proceed, it will set a horrendous precedent that will jeopardize wild Alaska salmon forever.

Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources is moving ahead with a permitting process for this monstrous misuse of the land. That an Alaska agency would consider such a proposal is an insult to Alaskans and to the land. In my 61 years being involved with Alaska’s fish and game resources, the only other comparable, seriously proposed rape of Alaska’s land I can remember was when Gov. Gruening wanted to dam the Yukon River.

The federal government almost destroyed Alaska’s salmon fishery. Since statehood in 1959, Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game has rebuilt our salmon runs to equal to or even better than the greatest runs of the earliest years. But now, politics and money have crept in, and sound science is no longer driving our agency decision making.

The future of our salmon depends upon the health of our salmon streams. Since territorial days we have prohibited dams that could keep salmon from spawning grounds. To protect spawning grounds and prevent silting, one cannot legally drive a tractor or all-terrain vehicle across an Alaska salmon stream. We require logging projects to protect riparian habitat for fish. We say no to fish stream pollution of any kind.

At statehood, Alaska’s salmon managers — I was one — had mostly pristine rivers to manage. The Texans presume they can replace the 11 miles of Middle Creek they plan to destroy. That is impossible; any Alaskan knows that. If they could build new salmon streams, they could make a heck of a lot more money doing that then exporting coal. Only God could create a wild Alaska salmon stream and all its fixings, and it might even take Him a few centuries.

Equally important, it’s impossible to set a dollar value on the loss of salmon from Middle Creek. The reason is simple: salmon are an eternally renewable resource. What would be the value of salmon from Middle Creek over the next 10,000 years? Compare that with 25 years of income from coal shipped to China, most of which would fill the pockets of Outside investors.

Gov. Parnell has promised on numerous occasions he would “never trade one resource for another.” Yet he rejected a petition from local hunters and fishermen asking the state to remove salmon streams from the proposed mining area. I’m all for mining, it’s vitally important to our state – just not through our salmon streams. The governor wants us to believe the permitting system can somehow magically mitigate away the devastating effects of coal strip mining on wild salmon streams. But anyone who’s lived with salmon knows that’s untrue.

Alaska is the last stronghold for wild salmon. The once-magnificent runs in Oregon and Washington and Maine have fallen to the very same shortsighted decisions we’re faced today with the Chuitna coal strip mine. If we set state policy by allowing mining through salmon streams at Chuitna, it won’t be long before our kids and grandkids are asking: why didn’t you learn from the mistakes they made in the Lower 48?

In 1950, Dr. Jim Rearden organized the wildlife department at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and taught as head of that department for four years. He has been an area biologist for commercial fisheries for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Cook Inlet, served on the old Board of Fish and Game and later on the Board of Game and was a member of the National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmosphere. He was outdoors editor of Alaska magazine for 20 years and has written more than 500 magazine stories and 27 books on Alaska subjects. 

Feb. 29, 2012,  Guest Editorial: Alaska’s moose management follies

Alaska has long had some of the best wildlife biologists in the world. Unfortunately, the Board of Game pays less attention to them than to comic book biology for managing moose, caribou, wolves and bears. This is equivalent to putting the reins of wildlife management into the hands of Wonder Woman and Spiderman, who listen to no advisors except astrologers and pulp fiction writers.

Real biology reveals that sustainable yield from an ungulate population is maximized when food supply is abundant enough for most individuals to be well nourished and thus highly resistant to parasites, disease, winter stresses and predators. The population sizes at which health and sustainable yield are maximized (MSY size) occurs well below carrying capacity. Various estimates place MSY size at 70 percent ­plus 10 percent of carrying capacity.

By contrast, comic book biology assumes that sustainable yield from a moose population is maximized at carrying capacity. It assumes that the more moose we cram into a habitat, the more benefit people derive from those moose, without concern for how cramming increases risk of a population crash. This is as dangerous as cramming fifteen clowns into a VW beetle, then forcing them to drive through rush hour traffic on a Los Angeles freeway. As moose numbers approach carrying capacity, malnutrition increases, as does vulnerability to disease, parasites, winter stresses and predators. This leaves few moose for people to harvest without causing the population to shrink.

The Board of Game’s goal of keeping ungulate populations at carrying capacity, while maximizing sustainable yield from those populations, are as mutually exclusive as having your cake and eating it too.

The Board of Game’s brinksmanship management strategy is especially risky because severe weather can drastically reduce effective carrying capacity within a matter of weeks. With up to two feet of snow on the ground, moose may be able to reach most available browse. But as snow continues to deepen, moose are left with fewer and fewer areas where the energy gained from consuming browse exceeds the energetic costs of wading through snow to reach the browse. More durable, if less sudden, declines in carrying capacity can also be caused by loss of browse to insects such Geometric moths and sawflies, as well as to snowshoe hares.

Even modest peaks in hare numbers commonly exceed 400 hares per square mile, which together weigh as much as two adult moose. However, metabolic rate is roughly four-fold higher per pound of hare than per pound of moose. So 400 hares could be consuming as much food as eight moose, in addition to all the future browse lost because it has been girdled by hares.

Although moose and hares don’t have a 100 percent dietary overlap, it’s probably safe to say that 400 hares eat enough moose browse to have fed at least another two moose. Under such conditions — to say nothing of severe peaks with over 10-fold more hares — the quickest way of maximizing current carrying capacity may be reducing hare numbers.

The best way of doing this is predation. Instead of increasing harvest pressure on furbearers during hare peaks, this is exactly when trapping should be curbed to maximize the numbers of small carnivores, lynx, coyotes, and wolves, as well as raptors, on the job catching and eating hares. Once hare numbers plummet, trapping can accelerate.

Fish and Game biologists have already shown that coyote predation on Dall sheep is minimized when hares are abundant. Hares can likewise buffer wolf predation on moose, as evidenced by research in the Yukon decades ago, and recently in Denali National Park.

During 2006-09, while hares were devastating moose browse, Denali wolves were eating almost nothing except hares. If wolves on the Kenai Peninsula are likewise now feasting on hares rather than on ungulates, this would be exactly the wrong time to start decimating wolves. What evidence does the BOG have that exterminating wolves wouldn’t do more harm than good to moose in this place, at this time?

Predator management should be based on a realistic understanding of how the balance between harm done to moose by wolves versus benefits to moose by wolf predation on hares, varies according to abundances of browse, hares, moose, and wolves. (A fuller account of these concerns was published in the Alaska Dispatch on Jan. 25.)

Presumably, that’s essentially the kind of understanding that Fish and Game has achieved through its decades of research on predator-prey ecology. Presumably, that’s essentially the basis on which Fish and Game would prefer to manage moose. Yet, if so, why hasn’t Fish and Game informed the public about their findings? Why wasn’t the Board of Game informed? Or wasn’t the Board of Game interested? Is this one more example of research results being muzzled by special interest organizations?

The biggest danger to our moose population may not be from wolves and bears, but from two-legged predators who use comic book biology to further political agendas that have nothing to do with putting meat on the tables of most Alaskans. It’s long past time that Alaska flushed comic book biology down the tubes and got back to science-based management.

Dr. Stephen F. Stringham has been a resident of the Kenai Peninsula since 1970. He earned a master’s degree in wildlife management from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and a doctorate in ecology from the University of Tennessee. He did postdoctoral research on predator-prey relations and has worked in many parts of North America and Europe and is the author of numerous scientific articles and several books on Alaska wildlife.

Feb. 22, 2012,  Guest Editorial: Students need more Lady Macbeth, less Lady Gaga

Let’s skip the sad fact that Presidents’ Day is focused on car sales and mattress discounts and get to the painful truth: Too many Americans — even college seniors — don’t know about the individuals who led our nation and shaped our world.

Even at our nation’s founding, our leaders knew the importance of civic education. President George Washington once said, “A primary object should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? And what duty more pressing than communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?”

So how are we doing?

Probably worse than the British army at the end of the American Revolution, it turns out. Only 34 percent of college seniors from elite institutions could identify Washington as the general at the Battle of Yorktown, according to a survey by the Center for Survey Research and Analysis. More than a quarter couldn’t name John Adams as the second president. And only 23 percent of students could name James Madison as the “Father of the Constitution.”

It may not be necessary for students to memorize that James K. Polk was No. 11 or that James Buchanan preceded Abraham Lincoln — to be honest, neither are likely to come up in casual conversation. But to graduate from college without a basic grasp of our history leaves us poorly prepared to face America’s many challenges, not to mention the fact that it is a tragic slap in the face of the men and women who formed America, and defended her since.

It’s not just the founders who remain strangers to many of today’s students. Only 53 percent identified Theodore Roosevelt as president when America acquired the Panama Canal. Worse, just 22 percent could identify the phrase “Government of the people, by the people, for the people” as part of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

What is happening at our colleges?

It’s called a serious case of academic irresponsibility. Students and families are paying more and more — tuitions have more than quadrupled in the past 25 years — yet colleges are failing to provide our students with the educational foundation they deserve and our country needs.

A nationwide study of more than 1,000 colleges and universities, “What Will They Learn?” (www.whatwilltheylearn.com) found that 80 percent of our colleges don’t require students to take even a single foundational course in American history. About 85 percent don’t require students to study foreign language. And despite the state of the global economy, an unbelievable 95 percent of colleges don’t require even a basic economics course. Without a strong educational foundation, how can the leaders of tomorrow set the course for our future?

Too many of today’s graduates are far more likely to be familiar with Snooki than Socrates. Lady Macbeth has receded into near oblivion as Lady Gaga takes center stage. And a very disappointing Google search will find over 400 million hits for performer Nicki Minaj — more than 10 times the number of hits for Thomas Jefferson.

Employers are noticing these skewed priorities. Fully 87 percent of employers believe that our colleges must raise the quality of students’ educations in order for the United States to remain competitive globally, according to the Association of American Colleges and Universities. This all comes at a time when the Pew Research Center says young adults are suffering larger income losses than any other group and that they’re less likely to be employed than at any time since World War II.

But don’t ask college seniors about World War II either. Though so many can describe the Occupy Wall Street movement in impassioned detail, many aren’t so knowledgeable about Hitler’s occupation of Europe or the threat to freedom our armies defeated.

It’s time our colleges and universities got their priorities straight. They’re simply not doing an adequate job of preparing the people Washington called “the future guardians of the liberties of the country” when 40 percent of college seniors can’t identify the Constitution as establishing the division of powers between the states and federal government.

President Washington, we’re letting you down.

Daniel Burnett is the press secretary at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a higher education nonprofit committed to academic excellence. For more information, visit http://www.goacta.org.

Feb. 15, 2012,  Guest Editorial: Moose numbers won’t add up for hunters

In an effort to enhance the moose population for sport hunters, the Board of Game has authorized killing wolves from helicopters on the Kenai Peninsula. It’s a temporary measure that will have little long-term effect other than a lot of dead wolves.

For a century the moose population on the Kenai Peninsula has been artificially high. Dena’ina oral tradition tells of moose dramatically expanding on the Kenai Peninsula in the late 1800s. Previously, the primary ungulate on the peninsula was caribou.

During the late 1800s and early 1900s a number of large fires changed much of the habitat from caribou-friendly ground and tree lichen to moose-friendly aspen, willow and scrub birch browse. Some of the fires were naturally associated with bark beetle infestation cycles, and some were set by miners clearing ground for turn-of-the-century mining.

Hugh Bennett wrote that in 1916 his party rarely traveled more than two miles without encountering a burned area. Historic photos show hundreds of acres burned by placer miners.

Consequently, in the early part of the 20th century, willow, aspen and birch grew up where the mature spruce forests had burned. The last reported caribou was sighted on the Kenai Peninsula in 1917. (The modern caribou are transplants.)

Because of the newly luxuriant habitat, moose thrived, growing large in numbers and in size. Eastern and European sport hunters discovered the giant Kenai moose and trophy hunting became a minor industry in the early 20th century. Word spread largely through magazine articles with accompanying trophy photographs of a hunter with a huge moose rack, some in excess of 70 inches. The wealthy sport hunters had influence and lobbied for creation of a sport-hunting reserve, and in 1941 Congress created the Kenai National Moose Range (now Kenai National Wildlife Refuge).

Moose habitat was also artificially enhanced by post-World War II homestead clearings, most of which generally lay fallow after “prove up.” By 1955, 110,000 acres had been cleared on the Kenai Peninsula and there was more to come in the next decade. In the early 1970s it was common to see 10 to 12 moose browsing on scrub birch in an old homestead clearing.

As time went by three things happened to shrink the artificially enhanced moose habitat. First, forest fires were suppressed initially both in the populated areas and in the Moose Range. That policy has changed for the refuge, which now usually lets fires burn. Second, homesteads gave way to subdivisions and where once there was browse, now there are houses and lawns. And third, natural plant succession took place and where once there was prime moose habitat, now there is spruce or tall birch. Moose don’t eat spruce or what they can’t reach.

The Moose Range tried to stem the natural vegetation succession to keep the moose population high using such methods as crushing trees with huge track vehicles flattening thousands of acres to enhance moose habitat. But, in the end, mature forests have emerged and the moose population is in decline.

Today, no matter how many wolves are killed the moose population will never be high enough to satisfy the number of hunters. The moose population is about half of what it was in 1980 (estimated at around 2,000 today in Game Unit 15A). The Kenai Peninsula Borough population is double what it was in 1980 (about 55,000 today). The nearby Anchorage Municipality is 280,000, 100,000 more than it was in 1980. According to Fish and Game, about 14 percent of Alaskans hunt; not all, of course, hunt moose, but people don’t invest in .30-06s and four-wheelers to hunt rabbits. That means there are approximately 7,700 hunters on the Kenai Peninsula, more than double the hunters in 1980 (47,000 if you include Anchorage, also double).

Hunters now harvest about 400 moose per year. Inflate the moose population, double it, triple it and still only a small percentage of hunters will get their moose. Supply will never meet demand and it will get worse as Alaska’s urban population continues to grow.

So now the wolves must die so a few more moose will be temporarily available for hunters. In the long run there are too many hunters for the number of moose the Kenai Peninsula can support. Only drastic denuding of thousands of acres of spruce forest will create enough habitat to return the moose population to its artificially inflated levels to satisfy hunter demand.

The Board of Game should stop the Kenai Peninsula wolf kill program and let nature adjust to a natural regimen.

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College.

Feb. 15, 2012,  Guest Editorial: AEA right to pull plug on Kenai Hydro grant funding

Chalk up another win for the little people in the four-year Kenai River hydro war over Grant Lake and three prior locations. After Homer Electric Association, aka Kenai Hydro, LLC, applied for an Alaska Energy Authority Renewable Energy Fund grant one more time, for $4 million on top of the previous $2.2 million, HEA was finally told no. Apparently HEA should stay closer to home.

HEA members joined resident Kenai River stakeholders to object to the latest $4 million grant application, which appeared intended for a slush fund. There is widespread public opposition to use of public funds to irreversibly damage a vital natural resource. A better word is public outrage.

It should not be surprising that HEA lost one more battle in the hydro war, because it is absurd to risk the health of the Kenai River for any reason, let alone for a project producing fly-speck energy. We have no doubt that this one project will be used as a precedent to pursue other projects in the headwaters.

It has become apparent that HEA does not understand that the Kenai River is the cornerstone of the peninsula’s economy. It is ignorant and irresponsible to risk the health of the Kenai River with this and the prior closely clustered Crescent/Carter Lakes, Falls Creek and Ptarmigan Lake hydro projects that would heavily industrialize the upper river.

Where is the HEA Board of Directors? Good grief! The entire Kenai Peninsula is socially and economically dependent upon Kenai River wellness. Forget having a conscience about traditional values and strictly conforming to decades of protective public planning. What is really going on here?

HEA now has plans to greatly overdevelop generation capacity in the central peninsula. Only about half of this energy would be purchased by HEA members. HEA obviously expects to export the excess off the peninsula and sell it to the Railbelt grid. Or to mining interests across the inlet?

Regardless of what you may think of that plan, why pursue a tiny, unneeded hydro project at Grant Lake, which will not even serve HEA members? Is HEA surreptitiously trying to establish a precedent to build other hydro projects in the Kenai River Watershed? Or is HEA simply using free public money for sentimental renewable energy public relations benefits, while mindlessly threatening the local and regional economies?

Unneeded projects and public relations should be funded by HEA members, not involuntarily over strenuous objections of the general public. A vital natural resource should never be threatened in this manner, and especially not using public funds.

Bob Baldwin is president of the Kenai River Watershed Foundation, Inc., based in Cooper Landing.

Feb. 8, 2012,  Guest Editorial: Act locally to stop state, global trafficking problem

I have had the distinct pleasure of experiencing life with people of many cultures and

Renee Duncan

worked with them on many different lands.

In those times, I have had a brief taste of what life is like in Third World and developed countries. I have seen the hopelessness and desperation in the eyes of a mother who held her child as he died from AIDS. I have watched as children flocked to receive just one piece of sugar candy and act as if they had been given a million dollars.

I have experienced in a small degree the challenges they face in some of these countries. Each time I return home, I remember the joys of the visit in another land, but then I rejoice over the thought of my bed, my shower, my car and my conveniences.

America may not be perfect but it is my home! As I reflect on a portion of the words from “The Statue of Liberty Poem” by Emma Lazarus, “Give me … Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free … I lift my lamp beside the golden door,” I am reminded that there are many people that are yearning to breathe free, to move free and to walk free. Today’s modern-day slavery is one of great injustice and is seen in multiple different venues and means. It is more than just an issue of sex trafficking, it is a problem of insane proportion.

Abraham Lincoln speaks boldly in his speech at Peoria, Ill., in 1854: “Slavery is founded in the selfishness of man’s nature — opposition to it, is his love of justice.” Our nation fought to bring freedom to the African American people, and the price was great but it was for a great reason —freedom. No one should be in slavery to another.

President Lincoln fought the fight and declared to the 140th Indiana Regiment, “I have always thought that all men should be free; but if any should be slaves it should be first those who desire it for themselves, and secondly those who desire it for others.” There are some who choose a life of slavery in some form or another. But those numbers are minute in comparison to the many whose choice has been robbed from them.

In her article, “Stop the Trafficking of Alaska Native Girls,” Dana Liebelson states: “Alaska Native women and girls are facing a dire trafficking problem. Sex traffickers often lure the victims to Anchorage, where they’re separated from their local support network and then coerced into the sex trade.”

It is known by investigators that this trend has been on the rise for the many years, and they fear Alaska Natives are targeted due to their “versatile” look — which they are then passed off as Asian or Hawaiian. Amnesty International estimates that Native American women are 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual assault than other American women.

This is a problem that has remained under cover in our society, with its head peeking out ever so often and being exposed. But it is time to stop the undercover activity and expose it to the light. It is time to rise and make a difference.

So the question is asked, “What can I do to change the course of this gigantic ship of injustice?” I have listed some possible opportunities for you to rise to the challenge. This is not a comprehensive list but it is a start, and that is what we need to do, start.

  • Become educated and help others to become aware of what is happening.
  • Research human trafficking.
  • Read books and articles that provide you with insight and possible participation.
  • Organize a justice group and be a part of the abolitionist movement.
  • Provide financing to set up homes of rescue or homes of hope.
  • Do battle in the political realm.
  • Be aware of your environment.
  • Businesses, be aware of the practices of those you do business with.
  • Houses of faith, do small-group studies dealing with injustice.
  • Provide micro-business financing to assist people coming out of human trafficking.
  • Purchase material from these types of businesses.

On Saturday, Feb. 11, you have an opportunity to find out more concerning this subject by participating in the “You + Me = Justice” Coffee Challenge and Rally. This awareness event starts and ends at Peninsula Christian Center, 161 Farnsworth Blvd., in Soldotna. It will provide additional information to benefit you in breaking the cycle of human trafficking. The coffee challenge will be held from 1 to 2:30 p.m., and the rally, with guest speakers, live music, food, awareness products for sale and other people wanting to make a difference, will be held from 2:30 to 3:40 p.m.

Although I am guided by my faith in Christ and the words of Micah 6:8, “act justly, love mercy, walk humbly,” this is not just a faith issue, it is a human issue. The issue is humanity fighting for humanity that we may all be free.

Renee Duncan is a pastor at Peninsula Christian Center in Soldotna.

Feb. 1, 2012,  Guest Editorial: Alaska not immune to disease of human trafficking

There are many joys of living in Alaska that several of us can attest to. Our albums are filled with pictures of the multiple moose that have found residence on our lawn during different seasons. Some even have documented a bear or two roaming the city streets.

Our children play with excitement and joy in the safety of those backyards. We enjoy freedom and widespread seclusion from some of the downsides of society that prevail in many American cities. But as much as we desire to believe that our “little” state is excluded from the dredges of society, we are living in a form of delusion.

Our state is being infiltrated in a very demoralizing way. Human trafficking is on the rise and we can no longer consider Alaska as untouchable from this modern-day disease.

As I communicate and discuss this need for a modern-day abolitionist movement in our communities and state, I find many people believe that it is not a problem that we have.

They believe and understand that it is a problem in Africa, India, Thailand and other countries — but they do not believe it is here, not Alaska. This is a fallacy. It is in Alaska — it is in my backyard.

In 2008, Don Webster was sentenced to 30 years in prison for two counts of sex trafficking of a minor, and nine counts of sex trafficking of adults in Alaska’s first human-trafficking prosecution. Prosecutors estimated that he made $3.6 million exploiting women and girls. In 2009, we find Sabil Mumin Muhahid,
Sidney Lamar Greene, Keyana “Koko” Marshall and Rand Hooks, all of Anchorage, were indicted in a sex-trafficking case that involved 20 women and girls.

It is interesting to note that when one thinks of human trafficking the mind immediately connects with it being sex related. Although this is a portion of the problem, it is not the only way that human trafficking exists.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 provides the legal definition of “severe forms of trafficking in persons” as a commercial sex act that is induced by force, fraud or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery.

The legal definition of human trafficking provides understanding that there are three populations involved — minors (under age 18) involved in commercial sex; adults age 18 or over involved in commercial sex via force, fraud or coercion; and children and adults forced to perform labor and/or services in conditions of involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery, via force, fraud or coercion.

Our backyard should be a place of safety, where Alaskans will not allow human trafficking to become our “disease” of tolerance, but instead stand and change the course. Where we, the people of Alaska, stand as a community and together, as modern-day abolitionists, say, “Enough is enough — not in my backyard.”

We need to say no to the 17,500 people, including children, who are trafficked into the nation’s borders, with 80 percent being women and 50 percent being minors. Tell our children that their backyard is safe and secure, for we stand as one.

We see that victims are trafficked for a wide variety of purposes, such as commercial sex, housekeeping, agricultural and various sweatshop work, yet they share the loss of one of our world’s most cherished rights — freedom.

You + Me = Justice. Isn’t it time?

Renee Duncan is a pastor at Peninsula Christian Center in Soldotna.

For more information on the You + Me = Justice Coffee Challenge, visit www.facebook.com/YouMeJustice.

For more information on human trafficking, Project Rescue and other organizations committed to fighting it, visit: www.projectrescue.com

www.thejubileemarket.com

www.notforsalecampaign.org

www.slaverymap.org

www.freetheslaves.net

www.freedomsunday.org

Jan. 18, 2012,  Editorial: Soldotna teen learns, teaches with strength, grace

Youth is wasted on the young, as the saying goes, because we don’t realize how good we have it until we start to lose it.

You think nothing of hours-long games of pickup basketball, sprawling too close to the TV on unpadded floors, or lifting — God and chiropractors forbid — with everything but your knees, until joint pain, headaches and back twinges force you to start thinking about it. Late-night burgers, buckets of fries, pizza for dinner and again for breakfast the next morning aren’t shed as easily as they once were consumed. Responsibilities and the stress that comes with them aren’t as easily shirked or shelved. When illness or death hits close to heart and home, mortality doesn’t seem as hypothetical or irrelevant a concept.

Some do learn what life and youth mean while they still have it, but it’s from loss of someone close or potential loss of their own. Those lessons come hard and fast, instead of the slow, more-comfortable accumulation of wisdom and wrinkles to which the rest of us are subjected.

Nothing is wasted on Cheyenne Stettler, who was diagnosed with cancer at age 18, just a few weeks after graduating from Soldotna High School in 2011. She’s had to learn much more, much quicker than anyone her age should have to. She’s become fluent in medical jargon, rattling off acute lymphoblastic leukemia, chemotherapy, bone marrow aspirates and myocytolysis, like she’s a star on a hospital TV series. But that knowledge isn’t from a script, it’s been the painful reality of her life since June.

The positivity she’s displayed throughout her battle with cancer alternately breaks your heart while swelling it. It’s amazing she’s been so strong and done so well, yet painful that she’s been subjected to such a test in the first place.

Those who know Cheyenne talk about what a good kid she is — caring, sweet, sensitive, as nice as could be. Kind words and sincere, but expected. What else would you say when a young person is sick? More telling is Cheyenne herself. She doesn’t say those things about herself, but she doesn’t have to. Her own personality speaks far louder than any words can. She said she was in shock and denial when she was first diagnosed. How could she possibly have cancer? She had just graduated high school, she was a prom princess, she had friends and a boyfriend, she just started a new job and was planning on college in the fall. How, indeed? Lesson No. 1 is that illness, particularly cancer, is not fair. There’s no sense to it. The most you can do is try to make sense of how you respond to it. Being angry and feeling sad are normal responses, and she’s certainly gone through those phases. But the perspective she’s come to since then is as amazing and heartening as her recovery has been.

She’s woken up from a month-and-a-half coma, withstood the ravages of intensive chemo and all the yucky side effects it brings, is regaining her strength and preparing for a bone marrow transplant next month that will hopefully be her ticket to continued health and clearance to come home and get back to worrying about normal teenager-level concerns, like how her hair looks, squeezing in camping and road trips around her job and what she should study in college.

But those issues will never seem as weighty as they once did, because she’s had to worry about far more than that. Cheyenne says she’s happy she’s been through what she has, because it has made her appreciate life more. Everything about it — from the enormity of the concept of life itself, to the little moments and details that can make it so worthwhile, such as talking to friends, laughing with family, petting her dogs, riding a four-wheeler, and having a bad hair day because that would mean she would at last have her hair again.

She’s learned to be appreciative and make the most of anything and everything her life brings, even when it isn’t as easy or as much as others are lucky enough to have. That’s a lesson we should all listen to.

Cheyenne has learned it the hard way. The least the rest of us could do is take note.

Jan. 11, 2012, Guest Editorial: If not Grant Lake, then what?

Homer Electric Association members like renewable energy.  That’s one reason they raised a ruckus over the Healy coal plant deal in 2009. They wanted clean energy from renewable technology instead. Most folks I hear from still do. The Grant Lake/Grant Creek small hydro project is HEA’s first serious effort to provide it.

So why do some HEA members think that’s a terrible idea?

Hydroelectric projects have a well earned reputation for destroying fisheries, wrecking established economies, and even displacing communities. Grant Lake is near Moose Pass and within the Kenai River watershed. Some residents oppose the project, raising questions over potential destructive impacts — locally and to the Kenai River.

The Alaska Center for the Environment, Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance, and Kenai Watershed Forum have expressed concerns too. Moose Pass critics also object to HEA imposing itself on their community, which lies outside the HEA service area.  Recent letters to newspapers from two HEA members echoed most of these sentiments.

How does HEA respond?

HEA Directors cite Bradley Lake as proof the Grant Lake hydroelectric project can be developed responsibly. Community meetings were held in Moose Pass to take local input. Project engineers are examining ways to avoid building a dam and minimize road construction.

In a September newspaper opinion piece HEA General Manager Brad Janorschke wrote, “If the studies show that there would be a serious impact to the overall health of the Kenai River watershed, HEA will not proceed with the project.” Still, with field studies yet to be completed, HEA submitted a grant request to the Alaska Energy Authority for construction funding.

Is HEA ignoring the real problems associated with hydroelectric projects and dismissing legitimate public concerns? The co-op is supposed to be responsive to members. A lot of you said you wanted renewable energy so they’ve proposed Grant Lake.

Are critics an unreasonable minority whose concerns are based upon myths and misconceptions? The problems associated with hydroelectric power are real and significant. People everywhere have a right and responsibility to be concerned about what happens in their communities and how that might affect the wider world.

Alaskans want energy. No matter how we make energy there will be negative impacts.  Grant Lake and Grant Creek aren’t the Colombia River or Bradley Lake. Comparisons with either are not useful. Each hydroelectric project is unique and needs to be evaluated in terms of its potential environmental, social, and economic impacts. Will the intended benefits justify the inevitable costs?  Will those most affected reap a fair share of the rewards? Are there better options?

Why should you care about any of this?

If you buy power from HEA, you’re part owner. The directors and management serve at your discretion. As a member/owner you’re responsible for everything our co-op does. Don’t know enough to have an opinion? Why not take time to learn more? Then let your HEA directors know how you feel.

Mike O’Meara is spokesman of the HEA Members Forum.

Dec. 21, 2011, Guest Editorial 2011: Salmon degradation — not on our watch

In the 1960s, Danish, Norwegian and Icelandic corporations discovered the open-ocean habitat of Atlantic salmon at the juncture of nutrient-rich ocean currents in the Labrador Sea. Over the next two decades, high-seas fishing reduced wild Atlantic salmon runs to almost nothing.

Two innovations contributed to the decimation of wild Atlantic salmon — the development of large, ocean-going freezer/trawlers, and the invention of light, almost invisible nylon nets. A factory trawler could operate for months setting out drifts of a mile catching whole schools of salmon. The Atlantic salmon fishery moved from bays and inlets to the open ocean, and decisions from the wheelhouse to the boardroom.

Between 1960 and 1967 the high-seas Atlantic salmon catch increased from 20,000 to 500,000. In 1968 an improbable Cold War alliance of the U.S., Canada, Britain and the USSR proposed curtailing the growth of high-seas salmon fishing. Denmark, Norway and Iceland argued there was no scientific evidence that high-seas fishing affected spawning salmon stocks and blocked the resolution. In 1969, the International Commission for Northwest Atlantic Fisheries banned high-seas Atlantic salmon fishing, but Denmark ignored the ruling and doubled its catch.

Many other factors conspired against the Atlantic salmon. For example, on the East Coast quaint, 19th-century mill dams blocked migrating salmon and destroyed the run. In Norway an ambitious, Post-World War II hydroelectric dam-building program impacted 84 salmon-spawning rivers. Though provisions were made for fish ladders, the dams affected salmon in unforeseen ways, such as riverbed drying, stranding of salmon due to planned flow changes, and high smolt mortality since immature salmon are forced to migrate downstream through turbines. But high-seas fishing probably took the greatest toll.

In 1972, under intense pressure from the United States and Canada, a complete ban on Atlantic high-seas trawl fishing was enacted. Denmark simply intensified near-shore fishing in Greenland waters, which it controlled. By the 1980s and 1990s, Atlantic salmon stocks were in precipitous decline. In 1995 scientists devised a way to measure open-ocean salmon populations and advised a complete closure of high-seas fishing. Denmark objected, other nations acquiesced, and a 77-ton quota was agreed to. The Danes proceeded to register some trawlers in Poland or Panama effectively expanding their national quota. By the late 1990s, the commercial and subsistence harvest of wild Atlantic salmon was over.

Today, virtually all commercially available Atlantic salmon are farmed salmon. Salmon are densely packed into floating pens and fed fishmeal, antibiotics and hormones. Four pounds of ground-up fish are needed to produce 1 pound of farmed salmon. To reduce costs, wheat byproducts, soybean meal and feather meal — feathers from slaughtered chickens — are added to the feed. The meat of farmed salmon is gray — pigments are added to the feed for artificial coloring — and contains significantly reduced amounts of healthful omega-3 fatty acids.

The Atlantic salmon debacle is being repeated on the north Pacific Rim. Overfishing, hydroelectric or irrigation dams, or habitat degradation and fragmentation have destroyed or severely reduced wild Pacific salmon runs in California, Washington, Oregon, British Columbia, Japan and Russia. The Columbia River has 3 percent of the salmon run it did when Lewis and Clark visited. In the Sea of Japan, overfishing, dam building and habitat destruction, such as lining streams with concrete to protect rice fields, resulted in a wild salmon return of almost nothing by 1968. Genetically homogeneous hatchery fish, farmed fish, and now the prospect of genetically modified salmon, Frankenfish, are replacing the decimated wild stocks.

Pacific high-seas wild salmon fishing is not the free-for-all it was in the Atlantic, thanks in part to Section 101, Part B of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. After establishing a 200-mile limit (Part A) the act asserts that the United States claims authority over all anadromous fish “throughout the migratory range of each species.” In other words, if they spawn here, they are our fish.

All is not well, however. For example, Bristol Bay Kvichak River sockeye runs dropped significantly after Japan, known to drift 100-mile-long nylon nets in the open ocean, negotiated fishing agreements in Russian waters (beyond the reach of the Magnuson-Stevens Act). Kvichak salmon migrate farther west than any other Alaska salmon, into Russian waters, and some show net marks, indicating they have escaped open-ocean nets.

Alaska is the last place on earth with large, healthy wild salmon runs genetically adapted to their stream of origin. In addition to keeping our own house in order, we need to carry a big stick on the open ocean to assure these remarkable species are not squandered on our watch.

Factual information in this article comes primarily from David Montgomery in “King of Fish” and Bjorn Johnsen et al. in “Atlantic Salmon Ecology.”

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College. This column printed Nov. 25 in the Anchorage Daily News.

Dec. 7, 2011, Guest Editorial 2011: Dog park project hopes to fetch support

Soroptomist International of the Kenai Peninsula is dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls in our local community. In doing so, our local group has chosen a project that will improve and add to the quality of life here on the Kenai Peninsula by transforming a portion of one of our local city of Soldotna parks on Aspen into an off-leash dog park.

The community support for the Aspen Dog Park has been tremendous. There is an extreme need for a clean, safe, dedicated place for the “entire” family to exercise their dogs and develop social skills that will make better canine citizens of the future. Aspen Dog Park will be designed to accommodate for handicap access in order to provide access for community members with service dogs. The park will have a water feature for humans and their dogs and a memorial wall where personalized stones will be crafted as a fundraiser to build the wall.

Once the park is completed, events will be organized to invite the public and local dog shelters for meet, greet and adopt events. Our seniors in the community will be encouraged and welcomed to future events within the park so that they may enjoy the pets without the burden of ownership.

We estimate that there is an approximate population on the Kenai Peninsula of 55,400, and 4,441 of those individuals live within a 7.5-mile radius of the new Aspen Dog Park. Many households have at least one pet. We feel that this opportunity to be a part of such a positive impact on our local community should be supported by our local businesses, organizations and community members and be as dedicated as we are to the process of making this park a reality.

But we need help. No Soroptimist or city of Soldotna funds are going to this project, making donations of vital importance.

Our goal is to have the Aspen Dog Park completed during the 2012 construction year. Donations are critical to its success, whether it is cash, items or products to auction, gift certificates for goods/services or gift cards. We hope to raise $60,000. Many business and community members and leaders have expressed support. Our community is clearly excited and eager to see this project succeed.

Anyone with queries regarding our organization, our fund management policy, photos of the project design or the project itself may contact me at 398-3001 or aspendogpark@hotmail.com.

Connie R. Hocker, with Soroptomist International of the Kenai Peninsula, is committee chair for the Aspen Dog Park.

Nov. 16, 2011, Guest Editorial 2011: Cohoe ‘community council’ lacks authority

In recent months you may have heard or seen references to a “Cohoe-Kasilof Community Council.” Most residents of the Cohoe-Kasilof area have been surprised, confused or angry to see this group mentioned in the media. There is an interesting story here that includes elements of deception, arrogance and a large dose of good old-fashioned hypocrisy.

About a year ago Debbie Brown decided to fight the state’s designation of a “special use area” on state lands at the mouth of the Kasilof River for habitat protection. That’s fine, we all have different opinions. Brown attracted a small group of like-minded people. Also fine.

But then she incorporated her little group as a nonprofit organization and called it the Cohoe-Kasilof Community Council. Brown became the president of this self-appointed group. Most area residents were oblivious or chose to ignore her efforts. The reality was that the designation of the Kasilof River Special Use Area had widespread support in the area, the process was begun at a Kasilof community meeting attended by over 50 people where, by a near unanimous vote, those present requested that the state begin the process of designating a special use area.

But then Brown, and members of the group, began speaking and writing things claiming to represent the community. Brown testified at the Board of Fish meeting last winter, not only claiming to represent the Cohoe and Kasilof communities but also that her testimony had the same legitimacy as a city or borough government’s — because, she said, she was representing a community council. This assertion was completely false — only community councils created by statute have that sort of authority; not self-appointed nonprofit groups.

They also testified at borough assembly meetings. The borough has no mechanism for creating community councils or recognizing the validity of a group claiming to be a community council. Common sense would prevent most people from claiming to speak for an entire community when they represent less than 1 percent of the residents.

The “community council” tried, and failed, to get the state of Alaska to give them $150,000 to provide services and citizen enforcers on the state land at the mouth of the Kasilof River. Their budget included a couple of four-wheelers and a $25,000 salary for a seasonal supervisor.

Then Brown ran for borough mayor, utilizing her status as “president of the Cohoe-Kasilof Community Council” in her campaign.  In September her group sponsored a mayoral debate at Tustumena Elementary School. Unfortunately they failed to do any publicity so only 10 people showed up, thereby embarrassing the community.

The press was at the debate and Brown was quoted saying she does not believe that nonprofit organizations should get any government funding. A few weeks later she and two members of her nonprofit group were at a genuine Kasilof community meeting asking the community to support their renewed request for $150,000 of government funding from the state Legislature. The community said no.

A week later she tried to get some of Cohoe’s Community Revenue-Sharing grant funds (more government funding) for her “community council,” even though she knew full well that the Kasilof Public Library and the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race both really needed that money.

How can this happen? Over the past year various people told Brown in private and in public that her group did not represent the community, to no avail. We are left with no option but to confront the misrepresentation. Just naming your nonprofit organization a community council does not make it so.

The group calling itself the Cohoe-Kasilof Community Council represents, at most,10 people and does not have the authority to speak for the communities of Cohoe and Kasilof.

Catherine Cassidy, Erik Huebsch, Bob Correia, Liz Schmitt, Geri Ransom, Alan Boraas, Penny McClain, Kathleen Evenson, Larry Meyers and Benjamin Jackinsky, residents of the Cohoe-Kasilof area

Nov. 9, 2011, Guest Editorial: Alaska chamber not beholden to oil influence

Local chambers of commerce and the statewide chamber do what I, and many other business owners like myself, don’t have time to do on a day-to-day basis. They promote improvement of our business environment through education and advocacy.

As a small business owner based in Southeast, I recognize the value of working with other businesses through chambers of commerce. I’m a current member of the Ketchikan, Skagway, Prince of Wales and Wrangell chambers of commerce, in addition to being a member of the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce.

Meeting several times per year, in various locations around the state, Alaska chamber members work together to improve the current business environment, and to talk about how we can lead that change. One example of that is our Legislative Policy Forum. Designed to allow any member to submit a position for consideration of the general membership, this forum is how our legislative priorities are selected each year. Each member, regardless of income or size, gets one vote. That’s right — one member, one vote.

Ironically, at a recent press conference, one day prior to our Policy Forum, Rep. Gara and Sen. Wielechowski implied otherwise. They claimed that I and my fellow chamber members are controlled by “big oil.” They were correct stating that oil companies are the largest financial contributors to the chamber. What they missed are all the other contributors, like me. My company is a chamber underwriter, and I serve on multiple committees as well as chairing the chamber. My time is valuable, and anyone who knows me knows I won’t be bullied into supporting positions I don’t agree with.

The outcome of the forum underscores my point: 90 Alaska chamber members met during our annual forum and, of those, seven of them represented oil, gas or refining businesses.

The priorities emerging from the forum guide our members and staff, as we work with policy makers to aid in producing legislation, which helps businesses, large and small, be successful. This year, by overwhelming majorities, we chose six priorities out of almost 40 positions submitted.

The top three state priorities for 2012 are:

  • Reform oil tax policy to encourage new oil production.
  • Support litigation reform relating to resource development projects in Alaska.
  • Reduce the high cost of energy.

The top three federal priorities for 2012 are:

  • Support development of OCS, NPRA and ANWR.
  • Support the Bypass Mail System.
  • Oppose further federal land withdrawals in Alaska.

There has been much discussion lately about the Alaska Business Report Card, which is a pro-economic development scorecard issued by the Alaska Chamber, the Alaska Support Industry Alliance, the Resource Development Council and Prosperity Alaska. Like the Alaska Chamber, these organization’s boards are comprised of hundreds of the best and brightest business minds in Alaska. And just like the Alaska Chamber board and members, these volunteers dedicate thousands of hours to insure that the most important government policies are highlighted for reform or implementation.

Despite the risk of political retribution toward me, my business, the Alaska Chamber, or other pro-business associations, I believe it is important to focus our policymakers on policies that will improve our economic future. As an Alaskan, I believe we all want a growing and sustainable Alaska economy. Clearly, opinions differ on how to improve our business climate. I respect that. I expect the same in return.

Renee Schofield is the CEO of Tongass Substance Screening, Southeast Alaska’s primary drug and alcohol collection and testing provider, and current chair of the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce.

Oct. 26, 2011, Guest Editorial 2011:  I/thou and Eadie

Photo from the Kenai Peninsula College Historic Photo Repository. Eadie Henderson is seen at Kenai Joe’s Bar in Kenai. Joe Consiel is the bartender and owner.

For 30 years starting in the 1950s Eadie Henderson, or just Eadie as she was locally known, was one of the last larger-than-life madams of Alaska. Her topless bar north of Kenai, Eadie’s Last Frontier Club, had rooms upstairs where the girls entertained clients. Though Eadie never publicly admitted to running a house of prostitution, it was common knowledge she did.

One of the more remarkable photos in the Kenai Peninsula College Historic Photo Repository shows Eadie on a barstool at Kenai Joe’s Bar in 1960s Kenai. Kenai Joe’s, incidentally, is the oldest continuously operating business in the Kenai and Soldotna area; you can still get a beer and play a little pool there. Standing behind the bar is Kenai Joe himself, Joe Consiel, and Eadie is wearing her signature leopard-skin coat and one of the many hats she always wore in public. She’s putting the “touch” on a bar patron, maybe an oilfield worker in the booming Swanson River field, or maybe a construction worker. Another lonely man in a lonely place that was not yet, or never would be, home.

In those days everyone in the Kenai and Soldotna area knew about Eadie. But she was not a myth cloistered in her North Road brothel. Eadie regularly attended public concerts, plays and movies, entering with a flourish left over from her burlesque days in Ohio. You’d see her in the grocery store or at other businesses pleasantly chatting about the weather or local gossip just like other customers. She frequently brought her girls to enroll at classes at Kenai Peninsula College. Eadie also helped a lot of men who were down on their luck by giving them a loan or a job sweeping the bar or working on her homestead until they got back on their feet.

To be sure, not everyone approved of her chosen profession, old as it is. But while most disapproved of illegal prostitution, to my knowledge no one condemned her publicly. No one got in her face while in line at the grocery store. No one called her a whore while she sat waiting for a concert to begin. In the frontier days of 40 or 50 years ago, Alaska was more civil than it is today.

Gradually, over the past few decades, the window of tolerance in Alaska has been closing. Behavior that used to cause a raised eyebrow or a comment of “whatever,” now is vilified in the burgeoning outlets of public condemnation, many of which do not require the condemner to reveal their name.

It’s not just Alaska, of course. We are following the lead of the culture wars of the United States made large by the intensity of the media. Mean-spirited political debates provide entertainment and shock value as candidates snidely smile condescendingly at each other’s point of view. Talk radio blogs, and online comments provide a forum for derogatory statements that pretend to be analysis. Hannah Montana becomes a tweener role model making demeaning others cool. “Gay” is the insult of choice. The news is framed in fear and xenophobia. And so it goes.

Intolerance and incivility are, of course, nothing new. What is different now are the many increasingly sophisticated ways it can be expressed: blogs, YouTube, Facebook, videos, websites in addition to TV, movies, radio, newspapers, sermons, lectures and political speeches.

We have lost sight of the humanity of the other.

In the 1950s, the famous Jewish philosopher Martin Buber defined the essence of human relations as two people recognizing the humanness of the other person regardless of their politics or religion. Buber called these I/thou relations. I/it relations result when others are dominated, ridiculed, marginalized, objectified or manipulated.

At a speech a woman began to harangue Buber about his belief that humans could affect their own destiny. It went on for some time and Buber, rather than engage in a shouting match, patiently waited. When she finished he came down off the podium walked up to her, took her hand, and said, “Quite right.” She reportedly burst into tears as he went back to the podium and finished his speech.

Buber recognized her humanity just as Kenai and Soldotna recognized the humanity of Eadie Henderson. We don’t have to agree with each other, we don’t have to like one another, but we do have to recognize one another as human beings. If we’re going to survive as a culture, we need to reawaken the I/thou of Alaska.

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College. This column printed Sept. 30 in the Anchorage Daily News.

Oct. 12, 2011, Guest Editorial: Further study will determine hydro feasibility

Homer Electric Association has a goal to generate 22 percent of its power through renewable energy by the end of 2018. On the Kenai Peninsula, HEA has indentified wind, tidal and small hydro as the primary resources available to achieve that target. Each of these resources has a set of unique challenges that will require time and effort to resolve, including the Grant Lake Hydro Project.

Recently, a few letters to the editor were critical of HEA for pursuing the Grant Lake Project, located near Moose Pass. While it’s obvious that everyone has a right to their opinion regarding the project, it’s also important to make sure that the information being cited is accurate.

Currently, the Grant Lake Project is undergoing a rigorous federally mandated process to ensure that all issues are addressed before a license to construct the project is granted. To infer that that project is not being thoroughly scrutinized and studied is incorrect.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is tasked with coordinating the licensing procedure for the hydroelectric project. The FERC process is comprehensive and requires the applicant to carry out a multitude of studies to address a variety of issues before a draft license application can be submitted.

In 2009 and 2010 HEA contracted expert consultants, including fisheries biologists, recreational specialists and resource managers, to carry out field studies on the potential impacts of the Grant Lake Project.

The studies focused on several aspects of the project, including many that were brought up in public meetings. The topics include aquatic resources such as salmon spawning distribution, fish distribution and abundance, aquatic habitat, and in-stream flow. Wildlife topics include studies on breeding bird surveys, water bird surveys and goshawk surveys. There will also be continued work in areas of wildlife resources, botanical resources, recreation and visual resources, and cultural resources. Additional information on these studies and the project in general can be found at http://www.kenaihydro.com.

In 2012 HEA will be conducting additional studies to further evaluate the project. Additionally, as a result of the first round of studies and comments received, changes were made to our future study plans and to the conceptual design of the project. The design features will continue to be refined and modified as more information becomes available.

Homer Electric was fortunate to receive grant money from the State of Alaska to continue the needed field studies in 2012. The grants were received through the Alaska Energy Authority’s Renewable Energy Grant Program. This program receives hundreds of applications from around the state and the award process is competitive. After a review by the AEA staff, the Grant Lake Project was placed in the first tier of projects slated for funding. The AEA has never criticized the Grant Lake Project and continues to support the project through its grant program.

The results of the next round of field studies should be available for FERC and public review in the summer of 2013. At that time, HEA plans to submit a draft license application for the Grant Lake Project that will include the final details of the project.

We believe that is the proper time to weigh in with either support or opposition to the project. It’s important to have all the information in hand before making a decision and currently there are still many unanswered questions about the project. To oppose the project outright, before studies have been completed and a final design of the project has been determined, is shortsighted.

No one, including HEA, would want to put the Kenai River or its tributaries at risk. If the studies show that there would be a serious impact to the overall health of the Kenai River watershed, HEA will not proceed with the project.

In addition, there will be extensive federal and state agency review of the studies and the draft license application. If the project presents unacceptable risks, we are confident the agencies will bring that to FERC’s attention.

HEA’s goal is to find a source of renewable energy on the Kenai Peninsula and reduce the dependence on fossil fuel power generation.

Grant Lake may or may not be the answer, but let’s at least give the project a chance to stand or fall on its own merits.

By Bradley P. Janorschke is general manager of Homer Electric Association.

Oct. 12, 2011, Guest Editorial: Spilled oil? Want trust? Be transparent

As seen in the BP Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico last year and in ExxonMobil’s pipeline spill in Montana this summer, the public expects accurate and timely information about oil spills and the efforts to clean them up.

In the gulf and in Montana, the amount of oil spilled was calculated by the spiller and the cleanup effort was based on those estimates. Each time, the spiller’s first estimate drastically understated the size of the spill and its potential environmental impacts. The public was kept largely in the dark about cleanup strategies and outcomes.

Estimating spill volumes isn’t easy. But that doesn’t justify discouraging community participation in cleanup efforts and limiting public access to information. Such practices only inflame outrage and exacerbate mistrust.

We live in an era of instant communication. Any disconnect between reality and the official line from the oil industry and its regulators is immediately captured and flashed around the world by radio, television and the Internet. The resulting public outcry is loud and predictable, but it could be ameliorated by making the management of oil spills more transparent.

The public is understandably uneasy when it sees the government partnering with an oil company that has just had a big spill and understated its magnitude. But that partnership is exactly what’s called for in the National Response Plan. (This plan, which grew out of the federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990, establishes a nationwide framework for dealing with oil spills.)

Of course the spiller should pay for a fast, effective cleanup, as the National Response Plan requires. But it is not acceptable that the spiller leading the response should go unchallenged when informing — or even misinforming — regulators and the public on the severity of its spill, while barring public access to reports on damage and cleanup efforts.

Public trust requires regulatory independence in evaluating, and transparency in disclosing, the size of the problem and how the public’s interests are being protected. Burying skeptical reporters and traumatized citizens in statistics like miles of boom deployed and the numbers of boats and people at work is little more than a smokescreen. It ignores the questions that most need answers.

Faced with this scenario earlier this year, Montana’s governor pulled his representatives out of the Unified Command (the cleanup management team made up of government agencies and the spiller).

In Alaska, I’m happy to report, we have a relatively high level of transparency during oil-spill cleanups. Our Department of Environmental Conservation takes part in the Unified Command. The department establishes a public website where it promptly posts summaries of the estimated size of the spill, descriptions of cleanup efforts, and goals of the response team.

This model seems to work and to promote public trust. Years after a spill in Alaska, it is still possible to go back and see how, at any point in the cleanup, the teams working on it grasped the magnitude of the problem and organized their efforts to deal with it.

Alaska’s system of state-directed transparency in oil-spill cleanups and the federally mandated citizens’ councils for Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound, put in place after the Exxon Valdez spill of 1989, are good models for addressing the recurring issues of transparency and public trust that plague the handling of oil-spill reporting and response elsewhere.

With the news media reporting confidence in our oil industry and our government to be at historic lows — impeding responsible development of our natural resources — isn’t it time to learn from past disasters and use the Alaska model to maximize transparency and accountability whenever and wherever our nation suffers a major oil spill?

Mark Swanson is executive director of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council. For more information, visit http://www.pwsrcac.org.

Oct. 5, 2011, Guest Editorial: Grant Lake hydro sparks continued concern

Homer Electric Association Board of Directors members should ask themselves how willing they are to risk our local and regional economies, by irreversibly industrializing the headwaters of the Kenai River with multiple hydroelectric dams. When they originally proposed five closely clustered hydroelectric projects in 2007, alarms went off in Cooper Landing, Moose Pass and Seward.

Besides being invaded by speculators now known by colorful names, and incredibly funded with free public money, residents were incredulous about proposals that were easily recognized to be both irrational and irresponsible. These projects would have imposed dams, reservoirs, intakes, roads, diversions, pipelines, tunnels, powerhouses and transmission lines upon pristine natural settings. The revered Iditarod National Historic Trail would have suffered multiple impacts.

Our local economy, totally dependent on outdoor recreation and tourism, would be doomed. Additionally, changes to natural flows first impacting the ecological and hydrological well-being of tributaries, would be followed by cumulative impacts downstream. These proposals threatened the health of the entire Kenai River and its important fisheries, risking the overall economy of the Kenai Peninsula and, bizarrely, that of HEA itself.

The Kenai River Watershed Foundation and other upriver stakeholders rallied to take this on. After nearly four years of contending with mercenary insider manipulations and complex levels of state and federal bureaucracy, the original hydroelectric proposals have at least temporarily been reduced to one — Grant Lake and Creek. Energy produced at Grant Lake, well outside the HEA service area, will not reach HEA members.

It is assumed to be sold to some hypothetically willing buyer, also assuming that competitive service area expansion, nonexisting transmission line interconnections and regulatory approvals can be overcome.

The real motives behind the Grant Lake proposal are believed to be public relations credit for participating in renewable energy, and leveraged service area expansion. PR funded by $2.2 million in six unaccountable Alaska Energy Authority renewable energy grants? And now an application for $4 million free money grant number seven, to construct a hydro project HEA does not have permission to build or authority to operate? $6.2 million in total?

The Alaska Energy Authority is known to be out to lunch. No wonder it has been besieged by speculators bagging money as fast as it can be shoveled out the door.

On balance, the Grant Lake hydroelectric proposal will result in severe impacts and has highly questionable economic merit. The Iditarod National Historic Trail is negatively impacted. Further, stakeholders have no doubt that if a Grant Lake hydro project is constructed, it would be used as a precedent to revisit the original proposals.

Other tributary streams in the Kenai River Watershed would also be at risk. This represents unacceptable destruction of our natural setting, and unacceptable risk to the Kenai River and the economy.

The HEA Board is indifferent to the very strong, ongoing public protests from outside their service area. This Board is also willing to stonewall its own utility members, as evidenced by the recent cavalier dismissal of the HEA Members Forum and their questions about justification and proper authorization of the enormous new expansion debt being undertaken by HEA-owned puppet AEEC.

The HEA Board clearly believes itself unaccountable to its membership, as well as the general public. Accountability? The once-good reputation of HEA is in free-fall. Advice to HEA members: Follow the money. Advice to HEA: Go away!

Bob Baldwin, of Cooper Landing, is president of the Kenai River Watershed Foundation, Inc.

Oct. 5, 2011, Guest Editorial 2011: Combating the demise of Kenai kings

We have taken away your biggest and your best. We have overfished you and we have badly mismanaged you. As sportfishermen, are we sorry — probably. Will we do anything about it before it’s to late? Probably not. At least not as long as the last vestiges of your species remains the focus of our almighty tourism dollar.

Throughout the years we caught many of you that were trophy size (over 55 inches in length) but not anymore. Between 2003 and 2007 we averaged six per season, but after that we only caught one trophy in 2009. So it’s probably safe to say that we have succeeded in elimination of the largest members of your population.

Are we sorry for this — probably, but we sure have a lot of nice brochure pictures and wall mounts around town to show for it. The photos also look great in our local newspapers and websites. Don’t plan on being world-famous too much longer, though. The word is getting out that you’re not really that special any longer. By the way, we can still catch your largest members and still keep them most of the season. Kind of like we did with the passenger pigeons and buffalo.

Many of us believe that when history is written, your demise will be blamed on two prominent factors:

First, we developed a sport fishery that became dominated by an unlimited commercial guided fishing component that was driven by an ever-demanding tourism market.

To this date people and agencies are still reluctant to admit that they are over harvesting your stocks and rebuff any notion of accepting any conservation measures that might hurt their booking capabilities.

Additionally, the emergence of a power base initiated by this tourism/guide lobby coalition, with their immense financial resources and influence, became the controlling factor in your management. They eventually controlled the entire regulatory and management process from the governor to the Board of Fisheries, including the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Department of Natural Resources commissioners and their upper-level managers. Unethical practices ran deep.

You know the outcomes of this polluted process. A slot limit that did not do enough to protect larger spawning females, no closures on important mainstem spawning areas, and no vision of how to control limits on growth of the fishery.

The list goes on — including habitat issues, such as water quality, turbidity, boat wake erosion, etc. In fact, regulations were passed that kept the worst wake producing large boats on the river with more horsepower because that was the industry standard.

Ultimately, these organizations also developed a strategy that if they could achieve regulation changes aimed at putting additional fish in the river through commercial fishing restrictions and closures then they would not need to address in-river conservation measures to protect you. Of course, as you know, this philosophy failed miserably because it only produced a few additional fish that could then be harvested off of your unprotected spawning beds.

Second, state and federal agencies responsible for your well-being failed to protect you when you needed it the most. They simply became resolved to the fact that political pressure to support the sportfishing industry had become too great for them to overcome and they did not have the desire or will to change the status quo.

Public officials set aside their mandate to protect the resource — trading it for political gain and in the case of Alaska Department of Fish and Game for agency funding. Fishing opportunity and increased license sales took priority over conservation.

In addition, Fish and Game would not admit for 25 years that they could not count your members with any degree of accuracy. This led to a significant increased risk of overharvest which ultimately contributed to your demise.

To make matters worse, in 1996 the Board of Fish authorized a new “personal-use dip-net” fishery that resulted in even more harvest potential. It all started innocently enough with a small annual harvest of a few hundred of your brethren. However, as this fishery grew to accommodate over 20,000 households, the harvest grew to between 1,000 to 1,500 annually.

In the end, you figured that when your numbers got so low the agencies would surely step in to protect you but that didn’t happen either. They were caught in a catch-22. They were influenced by the tourism industry to keep allowing harvests in the established manner and they couldn’t verify their counting methods to show just how low your returns actually were. Everyone familiar with the river knew they weren’t seeing many of you in your traditional spawning areas anymore, but those anecdotal observations were largely dismissed.

I’m truly sorry that this happened to you. We should have heeded history, but we were just to busy trying to make a living off of you. We failed to properly protect you and fully appreciate how special you really were. Don’t worry though, because we now have an economic engine that needs to be fed so I’m sure there will be demands calling for your genes be cloned in some hatchery somewhere to enhance your legacy in the Kenai River.

When this occurs it will be a sure sign that we truly failed you.

Dwight Kramer is a private angler and concerned resource user who has fished the Kenai River since 1983.

Sept. 28, 2011, Guest Editorial: Get ready to recover

September is National Preparedness Month, a time to evaluate your readiness to deal with a sudden emergency or disaster. Autumn on the Kenai is bound to have a few rainy, chilly days when you’d rather stay inside. Why not spend a couple of them getting yourself and your family better-prepared to deal with, and recover from, disaster?

Previous articles focused on the things you should have ready to help you survive a disaster in good health: an emergency plan and a disaster kit containing blankets, food and water, warm clothing, medications, cash and other essentials.

The next step is to plan how you will recover from a disaster — especially one that causes significant damage to your home or displaces you for a significant period of time. You will need copies of important documents. And what’s the main personal possession people always describe as irreplaceable? Photographs.

Fortunately, our new, technology-oriented existence makes these things easier to protect. A tremendous amount of information can be stored digitally on tiny thumb drives, also called flash drives, that take up little room in an emergency kit. You can make several copies and store one with a relative or in a safety deposit box. Or create a special folder in your email account and email copies of documents and photographs to yourself. That way you will have access to your documents and photographs wherever you have Internet access. Many free email services offer unlimited storage space.

There is a wide range of documents you should consider making electronic copies of. Insurance policy information with policy numbers and your agents’ phone numbers. Photographs of valuables and any other property you might include in an insurance claim. Copies of your Social Security card, passport, birth certificate, driver’s license, property deeds, vehicle titles and registrations, diplomas, marriage certificates — anything that will help identify you, prove you owned something or has sentimental value. Other financial documents, such as credit card information and banking and investment account numbers, could also be important.

If you have pets, they will generally not be accepted at a shelter or allowed across the U.S./Canada border without copies of their immunization and health records. You should also have photographs of yourself with your pet to prove ownership.

Old photographs can be scanned to make electronic copies. They may not be quite the same as the originals, but they are far better than losing all your family photographs completely. Other than the price of a scanner, this is a no-cost way to archive and preserve generations of family memories — and it makes them easy to share with other family members as well.

After a disaster, physical things like furniture and clothing can be replaced. Information and memories, however, cannot be purchased at Costco — and will be vital as you start to reassemble the pieces of a normal life. Take time now to protect them, and be ready not only for an emergency, but for the recovery process that follows.

Jan Yeager works with the Kenai Peninsula Citizen Corps. For more information, visit the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Office of Emergency management Web page at www2.borough.kenai.ak.us/emergency.

Sept. 21, 2011, Guest Editorial: Art helps support the heart of the community

Coming at 6 p.m. Saturday is the event of the Peninsula Art Guild’s season, the annual Harvest Art Exhibit and Auction. It’s a fundraiser, yes, but more — it’s a celebration. Tickets, for $38, are being pre-sold at Donna’s Victorian Gifts, Art Works, the Kenai Visitors and Convention Center and the Kenai Fine Arts Center. For the price of the ticket you get a buffet dinner, refreshments, conviviality, music by Lee Gattenby and Lou Doucet, plus an outcry and a silent auction. All proceeds are dedicated to the operating budget for the Kenai Fine Arts Center.

Between now and through the Harvest Auction, there are also two raffles offered — one for a pastel drawing by Celia Anderson, a local artist and head of the art department at Kenai Peninsula College, and for an Apple iPod. Tickets are $10 each or three for $25 and are available at the same ticket outlets mentioned above. You need not be present to win.

Yes, it’s another fundraiser, begging the question — why should we support the Kenai Fine Arts Center? Some have not even heard of the art center, on Cook Avenue in Old Town Kenai. In a prior life the building served as the city fire station and police station. The jail bars are still in place.

What does the center offer to the community that no other space does? It all comes down to the mission of the Peninsula Art Guild — to provide support and a venue for central peninsula artists through workshops, sales and gallery space, as well as scholarship for continuing education in art. The center is a manifestation of this mission. It is a place for artists and their art, with two exhibition galleries, a sales gallery plus meeting and workspace.

In 2011, more than 150 artists shared their art at the center, and it is the only art center on the central peninsula. Solo and group exhibitions, invitational, juried and judged shows abound in the spacious, beautifully lit original gallery space and a newly converted and smaller, but funky, gallery. The sales gallery provides a unique opportunity for artists to market their art to its best advantage in an aesthetically bright and airy space.

Workshops and classes bring together artists and nonartists of all skill levels, each benefitting from the others. The Watercolor Group meets monthly for a Paint Together event to socialize while making art. The Pottery Guild works together and instructs would-be potters in the Pottery Studio at the art center. First Thursday artist receptions are a monthly social event, celebrating local art at the art center where artists and viewers meet and interact with the art exhibited. Artists need to be in the company of other artists, according to Ann Tempken, curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Contrary to the myth of the isolated genius, she suggests that art has flowered through time and space when artists congregate. Future events are being planned as we speak, too numerous to mention here. (Watch for details in the media or check http://www.kenaifinearts.com.)

Creativity is a critical element in all walks of life. Contemporary sculptor Richard Serra asserts that, “Creativity is little more than defining a problem.” We’re all immersed in problem-solving on a daily basis. Artists and nonartists alike employ creative thought at every level of every endeavor, thinking outside the box, pushing the envelope and operating at the margins.

Understanding the value of art to learning, educators are integrating art across the curriculum. Learning through art addresses additional learning styles and inclinations. Art students throughout the school district contribute artwork to the annual student exhibit, Visual Feast, at the center, and also the Kids Art Show for the younger artists. The Peninsula Art Guild reaches out to children of all ages through classes and workshops, offered at the art center, sharing activities, skills and appreciation of art at the same time.

Our city government validates the role of art through support of art projects and capital projects at the center. It recognizes that community art plays a role in the economic health of the community.

When the community supports a vibrant art scene, it helps to attract and stimulate those who create in business and technology, says urbanist and author Richard Florida. He talks about transitions across society, hinging on human creativity in surprising arenas — i.e., agriculture, trade, industry and government. A vibrant art center is at the core of a vibrant art scene.

To me, art is essential to us all, as it stimulates, expresses, informs, disturbs, inspires, memorializes, soothes and touches our hearts. And we get it all at the center. I love being there. I love supporting it and sharing it. It’s got its problems — building wear and tear, volunteer staffing and prioritizing the myriad of ideas that this hothouse of creativity generates.

The art guild manages the center, operates it and tries to keep its financial challenges at bay, all the while basking in the presence of amazing local art. Hopefully, we’re making way for more art, more artists and more art lovers in our community. The center is absolutely brimming with possibilities in its support of artists and arts in our community.

Please join with the Peninsula Art Guild in supporting the Kenai Fine Arts Center this year by attending the Harvest Auction, participating in the raffles, becoming a member, volunteering or donating on whatever level is comfortable for you.

Connie Tarbox is a sculptor and president of the Peninsula Art Guild.

Sept. 21, 2011, Guest Editorial: Pets need emergency preparation too

An earthquake strikes in the middle of the night. Everyone gets out safely once the shaking stops, but your home is moderately damaged and won’t be livable until repairs can be made. It’s not safe to go into your home to retrieve items. Most other buildings in town are in a similar condition. Fortunately, you have a motor home you can live in temporarily and an emergency kit ready to go in the garage, with several days worth of food, water, medications, extra clothing and other necessities. The motor home has a full tank of propane for cooking and heat, and the gas tank is full, as well.

But what about your pets? Do you have what you need for them? When you’re assembling an emergency kit for your family, it’s important that you include these family members, as well.

You should have a secure carrier for each pet. Inside the carrier, store a duffle bag with that pet’s needs: food, water, bowls, medication and familiar bedding. Include some favorite treats and toys. Cats will need cat litter, garbage bags and something that can serve as a litter box and scoop. You should also include health records and photographs of your pets. Cats and dogs (or any pets that don’t live in a cage or tank) should have leashes and harnesses or collars with up-to-date licenses, identification and immunization tags. Like your emergency kits, the carriers should be kept where you can get to them quickly.

Your pet may spend quite a bit of time in the carrier in the aftermath of a disaster. Teach the pet to be comfortable staying in the carrier ahead of time, so that the carrier can be a refuge rather than an additional source of stress.

Even if your cat or dog does not normally bite, emergencies are frightening situations and they are likely to be scared. A soft nylon muzzle is not uncomfortable and can be an important tool to protect both people and pets. Separate pets whenever you are not with them. Even if they usually get along, stressful situations may cause them to be aggressive toward each other.

Keep your pet leashed whenever it is outside. The fear and strangeness of its situation may cause it to run off, and changes in the landscape may cause it to become disoriented and unable to find you.

What if you don’t have a motor home or other readily available shelter of your own? Emergency shelters often cannot accept pets, so you should have an alternate plan for them. Is there a friend or relative who can take in your pets temporarily? Some hotels are pet-friendly, and others may agree to accept pets in disaster situations. Develop a list of options for places your pets can stay as part of your family emergency plan.

What if disaster strikes when you’re not home? Arrange ahead of time for a friend or neighbor to check on your animals and evacuate them if necessary. Reciprocate by doing the same for theirs. Place a sticker or card in a front window that tells rescuers how many pets and what kind are in the home. Include your phone number and your veterinarian’s contact information.

When we adopt a pet, we are adding to our family. And just like any family member, we take on the responsibility to care for and protect our pets in time of crisis. Make sure, as you plan to protect your loved ones, that you include your animals.

Jan Yeager works with the Kenai Peninsula Citizen Corps. For more information, visit the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Office of Emergency management Web page at www2.borough.kenai.ak.us/emergency.

Sept. 14, 2011, Guest Editorial: HEA’s Grant Lake hydro project — worth the risk?

I’m concerned. I recently attended a special meeting of the Homer Electric Association board; the purpose being to allow the general manager to apply for an Alaska Energy Authority (grant to construct the Grant Lake hydro project near Moose Pass. Not realizing that the project had reached the point of construction, my intent was to ask questions about whether the feasibility studies and design adequately cover three areas of concern I have. These concerns are:

1.  Will the operation of the Grant Lake project affect salmon that spawn and rear in Grant Creek? The Grant Lake Environmental Baseline Report, 2009, states that, “Substantial numbers of chinook and sockeye salmon spawn along the stream margin and within limited gravel pockets.” In northern latitudes, operation of a hydro project often results in a downstream flow regime which is mostly opposite of the natural flow that anadromous fish depend on for spawning. The usual result is less fish. Unless fish are given priority over power generation (which utilities are loath to cede), fish and fisherman typically lose out. Given the current worrisome status of Kenai River king salmon, I don’t think we can afford to lose any spawning or rearing habitat.

Serious fish impacts could be an issue with the Grant Lake project. A revised report says, “With the proposed project in operation, the high flows in the summer will be stored and released later in the season … . Generally, the flows in the reach of Grant Creek below the lake outlet will be reduced to the environmental flow requirement, which has not yet been determined.”

But given that the board was asked to approve construction funding before stream-flow requirements have been determined, it doesn’t appear as if full mitigation of fish impact is a priority with this project. What happens if adequate mitigation drastically alters the feasibility of the project? Does HEA have the cart ahead of the horse; or to use a fishing analogy, are they setting the hook before casting?

2.  Will methylmercury be a problem? Methylmercury can be an issue with hydro projects in the north. A good example is the James Bay Project in Quebec.

“The first 30 years of studies in the James Bay area have confirmed that mercury levels in fish increase by three to six times over the first five to 10 years after the flooding of a reservoir, but then gradually revert to their initial values after 20 to 30 years. … Increased levels of mercury in bodies of water however, could still potentially be harmful.” (Source; Wikipedia).

Exposing Grant Creek salmon to elevated concentrations of methylmercury could impose a big problem on the entire Kenai River watershed. How would fishermen know which salmon have been contaminated with mercury, thereby being a health risk if eaten? And what does this do to Alaska’s image of having wild, healthy fish? Although the baseline studies apparently did measure for existing levels mercury in Grant Creek, it doesn’t appear as if any effort was made to determine what affect the reservoir might have on increasing methylmercury concentrations.

3.  Is Grant Lake economically feasible project? In reviewing the reports, I could not find any economic analysis to demonstrate project feasibility.If properly done, an economic analysis would measure benefits and costs (including externalities such as impacts on fish) over the life of the project. This analysis would indicate not only if the Grant Lake project is feasible, but how it compares to other alternatives. Given that many options exist for power generation, a structured analysis is the only way to sort out where HEA should invest its time (including proposal writing) and money.

Based on conversations during the meeting it seemed as if the only fiscal criteria that HEA management uses to determine project feasibility is not economic analysis but financing based on government grants. To me this is pandering, not professional management. It violates one of the cardinal rules of utilities; that is the cost causer should be the cost payer. If HEA members aren’t willing to pay for a project, it shouldn’t be built.

Also, pandering is out of step with the more disciplined and less self-serving approach we need as a country to erase the deficits that are weighing down virtually every level of government.  Furthermore, because HEA is a co-op, not an investor-owned utility, it can and should take a broader view towards its operations and put priority on avoiding impacts that are important to its members; like salmon and outdoor recreation.

So I brought this list of concerns to the board meeting and was told I couldn’t discuss them because the agenda did not allow for public comment. Nor did anyone really seem interested. The board went ahead and agreed to submit a construction grant proposal even though it’s not clear that the project is economically or environmentally feasible.

But there are other opportunities to discuss with HEA it’s process for determining project feasibility — or if there even is a process. During September HEA will be hosting five area meetings which were listed in the last newsletter. If you share any of the three concerns I mention above, this would be the time to bring it up. Hopefully, others will agree that if the Grant Lake project is not economically or environmentally feasible, it should not be built — even if we as members don’t have to pay for its construction. The fact is, we will pay in other ways.

George Matz, of Fritz Creek, is the issues coordinator for Cook Inlet Alliance, which is comprised of Kenai Peninsula citizens dedicated to promoting the responsible use and management of public resources impacted by mining and related industrialization

Sept. 7, 2011, Guest Editorial: Education key in halting fetal alcohol syndrome

Friday, Sept. 9, is International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Awareness Day. You might be more familiar with the term Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or FAS. FASD includes all the symptoms that can happen when a pregnant woman drinks alcohol during pregnancy, which often include lifelong learning, behavior and sensory problems.

FASD is a big problem here in Alaska, and a big problem right here on the Kenai Peninsula. It has been for a very long time. It negatively impacts many families, taxpayer dollars, teacher and caregiver time and energy, and definitely the legal and social service systems.

So how about just bringing this preventable disability to a screeching halt? I don’t know that we can. The reasons women drink during pregnancy are complex and a little bit, well, tangly. A “Just say no” campaign probably isn’t going to do it. I don’t have an easy solution, but I do know that educating people about the disability is a good start.

Effective education on prevention of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders will require that we, in effect, “circle the wagons” around our community. This term, of course, comes from the covered-wagon days. When travelers were under threat of attack, they would pull all the wagons into a circle and have the families inside that barrier. They could see the threat from each angle, could fire weapons from each angle and always had their backs covered.

Perhaps an even better analogy for those of us in Alaska would be the muskoxen that gather in a circle with the young and the vulnerable (and their own back ends) inside.

When a culture or a community has alcohol problems, it becomes vulnerable. When those problems include women drinking during pregnancy, it becomes exponential. Not only is the community dealing with the expense, tragedy, grief, disruption and dysfunction of the present problem, a new generation of problems is being created (individuals with FASD) that is far more expensive, more tragic, etc. than the underlying problem.

If we are to design and carry out effective prevention education on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, we would do well to start by gaining understanding of why it is that women drink alcohol during pregnancy, so we can begin to loosen our grip on the stigma associated with it. This is an odd balance. We want to send the strong message that drinking alcohol while pregnant is extremely harmful to the baby.

At the same time, if we don’t remove the finger-pointing haughtiness about it, women will continue to go into hiding with their drinking and will not get the help they need.

Prevention education should begin in grade school. Schools should be disseminating information free of personal bias on alcohol-consumption issues. Information on what FASD is, how it manifests itself, how it is caused and how it can be prevented should begin at least in fifth grade. It doesn’t need to be graphic, detailed or scary at that point, just real, and stated as fact so that kids can get it right away that “we just don’t do that.”

What may have impact on whether this is successful or not is the attitudes of the educators themselves, and the attitudes and modeled behavior of the parents. Kids pay more attention to what they see than what they hear.

Universal campaigns such as billboards, ads in high-profile magazines, TV commercials and programs, can cast a wide net that normalizes the message that no alcohol is safe during pregnancy. More research is needed to determine just how effective this is in actually changing the patterns of women drinking during pregnancy but they have been shown to improve social attitudes on drinking in general.

Something that I have not seen in current literature is how drinking among women has increased in correlation with increased autonomy and freedom. It is far more acceptable for a woman to outdrink a man than it was in the 1950s, for instance. Women sometimes seem to wear this badge proudly, and see it as expressing their independence. So, we must find ways to continue empowering women in such a way that they can assert their freedom without doing damage to themselves and to their potential unborn children.

Selective education, more focused on groups that could be high risk, could be done through Planned Parenthood, physician offices (brochures in waiting rooms, brief interventions, open discussions with care providers) and school nurse offices. Posters and tear cards can be placed in bars and on college campuses. I would include in this category education to physicians, teachers and other providers that need to have up-to-date, accurate information to share.

Of greatest interest to me is targeting high-risk individuals, such as women of child-bearing age who have alcohol problems, women with FASD, women who experience trauma and domestic violence, and women who are currently drinking during pregnancy. This could include education in jails, treatment centers, interventions with homeless people, and families who are involved in Child Protection Services.

It is not always clear what kind of woman will be in this category. We cannot jump to any quick conclusions or pigeonhole this population. Sometime in the future, tracking biomarkers might be a viable way to get a better picture of who these women are.

We do know some of the patterns — women under psychological stress are more likely to drink during pregnancy, women who experience domestic violence, women who have already consumed alcohol during a previous pregnancy, women who don’t have accurate information on the dangers of drinking during pregnancy, women who drink alcoholically, women who are in a culture of drinking and don’t have another support system around them and women who do not know they are pregnant.

Perhaps the greatest challenge, and at greatest risk, are women who have FASD themselves. Because of the nature of their disability, they may struggle with some of the following barriers:

  • Conceptual information about long-term damage to their unborn child;
  • impulsiveness;
  • inability to learn from past experiences;
  • living completely in the present;
  • involvement in unhealthy relationships that include domestic violence;
  • a significant history of past trauma (PTSD);
  • potential history of attachment problems that make it difficult to bond with their children;
  • history of sexual maltreatment that impacts self worth, self care, risky behavior, contraceptive use;
  • previous removal of children by authorities;
  • lack of an adequate, sober support system;
  • lack of insight that makes prevention education and brief interventions ineffective in spite of a great depth of love, the inability to properly parent their children;
  • may not have had proper parenting modeled for them;
  • burned bridges from being high-end users of the human services systems; and
  • isolation due to poor social skills.

Women who have already had children with FASD should be carefully screened for alcohol use during pregnancy. Because of the potential barriers (listed above) to understanding and follow-through, education, intervention and support must be literal, straightforward, ongoing, nonjudgmental, consistent, compassionate and united. Truly, if ever there was a group that we need to circle the wagons around, this is it.

Prevention measures must be tailored to fit many different audiences in order to be effective across the board. We need to reach young people while they are still developing their decision-making skills, adolescents who are entering the world of sex and alcohol, young adults who, in their new-found freedom want to exercise their independence through risky behavior, and the whole array of business people, health professionals, clergy, parents, educators, elders, etc., who are all important players in keeping families safe and healthy.

We can design education to fit all of these. And we are all educators. It’s our responsibility as a community to understand disabilities that have such a great global impact, and to be carriers of light and understanding to those around us. If we really mean what we say about FASD being 100 percent preventable, we must be part of the solution.

Vickie Tinker is coordinator of the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Program at Frontier Community Services on Kalifornsky-Beach Road.

Sept. 7, 2011, Guest Editorial: September: Are you prepared?

The calendar has rolled around to September again, bringing with it National Preparedness Month. The theme for 2011 is “A Time to Remember, A Time to Prepare.”

National Preparedness Month is observed each year as a commemoration of the events of Sept. 11, 2001. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the day our world changed, when we learned that disaster could strike without warning from a clear blue sky.

In the years since that awful day, we have not suffered a similar attack. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be prepared. Alaska’s distance from large population centers and major terrorist targets can create a sense of security. However, we remain extremely vulnerable to natural disasters, and our isolation means that help from outside the disaster area can be far away and slow to arrive.

That is why being prepared to take care of ourselves is so important. Alaskans pride themselves on self-sufficiency. Why not observe National Preparedness Month by reviewing your own readiness for emergencies, and taking steps to improve your disaster preparedness? Each week of September, we will describe some steps you can take to be ready for the unexpected.

The first step is to make a kit. Have an emergency kit in an accessible location that contains enough food, water, clothing and other emergency supplies to provide for your family. Include foods that need little or no cooking and will not expire quickly. Foods with higher water content can help keep people hydrated as well as fed. Also include several days’ supply of important medications.

Other items should include blankets, flashlights, a radio, extra batteries, a can opener, garbage bags, paper towels, soap, hand sanitizer and a first aid kit. If you have children, include some puzzles or games they enjoy. For a more complete list of suggested items, you can visit http://www.ready.gov and http://www.72hours.org. Keep in mind that these lists are designed for the Lower 48, where 72 hours worth of supplies is generally adequate. In Alaska, our extra isolation means we should prepare to be on our own for seven days at minimum.

And keep a “go bag” ready for each person, as well. This is a backpack that contains the basic essentials you will need in case you are faced with a situation, such as an earthquake or fire, which requires you to evacuate your home immediately. Items in a “go bag” should include a warm hat and extra set of clothes, sturdy shoes, emergency cash, some water and food, medications, toothbrush and toothpaste, a dust mask, whistle, a list of emergency phone numbers, extra house and vehicle keys, copies of health records and insurance information, a flashlight, small radio and extra batteries. This “go bag” should be kept where it is most readily available, such as in your car or garage.

Disasters don’t always strike out of a clear blue sky. Some, like severe storms and flooding, we may have warnings of ahead of time. Others, like earthquakes, will continue to catch us by surprise. But we needn’t be caught unprepared.

Jan Yeager works with the Kenai Peninsula Citizen Corps. For more information, visit the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Office of Emergency management web page at www2.borough.kenai.ak.us/emergency.

Aug. 17, Guest Editorial 2011: Norwegian tragedy belies deeper issues with violence

“If one man can show so much hate, think how much love we can show together.”

— Survivor of the Utoya Island shooting

The Norwegian killings by Anders Breivig tragically call attention to the enigma of democracy: How does a tolerant society deal with intolerance without becoming intolerant itself? How do we keep from becoming what we hate?

During WWII another madman rocked Norwegian society. Before the war Vidkun Quisling was the leader of a minor party that espoused Quisling’s ideology of Christianity and science called Universism along with corporatism and anti-Semitism. In other words he was a Norwegian Nazi though his party never received more than 2% of the parliamentary vote. When Germany invaded Norway, Quisling was installed as the leader of a puppet government and the Norwegian resistance fought to rid their country of him and the Nazis.

The story is dramatically told in the Norwegian Resistance Museum located in the Akershus Fortress on the Oslo waterfront, the same place where captured Norwegian patriots were executed by Nazi firing squads. Displays tell the heroic story of everyday Norwegians disrupting the Nazi occupation with hunting rifles and civil disobedience. Many died.

And it tells the story of Quisling: his capitulation to Hitler’s anti-Semitic “final solution” and his betrayal of his homeland. Unlike other museums in Oslo where displays have English subtitles, the Norwegian Resistance Museum is only in Norwegian. Hence at the end of a tour, I wasn’t sure what became of him and asked the young man at the information desk, “What happened to Quisling?” He rose from his chair, stood at attention, and proclaimed, “We shot him as a traitor to the nation.”

Quisling was executed at the same place the Nazis had executed resistance fighters. Before he was killed Quisling wrote that WWII Nazism was evidence of the coming of God’s kingdom to earth and would eclipse secular law.

After WWII Norway and other European countries embraced democratic socialism in order to prevent a reoccurrence of a disaffected lower class that was the foundation of Hitler’s post-WWI rise to power. The idea is to create a stable middle class by a progressive tax reallocation so no one is extremely wealthy or extremely poor and provide a security net in health and education. It has worked. Scandinavian countries consistently rank among the highest living standards in the world.

Democratic socialism, coupled with fortuitous oil wealth, made Norway extremely attractive to Third World immigrants. Generous immigration policies of the dominant Labor Government created a 21st Century version of “give me your tired your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free….”  Third World immigration also sewed the seeds of anti-multicultural, anti-liberal, Christian identity sentiment among a small minority of Norwegians including Breivig. The same ideas are found across Northern Europe and in the United States. Like Quisling, Breivig saw himself as doing God’s work, in his case, as a modern Knight Templar.

Breivig’s random violence perpetrated against innocent victims is the worst kind of violence. If Breivig were to be executed on the exact spot where Quisling was shot, society would have vengeance. But vengeance is not justice and progressive, civil society would become what it hates. That is not the answer.

The solution lies in the moral courage expressed by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg who recently said: “Tomorrow we will show the world that Norway’s democracy grows stronger when it is challenged, and that the answer to violence is even more democracy, even more humanity, but never naïveté.”

Anders Breivig deserves to go to jail where he will rot in his bigotry for as long as the law allows.

But there are others who are culpable. Breivig frequented ultra-right Internet blogs where he apparently found support in like-minded cowards who hide behind their avatars so their identity is not known. In anonymity they spew their xenophobic venom without the possibility that someone will call them on it. They are the electronic enablers of the violently insane. It would be a mistake to restrict Internet free speech because of them. But we need to educate ourselves to recognize and reject their schema of hate.

The exclusionary agenda of the far right breeds intolerance and fear in a multicultural, pluralistic world where diversity matters. Diversity matters not just because choice is a human right, but we need it to provide the source ideas of change for a rapidly evolving world.

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College. This column printed July 29 in the Anchorage Daily News.

Aug. 3, 2011, Editorial: Three years and counting, no question about it

Jenny Neyman

As a reporter, much of my day is spent asking questions.

Were you aware of … ? How did … come about? What do you think about … ?

That facet of the job works well for me, as I’m the adult version of a bored 5-year-old on a long car trip. I can’t seem to stop myself from wondering — aloud — about anything and everything I see. Or don’t see. Or think I see. Or wonder if I will ever see.

What’s that? How come? Who says? From where? How long? But why? But why? But why? But why?

Yes, I know, it’s an obnoxious trait. This may explain why my social calendar often has tumbleweeds drifting across it. But reporting is like a magic wand absolving the perceived rudeness of prying. It lets me get away with unrestrained curiosity.

And even if this reporting gig doesn’t work out, there are other lines of questioning I can brush up on: May I take your order? Paper or plastic? Can I interest you in a vacuum cleaner demonstration?

So I am a firm believer in the adage that the only stupid questions are the ones not asked.

Now, there are certainly more intelligent, and less so, ways to phrase a question, and I’ve been in the shallow end of that IQ pool on many occasions. Including any of the following:

Were you mad?

Are you sad?

Is it bad?

Or asking, “Did that hurt?” when talking to someone about injuries sustained in a bear attack, motor-vehicle crash or some other form of gnarly accident.

“What, you mean my leg being dislocated enough that I gave myself a concussion when my foot kicked my own head? Uh, yeah, you could say that hurt.”

Still, I reserve the right to ask even boneheaded questions, and greatly appreciate people’s patience when I phrase queries as though I’m a couple of bulbs short of a chandelier. So I try to return the favor of answering when people ask questions about the newspaper.

I suppose it is a head-scratcher, in this day and age of ever-advancing digital mediums and shrinking traditional media, to start up an old-school, dead-tree print newspaper. Especially to do so during a national recession that is killing off even well-established businesses, much less small startups, and in an industry many are writing off as dead.

This edition marks the three-year anniversary of the Redoubt Reporter. In honor of that I figured I’d turn the tables on myself and be the one answering questions for a change. Following are some of the most-common inquires I get about the Redoubt Reporter:

  • Who owns the paper?

In a philosophical sense, you do. Everyone who reads it, or may someday read it, or lives in the communities on which it reports. If readers don’t find the content relevant, interesting and of high-enough quality to be worth devoting some of their time and attention to, the paper will cease to exist.

In a legal sense, since the IRS doesn’t cotton to the idea of the royal we, I own it. Me, myself and the bank that gave me the business loan I took out to finance the startup. And unlike the Peninsula Clarion, Anchorage Daily News or Homer News, this paper isn’t part of a larger media chain owned by a corporation based somewhere down South. It’s as locally owned and operated as a business can get.

This is where my savings and credit score eloped and ran off to. And this is what puts gas in my leaky car, milk in my fridge and generic-brand don’t-be-chubby kitty kibble in my fat cat.

For whatever reason, people don’t always believe me when I tell them that. They seem to think there are silent partners or a pool of secret investors involved somehow. To which I ask, “Do you want to fork over some money to invest in a newspaper?” They inevitably look at me like I’ve got a bridge to sell them. “Fine then,” I say, “if you’re not interested, why do you assume anyone else would be?” This ill-advised business scheme — for better or worse — is mine, I tell ya, all mine.

  • Why did you start the paper?

On a personal level, because I enjoy journalism. It’s constant learning, the finding and sharing of information. Reporting offers a new topic to explore with every article I write. It’s a daily indulgence in my love of stories — details, context, history, personalities, motivations, quirks and consequences. Does anyone else miss the days of drifting off to sleep while someone tells you a story? Fiction novels, scripted TV shows and movies can offer engrossing story lines and fascinating characters. But journalism has all that and the added import of its basis in actuality.

As the saying goes, truth is stranger than fiction. As the even better saying goes, you can’t make this s— up.

From a business standpoint, I started the paper because I don’t believe journalism is a dying industry. As long as people live in community with each other, they have always and will always need reliable, accurate, balanced and interesting ways to share information and relate to one another.

That process has become much more immediate and participatory these days, with talk radio, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, pundits masquerading as unbiased news sources, online comment forums and the like. There’s a cacophony of voices amplified through technology, all shouting with authority. If you don’t like the “news” coming from one channel, you can easily flip to another and find a version of supposed truth that better conforms to your preferences.

Some people think that’s a sign of the journalism industry becoming obsolete. I think it’s a sign that reporting, with its ethical and professional standards of accuracy and fairness, is more important and necessary now than it ever has been. The delivery method is changing, but the basic service and need for it is not.

  • But isn’t print media in decline? Will the paper switch to an all-online format?

Yes, the demand for print products is waning, with the Internet, e-readers, iPads, iPhones, iCan’t even imagine what gizmo is coming next. Readership and subscriptions of daily print newspapers across the country are declining. But print readership still exists, especially for formats with a longer shelf life, like magazines and community-format weekly newspapers.

If nothing else, there’s still a market for print among moms with scrapbooks, grandparents with refrigerators, schools with bulletin boards and sports fans with empty picture frames. And let’s not forget paranoid criminals. How will anyone write a ransom note without newspaper headlines to cut up?

I maintain a website for the paper — http://www.redoubtreporter.wordpress.com — where most of the stories and photos from the print edition are posted each week, past stories can be found and readers can comment on what they read. In truth, it’s not my priority, mainly because I’m reluctant about technology. I’d rather talk to someone than text, and stare at a sunset (or even a mud puddle) than a screen. I held out against getting a cell phone until absolutely necessary (have you noticed how there aren’t pay phones anymore?), and I’m only finally, reluctantly, being dragged into Facebook.

But my old-coot tendencies don’t extend to the point of me thinking these new-fangled do-hickeys aren’t going to last. Digital media is the future, and it’s becoming the present no matter how hard I dig my heels in. Someday, dictated by demand and financial considerations, I may shift the Redoubt Reporter exclusively to an online presence. That certainly would make my life cheaper, easier and less ink stained, since I would no longer have to deal with the costs and hassles of paper printing, shipping and distribution. But as long as people keep picking up hard copies of the paper and advertisers keep seeing value in reaching readers through that format, I’d prefer to keep printing it.

  • If the paper is free to pick up, how is it supported?

Through advertising — all those boxes and graphics and cool fonts and logos at the bottom of these pages. Businesses, individuals and organizations spare a portion of their hard-earned resources to use these pages as a way to reach your eyeballs. So if you want to support this paper — and this community, because the majority of these ads come from longtime local businesses owned by your friends and neighbors — take a look at the ads, and remember them if you find yourself in need of the goods or services they are promoting. And if you are motivated to shop somewhere or attend something because of an ad you’ve seen, be sure to let the business or promoter know. Advertising can feel like throwing good money after bad if they don’t know whether the ads are being effective.

  • Will you start charging for papers?

Perhaps. There’s some money to be made in paid circulation, though you inherently take a hit to circulation just from the added hassle of making people scrounge for quarters. There’s also added expenses. Those coin-op outdoor newspaper-vending boxes are not cheap to purchase, ship to Alaska or maintain. And delivery time and difficulty increase, since the boxes take longer to fill, fix when they break and thaw when they freeze.

  • Do you take story ideas?

Sure! We can’t cover everything, but I always appreciate hearing what people want to read about, or don’t want to read about. Feel free to contact me via any of the methods listed below.

  • What’s your favorite and/or least favorite things about the paper?

Least favorite — accounting and bookkeeping. Ugh. Not much narrative or character development there.

As for my favorite? Getting into this three years ago, I thought I knew the answer to that — having a venue to write more. Turns out I don’t have as much time to write as I would like. But even when I do get to work on a story, mine isn’t the content of the paper I enjoy the most. It’s the contributions of everyone else involved — the history stories and outdoor features and photography of Clark Fair, the slice-of-life articles by Joseph Robertia, science columns by Dr. David Wartinbee and Andy Veh, Zirrus VanDevere’s art reviews, Joe Kashi’s technological guidance, Jerry Olmes’ weather observations, Bill Howell’s beer knowledge, Steve Meyer and Christine Cunningham sharing their outdoor adventures and expertise, Jacki Michels’ humor, Alan Boraas’ commentaries, Jen Ransom’s gardening lessons, and everyone else who pitches in.

Believe me, they don’t do it for the money. If they did, their financial lighting fixtures would be even dimmer than mine is.

They do it because they genuinely believe the paper is worth spending their time and talents on. That fact never ceases to amaze and humble me, almost as much as the fact that this community continues to read and support the paper.

Three years and still going strong.

Of all the questions I could ask, there’s one I don’t feel the need to follow with an endless string of whys: Can the Redoubt Reporter survive?

As long as the answer is yes, I don’t even care to know the rest.

Jenny Neyman is the editor, publisher and owner (really!) of the Redoubt Reporter. She can be reached at redoubtreporter@alaska.net, 394-6397, 262-5162 or in her office in The Map Shop, across the Sterling Highway from St. Elias Brewing Co., in Soldotna.

July 27, 2011, Guest Opinion: The federal debt limit — explained

Economics is a social science comprised of words supported by an overabundance of statistics and far too few hard numbers. The words and the statistics are the political part. That is to say the words and the statistics are how politicians try to win you over to their way of thinking and, hopefully, voting. On the other hand, the numbers are simply the numbers. Numbers know nothing about conservative or liberal, nor even anything about right or wrong. They are simply the impassive cold, hard reality; void of intention or agenda.

Especially with all the heated rhetoric on both sides of seemingly every issue there is great clarity to be found in the numbers. They remind us of the (perhaps questionably accurate) Fox news slogan: “We report, you decide.” In the end, every one of us should be deciding for ourselves which direction we believe our country needs to go, and what path it should take to get there. Should you care to be completely objective in your thinking, even if only initially, then the numbers would be a very good place to at least start your journey.

Please note again, however, that numbers are not the same as statistics. As the old saying goes, statistics lie and liars use statistics. While statistics unfortunately often carry the credibility of numbers they are, at bottom, subject to definitions and interpretations, just like the words they claim to validate.

To illustrate, consider the so-called “unemployment rate.” This rate (the number of folks looking for work divided by the number of folks actually working) varies not so much by whether or not folks are actually losing and/or finding jobs but far more so based on how one defines “looking for work”. We are told the rate has gone up 3.7% over the past four years. Based on a current workforce of 139.8 million, this would indicate an increase to the ranks of the unemployed of about 5.2 million. However, given that there were 146.2 million workers in April 2008 but only 139.8 million workers by May 2011, coupled with the fact that our population grew by 6.7 million over this same time frame, there are now actually 13.1 million more folks living in this country who are not working than there were four years ago. This number is two and a half times greater than what the “unemployment statistic” infers. Again, just an example of why it is important to at least start with the numbers, and then go from there.

Using a numerical approach to analyze the so-called “Debt Limit” issue might also afford some clarity to the current debate. Bringing our nation’s numbers down to a level which can be more readily understood, the federal government has, at present, issued debt instruments totaling $46,000 per person. (Note the federal government has also made financial promises which it has not yet “funded” through actual borrowings. These “unfunded liabilities,” principally future Medicare and Social Security benefit payments, comprise an additional $320,000 or so of federal debt per person.)

Getting back to just the “funded” liabilities for the moment, however, that $46,000 of debt per person is un-coincidently also the legal limit on how much the federal government can presently borrow in your name. Raising the debt ceiling means the federal government could (and would) borrow even more “on your behalf.” These additional borrowings would presumably go toward funding federal programs that many feel are absolutely essential.

But would they really, numerically speaking?

For starters, no person determines their own debt ceiling, nor does the United States of America determine hers. Like the banks and credit card companies you deal with right at home, it is the lender who ultimately determines the upper limit of a borrower’s debt. If you have ever driven a credit line or card right up against the stops you likely understand this fact at an emotional level as well as at a factual level. Again, since it is the lender who is taking a greater risk as debt piles up, it is the lender who actually decides when “enough is enough.”

So then, framing this debate the way it has most often been portrayed as if we, the once-richest country on earth, can yet unilaterally decide how much others must lend to us in the future is, quite simply, pathetically naïve. But far worse still is the truly stupid assumption that not only will others continue to lend to us without limit, but that they will do so at the same interest rates they are charging us today!

For better or worse, the current interest rate on all U.S. debt (which varies greatly by type of security) is no more than about 4 percent. At this relatively low rate, our current debt is so massive that, on a nationwide basis, even now interest payments cost our country some $600 billion per year. To put this in perspective, it is like sending the entire net worth of Apple, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard and Dell Computers to our creditors, every year, while not paying off one dime of our underlying debt.

As bad as that may be, look at what actually happens if we “decide” to raise our debt limit from $46,000 per person to, say, just $50,000 per person. Were I a lender (as in someone who was still even willing to lend) I would be both justified and inclined to increase my interest rates. After all, I am taking on a substantial amount of new risk as clearly reflected by the US of A’s ever-worsening credit rating (which indeed already suffered a downgrading by Standard and Poor’s, albeit “prospectively”).

So then, suppose Congress votes to raise our debt limit and, in turn, the bond market prices our debt at a still-low 5 percent rate of interest. This new, higher rate applies not just to the new layer of debt (i.e., the last $4,000) but also to the original $46,000 as well. What had been an interest payment of $18,400 per year would grow to an interest payment of $25,000 per year, an increase of $6,600 per year, or some $2,600 more than we borrowed!

What these numbers show is that even if the federal government raises the legal limit on how much it is willing to encumber each and every citizen, it may not actually be able to raise (as in keep) any more money by doing so. Unless the goal is simply to owe even more and to pay even more in interest, increasing the country’s debt limit may well end up defeating the entire purpose while only leaving us far worse off as well.

That being the case should we, instead, simply default on our current debt as the vast majority of the media is so prone to explain will “necessarily happen” if we don’t raise our debt ceiling? Please; do not be misled: We will only default on our current debts if we fail to make our current interest and principal payments on time. We have the funds to do this, but only if we stop spending those same funds on everything and anything but.

To say we must keep on increasing our borrowings in order to make the payments on what we already owe is no different than me saying that I must buy bigger and bigger clothes because the ones I have are no longer fitting me. The better alternative may be for me to stop overeating; especially as the more I overeat (or overspend, either one) the more likely it will be that much harder for me in the future to not only halt the effects of my prior excesses but to actually reverse them.

Again, to get a truly accurate sense of the dynamics of debt and interest one only need to take out some numbers and run them: Suppose a couple makes $20,000 per year but has been spending $35,000 per year and thus has racked up $150,000 in debt over the past ten years. In order to pay back this debt over the next thirty years any amortization table will tell you they will have to live on $11,400 per year. Even this may seem unlikely given they couldn’t manage to live on the $20,000 they had been earning. But have their lender raise their interest rate from 4 percent to a far more likely 8 percent for this now “risky borrower” and this same couple will now find themselves trying to get by on a mere $6,800 per year; a bit less than 20 percent of their former budget, if you could call it that.

Add eight zero’s to the above numbers and, in rough terms, you have the current figures for the United States, with earnings of something over $2 trillion, spending above $3.5 trillion and “funded” debts of $15 trillion. As the above calculations demonstrate, even a somewhat reasonable increase in our interest rates will have a huge impact on our ability to continue funding virtually any discretionary program, no matter how vital or beneficial.

So far it has fallen on so-called conservatives to oppose raising the debt ceiling. The real irony is, were one a true social liberal, one would not want the debt ceiling raised for fear of the increased amount of money which will then be redirected away from social programs and toward higher interest payments. To believe otherwise, one would have to also believe our lenders are foolish enough to continue taking on greater and greater risk at the very same rate of return, if not less. Point in fact, the only time a lender will do that is when they hope the borrower will get so deep into debt they will eventually have to fork over the collateral.

In the case of our federal debt, the collateral is the country itself.

And yes, pretty hard to put a number on the cost of losing that.

Tom Dalrymple is an assistant professor of accounting and co-chair of the Business and Industry Division at Kenai Peninsula College.

July 20, Guest Opinion 2011: MAPP charting a path to better community health

A total of 25 community members contributed to a local public health system dialogue that was held over four separate meetings in May and June, as part of the Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships process. (See story, page 1).

Following is a list of questions that guided the dialogue:

  • What is going on in my community? How healthy are we?
  • Are we ready to respond to health problems or threats in our community?
  • How well do we keep all segments of our community informed about health issues?
  • How well do we really get people engaged in local health issues?
  • What local policies in both government and the private sector promote health in my community? How effective are we in setting local health policies?
  • When we enforce health regulations, are we technically competent, fair and effective?
  • Are people in my community receiving the medical care they need?
  • Do we have a competent workforce of personal health and population-based health providers in our community? How can we be sure health care providers are current in knowledge and skill, both in personal health services and population-based health services?
  • In regards to personal and population-based health services: Are we doing any good? Are we doing things right? Are we doing the right things?
  • And finally, in the search for new insights and innovative solutions: Are we discovering and using new ways to get the job done?

Discussion noted the following:

The local public health system is composed of many entities that each contribute in a unique way to the overall health of the community. As one participant stated, “Public health is more than you think!” A basic local public health system exists, but connections between service providers and other entities are not as robust as they could be.

Many entities work in isolation and are not coordinated in their efforts with other entities in the local public health system. There is no official health policy group to address community health issues and/or coordinate health policy. Navigating the health care system is complex and difficult, especially when it comes to insurance, Medicaid/Medicare and care coordination. In home care and chronic mental health, services are in demand. The community does have many resources, including competent personal health-care services (i.e., doctors and nurses).

A Community Health Status Assessment conducted as part of the MAPP process has resulted in much data about the community, including the following:

  • Obesity rate of around 30 percent, which is consistent with the state and national rates.
  • High-risk behavior for tobacco, alcohol and drug use (marijuana).
  • Tobacco — 23 percent of adults in the borough smoked tobacco. This is consistent with Alaska’s rate. The national rate is 15 percent. An increasing number of adolescents also smoke tobacco.
  • Alcohol — The rate of excessive drinking in the borough is 18 percent. The national rate is 8 percent and Alaska’s rate as a whole is 19 percent. In 2009, a Prevention Needs Assessment in the schools found that 27.8 percent of senior high school students engaged in binge drinking  and 12.2 percent admitted to needing alcohol treatment.
  • Illegal drug use — Marijuana use appears to increase throughout adolescence. In the 2009 Prevention Needs Assessment in the schools, report of marijuana use by adolescents increased between eighth and 12th grade.
  • The Kenai Peninsula has the second-highest population growth in the state, with a 12.9 percent growth rate in the borough since 2000. The 2010 census states that the borough currently has 54,665 people. Most of these, 65 percent of the population, are between ages 18 to 64, with 24 percent of the population being under 18. Between 9.4 percent to 11 percent are 65 or older, compared 6.8 percent statewide.
  • Overall, more assessment needs to be done to explore maternal/child health and mental health in this community.

A public meeting will be held at 9 a.m. Monday at the Kenai Public Health Center to review the findings of the Community Health Status Assessment and discuss the MAPP process. It is open to the public.

This information was shared by the MAPP organizers at the Kenai Public Health Center. For more information, call 335-3425.

July 13, Guest Opinion 2011: Soroptimist broadens from women to community

In 1922 the oldest global volunteer women’s organization was born — Soroptimist International. Soroptimist, meaning “Best for Women.” The organization found a warm home on the Kenai Peninsula on Sept. 29, 1979. The club originally started out as Soroptimist International of the Twin Cities. However, because of the confusion with other cities in Lower 48, it became SI of the Kenai Peninsula. Our local club will be 32 years old in September of this year.

Club membership has included female business owners or professionals from all kinds of fields, from education, financial, real estate, medical, dental, pharmaceutical, pet care, property management, business services, and even professional volunteers.

The club’s support has benefited many other nonprofit organizations, among them the LeeShore Center and Central Peninsula Relay For Life. The club also has held an annual Young Women’s Conference that takes a day to discuss with junior high-aged girls the needs for mental health, physical health and personal development. The event often had guest speakers and activities that had the girls literally jumping out of their seats and having a great time. Of course, other issues, such as personal safety on first dates and safety while surfing the Internet, were also popular topics. In 2009, the local club won international recognition for this project, and since then many other clubs have borrowed this program idea.

The club also hosted the annual “Chip-A-Way” golf tournament. The tournament provided wonderful food and prizes with an eye toward raising funds. The money raised at the event was given to the Central Peninsula Hospital Foundation’s cancer fund. The money is distributed to assist women in need, in regard to treatment, travel or another related services and items. Over the years the club has raised and donated more than $50,000 toward the cancer fund at CPGH.

The majority of all funds raised by the club stayed right here on the Kenai Peninsula. However, the club is part of the global organization and funds were also used for scholarships, such as the Violet Richardson Award, Making A Difference for Women Award or Women’s Opportunity Award. Local winners of these awards have also won additional recognition and funds from the regional and national level of Soroptimist. At each award level, our local winners were given additional recognition that included monetary awards and even a laptop computer.

Times change and so do organizations. The original focus was always on women and girls. With the changes in trafficking of women and children, the emphasis is now on women and children. Trafficking has become a global epidemic. In response, the Soroptimist Clubs of the Northwest Region of Soroptimist International are working on a project called the Northwest Coalition against trafficking. Alaska is part of this. For more information regarding this project, please go to http://www.nwcat.org.

The club’s current project is a community-based need to bring the first off-leash dog park to Soldotna. This project brought new members to the club in order to build a safe place for women, seniors and children to bring their pets for play and socialization. The fundraisers will be a community 50/50 raffle, a memorial wall for pets, paw-print sponsors and pet identification tags. For any questions regarding this project or joining Soroptimist, call Lori Woitel at 262-1834.

Lori Woitel is president of Soroptimist International of the Kenai Peninsula.

June 15, Guest Opinion 2011: Kasilof fence, made good by collaboration

In midsummer, half of Anchorage and the Matanuska Valley, it seems, empties out to come down to the Kenai Peninsula to dip net salmon. Those coming to the Kasilof River will encounter “the fence.”

The recently completed fence is along the south shore of the Kasilof River estuary in an area of dunes (possibly beach ridges). It’s meant to keep out hot-rodding four-wheelers, mud-dogging pickups and dip-netting campers gone wild.

The mouth of the Kasilof is home to a fragile habitat thinly vegetated with beach rye and beach peas; and in the summer is a nesting area for migratory birds. In the fall and winter it’s a place of harsh and stunning beauty.

The Kasilof River mouth has a long history. There were two Dena’ina villages and upstream are archaeological sites from an earlier Yup’ik-speaking culture. A Russian redoubt was built there in 1786 and in 1882 the second commercial cannery in Alaska was built on the north side along with an Alaska Commercial Company trading post. I can stand in one spot and point out places that illustrate 3,000 years of history.

And the river is home to one of the world’s great remaining wild salmon runs.

Two things have impacted the place. First, all-terrain vehicles have gained popularity. While their size, cost and horsepower have increased there has not been an accompanying rise in ethical restraint. The dunes became a convenient place to spin brodies, jump hills, chase waterfowl and generally run amok. ATVs have their place; they are great for hauling firewood, homestead chores and village travel. But they are a plague when indiscriminately operated in wilderness or semiwilderness areas by children or adults with little sense of the cumulative impact of their actions.

Second has been the rise in popularity of the dip-net fishery. Where else can you pull up to a grassy area with your camper and a trailer full of ATVs, send the kids off to four-wheel, set out a net and bring in more fish than you can eat in a winter? Perfect, if it were not for the fact that the result is to denude the beach grass giving the wind-driven tides of autumn full access to the sand flats.

If these trends continued the likely result would have been a silted-up river channel with who knows what impact on the salmon. Something had to be done. Action came on two fronts.

First, through a series of meetings, the Kasilof and Cohoe communities called for a special-use management area to regulate harmful activity. To be sure, not everyone was in favor of this step. A small ad-hoc group calling itself the Cohoe-Kasilof Community Council protested the size and scope of state management. But most residents and organizations saw the trends and supported the special-use management concept, which was instituted by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources in late May.

On a second front, the community built the fence. Lacking a local government, the Kasilof Regional Historical Society obtained a grant for $60,000 to build a fence to try to keep ATVs and campers from turning the sparsely vegetated dunes into an erosional wasteland.

These days $60,000 doesn’t construct much, certainly not a mile of installed steel guardrail. But an unlikely coalition of concerned community folks — commercial fishermen, sportfishermen, dip-netters, conservatives, liberals — well, maybe only a few liberals — organized by two dedicated historical society members, Brent Johnson and Catherine Cassidy, built a first-rate fence from scrounged material. They were given more or less free rein by an acquiescent if slightly perplexed state bureaucracy.

You had a commercial fisherman, Brent Johnson, running a Bobcat with a post driver attached, assisted by the head to the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, Ricky Gease. You had folks hauling guardrail and bolting it together in backbreaking labor. Real Alaskans who know which end of a wrench to use and whose Carhartts are worn and sweat-stained through honest labor. Nobody got paid. Remuneration came in the form of hard work for a good purpose. Had this been a normal government job the cost would have easily been four or five times as much.

Time will tell if the fence will keep the dune destructors at bay; but it can’t hurt. So if you come down to the Kenai Peninsula to dip net this summer, bring your outdoor values, respect the place, enjoy our salmon and take only what you need. And leave the place as good, or better, than you found it.

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College. This column was previously published in the Anchorage Daily News on June 10.

June 1, Guest Opinion 2011: KPC boosts economy for students, community

Certain thoughts expressed at the May 17 Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly echoed the conversation which is taking place all over the country — if not a good deal of the free world — at every level of government. At last, citizens are waking up to the fact that, going as far back as the Great Depression, our government has created the illusion of real economic prosperity in large part by borrowing and spending excessively.

One quite reasonable reaction to this realization is demanding that federal, state and local governments tighten their belts. Were our collective debts a mere year or so worth of income then such measures, taken alone, just might be enough. But when the nation’s governments taken as a whole are facing combined liabilities of some ten times the gross domestic product there is simply far too much owed for spending cuts alone to ever even hope to cover.

Governments that find themselves in this position have the same options as individual households and private businesses: The only way out (bankruptcy excluded) involves significantly increasing receipts as well as cutting expenses.

Of course, what a government calls revenue its citizens likely call taxes. That being the case, most taxpayers prefer their governments to raise receipts by increasing the volume of whatever is being taxed; be it private sales, private property, private incomes and/or any other indicia of private wealth. This approach avoids the necessity to increase the tax rates and leaves everyone (including even the taxpayer, for once!) better off for it as well.

While it would be nice to believe this concept might someday reach all the way to Washington, it has long been alive, and well, and practiced right here at home. That is one big reason why the Kenai Peninsula is, relatively speaking, one of the best places to live at the moment. Our community has consistently invested in projects and programs that, in the end, created wealth for a good number of us.

Our main job now, as in the past, is to preserve what we’ve already accomplished while continuing to work toward making things even better for an ever greater portion of our friends and neighbors.

In coming up with a plan to create new wealth it might be instructive to start by revisiting where our existing wealth has come from. Look closely enough and one can see it all goes back to just two sources: The Earth and the sun. While mankind can create more of neither, we have at least become quite good at turning these two sources into things both necessary and quite nice to have. The former tends to make life possible; the latter tends to make it more worthwhile.

The things which are capable of turning the Earth and sun into useful and enjoyable items are deemed “fixed capital” by economists. Such productive items generally include buildings, equipment and farmland, plus a little something else long referred to as “human capital.” According to Adam Smith, human capital may be defined as “… the acquired and useful abilities of all the inhabitants or members of the society. The acquisition of such talents, by the maintenance of the acquirer during his education, study, or apprenticeship … (al)though it costs a certain expense, repays that expense with a profit.”

Of the many things which, economically speaking, the Kenai Peninsula has gotten right over the years, the creation and maintenance of our local college ranks among the very best. For the most part, folks come to this college in order to acquire more of this intangible human capital such that they, too, might become an even more productive member of our community.

The recognition of the role that our local college plays, not just in the life of those attending classes, but even more so in the future of the borough as a whole, is certainly one reason the assembly has consistently and confidently funded the college up to the maximum amount authorized by the taxpayers.

Up until now, that is. Again, as noted at the outset, taxpayers are now justifiably wary about their government spending money on virtually anything anymore, education included.

Personally, I don’t blame anyone for being critical about government spending. What does worry me though is the thought of cutting back on productive spending, that being the spending which, according to Smith, “repays that expense with a profit.”

Perhaps the reason this concerns me so much is because oftentimes those calling for cuts in education also speak of friends and relatives who have recently lost their jobs. One such story, which touched me especially deeply, came from a gentleman who spoke of a young man who, until recently, had been supporting a wife and child working as a janitor. I pray that young man might yet find his way to my classroom.

Truth be known, many a KPC student worked their way through college as a member of our maintenance department. In fact, just this year I had the immense honor and pleasure of presenting the Outstanding Student of the Year award to one such graduate. That fact alone would have made the speaker’s comments ironic enough, but what really brought a lump to my throat was the fact that I, too, had worked as a janitor while earning my first college diploma.

In short, for myself and many others, college was the place where it became possible to transform any job (or even no job!) into brand new human capital, ultimately increasing our shared societal wealth.

There are many who argue KPC should continue to receive funding because the voters expressly approved such funding. They have a valid point. There are also those who argue that good faith and fair dealing demand any prior course of dealing be continued in the absence of sufficient notice to the contrary, thereby allowing the other party sufficient time to rearrange their affairs. That argument certainly has much merit as well.

Even so, in these difficult and uncertain times, ultimately I must choose to support the continued full funding of Kenai Peninsula College solely for the reason which Adam Smith laid out: KPC “repays that expense with a profit.”

To me, economic turbulence — whether actual or anticipated – is the worst of reasons to cut back on productive investment. Thanks to a dedicated staff, inspirational instructors and hardworking students, KPC remains one of the borough’s most profitable expenditures. For KPC to continue proving its worth one only need keep sending us folks, ages 16 and up, with both the best and the worst chances of productive futures. We’ll add layer upon layer of new, productive “human capital” on them all.

It’s what we do.

Tom Dalrymple is a faculty member at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus and co-chair of the business and industry departments at KPC.

June 1, Guest Opinion 2011: Borough should demonstrate economic support for KPC

We strongly urge the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly to approve the $657,000 funding for Kenai Peninsula College as contained in its 2011-12 budget, despite Mayor Carey’s most recent reversal on his own submitted budget.

The budget currently before the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly funds KPC at the same 1/10-mill equivalent funding level that the voters approved more than 20 years ago. The voters continuing support for KPC in particular, and the University of Alaska in general, remains clear from last year’s university bond issue, which passed by a very substantial majority on the Kenai Peninsula and statewide.

The publicly stated reason for placing KPC funding in the 2011-12 budget was a laudable desire to encourage rather than jeopardize university construction at KPC. That remains valid. More than $30 million in construction projects at KPC are pending and must be approved by the university regents. Only one of those projects has been approved so far, and they would be a major shot in the arm for the local construction industry and our economy.

In addition, House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, successfully added an additional $1.8 million in this year’s capital projects budget for the necessary design and planning of long-sought KPC student housing. However, various funding for this bonded project is now subject to line item veto by Gov. Sean Parnell and approval by the University of Alaska Board of Regents.

In fact, the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s capital projects priority list to the Legislature has included this same student housing for the four years prior to the successful 2010 bond approval.

The sudden loss of local political and economic support for KPC would be a slap in the face to the Legislature, the board of regents, and the governor that could easily result in loss of this major capital project funding, and would be a real blow to putting local residents back to work.

Positive support of KPC funding by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly would send the right message, not the wrong message, to Gov. Parnell and the regents. It would be unfortunate for the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly to jeopardize final approval and construction of one of its own major capital project submissions to the Legislature just as that project is on the verge of final approval.

This year’s statewide capital projects budget has funded big-ticket items like the Homer solid waste transfer site that KPB earlier thought it might have to fund out of cash. As a result, the borough’s budgetary situation has actually improved since the earlier inclusion of funding for KPC.

Kenai Peninsula College is a major economic engine for the entire Kenai Peninsula Borough. It provides a very high direct return to the local economy. It is a highly efficient provider of education and training to industry and our post-secondary students. The borough’s annual funding is critical. Loss of 5 percent from an already lean budget, so late in the game, would create chaos in addition to jeopardizing major local construction projects.

Rev. James Duncan, G.A. Fraser, M.D.; Marge Hayes, Ph.D.; Joseph Kashi, J.D.; Sherrill Miller, John Morton, Ph.D.; and Pete Sprague

Kenai Peninsula College Council members

May 25, 2011: Wrapped up in Rapture: What’s your priority?

Roll call — are we all still here? Any empty piles of clothes found in the breakfast cereal aisle, or suddenly driverless cars careening off the road Saturday? Any missed meetings that couldn’t be explained by “Seinfeld” reruns or the fact that it was decent barbecue weather? Any beams of light seen vacuuming up the true believers like a giant heavenly Hoover?

By all accounts Rapture, the Sequel, did not take place Saturday, as Christian radio preacher Harold Camping assured his Family Radio listeners it would. Not too surprising, as Camping already had one botched call under his belt, when he previously insisted Judgment Day was happening in 1994. He also was as oddly specific in his scheduling — 6 p.m. May 21, on the dot — as he was vague about producing biblically credible evidence to support his claim. Was it 6 p.m. Eastern Standard Time? How about time zones? What if somebody’s flying between zones? If a train left San Diego heading east at 5 p.m., and another left Denver heading west at 5:30 p.m. …?

Camping did manage to convince a small but vocal, well-funded and excessively hyped portion of the population that Judgment Day was nigh. That, come Saturday, the righteous would be allowed to leave the table, and go off to play, while the rest would have to sit here and think about what they’ve done, with no TV, mister, and don’t-look-at-me-in-that-tone-of-voice. Those left behind would be forced to endure a godforsaken hellhole until Oct. 21, when it all would come to a fiery end.

Maybe he just meant election season?

Camping’s wacky, billboard-fueled prediction aside, many religions do hold a belief in the Rapture, and it’s no laughing matter. Even for those who wasted their money — in some cases placing themselves and their families in financial ruin — in supporting Camping, they fell victim to a charlatan who was manipulating their deeply held convictions and invoking their strength to stand up for their beliefs.

The hoopla wasn’t a complete waste, and not just in providing fodder for comedy routines. Most people didn’t quit their jobs, donate their savings to buy billboard space and make sure they had on clean underwear in preparation for the Rapture. But the episode did at least give rise to that age-old question, posed by philosophers, creative writers, actually credible religious leaders and a pantheon of hackneyed movie plots — what if the world really were about to end? What would you do?

There are plenty of motivational speakers, self-help books, doomsday charlatans and other sources for fortune cookie-esque exhortations to “live life to the fullest” and “treat each day as though it’s your last.”

As a concept, it makes for a great conversational icebreaker: What would you do if you knew … the Rapture was coming, aliens were invading, you were ill and only had a few days to live, your favorite TV show was canceled and you no longer wanted to live, and/or an Armageddon asteroid was hurdling toward Earth and Bruce Willis and Clint Eastwood were not available to carry off an unlikely scheme to blow it up before impact?

How one answers reveals a lot about their priorities, desires, values and belief systems. Would they travel somewhere, see something or do something they always wanted but hadn’t gotten around to? Connect with loved ones? Spend the time in prayer and contemplation? Forgive some past grievance or attempt to right a wrong they had caused? Plonk down on the couch with a bag of Double Stuf Oreos and attempt to get through the entire DVD set of “The Sopranos?”

Taken literally, “Live each day as though it’s your last” is terrible advice. About as helpful as insisting one should put all their eggs in one basket and always run with scissors. Sure, an attitude of seize the day might motivate you to set affairs in order and get going on all those bucket-list things you’ve meant to do with your life but haven’t gotten around to.

But think of all the things you would no longer be motivated to do — go to work, return library books, take out the garbage, eat healthy, wipe up your spilled coffee or put the toilet lid down. If every precious moment were ticking down to your quickly approaching last, you certainly wouldn’t waste any of them on brushing your teeth, fastening your seatbelt or being polite in the grocery store.

Live too many days like they’re your last and they may actually be the last day for valued relationships, if your boss, co-workers, family, friends or acquaintances get irritated enough.

The rub, of course, is that our days are numbered. Whatever one’s belief in any sort of afterlife, next life or continuous circle of life, humanity in its corporeal form is a limited edition. Our ends may not be anything so dramatic and universal as Armageddon. We likely won’t all shuffle off this mortal coil at the same time in the same circumstances. Some will go sooner, some later, some may have an inkling of its approach, others not; but shuffle it we must. The cards we’re dealt can’t be held forever, we just don’t know when that pitch will be.

There is fear in the how and when of that unknown, but also comfort in that ignorance. Comfort, which too easily becomes complacency.

As with any deadline, waiting until the last minute creates shoddy work that’s incompletely done, whether it’s finishing a homework assignment, cleaning before the arrival of the in-laws or achieving one’s goals in life.

The trick is to find balance between living the dreams, yet not living in a fantasy world. Live every day like it might be your last — but probably won’t be. You probably will still be here tomorrow, so you’d better pay the light bill and put the milk back in the fridge. But one of those tomorrows won’t come, so you’d better put some effort into achieving what’s important on a more grand scale.

Start planning that trip of a lifetime. Set your goals and get started on them. Clean those skeletons out of the closet. Today probably isn’t your last, but it if were, would you kick yourself for not doing a little more with it?

What’re you waiting for? The Rapture?

Jenny Neyman is a reporter and editor of the Redoubt Reporter.

May 18, 2011: Borough fares well; Parnell faces tough task to be fair

The Legislature giveth, and the governor taketh away.

That’s become about as constant a feature of the state’s annual capital budget development process as the Legislature running over its allotted session time to do the work they were sent to Juneau to do.

But after the special session adjournment Saturday, who’s counting? Once the budget is passed and headed on to the governor, legislative efficiency (or lack thereof), cooperation (or lack thereof) and fiscal restraint (or lack thereof) are overshadowed in a haze of dollar signs and zeros. In the case of this budget, lots and lots of dollar signs and zeros.

In a last-minute power play three days before the end of the special session, the House passed a version of the capital budget and adjourned, leaving the Senate little choice but to pass what they were given. It was a move cribbed from a passive-aggressive playground playbook — Tag! You’re it! No givebacks!

The Senate passed the capital budget —all $3.2 billion of it, and now the bloated hot potato is on to the governor, who has already stated he will not allow such a large amount of spending.

As well he shouldn’t. Though Alaska has been sheltered more than much of the country from the job losses, housing market downturn and other financial hardships of the recession, it’s not immune. And while oil prices have been high and bolstered state coffers of late, accessible, developable reserves continue to decrease.

There is definitely value in investing in infrastructure, facility safety and maintenance, energy development and other spend-now, reap-benefits-in-the-future projects. But there also is value in saving for rainy days to come.

The Legislature overshot that balancing mark and passed the tough calls on to the governor.

May 18, 2011, Guest Editorial: Obama ‘birthers’ waste country’s precious time

During the first months of Barack Obama’s presidency a conspiracy by an amorphous group who came to be called “birthers” raged on the Internet and right-wing talk radio. The birthers claimed that President Obama really wasn’t born in Hawaii, but in Africa, making him ineligible to be president of the United States. The controversy went nowhere until Donald Trump recently reopened the issue making it the curious cornerstone of his bizarre, short-lived Republican presidential bid.

Like an Alaskan slapping an annoying mosquito, President Obama moved Trump’s candidacy from “really?” to “ridiculous” by releasing the long form of his Hawaiian birth certificate. President Obama was born in Hawaii on Aug. 4, 1961.

True, there aren’t a lot of people to testify to Obama’s early life. Before he became president, Obama’s mother Ann Dunham and maternal grandparents had died. His father, Barack senior, had abandoned his mother a few months after their son was born and died in a 1982 car accident in Kenya.

If Trump and other birthers hung out in the same Soldotna coffee shop that I do they could have asked fellow Americano-sipper Mary Toutonghi about Barack Obama’s origins. As described in a 2009 article by Jenny Neyman in the Redoubt Reporter, Toutonghi baby-sat the infant Barack after his mother returned to Seattle from Hawaii in 1962. Dunham had spent most of her high school years in Seattle and had gone off to the University of Hawaii, met a man, got pregnant, got married, had a son, and moved back to Seattle’s Capitol Hill district. Dunham lived in an old lumber-era mansion that had been converted to a four-plex managed by Toutonghi and her husband, a student at Seattle University. Dunham took evening classes at the University of Washington twice a week and Toutonghi baby-sat Barack along with her own kids. If Dunham had given birth to Barack in Africa a few months earlier, Toutonghi would surely have heard about it.

A teenaged mother, Dunham, according to her biographer Janny Scott in a recent book, “A Singular Woman,” had little in common with her old high school friends, now mostly sorority girls at the University of Washington. That summer she moved back to Honolulu to re-enroll at the University of Hawaii. She majored in anthropology and developed an interest in Southeast Asian cultures through the university’s East-West Center.

After graduation Dunham enrolled in the department’s Ph.D. program and did several years of fieldwork in rural Indonesia. Initially she studied Indonesian craftwork and in the process learned it wasn’t just about beautiful batik or hand-forged iron objects, but about the way locally made products gave people a measure of control of their lives and continuity in cultural traditions.

Increasingly indigenous peoples have been essentialized, marginalized and in some cases demonized for not following the modernization theory script of being acculturated into the mainstream globalized economy. For indigenous people locally grown or caught foods and locally made products are a key to sovereignty, sustainability and happiness and Dunham seems to have understood that.

Her anthropology insights led her to the emerging field of microfinance. Microfinance is the antithesis of the World Bank or International Monetary Fund, which are the economic wing of modernization theory making large loans to developing countries to move them into the global marketplace. It is based on the Western cultural value of materialism which tends to tear families and traditional communities apart.

Microfinance, on the other hand, gives small loans to craft specialists often to market their products and gain enough cash to cover the basics while maintaining family cohesiveness. Sometimes it’s used for children’s education. It’s been used in Africa, Southeast Asia and South America, and especially benefits women.

The development of microfinance has followed a parallel trajectory spearheaded by economists and anthropologists working in different areas developing appropriate loan instruments. The most famous is Bangladesh economist Muhammad Yunus, who in 2006 won a prestigious Nobel Prize for his efforts in microfinance.

Dr. Ann Dunham was an interesting woman who met challenges, some of her own making, and made life work. She mothered a future president of the United States, she earned a Ph.D and with it she fought global poverty.

In March 2011, Donald Trump stated on Good Morning America that birthers like him shouldn’t be dismissed as “idiots.” I guess we can make that dismissal now. The birthers have wasted our precious time with specious allegations and owe the country an apology.

Alan Boraas is an anthropology professor at Kenai Peninsula College. This column was also printed in the Anchorage Daily News on May 13.

April 20, 2011: Wrapped up in Rapture a dangerous place to be

The godfather of Alaska’s growing militia movement is Commander/Pastor Norman Olson of Nikiski. Olson is pastor of the Freedom Baptist Church and a commander in the Alaska Citizens Militia. Formerly, he founded the Michigan Militia infamous because Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, attended at least a few of its meetings and Olson reportedly counseled McVeigh before he was executed.

So when Fairbanks militia members, including Schaeffer Cox, were indicted on weapons charges and two others on conspiracy to murder a judge and two state troopers, it was natural I would invite Olson and his lieutenant, Ray Southwell, to speak to my anthropology of religion class at Kenai Peninsula College to try to figure out what makes the militia tick.  Their message is that the world is in trouble bordering on chaos. They target two problems: corporate power supported by a complicit government.

No argument here. In this regard the far right and the moderate left merge. Corporations grew from a simpler capitalism to raise money for expansion. But now boardroom policies increasingly maximize short-term profits at the expense of long-term stability. As a matter of course they downsize, outsource jobs overseas, work to minimize legitimate taxes (like Alaska’s petroleum industry) and environmental regulation, exert neo-colonial control, replace skilled workers with low paid startups, minimize employee health care, and other practices that reduce costs and destroy communities and families.

Big government’s partnership in these actions is another theme militias have in common with the left. For example, the United States is now engaged in three wars: Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. All have oil wells or major pipelines and even a donkey can figure out that we are in these wars for reasons of resource control or corporate profiteering.

While I understand where Pastor/Commander Olson is coming from, we differ in the methods to achieve change resulting in economic and social stability.

Two religious principles motivate Alaska’s militia: God’s law supersedes man’s law, and the post-tribulation Rapture. The supremacy of God’s law gives divine license for domestic insurrection as we’re seeing in the Fairbanks militia trials. Carried to its logical extreme, that means anarchy and the question of “whose god?”

The Biblical basis for the Rapture is in a few passages in Daniel and a verse in Revelation as interpreted by a 19th century Scottish evangelist named John Darby. From these, Rapture believers have conceived of two competing scenarios.

Pre-Tribulation Rapturists believe when the end times come God will Rapture the faithful into heaven and the rest of us will endure seven years of hell on earth whereupon some will then go to heaven and the remainder burn forever. Militia members disdain pre-tribulation rapturists, such as preached at the Anchorage Baptist Temple, and similar feel-good mega-churches that have created a self-indulgent theology of noninvolvement in social causes because they’re going to heaven anyway. The concept is summed up by Anne Coulter who wrote, “God gave us the earth. We have dominion over (it). God said, ‘Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It’s yours.’”

Instead most militia members believe in a version of a post-tribulation Rapture. When the seven-year time of tribulation comes they will be the chosen ones who will battle through it to be Raptured into heaven. Hence they are survivalists, stockpiling ammunition, guns and food, and honing their militia skills. This explains their passion for the Second Amendment and personal arms escalation. Any law that restricts gun ownership limits their tribulation fight and potential Rapture. They’ll enter the Kingdom of Heaven with a smoking Glock 19.

Rapture theology is relatively rare in world Christianity.  Theologians such as Barbara Rossing, a Lutheran, consider it a “complete fabrication.” As a justification for armed resistance, post-tribulation Rapture theology is anathema to the general message of the New Testament which is based on love, forgiveness, and doing good toward those that hate you even if it’s the corporation that capriciously fired you or the government that over- or under-regulated you.

The day may come when the country needs a revolutionary transformation, but we’re not there yet — not even close. Meanwhile, the weapons of change are the ballot box, the op-ed piece, emails, blogs, peaceful demonstrations and YouTube videos based on a theology of love, not hate.

“Don’t take your guns to town son; leave your guns at home.” —Johnny Cash

You can see the entire Kenai Peninsula College class with Norman Olson and Ray Southwell at http://krc-stream.kpc.alaska.edu/users/inapp/Boraas_Anth_Religion_03-2011.html or read Jenny Neyman’s Redoubt Reporter article of the class at http://redoubtreporter.wordpress.com/page/2/

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College. This column was previously published in the Anchorage Daily News.

April 6, 2011: Workers’ rights on parade

About 70 union supporters took to the streets of Soldotna on Monday afternoon in a We Are One Rally, held in conjunction with union groups and public employees across the country, on the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., on April 4, 1968, in Memphis.
The nationwide rallies are a response to state legislature efforts to limit collective bargaining powers. LaDawn Druce, president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association and organizer of the local rally, said that while the Alaska Legislature hasn’t passed any such measures, it is important for union workers to be proactive in reminding communities of their importance and protecting their rights.
“We want to remind elected officials and policy makers that workers rights are human rights, and we will not allow those rights to be destroyed,” she said.

March 30, 2011,  Guest Opinion: Public radio worth funding — no strings attached

The “Radio Silence” article that appeared in the March 23 issue of the Redoubt Reporter was a fairly comprehensive look at the issue of funding for public broadcasting, and the effects that cuts in funding might have at the local level. Thank you for a fair and balanced look at the issue.

But some statements made by Bill Glynn are uninformed and deserve clarification.

In advocating for accountability to local listeners, Mr. Glynn alludes to state and federal dictates to stations about who they are affiliated with, where they get their programs, and that grant acceptance requires that your station is “…structured… in such a way that gives the state of Alaska the final say over a lot of things.” State funding for Alaska public stations goes from the Department of Administration to the Alaska Public Broadcasting Commission, which acts as a firewall between stations and the state. APBC determines allocations to individual stations, and is made up of Alaska residents appointed by the governor. There are often commercial broadcasters sitting on the commission, helping to ensure the wise and equitable distribution of those funds to stations. Stations receiving funds from APBC must file reports showing service to their communities, and how those funds are spent. But APBC, the governor, nor anyone else in state government tells stations what they may or may not broadcast. The only requirement is that each station receiving a grant produce and broadcast 10 hours of local programming each week.

Similarly, federal funding does not come directly from the U.S. government, but is instead distributed to stations nationwide by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization acting as a firewall between government and broadcasters. Again, close financial oversight of how those funds are used, compliance with FCC regulations, and service to communities are reviewed annually. Not to ensure compliance with any particular government agenda but to ensure communities are being well-served. Below are clauses in the agreement with stations that pertain to use of the 25 percent restricted portion of the Community Service Grant:

v Program and Content Acquisition: Expenditures include payments to public broadcasting entities that act as producers and/or distributors for national programs. For example: National Public Radio, Public Radio International, Alaska Public Radio Network, AIROS, NV1, American Public Media, Radio Bilingüe, and Pacifica Program Service.

Expenditures also include direct payments to acquire programs from all other producers (commercial and nonprofit) including independents acting as their own distributors.

This is a statement from the CPB Certification of Eligibility that speaks to station’s service to their communities:

v The station and licensee that make up the grantee specified above currently meet or exceed the following criteria:

The station’s daily broadcast schedule is devoted primarily to quality programming that serves community needs of an educational, informational, and cultural nature within its/their primary service area. Such programming is intended for a general audience.

Note — A program schedule designed to further the principles of particular political or religious philosophies or one that is designed primarily for in-school or professional in-service audiences does not meet the definition of this criterion. A campus station managed and operated by and for students does not meet the definitions of this criterion. A station licensed to a political organization also does not meet the definition of this criterion.

So, neither state nor federal governments tell stations what to broadcast. The 25 percent restricted portion of the CSG helps ensure some funds go to program producers and distributors so that there are quality programs available for listeners. Which programs turn up in a station’s schedule are decisions made by stations at the local level. Some stations may lean toward news programs, others may choose music and cultural programs, or programs that serve the needs of minorities. It all comes down to community service.

Mr. Glynn would like to see federal funding for stations “disappear,” thinking that would in some way “level the playing field.” For many people the services offered by public radio stations, especially smaller and rural stations, are well worth the cost — annual federal funding amounts to only $1.35 per American and is leveraged by local stations to raise six times that amount from other sources.

Public radio stations throughout our nation and in Alaska offer more than rude, hollering hosts, obnoxious commercials or music “jukebox” programming. They are involved in their communities, producing local news and weather, marine forecasts, community event information, messages to people without phones, and statewide and locally produced live call-in programs. Public radio stations provide emergency information, road reports and weather conditions. Let’s not forget in-depth state, national and international news coverage that is balanced with opinions from both sides of an issue fairly represented.

This begs the question: If federal funding for public broadcasting goes away, where do people turn for timely, accurate information? Media consolidation is occurring at a rapid pace, leaving fewer and fewer broadcast and print options that are not controlled by major corporate entities with agendas that leave little room for balanced discussions and opposing opinions.

Huge federal subsidies are paid out every year to major for-profit corporations, Wall Street, agribusiness, etc. I have to wonder what is behind the drive to remove CPB’s $400 million dollars that offers the equivalent of a participatory free press, without direct cost, to every American citizen. This may be a small amount of money in the big picture, but the consequences for “an informed electorate” could be immense. Please support your local public radio stations. Thank you.

David S. Anderson is general manager of KBBI Homer/KDLL Kenai-Soldotna.

March 23, 2011,  Guest Opinion: Alaska, school districts need flexibility

Photo courtesy of LaDawn Druce. LaDawn Druce, president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association, was invited to participate in talks on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act by Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska.

The opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. and to speak on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was truly a wonderful professional experience for me earlier this month.

At the invitation of Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, I was invited to attend a discussion of the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee on the topic of ESEA, commonly known as No Child Left Behind. The hearing took place March 2.

There were 12 U.S. senators and 15 speakers representing the best minds in education at the meeting.

The meeting began with Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid suggesting that all schools are not the same. The reauthorization of ESEA needs to take into account the small and the large schools and school districts in our nation.

Sen. Begich, who chaired the meeting, mentioned that we must grow our economy through the education of our young people. We need to continue to have high expectations for our children and develop an accountability system that works.

Sen. Tom Harkin, from Iowa, suggested that the reauthorization of ESEA should abolish the standard of “annual yearly progress” as an indicator of “success” of schools.

He suggested our system go toward a more genuine growth model to measure success. He also mentioned that teacher and principal evaluations should get a critical look around the country. Our children also need a well-rounded education with more focus in music, art and physical education at all levels, kindergarten through 12th grade.

Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, cited the statistic that 47 percent of new teachers leave within the first five years. Recruiting, hiring and training the best and brightest teachers needs to be a goal of our profession to ensure low dismissal and low turnover.

My comments focused on that Alaska, being a rural state, not unlike other rural states, needs even more flexibility when it comes to federal policy.

We have the Anchorage school district, where over 90 languages are spoken, and many rural sites where teachers teach multiple grade and multiple subjects.

Also, under the current act, there is too much focus on summative student assessments. Teachers agree they need valid, formative assessments; however standardized tests often detract from genuine student learning and exploration. Critical thinking, public speaking, art, music, foreign language, vocational education and physical education have and are continuing to suffer with our mandates of multiple-choice tests and test prep. As Albert Einstein said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

The reauthorization of ESEA should encourage local districts to work with teachers in considering changes to the current evaluation systems.

Evaluations must have multiple measures with the primary focus on student engagement. I began working with our district over a year ago in developing a new system of teacher evaluation for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

Teachers on our committee worked hand in hand with principals and central office personnel to develop a more genuine system of teacher evaluation. Our guidebook was the work of Charlotte Danielson and the “Framework for Teaching,” and our philosophy was that evaluations should be something we do with teachers, and not to them.

Teachers and principals are having long-overdue professional conversations about the art of teaching, student engagement, curriculum and student performance.

My concluding remarks focused on the idea of rural states and districts needing more local control in determining what works best for their schools, and teachers are asking for more authentic forms of evaluation and professional-development opportunities.

Above all, teachers want and deserve a prominent place at the table when decisions regarding their profession are made.

It was an honor to represent the teachers of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association and NEA-Alaska at this discussion.

LaDawn Druce is president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association.

March 23, 2011,  Guest Opinion: Fuel costs drive HEA need to explore alternatives

Utility rates can sometimes be a confusing set of numbers and formulas, but a recent announcement about an HEA rate increase is actually pretty easy to explain. Simply, the rate increase is closely tied to the cost of fuel used to generate electricity.

More than 90 percent of the energy purchased by Homer Electric from its wholesale power provider, Chugach Electric, is produced by generators that use natural gas for fuel. The natural gas is purchased by Chugach Electric from suppliers, with contract prices tied to the indexed price of crude oil, heating oil and natural gas.

Those commodities have seen sharp price spikes and the result has been increased fuel costs for Chugach Electric and, therefore, for Homer Electric.

The wild card in this equation is trying to determine what fuel costs will do in the upcoming quarter. HEA submits its Wholesale Power Cost Rate Adjustment to the Regulatory Commission of Alaska each quarter, based on its best estimate of what the amount and price of energy purchased from Chugach will be.

If those projections are low, as was the case in the first quarter of 2011, the WPCRA must be adjusted to make up for a shortfall in the previous quarter and also recoup the expected costs for the upcoming quarter.

The bottom line is HEA receives a bill for purchased power from Chugach Electric that reflects the cost of fuel. When Chugach’s fuel costs go up, so do the rates.

The underlying theme in this situation is the Railbelt’s reliance on natural gas to produce electricity. For decades, natural gas has been plentiful and relatively inexpensive. Although that is no longer the case, natural gas remains the primary fuel for power generation because there are presently no other options to replace the reliability of fossil-fueled generation.

Both coal and nuclear energy are faced with environmental, technical and political challenges; wind power is not able to supply base load power due to its variable nature; tidal power is still in the research and development stage; and a large-scale renewable project, such as a hydroelectric dam, would take a minimum of 11 years to bring on line if the licensing work started this year.

At a recent public meeting in Kenai, representatives of the Alaska Energy Authority told the audience that a proposed hydro project on the upper Susitna River between Anchorage and Fairbanks could supply about 50 percent of the power needs of the Railbelt area. However, the AEA folks cautioned that the dam is far from a “done deal.”

The Alaska Legislature needs to approve a bill allowing AEA to build and own new power projects and begin the federal license application process. Once the application for preliminary approval is filed, there would be up to six and a half years of environmental studies, public involvement, permitting, design and licensing work followed by a 4.5-year construction period.

A large hydro project on the Susitna River would be welcomed by Homer Electric, but again, it wouldn’t be providing power to the Railbelt until 2022 at the earliest. I encourage anyone who supports further study of this renewable energy project to contact their legislators and the governor’s office and urge them to allow AEA to begin the licensing process now and avoid any further delays.

Homer Electric is not sitting idly by, waiting to see what will happen.  The Cooperative is moving ahead with Independent Light, a plan to expand the Nikiski generation facility by adding a steam turbine on to the existing natural gas turbine and install backup generation capacity in Soldotna. Under Independent Light, the Nikiski plant will increase its output by 45 percent without any additional natural gas and once the overall conversion is completed the plant will nearly double its current output, producing 77 megawatts of power.

Independent Light will not eliminate the need for natural gas, but by using the fuel more efficiently, Homer Electric members will be well-served by the new generation.

Independent Light is not the complete answer, but we look at it as our Bridge to the Future. The days when we could simply rely on cheap, abundant natural gas to keep our electric rates low are over. We need to continue to explore new ideas and I look forward to working with HEA members to find and implement innovative solutions (i.e. renewable resources, conservation, efficiency improvements) to meet our future energy needs.

Bradley P. Janorschke is general manager of Homer Electric Association.

Feb. 23, 2011,  Guest Editorial: Wildwood, Internet — communication moves on

In 1973, one of my first jobs at Kenai Peninsula College was teaching adult basic education

Wildwood Station 1954. Kenai Peninsula College Anthropology Lab Photo Archives

classes at Wildwood, north of Kenai. The former Wildwood Air Force Base had recently been transferred to the Kenai Native Association, which was setting it up as administrative offices, apartments and a vocational training facility.

An airbase without airplanes, Wildwood was something of a mystery. According to Al Hersberger, a Capt. Knowland selected the base’s location, choosing Kenai over the other finalist, Kodiak, because the fishing was better. When Wildwood was built in 1953 it provided some of the first regular employment outside of commercial fishing for men who worked on its construction. The airmen also supplied some much-appreciated diversity to the dating pool for Kenai and Soldotna girls.

When I opened my metal military desk in the basement of Building 10, I got a clue to the function of Wildwood. In it were three ink stamps labeled “confidential,” “secret” and “top secret.” Beside the desk was a barrel with remnants of kerosene still in the bottom, apparently for burning those top-secret documents in case of attack. Poking around on the third floor of Building 10, I came across the war room. On one side were two tiers of desks with maybe eight stations on a tier, each with a red telephone but no dial. Naturally I checked to see if any were still connected. They weren’t.

The desks looked out on an 8-by-12 Plexiglas map with an outline of Alaska and Siberia etched into it. Someone could stand behind and draw with grease pen the progress of Soviet and American planes or missiles. Not quite the war room scene of “Dr. Strangelove,” but the same idea.

Wildwood Air Force Base was a Cold War spy base. We were monitoring Soviet activity just as they were undoubtedly monitoring ours. We now know information was passed on through a communications system called AUTODIN, which consisted of a network of spy bases sending teletype messages at all levels of secrecy. AUTODIN was an early form of e-mail initially networked to 17 locations.

But even as Wildwood was reaching its stride, the seeds of its obsolescence were being sown. As a result of Russia’s 1957 Sputnik launch, President Eisenhower authorized a spending package that included research into better communication systems. A Polish émigré named Paul Baran working for the Rand Corporation developed a packet-switching system that became the basis for a communication system called ARAPNET.

Unlike the point-to-point AUTODIN system, which was slow because each message had to finish before the next was sent, packet switching broke messages into fragments, sending them via multiple routes to multiple destinations, where software reassembled them in the correct order. The system was fast and stable, since the message got though regardless of a breakdown at any one station. With the electronic evolution from AUTODIN to ARAPNET, the Internet was born. Your computer and mine are now part of a worldwide send/receive packet-switching system.

Building Wildwood and similar early AUTODIN sites did not create the Internet any more than Al Gore did, but it was a small step along the way to generating the revolution we are now in. In 1962, Marshall McLuhan predicted that the electronic revolution would surpass in scope the literacy revolution that started with Guttenberg’s movable type, and throughout subsequent centuries stimulated the Reformation, Enlightenment, American democracy and the wars that accompanied them.

Change is happening in all aspects of modern culture, but recent events highlight the role of the Internet in political unrest and upheaval. In an ironic effort to suppress information, American universities have threatened college students’ job prospects if they linked to Wikileaks on personal webpages, and the Obama administration prohibited government employees from even looking at Wikileaks from government computers.

In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak’s government tried to shut down Internet providers in an effort to stop e-mail communication that led to regime change. It is likely Mubarak’s will not be the last government overthrow orchestrated by Internet communication. E-mail, Facebook and Twitter are now tools of revolt every bit as powerful as an Afghani AK-47, or a musket in Revolutionary America.

Like literacy in the 18th century, the Internet threatens traditional methods of governmentality — how governments create acquiescent citizens. Today the Internet is the new foundation of freedom of speech and, hence, thought. It is imperative that it be kept open and unrestricted.

Meanwhile, the times they are a-changin’.

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College. This column was previously published in the Anchorage Daily News on Feb. 18.

Feb. 9, 2011,  Guest Editorial: ‘Offend liberals’ media strategy bears pitfalls

In the wake of Sarah Palin’s “blood libel” YouTube comment on the day of President Obama’s “Civility” speech in Tucson, Ariz., conservative columnist David Brooks of The New York Times made the following observation on Robert Siegel’s NPR program. Brooks said:

“She (Palin) does not have a political strategy; she has a media strategy. And the way conservatives develop their media strategy is to offend liberals. And what she does is she continually picks phrases and things that will offend a lot of people in the country. And this is the way she rallies conservatives to her side. And it works as a media strategy. As a political strategy, I think even a lot of conservatives say we may sort of like her, but she’s not ready to be president and I’m afraid she showed that again this week.”

The root of the “offend liberal” strategy lies in talk radio and talking-head television, but has been exacerbated by the YouTube/Facebook/Twitter media. Many politicians use it, but Palin is the master of it on social networking mediums. It’s the medium that makes a media strategy possible and it’s the medium that encourages short sound bites, which have little impact if they aren’t catchy, clever or offensive.

The old political strategy involves reasoned opinion writing, white papers, probing speeches and books on policy. The new media strategy is short, quick and polemic. The new media strategy does not lend itself to political discourse furthering understanding of complex issues.

As Brooks points out, in this case the goal is to keep liberals inflamed and a segment of conservatives entertained. I say a segment because the target audience is not necessarily fiscal conservatives whose concern is to spend public money prudently and cautiously. The target audience is a segment of social conservatives who respond to inflammatory rhetoric by voting.

Conservative commentators, such as Rush Limbaugh, Palin and her counterparts at Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, like Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly, and many other local talk-radio hosts around the country, are the players in a media strategy that may or may not be coordinated, but generally plays the same tune during each news cycle.

All are part of a Republican strategy that was perfected, if not invented, by Karl Rove. Rove’s most famous achievement was creating a gay marriage issue out of thin air during the 2000 election. Gays kissing on the evening news brought social conservatives to the poles in droves, swinging the closest presidential election in history to George W. Bush. Today the message is more likely coordinated by a loose association of Republican strategists who follow Rove’s principles. One of them inserted the term “blood libel” into Palin’s YouTube absolution speech, knowing it would upset liberals and pleasure certain conservatives, further endearing them to her.

What media strategies like Palin’s do is push pluralistic democracy further into dysfunction. James Madison described some of the problems of political factions for a democracy in Federalist Paper No. 10. In a 1990 book, “Community and the Politics of Place,” Daniel Kemmis outlined some of the principles of democracy he advocated while mayor of Missoula, Mont. One of the first principles was to recognize the right of the opposite side to exist. Talk radio and related forms of media politics thrive on just the opposite, often marginalizing, demonizing and ridiculing the opposition and their points of view. To be sure, there are liberal media stars who employ the same strategy, but their voices are not nearly as practiced, nor so shrill as those of the right wing.

The events of Tucson have served to highlight the dangers of inflammatory rhetoric in public discourse and prompted Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) to try to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine, which existed from 1949-87. It required radio and television using publically owned communication frequencies to provide equal time for diverse opinion and commentary. It would likely mean the end of talk radio and talking-head TV stations that cater to a single political point of view. The Internet wouldn’t be affected.

As reported on Politico.com, Fox News recognizes the problem of overheated political rhetoric that sometimes implies violence through its imagery. Fox News Chief Roger Ailes told Russell Simmons,“ I told all of our guys, shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually.”

Whether Palin can make her arguments intellectually and still retain her loyal following remains to be seen.

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College. This column was previously published in the Anchorage Daily News on Jan. 21.

Jan. 12, 2011,  Guest Editorial: Sustainability is 1-step-at-a-time process

Alaska is full of innovative people. Here on the Kenai Peninsula, many strive for an off-the-grid lifestyle and lead the way on “green” ideas. Just as we have neighbors who value independence, we also know people who are gifted with interdependence skills. Many folks are good at connecting, networking and compromising. I value these “social sustenance skills” as much as I value the green technical skills of the “fix-it” types.

I grew up in Alaska around these people and missed my culture when I left the state as a young adult. I could not find the same level of ingenuity in the Lower 48. I was glad to return in 2002 where I could live among people with ideas and dreams big enough to match this vastly cool state. It was good to be home.

The concepts of sustainability and returning home go hand in hand. In both, you return to the comfort of a simpler life and something that feels, tastes and smells deliciously familiar. The sustainability movement is a quiet and steadily growing movement of people who are making the transition from “consumer” to “citizen.”

Sustainability groups are forming all over the world. There is a Sustainable Pittsburgh, a Sustainable Kodiak, a Sustainable Chiapas (Mexico), and a Kenai Resilience (our group). The majority of these sustainability crews are grassroots, organized by local citizens, but some of their ideas have been incorporated into their governments’ plans. Kenai Resilience is a homegrown group, 2 years old, organized and funded by local volunteers. Our mission is “gathering and celebrating local skills, knowledge and resources toward cultivating a more sustainable community.”

Sustainability means meeting the needs of the current generation without compromising the needs of future generations. It is a broad term encompassing a lot. To be sustainable, we must examine how our cities are arranged, how we transport ourselves and goods around, and how friendly we are as neighbors. We must view how closely our food is grown to home, how civically engaged we are, how open we are to the idea of conserving energy, and how encouraging we are to the growth of renewable energy industries and green jobs. Most importantly, we must assess how frugal we are as we create solutions to future challenges. It means we have a lot of work to do to get our collective house in order so our children profit from a generous inheritance.

The term “resilience” in Kenai Resilience comes from nature. A resilient system doesn’t fall to pieces if it experiences a shock from the outside. It is strong because it has many diverse connections built up within itself, a natural immunity. Let’s use the example of a nuclear family. This family system is stronger when its members have connections to the local community. If one parent falls ill, the other parent can get outside support from a well-connected team of friends and neighbors. In a resilient forest, decayed leaves bring nitrogen to the soil, which fertilizes new growth; new blooms are pollinated by bees, which provide food for the forest animals; and so on. If one tree is removed, the forest remains intact because of the resiliency nature provides. Diverse interconnections are the key. Why all the emphasis on sustainability and resilience?

I was concerned about oil price volatility and how it could affect food prices and national security. Some had concerns about the climate. Others worried about toxins in household products or our dependence on foreign oil. Pretty heavy stuff. A funny thing happened on our journey toward sustainability — we didn’t dwell on the negatives. We got to know each other and we started to work independently and interdependently on finding solutions to global and local challenges. We took small steps forward with limited fiscal resources, but with a great combination of minds, hands and hearts. We found out that we have a lot in common with each other and we rediscovered our sense of community, our home.

Community input is important. It led us to develop a free newsletter (newsletter-subscribe@kenairesilience.org), a Facebook page (www.facebook.com/KenaiResilience), and a website with a calendar of sustainability events (www.kenairesilience.org). We found the web presence to be an effective way to provide a quick glimpse of the latest green news.

We’ve invited volunteer speakers to discuss sustainability and resiliency issues. We are always searching for speakers, particularly problem solvers (logically, when you enlist the help of problem solvers, problems get solved). Currently, we are working on a website to link up local consumers to local food producers. We’re also spreading the word about the Alaska Solar Tour in May (to view solar tour videos, go to http://www.acat.org). We do our best to bring community ideas to fruition.
I’d like to say that we have renewable energy systems, eat local food and are civically engaged in green issues, but this is hardly the case. I live in suburbia and have a long way to go to reduce my carbon footprint. However, we are striving to get to the ultimate green homeland, one step at a time. And, it’s more fun to go green together than it is to green up alone. Kenai Resilience is our declaration of independence and interdependence that we intend to head into a more local- and self-reliant future.

We humbly realize that we are not the first people with a green thought. Many on the peninsula have much superior sustainability skills to ours, so we like to find those folks and learn from them. Partnering with our brilliant neighbors gives us practical experience, is affordable and encourages cross-pollination of ideas. After all, ideas are free, and a community and home work better on a consistent flow of good ideas.

Kate Veh is a founder of Kenai Resilience. Contact her at kenairesilience@yahoo.com.

Jan. 5, 2011,  Guest Editorial: Keep conscience clear —don’t support Pebble

December’s National Geographic — the premier magazine of its kind in the world — focuses the global spotlight on Bristol Bay and the proposed Pebble mine project.

For years, Alaskans — myself included — have objected to federal intervention in our state. Politicians who live in the Lower 48, many in areas that are polluted beyond repair, do little to protect their own environment because of short-term economic consequences. The lockup of even a small directional drilling pad in ANWR while allowing Gulf drilling in waters a mile deep seems ridiculous to us. Alaska has been, and probably will always be, a place of national conscience — often of guilty conscience for all the mistakes of the Lower 48 dealing with land, waters, resources and Native Americans.

While I have worked with or for mining interests as a participant, air taxi operator and in public service all of my adult life, learning about the Pebble prospect has stretched my comfort zone. I cannot support this mine in this place.

No, I did not fall and hit my head. I still enjoy my heavy equipment. I still enjoy building roads, airstrips and trails. I am still a Republican. However, like the late Sen. Ted Stevens, I believe the Pebble mine prospect is unlike anything Alaska has ever seen or can even imagine.

Bristol Bay, as the National Geographic article “Alaska’s Choice: Salmon or Gold” so accurately portrays, is unique in the world and is the last great stronghold for a complete red salmon ecosystem. Flying the photographer and writer to these amazing locations was a privilege. The country speaks so well for itself, words hardly do it justice.

The type of ore body at Pebble is extremely dangerous. If the prospect were named for what it’s primarily made of, we’d be calling it a sulfur mine with a little copper, gold and molybdenum. Once that ore is ground to powder, it becomes our responsibility to guard the tailings from the combination of air and water that generates sulfuric acid. It becomes Alaska’s liability for endless generations.

That is why I join the overwhelming majority of those from Southwest Alaska in opposing development of the Pebble deposit. Mining has an important place in this state but the margin for error in Bristol Bay is much narrower than in other areas. The size, type and location of the deposit are what make Pebble so problematic.

The largest open pit mine in the United States is Bingham Canyon Mine in Utah, located in a dry climate close to Salt Lake City. It has polluted 72 square miles of the aquifers beneath it and is only a third of the size of the ore body that Pebble Limited Partnership has told shareholders is mineable, which is 30 times the size of the largest mine in Alaska.

The cost of the hundred-mile access route around the east end of Lake Iliamna to a new deepwater port on Cook Inlet would be very high. Infrastructure development will require roads, pipelines, power generation and concentrate transportation. Any mine development plan would have to be massive in scale to be profitable. There is no feasible small development alternative.

The discussion moving into the national spotlight will be bigger than the ANWR debate. The values are high and until there is finality there will be collateral damage. From fish buyers to mine investors, Pebble is a concern. The sad thing for many of us who see both sides of this argument is not only that the Pebble development would probably cause irreversible loss to the last, best wild salmon fishery on Earth, but that the reaction of the national conscience if that were to occur would likely destroy reasonable mining in Alaska for a century. Whether we appreciate or resent being a place of national conscience doesn’t change that it is a matter of fact.

Rick Halford, former state Senate president and 24-year member of the Alaska Legislature, now lives with his family in Chugiak and Aleknagik. Halford has been a registered guide since the early 1970s, is a commercial pilot with close to 10,000 hours in the air over Alaska and is a consultant to Nunamta Aulukestai and Trout Unlimited Alaska.


Dec. 22, 2010,  Editorial: Thought that counts? Think again

It’s the thought that counts.

This is usually said to excuse stunning feats of social lameness. As in you host a massive dinner party that no one attends, or you’re given a 3-foot ceramic garden gnome with rotating sprinkler head even though you live in a damp climate and don’t have a yard. But, hey, we meant to come by, and at least the gift-giver thought to get you something at all, right?

While I acknowledge the premise of the argument, I beg to differ with the conclusion. Kind of like I recognize that “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” has aired on TV, but I don’t care to watch it.

Though the phrase is just as traditional as those tins of three-flavored popcorn this time of year, it’s just as stale. It’s far is too situational to be a universal truth. I mean, how much time did you spend throwing away wrappers and re-plating to make it look like you cooked all those appetizers? And is it really better to be remembered if it means you now have to figure out what to do with turkey-sized chunk of plaster with a poltergeist-spinning head?

“It’s the thought that counts” sounds nice, and it can be comforting to excuse yourself from your own acts of impending lameness, like when you don’t feel like getting off the couch to make good on your RSVP, or you find yourself in the gardening supplies aisle the night before Christmas.

But wouldn’t it be awful if that saying were true?

That would result in a world where actions and spoken words are dismissed as being of secondary importance to people’s intentions and the running monologue of their minds. Where results don’t matter, IOUs are as good as payment, an appointment counts as service and lazy repairmen can be excused by merely planning to get around to fixing that leak, while the basement becomes an indoor swimming pool. In that case, it’s hopefully also a world where meaning to Scotchgard the new sofa somehow makes it water resistant.

It sounds like the premise of a “Twilight Zone” episode, or the plot of the next uber-popular Seth Rogan movie consisting of 70 percent marijuana jokes and 30 percent likable-loser-lands-the-hot-chick-and-teaches-us-all-a-valuable-lesson-about-life humor. Wait, or is a world in which Seth Rogan is considered to have serious acting chops capable of conveying relevant insight into the human condition a premise for a “Twilight Zone” episode? I forget which.

At any rate, I don’t want to be part of that world. I prefer this one, where a properly functioning filter between one’s mouth and one’s brain plays an important role in preventing one’s foot, or another’s fist, from ending up in it. And where I can simply choose to believe my friends when they say, “Don’t worry, I’m sure nobody noticed,” or “It doesn’t look that bad,” and blissfully ignore the thoughts that are really behind their thinly veiled sincerity.

I much prefer a system in which action speaks louder than words. As a professional user of verbiage, I suppose I should place more value on it, but there’s just more to be said for actually showing up, putting time in, getting hands dirty and accomplishing something.

I don’t talk about this — cheaply or not — to chastise anyone. Let he who has never had a window chip throw the first stone. All too often I find myself in the sayer camp, watching in awe as the doers accomplish what I intend to get done. I want to help, I plan to show up, I intend to spend time, I mean to pitch in, but for some reason or another, lip is the most service I can manage.

It’s a little early for resolutions yet. By all rights I should still have a couple days to enjoy that blessed, end-of-December mix of overconsumption and inactivity from which all good resolutions come. But I’m going to jump that particular gun and resolve to work on my follow-through in the new year. Either stop making commitments I’m not prepared to keep or keep the saying more in line with the doing.

In that vein, I’m going to start off with a half measure to get myself warmed up, and tell the people in my life what I would like to do for them, if and when my actions ever catch up with my intentions. Here goes:

To all the reporters, photographers, columnists, editors and other contributors to the editorial content of the Redoubt Reporter: I’m sure we all wish you were being paid what you truly deserve for all the time, talent, creativity and dedication you put into your efforts. Someday, perhaps, I’ll finally get a lucky pick in the Nenana Ice Classic. Short of that, I wish to demonstrate how grateful I am for your contributions, and how much I think the paper benefits from them. A choir is enriched by many voices, and a good view of a community, its history and current happenings comes from melding different vantage points. You all enrich the landscape of the paper with your unique perspectives.

To the ad salesmen, graphic designer, deliverers and other contributors to the business side of the paper: Again, I’m holding out hope for improving my ice-whispering skills. In the meantime, I hope to convey my appreciation. You’re the wheels that keep this bus rolling, and you make it a fun ride.

To our readers, advertisers and anyone in the community who has picked up a paper, even if it eventually ended up lining a bird cage or insulating frozen salmon: I wish to repay your interest in the paper with content you find to be interesting, engaging, relevant and worthy of your attention. The people who produce this paper enjoy what they do — maybe not always on deadline, or some weeks more than others — but they maintain a high standard of quality and work hard to produce results on which they are proud to put their names. And I’m proud to have my name appear on the same sheets of paper as theirs.

To my friends, who often get the short end of my attention-span stick: I want to make more time to enjoy your company. Accounting, bookkeeping, archiving and all the other business “ings” in which I get caught up can wait, on occasion. No friend of mine should have to go to “Harry Potter” alone, take a cab from the airport or wonder whether I have finally been eaten by a roving band of marmots because they haven’t heard from me in so long.

To my family, who are very kind in limiting inquires as to how I will eat/sleep/afford cat food/avoid breaking a limb with each new life ambition I announce: I hope to better follow your advice. Just because you’re my parents doesn’t mean you’re automatically wrong. (Kidding! And yes, I realize I just effectively asked for a gnome for my next birthday.) To my tech-savvy mom: I really do intend to run all the diagnostics and install all the software updates and de-bug all the doohickies you’ve told me to — preferably before I call you in the middle of the night to talk me through my next system crash. And to my chef-tastic musician dad: I’ll make some cottage cheese and green onions once in a while. And I really will pick up an instrument again someday soon, so the next time you ask me if I play anything anymore, I can answer with a tune, instead of jingle of excuses.

To anyone else who may read this: You might also want to consider doing more than only thinking about things.

I realize this is along the lines of, “It’s the thought that counts,” but I’m just doing the thinking here, it’s up to them whether it accounts for anything.

Maybe it’s a little like Santa Claus. You may not believe in the fantasy, but it doesn’t hurt to leave some cookies out anyway. Best-case scenario, you get a little something special in return. Worst-case scenario, you get cookies for breakfast, which beats oscillating garden garbage any day.

Jenny Neyman is the editor/publisher of the Redoubt Reporter.

Dec. 22, 2010,  Guest Editorial: Raku spruce: The art of the imperfect Christmas tree

It was Christmas and I had a few days off. I figured I’d head up to Kenai and celebrate. But while I was driving north a funny thing happened. The snow was gently falling, the radio was playing sentimental carols, and I started feeling all warm and Christmassy. I even started singing along with Wayne Newton and “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.” I thought maybe I’d get a couple of presents, send a card or two, and even get a little tree to set up at my place.

I’ve never had a tree before, never saw the need. Seized by the spirit of Christmas, I whipped my car around and headed back to my Clam Gulch cabin. With the snow falling harder I turned into my driveway, pulled on my boots, grabbed a hatchet, and headed out back to cut a tree.

It being my first Christmas tree I wasn’t very particular but I did want something with more than three branches. I looked at tree after tree as I waded through the deep snow studying symmetry and form. Finally, a hundred trees and an hour later I gave up. Not a decent Christmas tree in the lot: bunch of scraggly, malformed mutants. Humbug, who needs a stupid tree anyway?

I spent the evening at my favorite watering hole, drinking Diet Slice straight up and brooding over the disgusting excuses they have for trees at this place. Late in the evening I heard a familiar voice.

“Hi Joe, what are you doing all by yourself in a dark corner.”

It was Judy, looking as beautiful as ever.

“Hi Judy, I … well, it’s a long story.”

She sat down and I told her all about my sudden yen for a Christmas tree and my frustrating experience trying to find one. “Joe,” she said after I finished, “If you want a perfect tree you’ve got to buy one of those imported manicured tree-farm trees.”

“Judy,” I said, “on my salary I can’t afford a pile of needles from one of those trees. I just want a neat little tree to set up in my cabin for a few days.”

“If you don’t expect perfection I can help you,” Judy said. “Meet me tomorrow morning at the ‘Y.’ Dress warm and we’ll find you a tree.”

We met the next morning and climbed into her pickup.

“When you’re looking for a Christmas tree,” Judy explained as we drove out of town, “you’ve got to find the right area. Thick woods are no good because the spruce grow vertically each trying get the most light. What you need to find is an area that has been cleared and new growth has started. In a clearing the trees can get enough light to spread their branches. Old burn areas are good, so are old homestead fields.”

She stopped by a clearing and said, ”A friend owns this old field and said it would be okay to cut a tree here.”

I surveyed the landscape, bushy little green trees had sprouted everywhere. We trudged in a few hundred yards and saw half a dozen evergreens that would make tolerably good Christmas trees.

“What do you think,” Judy said as we surveyed the scene.

“Nice little firs,” I said innocently.

“Not firs,” Judy admonished, “these are spruce.”

“Fir, spruce, what’s the difference,” I said casually.

“Well, since you asked,” Judy began, “firs are a type of pine with long flat needles. Spruce have four-sided needles. These trees are actually white spruce.”

“They look pretty green to me,” I said cheerily.

Judy frowned. Undaunted she went on, ”There are four kinds of spruce that grow on the Kenai Peninsula. White spruce and Black spruce grow mostly north of Ninilchik. Some have hybridized and are called Lutz spruce. South of Ninilchik it’s mostly Sitka spruce.”

“So what’s the difference?” I asked.

“If you cut a Sitka spruce needle in two and look at it crossways it will look like a flattened diamond shape. The needles of White spruce and Black spruce are almost the same. Both are almost square and will ‘roll’ between your fingers.”

She pulled a needle from a branch, broke it in two and showed me. Sure enough it looked almost square.

“The difference between White and Black spruce,” she went on, “is the twigs. White spruce twigs have little peglike bumps, remnants of where the needles grew. Between the bumps it’s smooth, like this one.”

She showed me the end of a nearby branch.

“Black spruce are different. They have peglike bumps on the twigs, but they also have short, stubby hairs. You have to look closely to see them.”

“That’s cool and I’m cold. Let’s cut one and get out of here,” I said rubbing my hands together.

We cut down a small white spruce, hauled it to the car, tied it on top, and headed to my place.

“Looks like it’s been awhile since you picked up,” Judy said as we brought the tree into my one-room cabin and I moved a pile of books so we could set up the tree. We strung some lights and hung some cheap ornaments. In the dark of late afternoon I plugged in the tree, and suddenly the ghost of Christmas present entered my dingy little cabin.

“You know, Judy,” I said as we shared some spiked eggnog and sat in the darkened cabin lit only by the glow of the colored lights, “this tree would be close to perfect except for those two gaps in the middle.”

“Raku Christmas tree,” Judy said distantly.

“Come again.”

“Oh, I was just thinking about how the spruce trees around here are like raku pottery. The Japanese make this thick, earthy pottery called raku pottery. No two pieces are exactly alike and no one piece is perfect. Potters like it that way because it reminds them of nature. Raku pottery is the art of the imperfect form.”

There was a long silence while each of us were immersed in thought.

“So I guess it isn’t a catastrophe that the spruce trees around here aren’t perfect,” I said finally.

“No,” she smiled, “not a catastrophe.”

I filled our glasses and proposed a toast.

“Here’s to the noble white spruce and its Black and Sitka cousins,” I said.

“And here’s to Mother Nature,” Judy said, “the master of the art of the imperfect form.”

“Merry Christmas, Judy.”

“Merry Christmas, Joe.”

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College.

Dec. 15, 2010,  Editorial: Enough already

Joe Miller is continuing his efforts to challenge how the state counted write-in ballots for Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the Alaska General Election in November. On Monday, Miller filed an appeal to the state Supreme Court, after a lower court ruled against his case. On Tuesday, his spokesman said Miller is considering filing a federal lawsuit, as well.

To what end? He’s had his day in court —several days, in fact — and the courts have consistently upheld the state’s position in ruling against Miller.

What good could come out of continued legal action? He’s not going to be declared the winner of the election. Even if all the write-in ballots challenged by the Miller team were thrown out, Murkowski would still have enough votes to reclaim the Senate seat she was in jeopardy of losing after Miller got the Republican nomination in the August primary.

To be charitable, we can hope Miller’s sole motivation is to ensure the Alaska voting system is operating fairly and according to the law. But that seems less and less likely with every continued court action, since each successive ruling has upheld the legitimacy of how the write-in ballots were counted.

At this point, Miller seems to be attempting to extend his 15 minutes of fame more than safeguard the rights of the electorate. Or perhaps he wants to inflict whatever damage he can to Murkowski, since delaying certification of the election risks her losing out on important Senate assignments.

Whatever his motivation, the result is the same — Miller is bad for Alaska. The longer his court battles drag on, the more state resources are sucked up defending against his lawsuits. His arguments are specious to begin with —that voters shouldn’t have their ballots counted for minor deficiencies in spelling and penmanship. And they’ve been consistently and resoundingly rebuffed by the courts.

Regardless or whether someone preferred Miller, Murkowski, Scott McAdams or another candidate, the majority of voters have spoken, and the courts have upheld the legitimacy of their voices.

It’s time Miller listened up, as well.

Dec. 15, 2010,  Guest Editorial: A healthier future for kids

There are few things that should be more important to Alaskans than the health of our children. Yet, we face serious twin problems of childhood obesity and hunger. In the Anchorage School District, an astounding 36 percent of our students are overweight or obese. And the obesity numbers are even higher for minority students.

Four out of every 10 Anchorage students go without the food they need. This means that many kids are not learning as well as they should in school because they can’t concentrate. In the long term, it threatens the safety and prosperity of our nation, as fewer 18-year-olds are fit for military service, fewer folks have the skills they need to compete in a global economy, and obese adults strain our health care system.

Obesity costs Alaskans an estimated $195 million annually in direct medical expenses.

School cafeterias must be on the front lines of our effort to confront both of these challenges and build a healthier future for America’s children. Nationally, 31 million kids participate in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch Program every day, and an additional 12 million eat school breakfasts. For some kids, school meals may be the only calories they consume all day.

This is a great week for kids, parents and farmers in Alaska. There will soon be healthier and more nutritious food in our schools. On Monday, President Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. This bipartisan bill will help us make the first major changes in 30 years to serve healthier meals to America’s youngsters.

USDA will update the nutritional standards for school meals so that they include more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy — and less sodium, sugar and fat. And we will provide additional funding to schools when they meet these standards.

The bill recognizes the value of linking farms directly to schools as a way to get the freshest, tastiest vegetables and fruits into the cafeteria. To ensure that these efforts are not undermined by foods from vending machines, a la carte lunch lines and school stores, USDA will help make the healthy choice an easy choice for our kids by setting nutritional standards for all food sold in schools.

The bill also strengthens our safety net against hunger. It will increase the number of eligible children enrolled in the school meals programs by using Medicaid data to determine their eligibility. And in select high-poverty communities, we will eliminate paper applications altogether — freeing up school district resources and parent time, while ensuring that kids who face some of the highest barriers to success in life never go to school hungry.

Finally, we know that hunger doesn’t end when the school bell rings, and this legislation will provide more meals for at-risk children nationwide by reimbursing providers of after-school meals in all 50 states.

And the benefits of this bill go beyond the cafeteria. The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act gives parents the tools they need to play a larger role in helping their kids make the right nutritional choices — requiring schools to share information about the nutritional quality of the food their kids are eating with families.

The legislation also recognizes the importance of beginning life with good nutrition. It will make it easier for qualifying women to enroll in WIC, which puts million of America’s kids on the road to a healthy life by providing nutrition assistance to pregnant women and encouraging breast-feeding.

Many schools have already begun to make these positive changes, and the USDA is ready to implement the provisions under the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act once it is signed into law. But our efforts cannot stop here. At USDA, we are working every day with parents, teachers, schools, local governments and nonprofit partners to encourage kids to lead healthy, active lifestyles. We are working to improve access to healthy food in rural and urban communities that may lack a convenient supermarket. We are teaching kids about healthy foods through schools and community gardens.

Our nation will not succeed if our children are not learning because they are hungry, or are not achieving because they are unhealthy. We are confronting these challenges and are committed to raising a generation of healthy Americans ready to learn, innovate, prosper and lead our nation.

Thanks to the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, we will improve school meals, combat hunger and support families, but we must all work together to continue down this path for a better future for our nation.

Danny Consenstein, is executive director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Alaska Farm Service Agency.

Dec. 1, 2010,  Guest Editorial: Conibear traps not worth their weight for trapping

All set for a daylong ski trip in the backcountry: Skis, check; lunch, check; dog and dog biscuits, check; Conibear trap opener… . How’s that?

It’s trapping season, and some form of Conibear trap opener is now necessary if you ski or snowshoe with your dog in the backcountry of much of Southcentral Alaska.

In the past, dogs have usually been trapped by leg-hold traps like the kind Rep. Don Young famously sprung onto his hand during a 1975 Congressional hearing to make the point they are not inhumane. During his testimony, Young stated that he ran a line of 500 traps (it must have been when he was a Fort Yukon school teacher, since I don’t think they allow trapping on the National Mall). He stated a lynx he trapped lived for six weeks because other lynx were feeding it (curiously making the point that lynx are more humane than some humans). During testimony the committee chairman pointed out Young’s fingers were turning blue, whereupon he removed the trap.

I’ve had to release two dogs from traps, one my own and one that had been missing, I later learned, for three days when I came upon it. Leg-hold traps hold the animal until the trapper returns and clubs it to death. Trappers are supposed to check their traps at least every five days so the animal doesn’t starve. Both dogs I released were bruised but OK. You can normally release a dog unharmed from a leg-hold trap. A neighbor in Kasilof said he doesn’t know of anyone who regularly walks or snowshoes with their dog who hasn’t had one trapped.

Conibear traps are a different matter. When the wolf, coyote or lynx sticks its head into the set trap to reach the bait it snaps shut with such power the spinal cord is severed or the trachea is squeezed shut and the animal suffocates. Trappers and wildlife managers argue this is more humane than leg-hold traps because the animal dies quickly and there is less chance of prolonged suffering.

What works on a wolf or coyote works on your dog. One moment you’re enjoying a time-honored Alaska tradition of snowshoeing along a backcountry trail, and the next your dog is in the brush shrieking in pain. Depending on how he’s caught, how big the trap is and how big he is, he’ll die within minutes. You may be able to free him with a Conibear trap setter or a correctly knotted rope. In an indoor practice session it took a strong man five minutes, and that was with no dying dog in it. Web sources say the traps are designed to kill in less than five minutes.

Kenai Peninsula Wildlife Refuge personnel argue trappers are carrying on a long Alaska tradition. True, but with one big difference. Unlike lonesome trappers of yore who eked out a living until fishing season, today’s trappers are mostly mechanized weekend recreational trappers. When one adds up the gear, the gas and the time, they’re not likely to break even. Most trap for fun, not for a living.

Out in the Bush trapping is different. Men (mostly) trap and women (mostly) make functional and beautiful fur garments that carry on traditions and defray the cost of expensive outdoor clothing. But on the road system trapping is not a necessary activity and is mostly of the, “Gee, I’m an Alaskan” variety of outdoor activity.

Neither is trapping in the Southcentral road system necessary for wildlife management. Predator populations largely manage themselves. A few years ago there weren’t many hares and there weren’t many lynx. This year there are a lot of hares and a lot of lynx (or should be, the well over 100 lynx trapped on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge last winter put a big dent in that population).

You could argue that wolf trapping on the road system means more moose for hunters. Maybe to some degree, but the fact is the human population of Southcentral Alaska is far too large for everyone who wants a moose to get one. You can kill all the wolves in the Railbelt and there still won’t be enough moose. It’s not 1960 anymore.

But it’s dogs I’m worried about. There is no compelling reason to allow use of Conibear traps on the road system of Southcentral Alaska. No one should have to bring their dead dog back on their shoulders because of a Conibear trap.

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College. This column was originally published in the Anchorage Daily News on Nov. 29.

Dec. 1, 2010,  Guest Editorial: Spark an interest in HEA rate-change proposal

How much will my electric bill go up? That’s what most people are wondering as the Regulatory Commission of Alaska considers approval of Homer Electric Association’s new rate plan. Using numbers from the RCA notice in the newspapers, some HEA members calculated potential rate increases of 17 to 20 percent.

But hold on.

According to HEA, the proposed cost of power adjustment was incorrectly stated as 6.316 cents, when it should have been 2.862 cents. HEA says the new plan will only increase the residential cost for a 500 kWh month by 2.38 percent. For comparison, I ran cost estimates of other consumption scenarios using the corrected numbers: 150 kWh (10.1 percent), 394 kWh (3.5 percent), 1199 kWh (2.49 percent), and 2,000 kWh (4.1 percent).

Look better?

But this is only one issue worth considering. According to HEA directors, the proposed rate plan reflects an effort at compromise between sometimes-conflicting needs. Consequently, it will not affect all of us equally. It will determine important management policy for years, as well, not just the size of our electric bills.

I’m hearing from HEA members with these and other concerns:

  • “Doesn’t the plan penalize people trying to conserve energy? People using the fewest kWh will see the highest increase in their electric bills.”
  • “The new plan doesn’t encourage energy efficiency and conservation enough. More could be done to eliminate incentives for HEA to sell more and more energy (decoupling), or provide incentives for ratepayers to reduce energy use (demand side management).”
  • “Presently the wholesale power cost rate adjustment is less than one cent (.00715) per kWh. At 2.862 cents per kWh, the cost of power adjustment would be much higher. What extra things does it include?”
  • “Most of this stuff is so complicated it boggles the mind. I am pretty certain that most HEA members do not understand.”
  • “Maybe this is the best HEA can do. I hope so.”
  • “Isn’t the cost of providing service substantially higher south of Kachemak Bay? Under the proposed uniform residential rates, HEA members on the south side will be heavily subsidized by those on the north side.”
  • “Would it be possible to get someone to put together a model of conservation vs. new generation — that is, is there a way to model and present the trade-offs?”
  • Need for new turbines in Soldotna seems questionable — especially with Susitna hydro getting support from the Parnell administration. Seems like the new rate plan may force HEA members to pay for a couple of white elephants?”

You might want to take another look at HEA’s proposed rate plan to see what you think. We have until 4:30 p.m. Dec. 9 to express our views by mail or via the Internet. Find information on the rate plan and how to comment at the RCA website at  http://rca.alaska.gov/RCAWeb/Dockets/DocketDetails.aspx?id=009297b3-b350-4a33-904c-4a1832c24d2a.

Michael O’Meara represents the HEA Members Forum. For more information, visit http://heamembersforum.blogspot.com or http://www.homerelectric.com.

Nov. 24, 2010,  editorial: Think of thanks

This week of turkey and trimmings prompts people to consider what they’re thankful for. Hopefully they do more than just think about it and put their gratitude into words or actions.

It doesn’t have to be a rehearsed speech or attention-grabbing action. A subtle gesture of thanks can speak more strongly than a loud display. It also doesn’t have to be expressed in a Hallmark-perfect scene. Spur of the moment often makes for the best, most genuine moments.

For list-makers who find sentimental spontaneity as challenging as shopping for the big dinner without recipe cards in hand, give yourselves a challenge this Thanksgiving. Make yourself recognize what and whom you are thankful for, and don’t just limit yourself to the obvious — health, home, family and friends. Try it on a community level:

Think of 10 “doers” in the community who you are grateful for. You know the ones —they come early to set up, stay late cleaning, donate to bake sales and auctions, sell raffle tickets and find time to help the cause, or many causes, in myriad other ways. They’re usually in the background, not wanting or expecting recognition. Give it to them anyway.

Think of 10 things you appreciate about your community. Good fishing? A favorite business? Quality schools? Let the people involved in those institutions or activities know. Better yet, get involved yourself to show your support.

And here’s the challenge: Think of 10 things you don’t like about your community, and still find something to be grateful for. Don’t like a political leader? Be grateful there’s an election system to challenge them. Not a big fan of cold? It makes you appreciate summer all the more.

It’s easy to get bogged down in hard times, setbacks and challenging situations. This Thursday, even if it’s only for one day, try to look at the negatives in a new light. Sometimes even problems can be a boon, if they serve as a magnifying glass on the blessings we do have.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Nov. 17, 2010,  editorial: What’s the use? Check facts before torpedoing possible Kasilof solution

As much as it kills some residents to see an expansion of governmental management and, with it, regulation of public lands, the alternative for the mouth of the Kasilof River is the area continuing to be loved to death.

The Department of Natural Resources Division of Mining, Land and Water is proposing to turn the mouth of the Kasilof into a special-use area, which would allow the establishment of public-use facilities,  such as restrooms, trails and parking areas; implementation of new rules to mitigate the damage being done by the increasing amount of visitors during summer personal-use fishing season; and enforcement of those rules.

As with any major change to the status quo, there are some positives and negatives to this plan. On the bright side, it would help protect sensitive beach and wetlands habitat, as well as private property in the area, from continued destruction. It would also make visiting the area a more “civil” experience — with adequate restroom, parking and garbage facilities.

On the negative, all that comes at a price; namely, user fees. A fee schedule hasn’t yet been determined, but will likely include a parking fee, and possibly fees to use a boat ramp or campground which may be incorporated into the area. Other folks bristle at the idea of enforcing civility. Wilderness should be left wild, as the sentiment goes, and public lands should remain free to access as the public wishes.

The problem is that the public has not proven to be a good steward of this particular chunk of land. Each summer that passes sees further destruction to an area used by salmon runs, migratory birds and other creatures beyond just humans. People have proven they can’t be trusted to use this area when left to their own devices. Someone needs to step in, and agencies that currently have jurisdiction in the area — Fish and Game, Alaska State Troopers and DNR, for instance — don’t have the resources or regulations necessary to adequately protect the area.

That’s where a special-use area would come in. It would allow new regulations to be put in place — such as, no lighting fires on beach grass — and a way to generate money to maintain services and improvements.

The idea has generated support from groups like the Kenai Watershed Forum and Kasilof Regional Historical Association, which want to see the area better protected. It’s also generated ire from folks who don’t want to “pay to play.” That complaint is largely due to misinformation. The beach, fishing areas, river and any and all other public lands at the mouth of the Kasilof will not suddenly become off-limits. Area residents will not have to pay to go for a beach walk or take their dip net to the river. Motorized access to the shore will not be cut off, it just won’t be allowed on the grass.

If anything, the plan proposes to increase access. An already worn trail through the grass is being more permanently established, and a parking area with restrooms is being considered at the river end of the trail.

Whatever your take on the special-use area idea, at least take the time to learn about the problems facing the area and the facts about DNR’s proposal. One thing everyone should be able to agree on is that something has to be done to better manage this area. Is a special-use area the solution? Decide for yourself.

For more information

Find more maps and a description of the special-use proposal online at:

http://dnr.alaska.gov/mlw/kasilof/

How to comment:

The comment deadline has been extended to 5 p.m. Dec. 10. To submit comments, choose one of the following methods:

Online: http://dnr.alaska.gov/mlw/kasilof/comments/

Mail: Department of Natural Resources

Southcentral Region Land Office

ATTN: Adam Smith or Raymond Keough

550 West 7th Ave. Suite 900C

Anchorage, AK 99501-3577

E-mail: adam.smith@alaska.gov or raymond.keough@alaska.gov

Fax: 907-269-8913

Nov. 10, 2010,  Guest editorial: Practice makes emergency preparedness

A 7.0 earthquake and 50-foot tsunami wave hit the Kenai area on Saturday, Oct. 16, at 8:02 a.m.

Photos courtesy of CERT. Volunteers get orders from Army National Guard personnel in an emergency response training held Oct. 16 in Kenai.

You didn’t feel the earthquake or hear about the tsunami? Maybe you noticed the Army National Guard Humvees around town that day. Or you might have seen a number of people who were bandaged and “bloody.”

OK, so perhaps you didn’t know that it took place, but for nearly 100 organizers, rescuers and “victims,” the disaster was a real-enough event.

The disaster scenario was part of a multiagency training exercise between the Kenai Fire Department, Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management, Army National Guard, Central Peninsula Hospital and the Community Emergency Response Team.

Why stage the exercise? Kenai Fire Department Chief Mike Tilly said that, “We must always be ready for emergencies. This was a great opportunity to train with other agencies and individuals so that when a real disaster strikes our area, our coordinated response will be that much better.”

The emergency drill and impact zone played out in the South Forest area of Kenai, with community residents participating as victims. The organizers rolled out the Humvees, the mobile command trailer, lots of radios, medical equipment — basically everything one would expect to see during a real crisis.

Teams located and secured damaged utilities, and collected information about area damage so a coordinated response could be developed. Duties were assigned and rescue plans were set in motion.

There were victims who pretended to be lost, some trapped in demolished buildings or warehouses, and others who were injured on the beach and in need of rescue. Rescuers charged off in Humvees and on foot using GPS coordinates to find those who needed help. Once located, victims were given first aid and brought to a safe location for more care.

Organizers went all out in making the training realistic, including giving “victims,” like Jacelle Zoubek, realistic-looking injuries.

When the drill was complete, both rescuers and victims gathered to discuss what worked and where improvements can be made. Although this was a serious exercise, it was clear during the debriefing that participants also had a lot of fun, and that personnel from different agencies enjoyed the opportunity to work together. Emergency planners were already talking about how to make the next scenario even better.

At the end of the day, all of the disaster victims were rescued and everybody went home. Both organizers and participants said they were very pleased with how the drill went and, just as importantly, what they learned in the process.

While the Kenai Fire Department and the National Guard are well-known, most people are less familiar with CERT. CERT volunteers are individuals who have had special training in disaster response and basic medical care so they can help others in their community when a disaster strikes.

The CERT program began in 2003 and currently has 190 trained volunteers who are ready to help whenever needed. According to Glenda Landua, program coordinator for the Office of Emergency Management, “CERT training is safety and ability-oriented and people of all ages from teens to seniors are welcome to participate.”

Quoting famed anthropologist Margaret Mead, Landua said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the word: Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Living in Alaska, and especially on the Kenai Peninsula, we all understand that disasters can and will happen. While there are quite a few people trained through CERT, when a crisis hits the Kenai Peninsula, more help will certainly be needed.

CERT training is free. If you are interested in learning how to help your family and neighborhood in a disaster, call the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management at 262-4910 and learn how you can become a part of CERT.

CERT volunteer Bud Sexton was the operations chief and public information officer for the October exercise.

Nov. 3, 2010,  Editorial: Electing to move on, but still pay attention

Last week, Kasilof’s Tiger Demers, a former Olympic skier, and wife, Judy, were in Oregon, enjoying what many in Southcentral Alaska are eagerly awaiting —snow. But rather than stay and ski, they were planning to return to bare-ground Kasilof over the weekend, even with no snow accumulation in the forecast. Why?

“We have to get back and vote,” he said.

On Friday, several Kenai Peninsula residents joined about 150 other Alaskans in registering to be write-in candidates in the U.S. Senate race, in protest over a Supreme Court decision to allow the write-in candidate list to be provided to voters who requested it at the polls. Why?

“It’s just unfair. To me, it looks like it’s a biased type of voting place,” said Irene Repper, of Soldotna.

Whether you agree with their political persuasions, vote the way they do or not, the Demers and our local, last-minute Senatorial candidates should be congratulated for their dedication to the political process. We could all benefit from their example — paying attention, being involved  and caring enough about the governance of our state and country to make their voices heard.

Many are heaving a sigh of relief today that this contentious, in-your-face, roller coaster of a midterm election is over —pending continued vote counting and future court wrangling, that is.

In the aftermath, there were some bright spots and black marks to come from the last few months. As attention inevitably turns to other things, it’s worth retaining a few lessons from this election cycle:

  • Be respectful of candidates who are respectful of you. Running for office is an expensive, exhausting process. Candidates dedicate any available time, energy and resources to connecting with voters, and in exchange open themselves up to be targets of mudslinging, negativity and personal accusations, not to mention a never-ending string of trashed campaign signs. Even if you don’t agree with their political platform, we should all agree that candidates deserve at least civility just for being willing to take the responsibility of running for election and potentially serving their constituents.
  • That being said, however, candidates who are more interested in slinging mud or pulling wool over voters’ eyes not only don’t deserve votes, they don’t deserve voters’ donations or attention, either. Campaigning should be a two-way street. Candidates must give voters a clear understanding of where they stand, but also should listen to voters’ questions, concerns and priorities. If they’re all pomp(ousness) and circumstance while campaigning, chances are they’ll be self-serving of their own circumstances if elected.
  • Thanks to all who participated in Tuesday’s election — voters, poll workers, sign wavers, etc.
  • No thanks to those who obstructed the process — campaign sign trashers, yellers-rather-than-debaters, and anyone offering a one-finger salute to the candidate and proposition supporters out waving on street corners Tuesday. We say we’re tired of elections full of negative ad campaigns, twisted truths and rumor-mongering, but if we can’t act the way we want our candidates to, how can we expect better elected representation than the way we represent ourselves?
  • Get ready to do it again. Election Day is simply a crescendo to a never-ending process. Just because you filled an oval doesn’t mean you don’t need to stay filled in. It’s a lot easier to sort out the truths from slants and worthy representatives from the warts in office come next November if you’ve been keeping track all along.

Nov. 3, 2010,  Guest Editorial: Tea party, militias — Heed the alienation

The actions of Drop Zone Security in the case of the handcuffed journalist open a window into the world of Alaska paramilitary organizations and their connection to the Tea Party. Drop Zone’s private security personnel, hired by tea party Republican Joe Miller, “arrested” Alaska Dispatch editor Tony Hopfinger for attempting to ask Miller about misuse of North Star Borough computers. The Drop Zone guys then proceeded to push Dispatch reporter Jill Burke around while another reporter got it all on video.

Drop Zone primarily sells military supplies and the owner, William Fulton, appears on the Alaska Citizens Militia website’s discussion boards corresponding with its founder, Pastor Norm Olson. Olson, in turn, has ideological ties to the tea party movement; in a newsletter Olson called Miller “a friend of patriots.”

This is Olson’s third militia. In 1993 he founded the Michigan Militia but was later expelled for outrageously proposing the Oklahoma City bombing was not carried out by Timothy McVeigh, but by the Japanese government in retaliation for a 1995 U.S.-sponsored sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway. He then started a short-lived Northern Michigan Regional Militia.

Militia movements trace their modern iteration to groups like the Posse Comitatus, a Christian Identity group active in the 1980s. Christian Identity adherents believe white, Christian, Euro-Americans are God’s chosen people and destined to dominate all other races. Threats to this version of white supremacy come from “one world” government like the United Nations, Jewish bankers and centralized government programs (i.e. Democrats), among others.

All of which, in their view, undermine American exceptionalism. They see themselves, as Michael Barkin states, as a kind of “divine warrior elite,” combating modernity and liberals.

Militias went dormant during the Bush administration, and have resurfaced with the election of President Barack Obama. The Alaska Citizens Militia takes its ideology from a strict reading of the Constitution backed by fundamentalist Christianity, although, as far as I know, not Christian Identity in the mold of the Posse Comitatus.

The two constitutional provisions most cited are the Second Amendment “right to bear arms” and Article One providing for a “well-regulated militia.” A second Alaska militia is now forming in the Fairbanks area.

The Alaska Citizens Militia claims about 200 members and has a 20-acre compound in Nikiski, where they wear camo and shoot guns on weekends. Unlike most Alaskans, many of whom also wear camo and shoot guns on weekends, Olson’s group is in training for the Tribulation. In 1995 he told Christianity Today, “Where do we get this idea we are supposed to let a corrupt government get worse and worse. Our Lord told us to contend for the faith and occupy until he comes.”

There is a close connection between the Alaska Citizens Militia and the tea party movement. Together they seethe at the mention of President Obama. For Olson, Obama’s Keynesian economic policies speak of end times. For tea partiers, it is merely the forerunner to total economic collapse.

The tea party’s solution is a return to the gold standard apparently as a way to stop government stimulus spending and use of fiat currency. They both hate taxes. For both tea partiers and the militia, national health care and the Department of Education embody the top-down government they fear. They reject corporate and multinational control, hence antagonism toward corporate-friendly Republicans such as Lisa Murkowski.

They are generally against the Iraq and Afghanistan wars because of corporate profiteering. They are anti-environmentalism and reject most forms of public land ownership.

Should we be worried about conservative Fidels and Ches coming out of the hills of Nikiski fighting a right-wing resistance movement eventually bringing down the Capitol in Juneau and moving on toward Washington? No, that’s not going to happen.

We do need to understand the tea party and its militant expression, like the Alaska Citizens Militia, are alienated and very angry. Any time a significant portion of the population is disaffected we should all be concerned.

But this is the question: Is the alienation because of legitimate social injustice or economic misdirection; or is it the collective paranoia of an estranged faction prone to conspiratorial theories and inflamed by a feeding frenzy of rage based on a perversion of the Constitution, Christianity and economics?

And we should be clear that if we elect a pro-gold standard, anti-corporate, anti-global, strict-constitutionalist tea party senator, we are advocating revolution, however unlikely that eventuality may be.

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College. This column was published Oct. 31 in the Anchorage Daily News.

Oct. 27, 2010,  Guest Editorial: Prop B holds potential for KPC’s, Alaska’s growth

I would like to share a few reasons that I, as the president of the Kenai River Campus Student Union, and the KPC Student Union support Proposition B, which will be on the ballot Nov. 2.

The Kenai River Campus will gain student housing and a Career and Technical Center. These construction projects will create hundreds of short-term and long-term jobs. We support the proposition for more than what KPC and the University of Alaska stands to gain. We believe it is critical for the future of Alaska that our educational infrastructure be able to carry us into the future.

This is the right time for Prop B to be brought to voters because everything is in line to make this an incredible opportunity for Alaskans to take care of Alaska. With low interest rates and rising construction costs, the sooner these important projects get under way, the better.

The more educational opportunities that are available to our children, the more competitive we will be to better provide for the future of our economy and state. Who better to take our great state to the next millennium than our children, who have grown up with the knowledge of our communities and the needs of Alaska?

To answer the questions that are on each of our minds: Will this raise my taxes? This is one message on which we want to be very clear. Prop B is not a new federal handout. This $397 million bond will pay for education construction projects around the state. The state borrows the funds — and interest rates are the lowest they have ever been— and then issues the bonds, which are paid back over time from the state’s general fund. Property taxes will not rise.

Prop B is good for Alaska and the economy. This is an up or down vote. Yes means all 11 projects move forward. No means the 11 projects will not be funded.

How will the Kenai River Campus change? For the better. We think that a new Career and Technical Center might move all the technical programs, like process technology and instrumentation, paramedics and nursing, to the new building, freeing up much-needed space for other programs to be expanded or new programs to be developed.

Student housing will change the atmosphere of the campus for the better. By bringing many more students to KPC and keeping those who just want to move out from their parents’ houses right here, the entire college and community will benefit.

Kenai River Campus Student Union is promoting an awareness campaign by plastering the campus with flyers promoting our Rock The Vote concert, which will happen from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday in the Ward Building. We are inviting the public to this free, family-friendly concert featuring one of our favorite local bands, 907.

Our intent is to educate the audience about the importance of Prop B and hopefully get them to vote in support of it. We also have attended a joint session of the Kenai and Soldotna Chambers of Commerce while wearing frog suits to indicate we want to “hop on” Prop B and get it passed. We will do what it takes to get the public to take notice that this is literally a once-in-a lifetime opportunity for KPC, the University of Alaska and the state of Alaska school system.

We will be hopping to events around the community this week. On Nov. 2 we will hop at the corners of the Sterling and Kenai Spur highways at the Y in Soldotna, and in Kenai at the “406” corner to remind voters to “Hop on Prop B.”

Honk to show your support.

Shauna Thornton is the president of the Kenai River Campus Student Union.

Oct. 20, 2010,  Guest Editorial: Loving the Kenai River king run to death

Most anglers on the Kenai are very concerned about the health of our Kenai River king salmon fishery. Most agree that there are fewer fish returning and the fish are smaller than ever before. Scientists tell us that the low numbers of king salmon are a widespread phenomena occurring throughout most of Alaska and probably caused by rearing conditions in our oceans, but the size of the fish is probably an in-river issue that has a lot to do with selective harvest of larger fish over time.

Up until about seven or eight years ago most of us felt that if we didn’t come home with at least one 50- to 60-pounder in the boat it was a bad day on the water. Nowadays, these fish make front-page headlines in the local paper. The large “world famous” Kenai king was much sought after for wall mounts, photo ops, and general bragging rights among anglers.

And, folks, therein lays the problem. We have been extremely effective harvesters of these bigger fish. Through years of selective harvest we have changed the ratio of returning age-classed fish and thus suffered a reduction in the overall quality of this great fishery.

We must remember that this fishery is only about 30 years in the making and the cause and effect of our zeal to harvest big Kenai kings makes it incumbent on ourselves to try to fix what we have damaged. We have a large in-river commercial guiding component and an equal amount of private anglers vying for these fish. It is not hard to understand how the harvest potential could be damaging to these stocks.

On an average day in the last two weeks of July we probably have well over 500 boats on the river throughout the day. With an average of four fishermen per boat that means that there are roughly 2,000 rods per day trying to catch a Kenai king. The second-run creel survey data tells us that the average guide harvest this season was about one fish per trip, and most likely that fish was less than 25 pounds. I would think it would become more and more difficult to entice return clients to the Kenai unless we can recover this fishery.

Is it to late to rectify this situation? Perhaps not, but it’s going to take sacrifices by all user groups and a commitment by the responsible state and federal agencies to admit there is a problem and address these issues. I believe, with the current concern in the angling community, the time is right to come together for this common cause.

Can we continue applying this type of pressure to the resource and still further our cause for recovery of these stocks? Perhaps, if we change the manner in which we prosecute the fishery itself.

Additionally, Fish and Game is going to have to improve the way it enumerates these stocks so that we can have more confidence in the data as the season progresses. This year the late-run sonar count was around 45,000, but after the season ended and the department considered the low test-net figures combined with the low harvests in both the commercial and sport fisheries, it adjusted that figure to around 28,000. Quite a disparity, and this figure is only a rough estimate. Nobody really knows for sure exactly how many fish actually entered the river or made it to the spawning grounds.

I would like to offer the following suggestions as a starting point for discussion on ways to help this valued resource start to recover:

  • Set up alternating spawning conservation zones on the river to provide undisturbed spawning areas. I would set up four conservation zones. Zone 1 — The river mouth to River Mile 19, Slikok Creek, would be open to fishing annually. Zone 2 — Mile 19 to Mile 30, Funny River; Zone 3 — Mile 30 to Mike 40, Bing’s Landing; and Zone 4 — Mile 40 to Mile 50, Skilak Lake. Zones 2, 3 and 4 would be closed to fishing for king salmon in alternating years to provide undisturbed spawning protection. Additionally, all other existing closed areas would remain in effect.
  • Insist that state and federal agencies responsible for managing this resource develop and employ the most accurate field equipment to enumerate these stocks in both the main stem and tributary waters. Accurate in-season information is a vital part of ensuring adequate escapement objectives.
  • Return the slot limit to the pre-2008 measurements of 44 inches to 55 inches and leave the slot limit in effect throughout the king season above the Soldotna bridge. Most of the larger fish are females and this measure would help ensure that these larger fish have a greater opportunity to spawn.
  • Apply the slot limit regulation to the personal-use fishery. All in-river user groups should share in this burden of recovery.
  • Add a second drift-boat day per week that would be open to both guided and unguided anglers. This would allow another day of the week where fish could move more freely up river without outboard disturbance and turbid conditions associated with heavy powerboat use.

As Kenai-area residents we share in the pride of our famous river known mostly for its large king salmon. If we fail to act soon we may further sacrifice the uniqueness of this great resource. We cannot rely on our agencies to do it for us. Their current mandates seem to be more about providing access and opportunity, and less about maintaining the quality of our fisheries.

It is incumbent on us as anglers and conservationists to do so for the resource and future generations to enjoy in the same manner we have been afforded.

Dwight Kramer is a Kenai area resident and private angler. He is a member of the Kenai Area Fisherman’s Coalition.

Oct. 13, 2010,  Guest Editorial: Loads of thanks for river weed warriors

In the midst of a gorgeous Indian summer on the Kenai Peninsula, the morning of Sept. 27 dawned cold and crisp. A team assembled by Chevron Environmental Management Company gathered at Bing’s Landing in Sterling, where they met up with a crew from Kenai Watershed Forum in order to do battle with an invasive weed known as reed canary grass.

The Watershed Forum has been actively controlling reed canary grass along Kenai Peninsula waterways since the summer of 2008. It’s a non-native grass that threatens salmon habitat by filling in stream channels, slowing down the flow of water that keeps spawning beds silt-free, and discouraging the growth of trees and other native plants that shade streams to keep them cool. This invasive grass has affected salmon habitat from California to British Columbia.

Our task for this particular day was to remove a large amount of reed canary grass from an island in the Kenai River. We loaded the crew and lots of digging tools into boats and headed upriver. Mama and cub bear tracks were visible in the mud once we arrived at the island, but we didn’t see any actual bears that day.

We unloaded shovels, mattocks and digging hoes, along with sturdy plastic bags. The vegetation on the small island consisted of a mixture of reed canary grass and the native bluejoint reedgrass. Our task was to dig out the reed canary grass patches, including all underground parts. That meant removing large amounts of heavy soil, which was bagged up with the grass.

Transporting all that weight off of the island was a task in and of itself. Thanks to Evertt McCullough and Mike Fenton of the Kenai River Professional Guide Association, who volunteered their time and their boats for this task. A total of four motorboats were put to work that day shuttling loads of the grass and soil back to Bing’s Landing, where part of the crew had been stationed to receive the stuff.

Those guys hauled the heavy bags out of the boats and into a dump trailer. When the trailer had reached capacity (which it did four times over the course of the day), it was driven to Northstar Paving and Construction in Soldotna.

The folks there have been supporting the Watershed Forum’s weed eradication efforts by allowing us to dump reed canary grass-infested soil into a retired gravel pit, where it quickly gets buried and won’t be able to grow and spread.

Many thanks to Chevron for letting us borrow such great workers for the day. We removed an estimated 20,000 pounds of material and came one step closer to getting reed canary grass off of our waterways.

Michelle Martin is an education specialist and invasive species specialist for the Kenai Watershed Forum.

Oct. 6, 2010,  Guest Editorial: Don’t continue ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

As an Army interpreter, Sgt. Jed Anderson served in Mosul and Rawa, two of the most violent locations of the Iraq War. He was trusted with classified intelligence gleaned from prisoner interrogations, which he translated into English.

He’s proud of his service. In the Huffington Post, Sasha Suderow quotes Anderson as saying, “I gained information that saved American lives.” The tattoo across his back speaks volumes: “I Give Life and Death.”

Serving in Iraq was dangerous, but when he was deployed back to Fairbanks as a Ft. Wainwright Humvee mechanic, his life turned to hell.

Anderson entered the Army unsure of his sexuality but, in part, because of the Army’s emphasis on personal integrity, Anderson acknowledged he was gay. Army integrity means be true to your mission, your fellow soldiers, your country, and to yourself. One doesn’t have integrity if one denies his or her sexual identity.

The Army’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy created a dilemma for Anderson. The policy not only requires that officers not ask about a soldier’s sexual orientation, but also directs military personnel not to express their sexual identity. If they do, they are subject to discharge. In effect, gays and lesbians are forced to live a lie.

The policy emerged from a 1993 compromise between unlikely political bedfellows. One side, led by President Bill Clinton and Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, advocated there be no restrictions on gays and lesbians in the military. On the other side a socially conservative faction led by Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn vehemently demanded a ban on all homosexuals in the military.

Like a lot of compromises, it hasn’t worked. The policy has encouraged homophobic harassment, bullying and assault against gays and lesbians in an effort to force them to out themselves and be dismissed from duty. Most of the persecution is verbal and often incessant — “fag” being the derisive word of choice. It can also be physical. One tactic is a “blanket party” where the suspected gay is bound, his head wrapped in a blanket and he’s then pummeled, sometimes to the death as in the case of Navy Radioman Allen Schindler.

Back in Alaska, according to Suderow, Anderson encountered a virulently homophobic platoon sergeant at Ft. Wainwright and intense, daily harassment drove him to depression and eventually a mental breakdown. In desperation, this proud soldier wrote a letter outing himself, knowing the consequence was discharge. Initially, his commanding officer refused to accept it, saying, “I won’t lose a good soldier to a stupid policy.”

The commanding officer later reversed himself and Anderson was out of the Army.

Suderow quotes Anderson as saying, “I wouldn’t want anyone to experience what I did. … I would rather have gone through Iraq 10 times than be kicked out once.”

This August another soldier stationed in Alaska joined the ranks of the more than 14,000 servicemen and women to have been expelled from the military for being homosexual. Stryker Capt. Jonathan Hopkins graduated fourth in his class at West Point and served four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, earning two Bronze Stars while leading three combat missions. When redeployed back at Ft. Wainwright, Hopkins was outed by another soldier.

In the 14 months between his outing and when the Army finally dismissed him, Hopkins continued his command. In a recent New York Times op-ed piece Hopkins wrote, “The unit continued to function and I continued to be respected … unbeknownst to me, many had guessed I was probably gay all along. Most didn’t care about my sexuality. I was accepted by most of them, as was my boyfriend, and I had never been happier in the military. Nothing collapsed, no one stopped talking to me, the Earth spun on its axis, and the unit prepared to fight another day.”

Most in the military have learned what virtually all other Western armies have learned. A bullet fired by a homosexual is just as deadly as one from a heterosexual. Impartial research has shown that homosexuals are not disruptive to morale. They are not the problem. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has made the military a haven for homophobes. That is the problem.

It’s time to follow President Barack Obama’s lead and repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and let the military mirror what all of society should be — a place where individuals can be proud and open about who they are, including their sexual preference.

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College. This column was published Oct. 1 in the Anchorage Daily News.

Sept. 29, 2010,  Editorial: Propositions ask a lot, offer as much

Pop quiz time.

Q: What should you be doing next Tuesday?

A: Voting

Q: What for?

A: That’s, of course, up to voters, but if anyone is looking for input, we’ll weigh in on the ballot measures voters will be facing come Oct. 5.

  • Borough Proposition 1 asks voters to approve bonds up to $16,866,500 for roof replacements on peninsula schools.

Vote yes. Roofs don’t fix themselves, and deferring maintenance can cause other problems that will cost more to fix in the future. Plus, this proposition comes with a fiscal caveat to protect taxpayers — no bonds will be issued unless the project gets at least 70 percent debt service reimbursement from the state. That means borough residents will spend about $5.78 per $100,000 of assessed real or personal property. Five to 20 bucks or so is a small price to pay for structurally sound, well-maintained school buildings.

  • Borough Proposition 2 asks voters to adopt a manager style of government, where a chief administrator is appointed by the assembly, rather than having a strong mayor elected by voters.

Vote yes. This is a contentious issue, given that it’s a big change, the details of the position still need to be worked out by the assembly, it seems to be lessening direct voter control over government and it’s hard to separate the proposition from current people in office.

But it’s a change that should happen. Running the borough is an immense job requiring highly specialized knowledge, skills and expertise that most citizens simply don’t possess. The citizens of the borough deserve the best, most professional, experienced and accountable person for the job, and that will come from making it a hired position, rather than an elected one.

The manager would be a facilitator implementing policy decisions made by the assembly, and voters will still have a direct say-so in the policies of the borough by electing assembly members.

This issue shouldn’t be about the performance of the current, former or potential future mayor, or any past, current or future political issues on the horizon. It’s about creating the most efficient, effective, equitable and responsible administrative system that we can.

  • Soldotna Proposition 1 asks voters to approve bonds up to $2.5 million to expand the Joyce K. Carver Public Library.

Vote yes. Economic instability is increasing the distance between the haves and have-nots, and shuffling more people into the latter category than the former. Libraries are an important way of bridging those gaps, not just by offering a wealth of books, magazines, maps, movies, music and other media to explore and enjoy, but in offering computer and Internet access to those who can’t afford such technology on their own.

Soldotna’s library is being stretched far too thin to meet the increasing needs with which it is faced. It’s not only a center for learning, it’s central to the health of the community, hosting events and activities, educational opportunities, forums, speakers, workshops, story times and more. The list goes on and on, as should voters’ support.

Sept. 29, 2010,  Guest Editorial: Alaska farmers put food on tables

Across Alaska, harvest time is well under way. As our dreary summer slips into a sunny fall, Alaskans are busy putting crops away for winter. In Palmer, mountains of potatoes are growing inside large potato barns. In Delta, huge combines are harvesting barley and other grains. Farmer’s markets, from Kodiak to Fairbanks, are still busy selling the last of the zucchini, broccoli and lettuce. Families are filling their freezers and canning jars with local peas and berries.

Alaskan farmers and ranchers are the real thing. These hard-working Alaskans are deeply connected to the land. In the face of severe weather, the high costs of doing business here, and uncertain consumer demand, they are strong, independent and self-reliant entrepreneurs.

As hard as they work, they still can’t put enough healthy, local food into the mouths of Alaskans. In 1955, 55 percent of Alaska’s food came from Alaska producers. Today, less than 5 percent of the food we eat is produced here. Last May, Alaskans from across the state gathered to form the first Alaska Food Policy Council to work together to develop new ideas to produce more local foods, create jobs and build healthy communities. Their recommendations will be released early next year.

We have a long road ahead, but our farmers, ranchers and community gardeners have a bright future. Alaska is still the land of opportunity and Alaskans are full of ideas about how to increase our food production and build a new renewable energy economy to make our communities healthy, sustainable and secure for future generations.

The Alaska U.S. Department of Agriculture team can help, too, with loan and grant programs for Alaskans interested in producing food or biomass from the land. One new program helps compensate for the high transportation costs of doing business here. Another new loan program provides loans for conservation efforts on farm and ranch land. And, just this week, the USDA committed almost $200,000 to promote Alaska Grown products to our consumers.

Alaskans and all Americans are fortunate to have such a strong agricultural economy. Agriculture is responsible for one out of every 12 jobs in America. Less than 10 percent of our family income is spent on food — much less than even other western nations.

So, this week, as you visit the grocery store, restaurant or farmer’s market, ask for Alaska Grown, and join with me and my colleagues at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in thanking farmers and ranchers in Alaska and across the country for putting high-quality, safe and nutritious food on our tables.

Danny Consenstein is the state executive director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Alaska Farm Service Agency.

Sept. 22, 2010,  Editorial: Elections, dividends: Get a lot, give a little

Mark your calendars.

Two important dates are coming up that may seem unrelated, yet shouldn’t be:

Alaska Permanent Fund dividends will start to be dispersed Oct. 7, for the more than 530,000 applicants who chose to get their dividends via direct deposit into their bank accounts. Another 85,000 or so checks will go in the mail at the same time.

On Tuesday, Gov. Sean Parnell announced this year’s dividend amount — $1,281.

While that news may cause visions of new snowmachines, bill payments, a trip somewhere sunny or a boost in savings to dance through Alaskans’ heads, the dividend announcement should also be a reminder about another important upcoming date: Municipal elections Oct. 5.

As the saying goes, you don’t get something for nothing. While dividend payouts aren’t legally predicated on civic responsibility, they should be morally so. We live in a state that directly shares a portion of its financial revenues with its citizens, rather than using it in a more roundabout route of benefiting residents through paving roads or funding education.

The payouts provide a much-appreciated financial boost to qualified Alaskans every October, many of whom would vehemently oppose any governmental or political attempt to stop those payments. At the same time, many of those same Alaskans can’t seem to be bothered to weigh in on other governmental and political matters by voting.

Voter turnout rates, especially in local elections, are flat-out abysmal in many areas of the Kenai Peninsula. That’s an odd dichotomy, since peninsula residents, like most Alaskans, certainly aren’t lacking in opinions about how they want their government to function. Yet when it comes to putting ballots where their mouths are, the majority of eligible voters tend to stay home.

There are many possible reasons for this. Some simply forget. Others say they’re too busy, although, with absentee ballots and early voting opportunities, being busy is no excuse.

Others feel disenchanted or disenfranchised by the current state of affairs to the point of avoiding participation in elections. Perhaps they don’t like any of the candidates on the ballot, or don’t support the platforms of the main parties that those candidates represent.

But feeling frustrated with the status quo is precisely why residents should vote.

Our electoral system of governance is predicated on the idea that citizens be involved, informed, formulate opinions and make decisions based on them. Is it a perfect system? No. Do two parties carry the majority of influence? Yes. Are there occasions when the “main” candidates up for a seat don’t collectively muster the intelligence and moral fiber of a box of rocks? Possibly, although simply being willing to subject oneself to the rigors and rigmarole that go along with campaigning for and serving in public office entitle any candidate to respect, no matter what you may think of them or their positions on the issues.

For those who are happy with their representation and the way their government is functioning, they need to show up and demonstrate their support through their ballot. For those who aren’t, how is anything going to change if voters don’t show up to change it?

Government and politics as usual benefits the interests of those currently in power. It’s not to their advantage to shake things up or institute change. That leaves it up to those not happy with the status quo to do so. That happens through elections, the primary in August, local elections Oct. 5 and the general election Nov. 2.

Voting is a right, not a requirement, but it’s a right that has participation at its core. Anyone choosing not to exercise that right because of dissatisfaction with the status quo is tying their own hands behind their back. It’s de facto support for the very situation they say they reject.

As we spend the time between now and Oct. 7 contemplating all the uses we could put our dividend payments to, let’s also contemplate the current state of governmental and political affairs, both locally and statewide. The state of Alaska is sharing its resources with its citizenry. The least residents could do is share a little of their attention with it.

Please vote.

Sept. 8, 2010, Guest Editorial: Be resolved to consider FASD effects in legal realm

On Sept. 9, the ninth day of the ninth month, we observe International FASD Awareness Day and National FASD Awareness Day, a reminder to women not to drink during the nine months of pregnancy.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and the broader range of disabilities known as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders can occur if a mother drinks at any time during her pregnancy. We now know the damage alcohol does to the baby’s brain can start well before a mother is aware of her pregnancy, beginning when the embryo is just 22 days old. Most of us don’t have our pregnancies confirmed until many weeks or even months later, so the damage can already have occurred in the time before a mother learns that she’s pregnant. It’s a common birth defect that affects one in every 100 babies born.

Because the damage is not just physical, but behavioral (the most vulnerable to harm is the baby’s brain), babies born with FASD have increasing problems as they grow. They can be more active than most and have problems with attention, concentration and focus. When they find themselves in the first-grade classroom, they may have trouble just sitting still. Without a diagnosis, teachers and parents are at a loss to know how to help. Frustration and failure can follow and by adolescence, this young person can be on a trajectory for trouble.

The impairments that many with this disability have include attention deficits, so they are easily distracted; poor judgment, so they are easily victimized; undependable memory, so they don’t learn from experience; difficulty with abstract concepts, so they don’t understand consequences; difficulty perceiving social cues; and impulsivity, which makes them more likely than those who are not affected by prenatal alcohol exposure to find themselves in trouble with the law.

Our research at the University of Washington Fetal Alcohol and Drug Unit, for the Centers for Disease Control, show that 60 percent of those diagnosed with FASD have gotten in trouble with the law, 50 percent have been confined in a jail, prison, a residential drug treatment program or psychiatric facility, 60 percent have a disrupted school experience, 90 percent have sought treatment from a mental health professional, and 50 percent engage in inappropriate sexual behavior.

Despite what the Florida Supreme Court wrote about a defendant with FAS in Dillbeck v. State, “We can envision few things more certainly beyond one’s control than the drinking habits of a parent prior to one’s birth,” we hold these individuals fully accountable for the impaired behavior which results from their disability.

Research in Canada and the U.S. suggests that between 16 percent and 23 percent of those in our juvenile justice system are affected by FASD. Those young people grow to adulthood and, without a diagnosis and targeted strategies, they continue to stumble in and out of trouble.

Last month, the 35,000-member Canadian Bar Association issued Resolution 10-02-A, entitled, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder in the Criminal Justice System. They prefaced the resolution with descriptions of the behaviors described previously, and then pointed out that, “the criminal justice system is based on normative assumptions that a person acts in a voluntary manner, makes informed choices with respect to the decision to commit crimes, and learns from their own behavior and the behavior of others.

“… These normative assumptions and the sentencing principles such as specific and general deterrence are not valid for those with FASD.” They noted that sentencing options available to Canadian judges were “often ineffective” in changing the behavior of those with FASD, and that “laws, programs or activities” which could be helpful were needed.

The resolution itself called for support for an initiative to allocate more government resources for alternatives to the current practice of involving those with FASD in the justice system, urged the government to develop policies to enhance the lives of those with FASD, to prevent over-representation of those with FASD in the criminal justice system and to amend criminal sentencing laws to accommodate the disability of those with FASD.

The Canadian Bar Association’s resolution recognizes a justice system problem that has long gone unrecognized. The resolution frames the problem but does not purport to provide solutions. Canadian government officials have devised an initiative and will pursue solutions through it. Here in the U.S., we need to find a path that is workable in our justice system, perhaps relying on our judges, prosecutors, defense counsel, probation officials, law enforcement and others in the field.

As one of the Sept. 9 events, Frontier Community Services will sponsor a Kenai Peninsula conference, The Hidden Problem of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders in the Legal System; A Solution Focused Forum. The forum takes place Sept. 11 in the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai.

This gathering of judges, attorneys, other court professionals, law enforcement and corrections officers, behavioral health professionals, parents, advocates and interested community members will work to develop the creative solutions and innovative strategies that are called for by the Canadian Bar Association’s resolution.

You are invited to join us. Call Vickie Tinker, coordinator of the Kenai Peninsula FASD Multidisciplinary Team, at 714-6648 to reserve a spot.

Kathryn Kelly is project director of the FASD Legal Issues Resource Center at the University of Washington, and will be a presenter at the Sept. 11 forum in Kenai.

Aug. 25, 2010, Guest Editorial: HEA plan will mean rate changes

The Homer Electric Association Board of Directors defined the direction it will take in redesigning our cooperative’s rate structure at the Aug. 18 rate-making workshop. There appeared to be 20 to 25 HEA members in the Homer office and three in the Kenai office for the event. Kudos to those of you who took time to attend or who expressed your thoughts at the previous night’s HEA Board meeting.

Residential rate overview

The presentation by RW Beck was excellent, clearly laying out the reasons and objectives for a new rate structure. For the benefit of attending HEA members, the board had the presenter review information covered in July. Planning had obviously progressed since last month and two draft residential rate alternatives were presented:

Alternative 1: $35 fixed customer charge, reduced energy charge (around $0.10193 per kWh).

Alternative 2: $15 fixed customer charge, minimum energy charge based on 150 kWh at the prevailing rate (example around .13 kWh = $19.69) or about $35 per month combined.

After discussing both at length, the board voted to select Alternative 2.

Directors had already agreed that customers north and south of Kachemak Bay will no longer be charged differently. Both sides will be combined into a single rate class and the per-kWh energy charge will remain the same at all levels of consumption.

Several HEA directors cited a desire to minimize economic impact to members while also encouraging energy efficiency as reasons for choosing Alternative 2. Indeed, it appears that this alternative will only result in a small increase to the average monthly residential electric bill and high-energy use will not be rewarded with a lower energy charge.

The rest of the story

There is much, much more to this complicated process than covered here, including changes for commercial, industrial and outdoor lighting rates. Contact Joe Gallagher or Melissa Carlin at HEA for more information.

Area meetings will be held to present the final draft plan to HEA members in September:

  • Monday, Sept. 27 at Chapman School in Anchor Point,
  • Tuesday, Sept. 28 at Tustumena School in Kasilof,
  • Wednesday, Sept. 29 at the senior center in Sterling, and
  • Thursday, Sept. 30 at the community center in Nikiski

Finally, HEA will need to submit the plan to the RCA for approval before implementing any rate design changes.

HEA members with questions, ideas, concerns, or suggestions about the draft rate design should contact staff or directors prior to the meetings. Information received soon can be considered in developing the final draft. Contact information and more is available on the HEA website at http://www.homerelectric.com/Default.aspx.

Michael O’Meara represents the HEA Members Forum. For more information, visit http://heamembersforum.blogspot.com or http://www.homerelectric.com


Aug. 18, 2010, Guest Editorial: HEA rate design: Making it fair for all

One of the most important decisions that can be made by a cooperative is the design of the electric rates. That’s why Homer Electric Association is making every effort to get it right the first time during our current rate design review process.

Over the past couple months, HEA has been working to identify the best design option for ensuring that rates are fair and equitable for all members (residential, commercial and industrial).

A small portion of rates represents amounts members invest in the cooperative so that HEA can provide dependable electricity. Rates are how HEA remains a financially solvent organization with a goal of providing electricity at the lowest reasonable cost possible.

Let’s look at the first part of this equation: Dependable electricity. HEA has undertaken a number of projects to improve our dependability, such as implementation of the Automated Meter Reading program for residential members, a new substation at Diamond Ridge in Homer, expanded right-of-way clearing that resulted in significant reductions in tree-related power outages and a cable injection project that prolongs the life of underground cable wire. We also continue to install new electric facilities throughout the service territory.

Equitable rates are achieved by structuring them so that each member class pays a fair and equal share for services provided to them. This is where the tough decisions come in. For example, the design of rates should not discourage the sale of electricity through new and expanded services, but should promote the wise use and conservation of electricity.

The HEA Board of Directors and Management team will continue to review rate-design options over the next couple of months in an effort to find the best plan for our members. I encourage you to attend one of the upcoming board of directors meetings, or one of the area meetings in September where these options will be discussed.

As always, please feel free to contact me with any comments or suggestions that you might have regarding Homer Electric Association, Inc. and its rate design process.

Brad Janorschke is general manager of HEA. He coordinates the functions of the association as required to achieve the strategic goals and objectives established by the Board of Directors.

Aug. 18, 2010, Guest Editorial: Who owns Homer Electric Association?

If the monthly HEA bill is in your name, you do.

Like all rural electric cooperatives, HEA is organized under the Seven Cooperative or Rochdale Principles, which means it’s owned by the members it serves. If you haven’t already done it, you should read through the seven principles. They’re posted on the HEA website at http://www.homerelectric.com.

HEA is involved in two efforts that will profoundly change the nature of our co-op and significantly affect our futures. Independent Light will transform the role of HEA from a simple distributor of electricity, to a producer of most of our power. More than $200 million of new debt is being incurred to accomplish the task. As an owner of the co-op, that’s your debt. At the same time, HEA is conducting a rate-making process that will fundamentally change how you are charged for services and energy. Your monthly electric bill is going to climb.

Both efforts are hurtling toward conclusion, and most remaining policy decisions will be made within the next three months. What guidance have you, as a co-op owner, provided? Time to influence the outcome is running out.

The HEA Board of Directors has invested much time and energy in these two initiatives. Some HEA members believe the board is on the right track, while others are disappointed with aspects of what’s being done. But before one commends or condemns, it seems fair to reflect on how well we member/owners have fulfilled our obligation to the co-op.

Consider the first two sentences of the second guiding principle: Democratic Member Control.

“Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions. The elected representatives are accountable to the membership.”

I’m sure we all support the idea that HEA directors are accountable to us, but that’s a double-edged sword. When have you made an effort to “actively participate in setting policies and making decisions” or contacted the board about your interests or concerns?

It’s not too late to take responsibility as an owner of HEA. Attend the rate-making workshop (available via video conferencing at 9 a.m. today, Aug. 18, at the Kenai HEA offices). Learn about what’s being done and how it will affect you. Let your representatives know what you think before all the policies have been decided and all remaining decisions are made.

Information on meetings and issues is available on the HEA website at http://www.homerelectric.com/.

Mike O’Meara is spokesman for the HEA Members Forum.

Aug. 11, 2010, Guest Editorial: Weigh in now before HEA rate system changes

Homer Electric Association is planning a new rate structure. If you’re an HEA member, it will affect your finances for the foreseeable future. Whatever the changes, your electric bills are going up, starting with a 2 percent rate hike this October. HEA General Manager Brad Janorschke expects residential rates to reach $0.20 to $0.25 cents per kWh by 2014.

A new rate structure can’t lower electric costs, but HEA members should wonder just what it will do.

  • Can it be fair to all classes of ratepayers throughout the service area?
  • How will it affect low wage workers and people on fixed incomes?
  • Will it promote energy efficiency and conservation?
  • Can it prevent big up and down electric rate shifts?
  • Will it be easy for HEA members to understand?

The last of three rate-making workshops is scheduled for 9 a.m. Aug. 18 in Homer at the HEA offices board room. Video conferencing is available at the Kenai HEA offices. It’s your opportunity to learn about options being considered by the board, before a plan is selected. Three potential residential rate options were examined at the July 14 workshop:

  • Raise the $11 per-month residential customer charge to around $90 (the estimated monthly cost to HEA to provide service), and lower the per kWh energy charge.
  • Raise the $11 customer charge to $15 and increase the per kWh energy charge.
  • Raise the $11 customer charge to $15.00 and require a minimum monthly energy payment based upon 300 kWh of electricity ($36.26). All residential customers would pay at least $52 per month.

Those options are at the core of this process, but only reflect part of the background discussion. For example, there is the issue of basic kWh rate design — should it be uniform or variable based upon differing levels of consumption, peak vs. off-peak use, summer vs. winter? Will the new rate structure have some HEA members subsidizing others? There are other issues, too, but no space for discussion here.

HEA plans to have a new rate design drafted by the end of this month. The plan will be presented to members at the September HEA regional meetings. Your opportunity for input will be limited then because the final rate design will be adopted in October.

If you want to help determine how the final plan looks, now is the time to get involved. Information on meetings and issues is available on the HEA website (http://www.homerelectric.com/). Read “Rate Design: Making It Fair and Promoting Conservation” posted there. Attend the Aug. 17 HEA board meeting and the Aug. 18 rate-making workshop. Ask questions, express your interests, and make suggestions.

Mike O’Meara is the spokesman for the HEA Members Forum.

Electric rate making

Electric utility rates include two basic charges, one for recovering fixed costs and the other for recovering variable  costs. For this discussion, let’s ignore the taxes and surcharges typically tacked on to your electric bill.

Fixed costs — These include expenses the utility incurs just by having a customer tied into the system — wire, poles, buildings and everything needed to provide basic service. These costs have nothing to do with how much or how little energy a customer uses and do not fluctuate.

Variable costs — These include expenses the utility incurs for equipment, over and above the basics, required by high-demand customers and for acquiring the energy it distributes to us. These costs vary depending upon how “big” a service capacity is installed for the customer and how much energy is consumed each month.

Utilities generally consider it good policy to recover fixed costs through fixed charges (the “customer charge”) and variable costs through variable charges (the “energy charge” or “per kWh” charges).

Aug. 11, 2010, Guest Editorial: McKittrick and Higman: Shared outdoor experience

Erin McKittrick and Brentwood Higman are off on another adventure to redefine the boundary between civilization and wilderness. In 2007-08 the couple made an incredible, 4,000-mile journey from Seattle to Unimak Island in the Aleutians entirely by their own power. They hiked, skied and crossed estuaries and bays paddling little inflatable rafts. McKittrick’s book, “A Long Trek Home,” is destined to become one of the classics in northern literature.

Anyone who has traveled in remote Alaska knows how treacherous it can be. The solution for most is energy-intensive transportation: powerboats, snowmachines or four-wheelers. Done to the extreme, that solution causes increasing insulation from the natural environment. And with that insulation people become physically soft and spiritually distant.

McKittrick and Higman purposively rejected the high r-values of civilization’s hydrocarbon-hungry toys, walked away from the grid and into the daunting domain of the wilderness under their own power. Many urban Alaskans put a toe or a foot into the wilderness from time to time, but total immersion is rare. To be sure, McKittrick and Higman used some high-tech gear, such as drysuits, polyvinyl rafts and an ultralightweight nylon tent. And they carried store-bought food, resupplying in the towns and cities they passed through. But nights were spent in a tent, days were spent putting one foot in front of the other, and meals were cooked on a little wood-burning stove, whatever the weather.

Higman grew up in Seldovia, so he intuitively understands the North Pacific landscape and what the seasons can bring. McKittrick, however, was a city girl who brought to the team the important element of asking the right question at the right time: What are the consequences of this or that action?

Their odyssey re-creates the definition of home that indigenous Northern peoples have understood for centuries. What we today call wilderness is not a foreboding place, but a place to live.

At Dena’ina elder Pete Bobby’s funeral a few years ago, his grandson-in-law, Barry Solie, told the story of coming across Bobby in winter 20 miles or so from Lime Village, one of the most remote places in Alaska. Bobby was broken down and Solie and his party on snowmachines invited him to hop on figuring he would welcome a ride back to the village. Bobby’s response was, “Why?” Even at an elderly age he could not comprehend why he would leave his stuff out there. He could hunt for food; he could sleep in the snow. To him, wilderness was home. A few days later Bobby returned to Lime Village as calmly as you and I returning from the supermarket.

McKittrick, Higdon and others like them are embracing the idea of living in wilderness for long periods. In doing so they accrue an awareness of Alaska that is far deeper than anything gained in a city or a classroom. You cannot understand Alaska unless you travel over the landscape under your own power during all her seasons.

Now, according to Anchorage Daily News writer Mike Campbell, the couple is off on another episode in wilderness immersion. With 18-month-old Katmai (conceived near Katmai on the first trip) and with McKittrick five months pregnant they plan a 200-mile hiking trip from Cape Lisburne to Kotzebue. Like the first trip, which was meant to understand the effect of development on coastal British Columbia and Alaska, this one will focus on issues like climate change and Bering Sea coastal erosion.

Some question the wisdom of taking a toddler on such a journey, with a pregnant mom to boot. The couple will certainly have to make some adjustments. Higman told Campbell that after several practice hikes they learned they’ll be traveling by Katmai’s schedule. But for people with skills and sensibility, such travel is not wrong and it is certainly not abusive.

Wilderness travel with children would be unquestioned in former times. In Alaska and throughout the North whole villages would travel, usually in winter, on visits involving hundreds of miles. Men, women and children would snowshoe for days, sleeping in tents for a potlatch or simply to visit. A dramatic scene from the 1930 H.P. Carver film “The Silent Enemy” captures such a journey of a northern Ojibwa village on the move in winter. Tough people, skilled people, Northern people.

Good luck and safe traveling Erin, Brentwood and Katmai. May you again find enlightenment, understanding, and inspiration and reaffirm the meaning of life in the North: shared outdoor experience.

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College. This column was published Aug. 6 in the Anchorage Daily News.

July 28, 2010, Guest Editorial: Kids must come first in State System of Support

The recipe for a successful system of public education is community engagement in the schools, emotionally and physically safe schools where students feel they belong, and quality schools that prepare students for 21st-century careers and post-secondary education.

Those are the guiding principles of the Alaska Education Plan, created by hundreds of Alaskans in November 2008.

We all know that some schools are struggling to achieve student proficiency in reading, writing and math — the core subjects that are the basis for critical thinking and problem-solving in daily life and on the job. In some schools, the percentage of proficient students is in the low double digits. It has been this way for years.

When I travel around the state — whether in a village or city — kids tell me of their dreams for the future. Children rely on adults to help them achieve their dreams. We must not have a lesser vision for children than they have for themselves.

The state has a responsibility to help struggling schools build their capacity to improve student achievement. Our task is to balance local control with state support. Success depends on the ability of the state, schools and communities to work collaboratively.

The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development has developed, and is continually refining, the State System of Support, which is directed by the deputy commissioner. The Legislature has provided funds for increased support. An independent organization gives us feedback from school districts about our interventions.

The State System of Support provides tiers of services to school districts based on their need. All districts have access to training in the best practices of effective schools. Districts that are not making sufficient student progress are provided with coaches who are experienced Alaska educators, to help them fulfill their improvement plans.

The state intervenes more rigorously and explicitly in districts that have the greatest need. The state strives to intervene to the least degree necessary to set struggling schools on a positive track.

Some keys to the State System of Support include:

  • Schools make sure their curriculum and instruction align with the state’s academic standards. Principals are instructional leaders. The school district’s in-school trainings for teachers are focused on the school’s needs. Educators look at assessment data, their classroom observations and their own assignments, and they collaboratively decide what each student needs.
  • Specialists in academic content work directly with teachers, observing them in the classroom, modeling good instructional strategies, providing feedback to teachers on lessons and ensuring that the state’s content standards are taught.
  • Coaches work with school boards, principals and the superintendent to make sure the right conditions are in place to implement the district’s improvement plan. They also coordinate state support. Coaches and mentors work with new principals and teachers.
  • Intervention also includes developing early childhood learning programs, implementing sound reading programs and providing parent, community and cultural understanding to educators.
  • Parents also play a vital role in student achievement. Parents are the primary teachers of children. They are responsible for their child’s attendance at school. Among their many roles in a busy day are to send their children to school rested and fed and ready to learn, and monitor homework after the school day ends. More fundamentally, parents communicate to their children a vision of the future that includes success in school and career.

We have no greater responsibility than creating paths for our children to find their places in society as adults; whether that’s holding a job, practicing subsistence, or raising a family — and sometimes all three. Schools play a role in this task, as do parents and communities. Our goal is for the parents, schools and communities to work hand-in-hand. The children must come first.

Larry LeDoux is Alaska Commissioner of Education and Early Development and a former principal and superintendent in the Kodiak Island Borough School District.

July 21, 2010: Alaska cred, 1 harrowing experience at a time

It was so dark you couldn’t see that the rain was blowing sideways, or tell how close we were to slamming, meteorlike, into the ground. Judging from the screams, fiery wreckage was imminent.

So begins my only decent, “Yes, I’m an Alaskan” story.

We all want them. If we have them, we still hope to amass more, no matter the broken limbs, frostbit extremities, loss of sensory acuity, closeness to death or psychological trauma it takes to gather them. No one wants a tragedy, of course, but you also don’t want to not have anything to talk about around the campfire. Alaska stories are the diploma gained if you survive being schooled by Mother Nature. Sure, it’d be nice to still have all your fingers and the use of your left eye, or to sleep uninterrupted by night terrors of bears, wayward bullets or that crazy night in Bethel. But, hey, as long as you got a good story out of it, it makes the physical and psychological scarring more acceptable.

Alaska stories are greedily collected, meticulously polished and proudly displayed, like gold nuggets plucked from a sluice pan — and similarly tend to sparkle more lavishly with successive exhibitions. They’re the magical, intangible, yet unmistakable stamp of authenticity that turns all outward Alaskana from clichés to chic. The moose rack on the wall, the big fish picture, the snapshot of Denali on a clear day, the XTRATUFs, the Carhartts, the plaid shirts, the blue tarps — all are the currency of Alaska credibility, but all are bankrupt of value without the gold standard of the made-in-Alaska tale to back them up.

Stories vary by region, generation, measure of preparedness, amount of bad luck and — most importantly — level of stupidity involved. But most break into a few set categories:

  • Bear encounters. Double points for escaping a mauling and triple points for escaping what should have been a mauling.
  • Rare/surprising wildlife sightings. This counts as viewing critters that are not commonly seen — wolverines, lynx, wolves, etc. Or common critters seen in uncommon places or circumstances. As in, squirrels in toilets, porcupines in vegetable crisper drawers, pretty much anything in a bed that wasn’t specifically invited to be there, or something along the lines of, “I shook out my pants leg and damned if there wasn’t a muskrat in there.”
  • Moose collision/vehicle-broken-down-in-the-middle-of-nowhere. Extra points if it’s winter.
  • Blunders in the backcountry.
  • Terror on the water.
  • Weird things eaten to stay alive when lost or stranded.
  • Cold survival; and
  • Fishing.

For having lived in Alaska just about my entire life, my story pool is pathetically shallow. My two best bear-encounter stories are both uneventful. It took longer to dig out my still-never-been-discharged can of pepper spray than it would to tell either story. As for driving, I’ve luckily only nudged a moose butt with my bumper, and my blown-clutch-on-the-highway episode was during a sunny spring morning and I like to hike in the mountains anyway. As for fishing, I’ve done more of that than catching and haven’t netted anything particularly noteworthy, other than dirty looks from those with the misfortune of fishing near me.

But there are two categories I can hold my own in:

  • Life in the Bush. I’m not personally familiar with the joys of a Pilot Bread-and-Spam diet, but I do know what it’s like to only have access to fresh produce and dairy once a week when the barge comes to town. As a result, I grew up thinking peas grew in cans, “lettuce” meant “iceberg” and nothing else, and the first time I saw a grapefruit I thought it was a freakishly large orange, then threw it away when I figured the bitterness meant it had gone bad.

My tour de force comes in a mode-of-transportation category that many Alaskans know well:

  • Plane rides from hell. Or that apparently are heading there.

Being from Southeast, air travel is a necessity to get from island to island. It’s also a mandatory topic of conversation, second only to the weather.

Typical conversation with someone just getting to town:

“Hi there. How’s the weather been?”

“Raining. How was your flight?”

In a region where the answer to Question A is 99 percent of the time some combination of rain, wind, clouds and fog, the answer to Question B is invariably some version of unpleasant. As such, Southeasterners have a stock in trade of crappy flight stories. Even with the stiff competition, mine manages to achieve high standing among, “Yes, I’m an Alaskan” stories — it’s retold by others who are lacking in that category.

“Well, yeah, I’ve been on some hairy trips, but let me tell you about this flight a friend of mine was on … .”

Which brings me back to the dark-and-scary night scene. It was a flight from Anchorage to Kenai in late December. The Anchorage airport had been weathered in all day and this evening flight was the first allowed to take off. After sitting in the terminal for multiple hours, I figured I was lucky to get on it. More likely my “luck” was due to other passengers being smart enough to realize the planes had been grounded for a good reason and the weather hadn’t cleared all that much.

Off we went into the pitch black, blowing so hard the plane was rocking and bouncing before we even started to taxi. Mere seconds after liftoff we dead dropped for what felt like a longer amount of time than we had been airborne. Being completely dark, we couldn’t see the ground to judge how close we were from to hitting it. From the screams of the passengers, the consensus seemed to be way too damn close.

The flight was the standard 20-ish minutes but packed in more bumps, drops, lurches, rumbles and altitude corrections than I’ve experienced in all other Anchorage-to-Kenai flights I’ve taken combined. Most of my fellow passengers didn’t even attempt to hold it together. They screamed. They swore. They cried. They prayed. They grabbed each other. They lost their lunch. They may have lost other bodily fluids, but luckily I didn’t notice.

I’m proud to say I didn’t do any of those, at least not out loud. I tried to listen to the woman reciting “Hail Mary,” but quit when she got to the bit about “now and at the hour of our death.” Appropriate, perhaps, but not very comforting. A gentleman farther back was shouting “Our Father,” but I gave up following along when my brain involuntarily responded to each violent jostle by inserting new vocabulary into the text — all of the four-letter-word variety.

It’s one of the few stories I have that’s worthy of trying to buy me into a conversation with my relatives when I visit Southeast — all of whom have spent the last 40-, 50- or 60-plus years in the state.

Bumpy little jet ride? Ha. Try riding in the old PBY amphibious Navy “patrol bomb” planes often used when my dad, aunts and uncles were in school. They were so leaky that a column of water would slosh back and forth across the floor whenever the plane would bank. One flight my aunt was on had to make an emergency landing after a mysterious red gooey substance splattered all over the cockpit windshield. Turns out a passengers’ cache of jelly jars full of strawberry jam had burst in flight.

My Uncle Bob has two of the most harrowing tales. One was a pilot skirting in to land in cloudy, low-visibility conditions. Once on the ground, the pilot was heard to ask, “Where did that island come from?”

Apparently it wasn’t on any of his charts or navigational aides.

“I’m never gonna forget that is there,” he said.

On another PBY flight, the co-pilot, then pilot took turns stomping into the passenger section, pulling up a floor panel and hand-cranking the landing gear, generating plenty of swearing and sweat, but no results. The landing gear was stuck half down and wouldn’t budge.

After telling my uncle’s high school basketball team to all cram into the back — “sit in the aisle if you have to,” clearly before the days of “that tray table had better be in its upright and locked position, buster” — they attempted a landing at Juneau. They’d left Juneau two-and-a-half hours before and had been circling in miserable and deteriorating conditions since.

The best thing about that landing, according to my uncle, was, “We were all too sick to think about how scared we were.” A jolt that makes today’s mandatory seatbelt rule make sense and a hail of sparks later, and the plane came to a stop flanked by a parade of flashing lights from the fire department, dispatched to douse what was expected to be a lump of charcoal on the runway.

Makes my 20 minutes of airborne terror seem like I’m whining about the flight attendant skipping my row in serving the 1.5-gram bags of snack mix.

Oh well. I won’t go so far as to actively hope a better catastrophe befalls me, but if it does, I hope I get a decent story out of it.

Jenny Neyman is the editor/publisher of the Redoubt Reporter.

July 14, 2010,  Guest Editorial: Checkup on hospital donations requested

Some of us in the community recently learned that the Central Peninsula Hospital administration donated up to $25,000 to the Kenai River Sport Fishing Association (KRSA). This money is to help support the Kenai River Classic fishing event where U.S. congressmen and corporate fat cats visit the peninsula to rub elbows, make deals, and fill the coffers of KRSA. Additionally, it appears that the hospital administration made a separate donation to KRSA to support the Lisa Murkowski fishing event. Are these donations because the CPH Chief Financial Officer is on the Board of Directors for KRSA?  Where I come from that would be considered a huge conflict of interest and should be looked into by the CPGH, Inc. board.

It is my understanding that the CPH administration is allowed to make donations of up to $25,000 without board approval. I can’t understand why an organization like CPH, that is partially supported by our tax dollars, is making a donation to KRSA that brags of taking in a million a year off of the Classic and has millions of reserved in the bank. Surely there must be more needy and deserving service organizations in our community that could really use additional funds to support their causes.

Kenai Peninsula citizens know how fortunate we are to have a hospital in our area with a professional and caring medical staff. These services are expensive and as a result we often times receive requests for personal donations to the hospital. So why would the administration choose to donate our money from our hospital to further an event that is sponsored by a multimillion dollar organization catering to the wealthy and elite that are far removed from our community? Perhaps it is because they like others are fooled as to what KRSA does with the money? If they have to donate money to the community I would rather see them donate money to organizations like the Kenai Watershed Forum to protect the river or medically sound organizations like Hospice. KRSA is far removed from a health-oriented organization and is more of a good old boy network than a value to the community.

KRSA uses some of their capital to lobby for regulations that often times have negative impacts on private anglers and others in our community.  Just this last year, for instance, they used their influence over the Board of Fisheries (BOF) to keep the upcoming 2011 Upper Cook Inlet BOF meeting in Anchorage instead of the Soldotna/Kenai area for the fourth consecutive time since 1999 (these meetings run in three-year cycles). Their power base prevailed in this endeavor even though other fishing organizations, the mayors from the borough, cities of Kenai and Soldotna, Sen. Wagoner and Speaker of the House Chenault tried their best to get the meeting held in our area.   Eighty percent of the fishery proposals are for regulation changes on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers or immediate offshore waters. You may say, “Why would they do that?” It is because they know local citizens cannot afford the expenses to stay in Anchorage for two weeks of meetings. In contrast, KRSA pays for people from this and other communities to attend, lobby Board of Fish members and otherwise control the process.

Additionally KRSA’s efforts to keep the meeting in Anchorage cost businesses in our area to lose out on several hundred thousand dollars worth of wintertime business not to mention tax revenues for our municipalities.

I suspect it is to late to do anything about these donations at this point but I hope folks on the CPGH, Inc. board will look into this and amend their bylaws so that they have better control over these types of discretionary spending. All of us that support CPH through our property taxes and patronage deserve better.

Dwight Kramer, of Kenai, is chair of the Kenai Area Fishermen’s Coalition.

June 23, 2010,  Editorial: Cost-recovery fishery nets bad feelings

If anything tops the fight of a monster-sized Kenai River king salmon on the line, it would be the size of the fights stirred up surrounding fish allocation issues in the river, as was the case last week when an Alaska Department of Fish and Game cost-recovery fishery came to the attention of area sportfishing interests.

The fishery is not new. It’s been used for years to generate money to support a test fishery in July which helps predict numbers and timing of returning sockeye salmon into Cook Inlet. The test fishery is a valuable tool in estimating the run, which has crucial ramifications for how commercial, sport and personal-use fisheries are managed.

The value and importance of the test fishery is not at issue; its funding source is. Sportfishermen argue that if Fish and Game is going to fund a test fishery program by catching and selling fish, it should be from the same run, not fish allocated for sport fisheries, as sockeyes to the Russian River and early run king salmon caught during the cost-recovery fishery are. Commercial fishermen don’t want the cost-recovery fishery to operate during their season, either. They see it as taking fish out of their nets, just as sport anglers see it as keeping fish from their lines.

The solution is twofold. Better communication and public process is needed. Fish and Game notes that the cost-recovery fishery isn’t a secret, as commercial fishermen and fish processors have known about it for years. But it also isn’t common public knowledge, as evidenced by the firestorm that erupted upon people seeing setnets in the water a few miles south of the Kenai River last week. A fishery that nets over 4,000 fish, as this year’s did, should be run through the public process, meaning local advisory committees and the Board of Fish, giving people a chance to have input into the program.

In a larger sense, the cost-recovery fishery shouldn’t have to happen at all. It’s not illegal, but it’s also not good sense, given high tensions among user groups and concern over fish run strengths. Money for the test fishery should come from the Legislature, rather than from fish otherwise headed toward nets, hooks or spawning grounds.

June 23, 2010,  Guest Editorial: HEA moving on new fronts

First of all, thank you to all our members who attended the HEA 2010 annual meeting in Kenai last month. The turnout was great, with over 500 people on hand to enjoy some refreshments and gather information about our electric cooperative. It was especially nice to see so many families in attendance. We added a few new activities to our annual meeting this year, including a live safety demonstration that used energized lines to show why it is so important to stay clear of all power lines. I hope the information was useful and would encourage you to contact me if you have some ideas on how to improve our annual meeting next year.

A couple of items were brought before the board at the annual meeting that I would like to follow up on. One advisory motion that was approved by a vote of the members present called for the publication of board expenses and reimbursements on a regular basis. That advisory motion was reviewed by the board and will be implemented. The information regarding board expenses will be published on a quarterly basis in the HEA newsletter and will also be posted on HEA’s website.

Another question raised during the annual meeting focused on a decision made several years ago by the board to outsource HEA’s billing and remittance to a cooperative in Georgia. The decision to work with Southeastern Data Cooperative was based on several factors, including financial considerations. SEDC handles the billing systems for over 200 electric utilities and is able to provide support and technology that individual cooperatives simply cannot afford on their own.

That being said, HEA realizes the importance of keeping jobs on the Kenai Peninsula. The board will be looking at the billing process and explore options that may be available to HEA and other cooperatives in Alaska. It’s important to note that supporting the local economy is a top priority at HEA. The switch to SEDC did not result in the loss of any jobs at HEA. Some of the employees actually had to retire early due to repetitive motion injuries incurred in the payment processing job, and others were re-assigned to new positions.

In addition, HEA spends a substantial amount of money each year with vendors on the Kenai Peninsula and, most importantly, our 137 full-time employees are all residents of the Kenai Peninsula. They are active in many social and economic activities that benefit the quality of life on the Kenai Peninsula.

The annual meeting also provided an opportunity to update the membership on the progress of HEA’s power generation plan, Independent Light. As many of our members know, HEA’s power supply contract with Chugach Electric expires at the end of 2013. After that date, HEA will take care of its own generation requirements. The main component of Independent Light is the addition of a steam turbine at our existing Nikiski generation plant. This turbine, using steam as the primary fuel, will be able to nearly double the output of the current 40-megawatt plant. The turbine for the project has been ordered and we are moving full steam ahead (pun intended) with Independent Light and hope to have the new turbine on line in early 2013.

I like to think of Independent Light as our bridge to the future. This project will be able to take care of HEA’s power generation needs for the near term and put us in a good position to take advantage of large-scale renewable projects that may come on line down the road. Mega energy projects like Mount Spurr geothermal or the Susitna hydro project, are potentially viable projects that could supply sustainable electricity to the Railbelt. I am hopeful that someday one or both of these projects will be built. The lead time to research, permit and construct these projects is significant. Although the geothermal project could become a reality sooner, it will be at least another 10 to 15 years before the larger Susitna project is producing power and even longer if history is any indication.

I encourage you to visit our website on a regular basis for updates on HEA projects and events. And as always, my door is open and I welcome comments and suggestions you may have. Enjoy the great Alaska summer and I look forward to seeing you at our regional meetings in the fall.

Brad Janorschke is general manager of Homer Electric Association.

June 16, 2010,  Guest Editorial: ‘Darkened Waters’: A battle for remembering

Now that the BP Gulf spill has eclipsed the Exxon Valdez spill as the largest in United States history, telling the story of the oil spill will be a battle involving one of the most powerful corporations in the world and local folks who feel its bite most acutely. Alaskans have experience in such matters.

Soon after the 1989 Exxon spill the Pratt Museum in Homer set up a small display consolidating information and personal reactions to crude oil coating the beaches of Southcentral Alaska. Locals and visitors came to the exhibit because they could get accurate facts from a trusted institution.

Then museum director Betsy Pitzman and her staff decided the exhibit was important enough to be expanded for a national audience. Grants were obtained and the little museum began production of a traveling exhibit that would be called “Darkened Waters: Profile of an Oil Spill.” Funding sources dictated a “balanced” advisory board determine the message of the displays that would be produced by professional designers. The board consisted of environmentalists, fishermen, agency representatives, Pratt Museum staff, oil company representatives and me.

Meetings were tense. Most of us wanted to portray the spill as huge, environmentally devastating and preventable, and Exxon as the culpable party. All that would have been needed for prevention were a few escort tugs to guide loaded tankers through the islands and reefs of Prince William Sound and reasonable personnel practices (nonrecovered alcoholics don’t pilot tankers). We wanted to send the message that you can’t clean up a spill of that magnitude, you can only try to prevent it by best practices.

The oil company representatives, however, wanted the exhibit to focus on a drunken captain running the big tanker onto the rocks. Unfortunate, but accidents happen. And they wanted everyone to know about how much money they spent on cleanup (ineffectual as it was).

For the sake of shareholder profits and deregulation, Exxon wanted to erase from public consciousness awareness of the catastrophe they caused and a national exhibit threatened that strategy. And they were obviously honing their arguments for litigation: he was drunk, it’s not our fault, accidents happen, we cleaned it up, it’s going to be fine.

After one long, contentious meeting an exhausted Betsy Pitzman quietly stated to a small group of us getting ready to go home: “They want us to forget, but we want to remember.”

Remembering is the basis of history. Remembering is accurately telling the story of life’s triumphs and tragedies. It is true there are usually two sides to every event, but it is also true that sometimes one side is wrong. Sometimes “balance” is a lie and someone’s trying to manipulate the message.

The museum prevailed but, despite its national significance, it was hard to find a venue for the “Darkened Waters” exhibit. Most large museums receive a substantial amount of corporate giving from oil companies and their executives often serve on museum boards. Altruism has nothing to do with it. Through donations corporations generate favorable publicity but moreover create dependency and therefore are in a position to stifle an exhibit the industry deems detrimental to its interests. It almost worked in this case. Museums in Alaska and across the country were frightened of incurring lost oil company donations should they host the “Darkened Waters” exhibit.

But finally the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History stepped forward and, after a pilot exhibit at the Oakland Museum, “Darkened Waters” opened on the Mall in Washington, D.C., in 1991. Sen. Ted Stevens, then a friend of big oil and Bill Allen, the oil spill cleanup contractor and emerging oil lobbyist, was furious.

With the Smithsonian’s lead, other museums got on board and “Darkened Waters” toured the country. A small remnant of the exhibit is still in the Pratt Museum, spreading its message of oil spill impact and prevention.

Now in the Gulf, BP is employing the same tactics Exxon used to minimize its malfeasance. It was an accident, bad judgment by the tool pusher, the Gulf will recover, there’s not as much oil as you think, everything’s fine. Then there’s Rush Limbaugh blaming the spill on environmentalists because they lobbied for strict on-shore regulations “forcing” the oil companies to drill in deep water. To quote that eminent American political philosopher Bugs Bunny, “What a maroon!”

I hope there is a courageous little museum in Louisiana or Mississippi with enough guts to accurately tell the story of the BP spill.

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College.

June 16, 2010,  Guest Editorial: EPA not the right venue for climate, energy legislation

Transitioning to a cleaner energy future is one of the greatest challenges we face. Many of us in Congress are working on common-sense solutions that both protect the environment and strengthen the economy. We understand that losing sight of that delicate balance would have devastating consequences.

Even as the Senate works to advance a number of bipartisan efforts, however, some in Washington are pushing for hasty action over sound policy. Most aggressive has been the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has already begun to impose climate regulations that will soon affect every corner of the economy. The agency launched this effort last December  when it issued an “endangerment finding” for greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide.

At first blush, EPA’s finding appears to merely affirm the science of climate change. But it actually does much more than that — it requires EPA to impose command-and-control regulations limiting the release of greenhouse gases. This unilateral effort will increase consumer energy prices, add greatly to administrative costs for businesses and create massive new layers of government bureaucracy. Such regulation will ultimately endanger job creation, economic growth and America’s competitiveness.

At a time when our economy is struggling to rebound and millions of Americans are looking for work, we’re on the verge of burying some of our most important economic engines under a mountain of bureaucratic regulations. Few industries will escape EPA’s reach — not manufacturers, not farmers, not even small businesses.

EPA’s regulations could also jeopardize crucial energy projects, such as the Alaska natural gas pipeline, and other important projects across the country.

I’m not alone in voicing concern. Senior Democrats in the House of Representatives have introduced their own measures, going so far as to amend the Clean Air Act itself, to halt EPA. Even administration officials and environmental advocates have consistently said they prefer congressional action over agency directives.

Given the widespread support for legislation, and the likely consequences of regulation, I believe these Clean Air Act regulations should be taken off the table. And they can be, through enactment of the Disapproval Resolution (S.J.Res.26) that I filed with 40 of my Democratic and Republican colleagues. My decision to introduce this measure is rooted in a desire to see Congress — not unelected bureaucrats — lead the way in addressing climate change.

An excellent place to start is the bipartisan bill (S.1462) approved last year by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Our legislation will help facilitate the deployment of clean energy technologies, increase domestic production of clean-burning natural gas, pave the way for carbon-free coal power and yield tremendous improvements in energy efficiency. It also strikes the balance we should seek in our policies: it will create American jobs and chart a path toward greater energy security while benefitting the environment.

The energy bill is proof of the progress that can be made when senators commit to working with each other across party lines. We can, and should, take immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by sending this legislation to the president for his signature.

Our alternative is to allow EPA to continue its march to economy-wide climate regulations.  Those who favor this approach tend to have a simple and unfortunate reason for doing so: they believe the threat of regulation will force Congress to pass cap-and-trade legislation, no matter how bad the bill in question may be. But we will not, and should not, pass bad legislation to stave off bad regulations.

It is my hope that the Senate will not remain complicit in this coercive and counterproductive strategy. While climate change is a pressing matter, the threat of backdoor regulations is not encouraging anyone to work faster. It is polarizing the debate and distracting from efforts that might otherwise lead to common ground and consensus.

The American people want the federal government to take a breath, reaffirm its priorities, and focus on policies that will make environmental progress without damaging the economy. I will continue to fight for an opportunity to do just that – through legislation, not regulation – and hope you will encourage your representatives to join in the effort.

Lisa Murkowski is the senior senator from Alaska and the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.


June 9, 2010,  Guest Editorial: After Valdez, history repeats itself in Gulf of Mexico spill

Alaskans who were here for the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989 are surely dismayed by recent events in the Gulf of Mexico.

There, as in Prince William Sound, the oil industry and its government regulators promised Americans the chance of disaster was negligible. They promised that, if there was a spill, they could clean it up with a minimum of harm.

Once again, they were wrong on both counts.

Once again, a beautiful body of water has been fouled by a catastrophic oil spill, damaging the natural and human environments.

Once again, government and industry have shown themselves incapable of fast, effective response. More than a month has passed since BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig blew up and killed 11 workers. Despite the valiant efforts of tens of thousands of responders, the leak has not been stopped — nor have the millions of gallons of oil spewed out been effectively cleaned up. Some has been skimmed off or burned, but clearly, the majority of it is still in the water in either raw or dispersed form.

While Alaskans should be dismayed by this sorry spectacle, they shouldn’t be surprised. We’ve come to expect the worst when it comes to effective regulation of big business by government. That certainly seems to have been the case in the Gulf, where the oil industry and its regulators appear to have learned almost nothing about the need for prevention and preparedness from the disaster in Prince William Sound 21 years ago.

In the Sound itself, though, the picture is different. There, the lessons of the Exxon Valdez are still in active effect today.

In the Sound, prevention is still a high priority. Single-hull oil tankers like the Exxon Valdez no longer operate there. Every loaded oil tanker is escorted by two powerful rescue tugs in case of emergency. In addition, a radar system near Bligh Reef detects icebergs like those that played a role in the Exxon Valdez grounding.

Response also remains a high priority. The oil industry must be ready to clean up 300,000 barrels of oil within 72 hours. A major part of the system for doing so is Alaska’s commercial fishermen. Alyeska Pipeline, in charge of the first 72 hours of response to tanker spills in the Sound, keeps more than 300 fishing vessels under contract for oil-spill response; some are required to be ready to respond within six hours of notification.

Why are the lessons of the Exxon Valdez still actively debated and enforced in Prince William Sound?

When Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, it identified complacency as a cause of the Exxon spill.

“One way to combat this complacency,” Congress declared, “is to involve local citizens in the process of preparing, adopting and revising oil spill contingency plans.”

As in Alaska, the oil industry in the Gulf of Mexico comprises a large segment of the region’s economy, employment and tax base. That dependency creates some reluctance to compel costly safeguards or business-impeding environmental controls.

Citizen oversight operates on a basic moral imperative: Those with the most to lose from pollution must have a voice in decisions that put their livelihoods and communities at risk. In Prince William Sound, the citizen voice has been crucial in numerous safety improvements since the Exxon spill: double-hull requirements, the adoption of high-performance escort tugs, the development of iceberg detection technology, and even elimination of the release of toxic benzene vapors when tankers load oil.

The legislation sure to grow out of the Gulf spill will likely address the need for better regulation of offshore oil development and perhaps raise liability limits on oil spillers.

We think Congress should also consider making citizen oversight a key part of the system to ensure nothing like BP’s Gulf spill happens again.

Citizen oversight isn’t good just for the environment — it’s also good for the affected industry, because it helps the industry get things right the first time.

And that’s absolutely crucial in preventing catastrophes like the Exxon and BP oil spills.

Mark Swanson is executive director of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council. The council is an independent, nonprofit corporation whose mission is to promote environmentally safe operation of the Valdez Marine Terminal and the oil tankers that use it.

June 2, 2010,  Editorial: Growth of a local foods revolution

The central Kenai Peninsula is taking a bite of the local food revolution.

Well, “revolution” is a bit of a misnomer, since growing your own is nothing new. Homesteaders and other area pioneers were no strangers to garden plots and even full-scale farming operations. Every leaf of lettuce grown and chicken egg collected meant a diet better balanced and bank account preserved. But as transportation improved, more grocery outlets opened and fast food chains moved in, convenience came to replace self-sufficiency as a prime consideration in feeding the family.

In the past few years that has been changing, with a future that is looking more to the local food production-centered ways of the past. Call it a re-revolution, then. One that’s bringing residents back around to the idea that growing your own is an endeavor worth cultivating.

Evidence of this expanding movement is sprouting up all over the place. The Central Peninsula Gardening Club is booming. Farmer’s markets are now in operation in Kenai, Soldotna and on K-Beach. Local producers are selling the first crops of veggies of the year. Eggs, meat, herbs, plus prepared foods like jams, honey and salsa can all be purchased fresh and close to home, if not actually harvested from home.

The idea of eating locally never went out of vogue when it comes to fishing or hunting — area residents wouldn’t dream of buying Atlantic salmon fillets. Yet somewhere along the line folks came to believe the myth that farm production, even small-scale garden plots, was unfeasible in Alaska, or simply more trouble than it’s worth.

That’s certainly not the case. Consider the benefits of locally grown food:

  • It’s healthy. If you grow it, you can control what goes into it, producing food that is chemical- and pesticide-free.
  • It’s economical. Yes, a direct price comparison between bargain-brand canned and fresh, garden-grown tomatoes may initially show savings in the can. But especially when considering the larger environmental and economic costs in fuel consumption when shipping food to Alaska, a well-functioning garden, once set up, starts saving green as well as producing it.
  • It’s better for the community. Shipping in the vast majority of the food consumed on the central Kenai Peninsula puts residents in a dangerous position. One earthquake, avalanche or volcanic eruption could leave store shelves bare. Much better to have home shelves stocked.
  • It’s educational. Kids should know where their food comes from, to cultivate a better appreciation for the land that supports them. Getting kids involved in raising a garden or animals teaches them to take care of the land, its creatures and themselves.

Not everyone has the time, space, resources or wherewithal to produce their own food, although it’s so easy and economical that those who can’t are the exception, not the rule. But for those who don’t, consider supporting those who do. Frequent farmer’s markets. Support local producers. Visit area greenhouses. Take a gardening class. Every bit of support helps feed the community’s health.

It’s time we all gave a thumbs up to green thumbs.

June 2, 2010,  Guest Editorial: Hidden costs of new health care law

By Sen. Lisa Murkowski

WASHINGTON — Throughout the year-long debate over health care reform, President Obama promised that the legislation would reduce the spiraling cost of health care and that if you liked your health care plan, you could keep it. But a couple of new government reports confirm what many of us who opposed a federal takeover of the health care system feared all along – higher costs, less access and unsustainable spending.

According to Rick Foster, the chief actuary of the administration’s own Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), President Obama’s new health care reform law will actually increase national health care spending by $311 billion over the next 10 years. Foster’s report also said that about 14 million people would lose their employer coverage by 2019, largely as a result of small employers terminating coverage and workers who currently have employer coverage enrolling in Medicaid.

There are a lot of things wrong with the health care law, starting with the half trillion dollars in new taxes and the $529 billion in Medicare cuts. The CMS report warns that those whopping Medicare cuts may not be realistic and sustainable, potentially driving 15 percent of all hospitals, nursing homes and similar providers into the red within 10 years. Providers that depend on Medicare for a substantial part of their business could be forced to drop out of the program “possibly jeopardizing access to care” for senior citizens, according to the CMS report.

The situation in Alaska is particularly dire. In March 2009, the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska (ISER) reported that 13 out of 75 primary care physicians in Anchorage were accepting new Medicare patients. Just 15 months later, that number has dropped to the single digits.  Further cuts to Medicare will only worsen the situation for the most vulnerable Alaskans — seniors and the disabled.

The CMS report also said that an estimated 23 million people would remain uninsured in 2019. Of those 23 million, about five million would be illegal aliens while the remaining 18 million would be individuals who choose not to be insured and will be forced to pay a penalty associated with the law’s mandate of up to 2 percent of one’s income.  So despite the $2.6 trillion that this law will cost in the first 10 years of full implementation, a substantial number of Americans still will remain uninsured.

CMS says that the health care law will impose billions of dollars in annual fees on manufacturers and importers of brand-name prescription drugs and on health insurance plans, and new taxes on medical device sales. CMS said it anticipates that these new fees and taxes  will be passed down to consumers in the form of higher drug and device prices and higher insurance premiums, raising health care costs from $2.1 billion in 2011 to $18.2 billion in 2018.

Throughout the health care debate, Americans were told the Democrats’ health care reform measure would make premiums more affordable; instead, as the President’s own actuary at CMS confirms, Americans will face higher premiums, more job-killing taxes and additional layers of new government bureaucracy.

Just this past week, the Congressional Budget Office revised its initial cost estimate to say that the law will likely cost $115 billion more in discretionary spending over 10 years than the original cost projection. Nearly every day the American people learn a little more about the high costs and reduced benefits in this new law. That’s why I strongly support Alaska’s efforts to strike the most egregious provisions of the law through a multistate lawsuit and why I voted to repeal the entire law this past March.

May 26, 2010,  Guest Editorial: Kenai River habitat restoration seeing growth

Photo courtesy of KRSA. Cabled spruce tree projects, seen here, have shown to be successful in stabilizing Kenai Riverbanks.

Kenai Peninsula landowners have much to be proud of following the release of a new study this month on how we’re caring for the Kenai River. The Kenai River Restoration Project Assessment, conducted by Inter-Fluve for Kenai River Sportfishing Association with funding through the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, is the first comprehensive evaluation of riverbank restoration efforts in more than 15 years. It looks at 50 miles of riverbank, from Skilak Lake down to the mouth of the Kenai River.

What are the overall conclusions of the study? Riverside landowners who care, matching funds for stream-bank restoration and a solid education program are producing positive results for one of the world’s most important sportfishing rivers.

A lot of good work has been done over the years to protect the Kenai River, and this study allows us to step back and look at what’s working, what’s not and begin to share solid information on how we can make the best use of resources and time in the future.

The assessment found 385 individual habitat restoration projects to survey and evaluate, for a total of close to nine miles of restored habitat, or about 9 percent of riverbank.

The study looked at not only how many and what types of restoration projects have been done, but also their effectiveness in protecting the bank and enhancing fish habitat. It concludes that well-maintained cabled spruce tree projects are an effective means for erosion control, and they also provide low-velocity areas that are good for fish habitat. Bio-engineered bank and root-wad projects also are working. When compared to two types of reference sites along the river, untreated/disturbed sites and natural/undisturbed sites, cabled spruce tree projects provide much better fish habitat than the untreated/disturbed sites but are not quite as effective when compared to natural, undisturbed sites.

In this regard, the study makes several recommendations to improve the effectiveness of future Kenai River restoration projects. It suggests we try to do a better job in restoring mature, woody vegetation to stream banks where possible. Work is still needed to enhance cabled spruce tree design and to incorporate engineering analysis for bio-engineered bank projects, so that future restoration projects could be designed to incorporate new techniques to better mimic natural stream-bank conditions in order to provide greater fish habitat benefits. We still need to get a better understanding of how large, woody debris dynamics work in Alaska rivers.

The study highlighted the fact that long-term maintenance of cabled spruce tree projects is crucial in providing long-term benefits for fish habitat, and should be replaced every three to four years. Along those lines, the innovation of quick clips on the cabling used to anchor spruce trees into the riverbank was shown to provide easier access when replacing older trees. The adoption of such techniques shows how our knowledge of restoration of fish habitat continues to evolve. Hopefully, the study is just the beginning of necessary research to continue to build on conservation efforts along the Kenai.

One of the most exciting discoveries in this study is the fact that nearly 60 percent of the bank restoration projects on the Kenai were privately funded, mainly by conservation-minded, private Kenai River property owners who are willing to fund and do the work themselves. Another nearly 40 percent of the restoration projects utilized the cost share program through the Alaska Department of Fish and Game/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that provides matching funds and technical assistance. The Donald E. Gilman River Center and the cost share program are to be commended for doing a great job on education, permitting and the development of standards for riverbank restoration.

These programs undoubtedly are having a significant impact in ensuring projects are being done correctly, and have resulted in more people making a decision to participate. As a result, erosion control and fish habitat enhancement projects on the Kenai have increased five-fold since the early 1990s. More importantly, the stream-bank protection and restoration measures are reducing erosion and improving fish habitat.

“Kenai River landowners and resource managers should be commended for the tremendous amount of effort that has gone into improvements to stream-bank conditions and fish habitat along the Kenai River,” stated Gardner Johnston of Inter-Fluve.

While there is still much more work to do, Alaskans can be proud to know that we are learning from mistakes in the Lower 48. Use on the Kenai River continues to grow, and it will take everyone’s concentrated effort to make sure that the river is protected for generations to come.

If you know someone who has contributed to this effort, I hope you’ll take this chance to thank them. If you’re a property owner along the Kenai who hasn’t contributed to the effort yet, I hope you’ll consider making that investment in the very near future. The Donald E. Gilman River Center and the cost share program are tremendous resources that we strongly encourage you to take advantage of, especially their annual hands-on restoration workshops for landowners and contractors. For our part, we’ll continue to discover and share the best information we can get on how to make habitat restoration projects doable and effective. Together, let’s continue to show the world that we can do it right on the Kenai River.

The Kenai River Restoration Project Assessment is available online at http://www.kenairiversportfishing.com.

Ricky Gease is executive director of Kenai River Sportfishing Association.

May 19, 2010,  Editorial: Priority should be prevention, not profit

A level playing field is a good thing. But when that field is at risk of being irrevocably damaged by an oil spill, the priority must go to protecting the field over smoothing out speed bumps to profitability.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has got her priorities tilted on this issue. In the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, she blocked a bill last week that would have raised the maximum liability for oil companies after a spill from $75 million to $10 billion.

She said she would support raising the cap and working with the White House and legislators to determine an appropriate amount, but reasoned that a $10 billion cap would make it unfeasible for smaller, independent oil companies to operate on the Outer Continental Shelf.

The issue shouldn’t be about making sure any companies interested get a crack at the oil. It’s about protecting against just the sort of disaster that is playing out in the Gulf, and the sorts Alaska has seen in Valdez and on the North Slope.

Since her objections blocked the bill Thursday, Murkowski was derided for characterizing the independent oil companies as mom-and-pop operators, and rightly so. Co-opting the imagery of a hard-working, well-meaning couple bustling along on a slim profit margin from their local grocery or retail store is inaccurate and disingenuous. There’s no hometown, conscience-driven couple behind any size oil corporation. Although, true mom-and-pop businesses do employ a bit of wisdom that’s relevant here — you break it, you buy it.

The worst an actual mom-and-pop business may do, in the hearth-and-apple-pie reference Murkowski is trying to appropriate for her argument, is overcharge for a can of sardines or maybe close shop early to make it to a grandkid’s Little League game. The scale is much different for supposed “mom and pop” oil companies. Errors and oversights from even the smaller, independent oil companies can lead to billions of dollars in economic damages and irrevocable harm to natural resources.

A spill could easily generate $10 billion in damages. If a company can’t afford that much in liability, then it shouldn’t be allowed to run the risk of causing that damage. Spill damages must be mitigated. If the companies behind the damage don’t cover those costs, that leaves government, via taxpayers, on the hook for the bill.

Like a hurricane, damages from an oil spill are much more far-reaching than simply what the winds pummel or the oil slick fouls. But a spill is no natural disaster, without a forwarding address to send the bill. If oil companies are to be allowed access to the billions in profits they can reap from drilling for and producing the oil, then they should be held accountable for the damage those activities can cause.

Corporations are structured to prioritize profits above all else. That’s not to say all corporations or everyone working for them are worthy of vilification simply because of this fact, but it’s a reality that must be recognized in regulation. With profit as the priority, then the costs of a spill must outweigh the profit that can come from skimping on maintenance and safety. Government is the only entity in a position to make that happen.

Murkowski points out that liability for an oil spill cleanup, and compensatory and punitive damages, are unlimited under the law, if negligence can be proven. But previous spills have proven that oil corporations consider it cheaper to invest in cadres of high-power lawyers and decades-long legal battles to wriggle out of court-order financial responsibility than they do taking all the precautions they can to prevent a spill in the first place. Just ask a few mom-and-pop commercial fishing operations about their experience after the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

The only way to have absolute protection against oil spills is to no longer drill for or produce oil. On the other end of the spectrum is allowing oil companies free reign in deciding what precautions to take and enforcing no oversight of those precautions. Neither are acceptable approaches. Given the damage that can come from a spill, government has a duty to act as oversight of oil industry activities.

The question is, what’s a reasonable amount to hold over their heads to incentivize acting responsibly over just boosting profits? The answer lies in making it clear, by law, that oil companies will be held immediately responsible for the full price of cleaning up a spill and eliminating that spill’s aftereffects. Any respectable mom-and-pop operation would consider that the right thing to do.

May 19, 2010,  Guest Editorial: Ionia is return to good sense

Photo courtesy of Alan Boraas. Barrels hold natural food stores at the therapeutic eco-community of Ionia in Kasilof.

Tucked away on the Kenai Peninsula’s back roads of Cohoe is a therapeutic eco-community called Ionia. Recently, several hundred visitors took advantage of a Kenai Resilience open house at Ionia to learn about sustainable living. I was among them.

The core of the Ionia enclave, now numbering about 50 full-time residents, came from Boston, arriving on the peninsula in 1987. The four original families had two things in common — mental health problems and a sense that the world was just as crazy as they were.

They were diagnosed with schizophrenia, paranoia or depression and faced a lifetime taking mind-numbing psychotropic drugs generously prescribed by a therapy industry, with no hope of getting better. In the 1970s, in order to somehow take control of their lives, they formed a self-help community within a Boston neighborhood. But by 1983, according to a 1999 Anchorage Daily News article by Jon Little, they were run out by fearful, small-minded neighbors. Their subsequent journey took them to California and Seattle, but neither afforded them a place where they could re-institute sanity according to age-old principles.

And so they did what a lot of us have done for various reasons, all having to do with redefining self within a context of a place not yet corrupted by burgeoning population densities and a ridged social order: They came to Alaska. In Anchorage, according to Little, they were helped by Aron Wolf, a psychiatrist who offered them hope, not drugs. Go to the Kenai Peninsula, he advised, and cure yourselves.

So they bought 160 acres off North Cohoe Loop and built what amounts to a modern version of a medieval Scandinavian community (minus the beef) based on three principles.

First, they eat a natural diet devoid of processed foods. That means no fast food and nothing that comes in a box. Highly processed, chemically laced foods put some people over the edge and the rest of us on edge. A macrobiotic diet, the leaders perceived, was a first step toward sanity.

Most Ionians are vegetarians, but some also eat fish. Thanks to clever grant writing for equipment and lots of hard work, they grow a significant amount of what they eat. In addition to vegetables, they have successfully grown barley (a local brewery plans to purchase some for a northern beer) and are experimenting with subarctic varieties of wheat. They harvest seaweed, berries and other natural plants. What they can’t grow they purchase in bulk from natural farms Outside.

The second part of their program is to live thoughtfully and sustainably. They heat with efficient wood heat systems and are experimenting with wind and solar energy. They build beautiful log structures but are investigating building with clay-coated straw bales, essentially a form of traditional wattle and daub, as a more efficient form of insulation.  They make a lot of their own clothes, described by Little as skateboarder-chic. They reject all television and blather radio but have an impressive library of movies and use computers for creativity and the Internet for information. When they need to go to Soldotna, a half-hour away, they carpool in one of the community vans. Their technology is well thought out — nothing is done without a good reason.

Third, the Ionia people live in a mutually supportive environment, the ultimate form of therapy. Mornings are spent in discussions that can last hours, and then they work in groups on the projects of the season. Kids laugh and play and a third generation is now growing up. Many travel the world.

At the Kenai Resilience tour, the guide stressed that they are not a cult. People move in and out at will. Most — perhaps all — are spiritual without advocating any particular religion. Ionia is not a true commune, though they share a lot of resources, but a group who live by mutually agreed upon principles. How novel.

The people of Ionia have transformed themselves into a model of what a northern society can return to in the 21st century. Their mental health issues were really an expression of the schizophrenia, paranoia and depression of modernity — fighting wars for no reason, creating needs for things no one really needs, fouling the environment, eating junk and producing a frenzied lifestyle of perpetual exhaustion and anxiety.

They have stopped the craziness in themselves by redefining what is good, meaningful and healthy, and in doing so exposed the craziness of the modern society. The rest of us can learn from their bold experiment.

For photos of Ionia see http://www.ionia.org.

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College. This column was previously published in the Anchorage Daily News.

May 12, 2010,  Guest Editorial: Alaska, Cook Inlet at risk for future oil well blowouts

On April 20, the “state-of-the-art” semisubmersible drilling rig Horizon burst into flames in the Gulf of Mexico after blowout prevention devices failed to function. On Earth Day 2010, the rig sank. Eleven workers tragically died, and as of this writing, the well is spewing anywhere from a quarter million to a million gallons a day of crude oil into important fisheries habitats. The responsible party — British Petroleum — has a long string of regulatory violations in Alaska, and it allegedly fought rules to enhance blowout safeguards in the Gulf.

Now, Alaskans and people throughout the world are watching the horror of another Exxon Valdez unleashed on Gulf families, businesses and fisheries. This tragedy comes on the heels of the Obama administration’s recent announcement to expand offshore oil drilling off the Lower 48, and to press forward with additional exploration in Cook Inlet and the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.

In Alaska, Gov. Sean Parnell signed SB 309, which would dole out up to a 100 percent subsidy — at a value up to $25 million — to the first oil company that drills a new well in Cook Inlet waters. Lesser rebates would be available for subsequent wells. The bill passed the Alaska Legislature with only two dissenting votes. At a time when Tea Party activists are condemning government spending, and when free market principles are routinely heralded as the savior of our economic woes, it’s especially ironic for the state of Alaska to be distorting our markets with massive subsidies to well-heeled oil corporations in the wake of the BP spill disaster.

Clearly, the geology, technology and other conditions are very different in Cook Inlet compared to the Gulf. Yet there have been at least three recorded blowouts in Cook Inlet alone, and while little oil has spilled from these events, the potential for blowout related spills remains, especially if drillers target new, deeper reserves with lesser-known formation pressures.

To make matters worse, Cook Inlet is woefully unprepared for a blowout. Regulatory reforms after the Exxon Valdez required industry to prove the ability to stop a well blowout. But starting around 2002, state regulators — under pressure from industry — began to roll back requirements for relief wells in the event blowout prevention failed. Relief wells are drilled to intersect the blowout well, and they inject cements and other heavy materials down hole to quell the blowout. The three previous blowouts in Cook Inlet mobilized relief well capacities, and BP is scrambling right now in the Gulf to do the same.

But in Cook Inlet and elsewhere in Alaska, there is now no requirement for industry to publicly prove its capacity to drill a relief well. So, if an oil company opts to pursue the corporate subsidies offered by SB 309, it will only bring one new jack-up drilling rig to Cook Inlet — not a second one to drill a relief well if needed — because that would be too expensive.

Yet as we learned with the Exxon Valdez — and as we’re seeing in the Gulf — the costs of spilled oil are not cheap. Rather, the impacts to fisheries and the families, jobs and communities they support are significant and long term. And once oil hits the water, it’s a lose-lose proposition, because even in ideal conditions, industry still can’t clean-up spilled oil effectively.

It’s been over 40 years since Unocal’s Platform A blowout oiled the beaches of Southern California, yet industry’s ability to clean up spilled oil remains outdated and ineffective, especially in the ice and broken ice conditions we find in Alaska.

The Exxon Valdez brought about some much-needed reforms, and the BP Gulf disaster will presumably do the same. But as time passes and complacency sets back in, relentless pressure from industry to maximize profits and reduce costs will invariably erode the safeguards common sense and experience show we need.

Unless, of course, our politicians and industry leaders finally get serious about responsible energy development. For now, our hearts go out to the people and the communities in the Gulf region.

Bob Shavelson is Executive Director of Cook Inletkeeper. Cook Inletkeeper is a community-based nonprofit organization formed in 1995 to protect the Cook Inlet watershed and the life it sustains. http://www.inletkeeper.org

May 12, 2010,  Editorial: Oil running out has dual meaning, threat

Bill signings are typically celebrated occasions, as should have been the case when Gov. Sean Parnell visited Kenai on Monday to sign into law Senate Bill 309. The bill creates incentives for drilling new wells in Cook Inlet and for ramping up development at existing gas wells.

It represents a boost to the flagging oil and gas industry in the area, as known reserves at existing wells dwindle and producers demonstrate waning interest in investing in the search for more. As dependant as the area’s economy is on the oil and gas industry, incentives for continued and expanded oil and gas development equals incentive for a surge in the economy.

But even with the peninsula legislative delegation standing by to witness Gov. Parnell sign what amounts to economic stimulus for the area, the event was fouled by the shroud of the massive oil spill spreading in the Gulf of Mexico.

The devastating oil spill unavoidably casts SB 309 in a context of risk. It’s a context Alaska should be well aware of, having our own firsthand example of the dangers of oil production with the Exxon Valdez wreck, the recent spills due to corroded pipes on the North Slope, and all the leaks, spills and accidents in between. But Alaska’s economy also knows the dangers of decreasing oil and gas production, as the state’s budget is supported in large part by industry activity.

The Gulf spill poses a stark example of the two-sided risks of oil running out —the economic damage that will be felt if production wanes in Alaska. And the devastation to the environment that would happen in the event of a well blowout or other type of spill, causing the oil to literally run out onto the ground or into the sea.

A balance between the risks is of course ideal, but that can be difficult to achieve, especially as easily reached reserves are depleted and newer drilling methods into unfamiliar topography are used. Recent legislative wrangling over oil industry taxes and incentives, especially as negotiations to construct a natural gas pipeline progress, have focused more on the economic risks of stymied development, rather than the environmental risks — and resulting economic ones —that can come from focusing on stimulus rather than safety.

At least as much emphasis needs to be placed on safety and spill prevention as on further industry development. In fact, more is warranted. As the Gulf spill demonstrates, damages from a gushing spill can far outweigh economic damages from a slowing trickle of production. Now’s the time to make sure our priorities are straight. If any good can come from the Gulf spill, let it be increased vigilance that it never happens again.

May 5, 2010,  Guest Editorial: ‘Love me tender, love me true’

Dena’ina Elder Sasha Lindgren went to the board in Room 158 at Kenai Peninsula College recently and wrote: bee bop a lula sh’a’a qelan (she’s my baby).  Our Dena’ina class was translating modern lyrics as an exercise in understanding the language. Others followed with the Dena’ina equivalent of “I go out walk’n after midnight,” and other golden oldies.

The students and I are focusing on the Kenai dialect of Dena’ina. If we could, we’d learn it from elders in monthlong emersion sessions, but the last Kenai dialect speaker, Rev. Fred Mamaloff, died four years ago, so that’s not an option. We use dictionaries and grammars derived from linguists like James Kari and the writings of Peter Kalifornsky. Slowly we build a sentence in what, like other Athabascan languages, is one of the most complex in the world. It’s harder than differential calculus.

And why? Why not let cultural evolution take its course and let the language die its slow, painful death?

Two reasons.

First, along with efforts by the Alaska Native Heritage Center and Alaska Native Language Center, we are rectifying a wrong perpetrated by the United States government during the first half of the 20th century. In territorial schools throughout Alaska, including Kenai, children had their mouths washed out with soap or were subjected to other forms of corporal punishment for speaking their Native language. Educational leaders of the time correctly understood that language is the key to culture and identity. But by attempting to eradicate Native languages they incorrectly thought they would be accelerating assimilation into an imaginary American monoculture.

What the educators didn’t understand is that humans are perfectly capable of holding two world views in their head, just as they are capable of speaking two languages, as long as those world views are equally valued. What the misguided educators succeeded in doing was creating a generation devalued of their heritage and angry at a system that would convince people, through the tactics of dominance, that their indigenous perspectives are inferior.

So it’s a big deal when someone like Deb Coveyou, who never learned Dena’ina because the generation before her had it beat out of them, could go to the board of a public education facility and write “dezhuni eł shghu nenichen, lach’u eł shghu nenichen” — “Love me tender, love me true.”

But it’s more than being able to recapture the language of a place and a heritage lost. Embedded in the grammar of a language are patterns of thought that predispose its speakers to think in certain ways. These are hard to access because the rules of grammar that allow us to say a sentence we have never heard before are subconscious and have been since we first put two words together and said “mommy, hungry.”

Consequently, the grammars of the world’s languages form a cognitive human genome of the possibilities of thought. For example, Dena’ina has a grammatical construct for causation; a Dena’ina speaker subconsciously inserts a barred-l (ł) sound (not in English), at a certain place in the verb to mean, “Cause it to happen.” Thus every Dena’ina speaker would intuitively understand the veracity of causation. A traditional Dena’ina speaker would understand that they had a measure of control of their destiny because it’s embedded in their subconscious. Every time the causation synapse fired the concept would have become more entrenched in their world view; the same with other concepts rooted in the grammar.

One of the paradoxes of our time is that while the volume of information is exponentially increasing, the potential languages in which that information is being expressed is exponentially decreasing. Ten languages account for 83 percent of Internet use and English and Chinese alone account for almost half of it. At the same time indigenous languages are disappearing at the rate of one every 14 days.  As the cognitive genome shrinks we are losing diversity of thought.

Revitalizing the indigenous languages of place is one of the critical tasks of our time and Alaska can be at the forefront of this effort. Former Alaska Humanities Forum director Gary Holthaus once testified at a statewide curriculum conference that the two most important resources of Alaska are its remarkable landscape and Native language heritage. Those subjects, in all their manifestations, should be the core of our northern curriculums from grade school to college.

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College. This column was previously published in the Anchorage Daily News.


April 28, 2010,  Guest Editorial: Love in the air, and tress, for May Day

Illustrations courtesy of Alan Boraas. Cottonwoods are a dominant tree species in Southcentral Alaska and members of the willow family, along with balsam poplar, aspen and, of course, willow. They are dioecious, which means there are male and female trees. The way to tell them apart is to look at their catkins or reproductive structure. The female catkin, above, consists of several ovaries that contain the pistils within which are the seeds. The male catkin, below, consists of 40 to 50 stamen that produce pollen, the tree’s equivalent of sperm. Catkins emerge in the spring and emit an aromatic scent to attract bees to facilitate pollination. In June, the cottonlike seeds are ejected and float over forests and lawns, where some will take root and grow to trees.

Warning: This article contains explicit sexual descriptions, or, at least, biological ones, that may be offensive to some.

He had loved her ever since she was a tender shoot and he was a scrawny sapling. She was, after all, the most beautiful cottonwood in the forest.

They had grown up together, she on one side of a ravine and he on the other. At first it was merely a foolish, youthful crush, but, as the years passed, it had become something much, much more.

When he was younger he had wondered if she even knew he was alive. In those days his bark was smooth and brownish and his leaves seemed too big for his twigs. He was embarrassed by his appearance and tried to hide. But it’s hard to hide when you’re a tree.

Then, over the years, his bark had matured to a rough, deeply furrowed gray, and he had grown into the tallest, stateliest tree around. Yes, he was a proud male cottonwood and remarkable specimen at that, if he did say so himself.

Yet, she didn’t seem to notice him.

Then, one fall day as they were about to shed their leaves, he glanced over at his love and she shyly turned and smiled at him. All too quickly she modestly looked away, but not before he had managed to smile back. Their moment had been brief, but definite. As she turned, he noticed that a little wind rustled her leaves and a lovely pale-green blush swept over her.

His leaves shivered, his roots tingled, and his heartwood leaped with excitement. From that moment on he was in love. During the cold, dark winter nights he dreamed of her long, slender petioles and her ovate leaf blades with the cute little drip tips on the end. And he made plans for spring.

All would have been well but for the intruder that had come between them. A miserable little white spruce had grown up in the ravine obscuring his view of her and his planned path of pollination. How he loathed that spruce — a conifer, no less — a throwback to an earlier evolution. Imagine, evergreen needles, and it didn’t even drop them in the fall. But what was worse, the interloper was a shameless gymnosperm, its ovules were not even encased in an ovary but were indecently attached to its tacky little cones right out in the open for everyone to see.

He gloated when squirrels scampered up the spruce, picked off the cones, peeled away the scales and ate the naked seeds. But the shameless spruce just produced more cones.

What’s more, the spruce was monoecious, having both its male stamens and female pistils right on the same plant. Not that there was anything wrong with that. His friend the paper birch was also monoecious but at least he was an angiosperm — a flowering plant like himself. The cottonwood had to admit it had taken him awhile to accept his birch friend’s preference. But over the years he had come to understand that the birch’s mode of reproduction is predetermined and the cottonwood accepted him for what he was. And he was a true friend patiently listening to the cottonwood’s endless complaints about the spruce that shielded him from his love. Alas, the cottonwood knew he was capable of budding his own roots. In despair he resigned himself to a lonely, self-reproducing destiny.

Then one December a family of people came into the forest. They were singing and talking and having a jolly time. All of the trees watched the people as they studied and discussed the spruce trees. Finally, they all pointed at the idiot spruce in the ravine. Quick as a wink they chopped it down and carried it away. For years the cottonwood and the birch would laugh about the spruce. They could just see him all dolled up in plastic tinsel and little flashing lights. But at the same time, they missed him. He wasn’t really such a bad sort.

But for now the cottonwood had other things on his mind. The path across the ravine was now clear and there, on the other ridge, the female cottonwood stood as beautiful as ever. The dioecious duo looked longingly at each other for what seemed to be an eternity. They knew then, that spring would not come soon enough.

Eventually the days got longer and the snow melted. With the warmth of the sun, the ground began to thaw and the sturdy male cottonwood felt the sap coursing through his xylem, triggering primal urges. His catkins began to grow; the long, purplish pendants each contained 40 to 60 stamen and produced thousands of tiny pollen grains. Yes, he thought, this was going to be his year. She too, was busy over on the other side of the ravine. Her catkins produced densely hairy ovaries with three broad lobed stigmas on top of her pistils.

Then, when all was ready, their resinous buds ruptured and emitted the wonderfully intoxicating perfume of balsam and it drove the male cottonwood crazy. It seemed like everyone noticed. People stopped to smell the air and, as usual, insects went wild.

But the male cottonwood didn’t want any bees coming between them. He waited for a breeze from the right direction and in a burst emitted his pollen to the wind. He was in ecstasy when he saw some of his little yellow grains settle on her catkins.

Within weeks she filled the air with cottony seeds. Millions of the downy zygotes floated hither and yon, but one, they noticed, landed between them.

That summer they saw the little rascal take root and grow. What a handsome seedling, she thought. He boasted to his birch friend that the little sprig was a real chip off the old block.

And occasionally, as they grew old, he would look down at the sturdy young sapling, and then look back across the ridge and smile at her. Demurely she would glance back at him, and a little breeze would rustle her leaves in a soft, pale-green blush.

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College. Botanically accurate descriptions in this article are from “Alaska Trees and Shrubs,” by Leslie A. Viereck and Elbert L. Little Jr.

April 21, 2010,  Guest Editorial: Opposing sexual assault stymied by misconceptions

Persephone, the goddess of spring in Greek mythology, loved playing with her sisters among the flowers in the meadow. Then one fine spring day, Hades, lord of the underworld, abducted Persephone from the meadow, raped her and took her with him to his world.

For many months, Persephone’s mother, Demeter, searched unsuccessfully for her missing daughter. When she discovered her daughter had been abducted, Demeter pressured Zeus to force Hades to release Persephone.

Before he released her, though, Hades made Persephone eat seven pomegranate seeds, which meant she had to return to the underworld for four months each year. Legend has it the time Persephone spends in the underworld is known as winter on earth. The other two-thirds of the year she spends on earth are the spring and summer months.

Had it not been for the support and determination of her mother, Persephone could not have made it out of the underworld and overcome her abduction and rape by Hades. She is known today as the first survivor of power and control by Hades.

Misconceptions on sexual assault, rape and abduction are plentiful today. However, rape isn’t always committed by a stranger carrying a weapon. Neither is the rapist necesssarily from the other side of the tracks, or the “wrong” side of town.

Instead, 84 percent of sexual assault victims know their attackers. The attacks occur at various locations such as hotels, motels, parks, forest preserves and homes. They can occur at a whole variety of functions such as at parties, on dates, while walking or hiking, nights on the town and the like.

Very few other people know when a rape has occurred. Most victims in the majority of rape cases keep these incidents to themselves and do not seek outside help. It’s as much a mistake now as it was years ago to believe the victims run away from their rapists, scream and cry for help, call police, and everyone rushes to the scene.

Anyone can be the victim of a sexual assault. Age and race do not necessarily matter. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, youngsters, married and single individuals, siblings, the rich and poor, the working and unemployed, are all potential victims. Sexual assault knows no boundaries.

One in four women and 1 in 33 men in the United States have either been raped or are the victim of an attempted rape, a national published report indicates. About 13.7 million of the approximately 55 million women in the U.S. are or will be affected in some way by rape.

In Alaska, the rape rate is 2 1/2 times higher than the national average. Sexual assault against children is six times higher than the national average. Alaska also has the highest rate per capita of men murdering women.

Seventy-three percent of family violence victims are female, and 84 percent of spousal abuse victims are women. Eighty-six percent are victims of abuse at the hands of a boyfriend, published statistics from several sources show.

The reports also indicate that more than one out of three American Indian and Alaska Native Women will be raped in their lifetimes, and that more than three out of four American Indian and Alaska Native women will be physically assaulted in their lifetimes.

Just under 17 percent of the victims report the crime to a crisis line like Lee Shore Center or Haven House, a law enforcement agency, hospital emergency room, or medical clinic on the peninsula. The other 84 percent keep these incidents to themselves. This is conducive to physical symptoms, cutting, mental health, and suicide ideation, attempted suicide and drug overdose.

Statistics indicate many individuals have been or will be sexually assaulted and abused at some time. More than 20 percent of homicides reported to authorities in Alaska and Utah involved intimate partner violence as the precipitating factor.

With April designated as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, everyone needs to encourage prevention and provide well-established avenues of reporting any and all such incidents.

Furthermore, these incidents need to be reported on a 24-hour basis, year-round, without fail.

If you are the victim of sexual assault or  know of a child that has been injured, telephone 9-11 or the Central Peninsula Hospital Emergency Room at 907-714-4444 to report the incident. For children contact the local Child Advocacy Center at 907-690-2113; local law enforcement contact numbers are: Alaska State Troopers at 262-4453, Soldotna Police Department at 262-4455, and the Kenai Police Department at 283-7879.

The Sexual Assault Response Team is made up of law enforcement advocates and forensic examiners. This means that working with the team, the assault victim needs only to tell the story one time rather than multiple times to different agencies and authorities. The examination can be completed and the advocacy unit can work with the victim on a safety plan and also act as the victim’s liaison throughout the criminal justice system.

Each person has the compassion to help their fellow man. Notify authorities should you see or hear about someone being injured in a criminal action. This is the time for the public to face the issues of sexual assault, abuse of children and domestic violence in our community.

Also, everyone is asked to wear a purple ribbon the month of April to honor all assault victims and let them know they are not alone.

Assault survivors may take comfort in knowing that although “winter” is very difficult, with help from others, “spring” is just around the corner.

Rita Magee is a registered nurse who lives and works on the Kenai Peninsula.


March 31,  2010,  Guest Editorial: Independent Light: Scrutiny is part of process

Homer Electric Association’s interest in pursuing a plan to build and own power generation facilities is creating questions among some of our members.  This is exactly what should be expected from a healthy and vibrant cooperative.

In matters of such importance, a comprehensive discussion needs to take place so an informed decision can be made in the best interest of all the members of HEA.  I enjoyed speaking about our power supply plan during our regional meetings last fall around the Kenai Peninsula and again just last month to community organizations in Homer, Soldotna and Kenai. The favorable response to the presentations was encouraging and I look forward to other opportunities to talk about this significant topic.

Independent Light is the name of the plan that would eventually put HEA in ownership of generation facilities here on the Kenai Peninsula.  It calls for adding a steam turbine on to our existing Nikiski generation plant and with the addition of a small amount of gas, nearly doubling the power output of the plant to 77 megawatts.  In addition, we would consider adding two gas turbines at the Soldotna substation where housing for the turbines already exists.  While the discussion regarding the details of Independent Light is relatively new, the debate and studies regarding our power supply future go back several years.

Currently, HEA purchases 90 percent of its power from Chugach Electric.  The contract will expire at the end of 2013.  Knowing that deadline existed, the cooperative engaged an independent consultant in 2004 to develop a power supply study.  That study resulted in several options being laid out on the table for consideration.  Over the past five years, as more information was gleaned and opportunities changed on the various options, the study has been continually updated.  After a thorough review by the board, the choices were narrowed down to basically two: Does HEA continue to purchase its power from Chugach or does HEA construct its own generation facilities?

According to the power supply study, the impact on retail electric rates is about the same because either option will require the construction of new generation assets.  So with cost being relatively equal, other factors were evaluated and Independent Light eventually was deemed the best route for HEA to follow.

A key consideration is the fact that HEA will own the generation facilities.  Decisions about how to dispatch power, integrate potential renewable energy sources, and negotiate contracts with natural gas producers will be made by HEA, with the best interests of our members being the driving force. That may not always be the case if we are buying power from another entity.

In addition, we are uniquely set up to take advantage of existing infrastructure.  Our Nikiski generation plant already has a system in place to capture heat and produce steam that can be used for power production.  And in Soldotna, we have a building in place that once housed a turbine generator and could easily do so again.

Will building the plants associated with Independent Light be expensive?  Yes, but it is important to remember that generation facilities in the Railbelt area, from Fairbanks to Homer, are for the most part vintage 1960s and will have to be replaced.  Homer Electric members will have to pay for the replacement costs one way or the other.

So the questions become:

  • Do we as a cooperative want to own or rent our generation assets?
  • Do we want the jobs associated with power production based on the Kenai Peninsula or Anchorage?
  • Do we want our power costs determined by entities other than ourselves?
  • Do we want other utilities telling us how and when we can use renewable energy resources?

The board has looked at these questions and determined that Independent Light offers HEA members the most reliable, affordable option for our future power generation needs.

A decision of this magnitude is certain to have skeptics and even outright opponents who believe there may be a better path to follow.  The board and management respect those opinions and value the questions that are brought up.  But at some point, and that point is arriving soon, a decision will need to be made by the board, which is elected by the membership to represent its best interests.

In closing, I encourage all our members to review the Independent Light section of on our Web site (www.homerelectric.com) and also look at the FAQ list where there is a more detailed explanation of some of the issues.  In the end, I am confident we will work together to develop a power supply plan that ensures reliable, affordable and environmentally responsible power for HEA members.

Bradley P. Janorschke is general manager of Homer Electric Association.

March 31,  2010,  Guest Editorial: HEA’s plan comes up short

If you’ve been thinking recent low electric rates were too good to be true your were right.  Assuming the Regulatory Commission of Alaska approves HEA’s proposed 16.54 percent increase, your price per kilowatt hour will go from 13.720 to 15.989 cents — on April Fool’s Day.

Better get used to it. HEA General Manager Brad Janorschke is eyeing another 2 percent increase for July.

One of HEA’s directors is fond of saying that no matter how much debt an electric cooperative takes on it never needs to fear default — just raise electric rates. Of course he’s right, HEA members have no choice but to pay.

As long as most of our electricity comes from burning natural gas we can count on wild short-term rate fluctuation and ever higher costs over the long haul.  Our only way to combat this is to add renewable energy sources to our generation mix. For example, over 15 years of operation the cost of Bradley Lake power remained almost flat — only at 3.9 cents per kWh by 2007.

That’s where HEA’s Independent Light plan falls disappointingly short. Upgrading the Nikiski plant and buying new gas turbines for Soldotna might free us from Chugach Electric Association’s nasty clutches but it won’t reduce our dependency on natural gas. Worse still, if HEA members assume enough debt to buy all that hardware, it might very well render us incapable of ever adding significant amounts of renewable energy to our portfolio.

According to HEA’s Janorschke, “turbines typically cost $1,400 to $1,800 a kilowatt, but that doesn’t necessarily take into account the cost of installation.”

That could mean borrowing $203 million just for the turbines. This in addition to HEA’s present $140 million debt and the $25 million loan recently authorized by the Alaska Electric and Energy Cooperative, Inc.

What’s the AEEC?  It’s a separate generation and transmission cooperative with a membership of one — Homer Electric Association, Inc. We are told it was formed to improve HEA’s ability to acquire low interest loans for capital projects and that the amount it borrows is not limited by the HEA debt cap.

Since HEA members are not AEEC members we have no rights or privileges with respect to it — beyond paying down the debt.

Just how much debt are you willing to shoulder? How much more will be needed over and above the cost of turbines to upgrade the old Soldotna generation facility and the distribution and transmission system? What will it cost to acquire a firm source of gas and perhaps a pipeline to deliver it? With each month’s electric bill you’ll pay on all that borrowed money. The more that’s borrowed, the more you’ll pay.

Natural gas generation will probably serve as our energy base for a long time. But ratepayers should be wary about assuming so much debt that we foreclose our ability to take advantage of flat-rate renewable sources when they become available.

As one retired HEA engineer put it, “…once the gas generation is in place that will be it, they will have no reason to seek or swap out the gas for something else, thus the argument for going a bit slower so as to not lock out near future options…”

Mike O’Meara, is spokesman for the HEA Members Forum.

March 24,  2010,  Guest Editorial: Empowering women from Alaska to Afghanistan

“The battle for the individual rights of women is one of long standing and none of us should countenance anything which undermines it.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

In the nearly half century since Eleanor Roosevelt’s time, women’s advancement has dramatically changed the way we live. Yet we have much further to go to empower women everywhere, from Alaska to Afghanistan. March is Women’s History Month, a chance for us to celebrate the achievements of female trailblazers, assess the current landscape for women and determine a path forward for future generations. I believe Alaskan women in particular are emblematic of the “can do” attitude that has transformed America and the world.

This week, our nation paid tribute to three such Alaskans who served in the Women Airforce Service Pilots, an elite group of women who flew military aircraft during World War II. Hometown heroes Nancy Baker and Virginia Wood of Fairbanks and Ellen Campbell of Juneau selflessly defended our nation in a way that women never had before and were honored with the Congressional Gold Medal at a ceremony in the U.S. Capitol. These fearless women symbolize the spirit of America’s Last Frontier.

We also recently cheered on four female Alaska athletes who became part of history in the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games. Holly Brooks and Kikkan Randall of Anchorage, Callan Chythlook-Sifsof of Girdwood, and Kerry Weiland of Palmer were all fierce competitors, delivering remarkable performances in their events. Their efforts, determination and team spirit helped the U.S. break the overall record for the number of medals won by a country in the Olympics. We are proud of these Alaska women, who are role models for young girls everywhere.

Women in Alaska join a growing trend of women across our nation rising through the ranks in boardrooms, legislatures, classrooms, courtrooms, and in other professions. Today, females constitute half of the workforce, receive more than 60 percent of university degrees, and are growing businesses two and a half times faster than the growth in the overall business sector. During the economic downturn, women have been the glue holding many households together. Three out of four people who have lost jobs since the recession began are men, leaving many families to rely on the wife’s income while the husband seeks work.

We also have witnessed the rapid progress of women in leadership positions throughout the world. For example, there are now 25 female ambassadors stationed in Washington, the highest ever, and five times the number that were present a decade ago. In Alaska, 46 women have reached the top level of public service in the state executive branch, the highest number yet. As leaders, women bring a different perspective to the table. Issues that affect families, such as poverty, health care, education and domestic abuse now receive more attention.

While women have forged a strong path ahead, problems still plague women in underserved communities, developing countries and war-torn regions. Early this year, I joined a Congressional delegation tour of Afghanistan. In Helmand province in the south, I was the only women to be found in public. In fact, I was likely the first female face that many young boys, accustomed to seeing women covered from head to toe, had seen. While women have made gains in a post-Taliban era, they still suffer from a wide range of injustices, including forced marriages, lack of access to education or health care, and domestic abuse.

Alaska women enjoy freedoms unimaginable to Afghan women, yet we too have challenges to confront. Our rates of fetal alcohol disorders are four times the national average. This is unacceptable and preventable — simply consume no alcohol during pregnancy. Far too many Alaskans also come home to the reality of domestic violence, a problem I thank our governor for tackling head on.

In observance of Women’s History Month, let’s applaud the progress and accomplishments of women everywhere, including Alaska’s female pioneers, as we continue to promote freedom, justice and equality for all women. I think Eleanor Roosevelt would approve.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, is vice chair of the Senate Republican Conference.

March 17,  2010,  Guest Editorial: Adopting stewardship attitude in stream program

By Dan Pascucci, Kenai Watershed Forum

One of the things that Kenai Watershed Forum is best known for in this community is the Adopt-A-Stream program for school children. Adopt-A-Stream is a curriculum designed to help elementary or middle school students feel a sense of connectedness to the natural world beyond the walls of their brick-and-mortar schools. Local salmon streams become a classroom where students are encouraged to use their physical senses, as well as their minds, to learn about stream ecology.

Every month, participating teachers open their classrooms to KWF education staff, who spend one full class period teaching about a particular aspect of local ecology. The following day, teachers, oftentimes with the help of parents and other support staff, lead students down to their adopted streams to experience nature’s classroom. Once at the stream bank, KWF staff lead the students in scientific explorations of the stream itself. Water is drawn from the stream and students team up to test the water sample for temperature, conductivity, turbidity, pH and dissolved oxygen.

During this time, discussion is ongoing about what significance each of these things has for stream-dwelling creatures. Meanwhile, other students get up close and personal with some of those very creatures. Small amounts of sediment are carefully sampled from the stream bed and taken up on shore, where students sift through the sand and gravel to find tiny stream-dwelling invertebrates. Some of the more common finds are aquatic worms and immature stages of mayflies, stoneflies and caddisflies.

The Adopt-A-Stream program started on the Kenai Peninsula in 1992, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Kenai Field Office began running it. It continued the program until 2006, when budget cuts made it unable to continue. Kenai Watershed Forum saw immense value in the program and was able to step forward and take over responsibility for it. KWF education specialist, Dan Pascucci, known by many for his catchy songs that teach about local ecology, began heading up the program in fall 2006 and continues in that role to this day.

Since fall 2006, the Adopt-A-Stream program has expanded to more than double the number of classrooms previously visited, with demand for the program growing beyond what one staff person could do. With that growing demand came an opportunity to re-partner with the organization that had originally brought the program to the peninsula. In the fall of 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Kenai Field Office received funding to hire a Student Conservation Association intern to assist with Adopt-A-Stream. Emily Smith began in that position in the fall and has been a tremendous asset to the program. The Kenai Watershed Forum is pleased to be able to work alongside the U.S. FWS to bring the message of local ecology into classrooms.

This school year, five peninsula schools and streams are engaged in Adopt-A-Stream curriculum. From as far south as McNeil Canyon in Homer, through Tustumena Elementary, K-Beach Elementary, Kenai Middle School and Kaleidoscope, 12 classrooms full of children are learning about stream ecology, fish habitat and how to preserve our greatest natural resource. Additionally, seven primary classes at Kaleidoscope participated in an environmental education program, priming those students to become responsible, educated Adopt-A-Stream classroom members when they advance in grade level.

Although different offices and organizations have coordinated Adopt-A-Stream, the truth remains that whoever is running the program, it offers unique and wonderful educational opportunities to our most valuable resource on the Kenai Peninsula — our children.

Dan Pascucci is the education specialist for the Kenai Watershed Forum.


March 17,  2010,  Guest Editorial: Good conversation strengthens community

By Heidi Chay, The Roundtable: Center for Mediation and Community Dialogue

How is it that while we live in a culture that extols the rough, tough meat grinder of public debate,  we have so few opportunities for meaty, meaningful conversation in our daily lives?

We are busy and increasingly isolated from people and ideas outside our usual social circles. We relax  by turning on the 24-hour media, which feeds us a steady diet of the polarizing interrupt-and-rip-’em-up variety. At the national level, political discussions are more often immature than inspiring. And if we can eke out time to attend local public meetings, the communication is frustratingly one-way and often limited to three minutes. We yearn to be heard, but at the same time, we don’t listen very well. As a culture, we’ve lost our way to the figurative Town Square.

For seven years now, The Roundtable: Center for Mediation and Community Dialogue has invited the public to Friday Dialogues, an alternative kind of public conversation. The goal of Friday Dialogues is to promote respectful, learning-oriented conversation in which all perspectives are welcomed. Held monthly during the school year, the dialogues seek to bring together a diverse cross-section of the community to discuss topics relevant to residents of the central Kenai Peninsula. Recent topics have included the local media, health care, crime and law enforcement, climate change, and cheating.

No matter the topic, or who comes, the process is always fruitful. Friday Dialogues aren’t aimed at deciding policy or taking action, yet participating sometimes sparks decisive action. People, sometimes young students who have never voiced a thought in public, come and are heard for the first time. Cultural and personal assumptions that have not seen the light of day venture out to be examined and questioned. Participants discover that — wow! — people can disagree without being disagreeable. It’s heartening and fun, really and fundamentally democratic.

It is not just the organizers who think that dialogue is good for the soul and society. Here’s what participants had to say at a recent dialogue: “It’s a growth opportunity to voice one’s opinion and get feedback. There’s not much chance to explore when you’re constrained by the need for an up-or-down vote.” “It’s always interesting to see how much diversity there is within apparent sameness.” “Dialogue has helped me a lot because I have made a choice to not let negativity take over. It’s nice to come where people can dialogue and express differing opinions.” “I like the notion that the medium is the message, and that we can have the talk at all. It’s a great way to connect with this place.”

The last Friday Dialogue of the 2009-10 season will be held March 26 at Kenai Peninsula College in the commons. The topic this month is, “High-Impact Projects, e.g. Pebble Mine, Chuitna Coal: What are the trade-offs? Is it possible to strike a balance?” As always, the purpose of the dialogue isn’t to debate or persuade, but to thoughtfully explore the topic through the multiple perspectives that community members bring. A potluck dinner begins at 6:30 p.m. followed by dialogue from 7 to 9 p.m. You, dear reader, are invited.

Heidi Chay is a founding board member of The Roundtable: Center for Mediation and Community Dialogue, a local, nonprofit organization devoted to strengthening community by providing safe forums, learning opportunities and skills for the constructive expression of differences. For more information or to get e-mail notices about Friday Dialogues, contact Heidi at 283-9227 or heidichay@gmail.com.

March 17,  2010,  submitted editorial: “The militia movement — from where I stand”

By Norman Olson, co-founder, Michigan Militia

Writers across the country have attempted to write broadly about the militia phenomenon. Numerous articles have attempted to give a glimpse inside the movement, but alas, a look at the militia movement through the confines of a newspaper journalist’s narrow vantage is much like looking at a vast landscape through a keyhole. One may focus on a small aspect, only to miss the vastness and expanse of the movement.

Suffice it to say that anyone trying to put the militia movement into a framework will fail. There are few parameters with which to measure the breadth and depth of the movement. Failing this, what remains? How will the general public-at-large be given a useful glass through which to see what is happening in this, the greatest civil rights movement of this century?

In order to provide understanding, we must go back to basics. Many have concluded that the militia was spawned by misdirected individuals driven by paranoia. Others conclude that the militia are an emerging army of jingoistic nationalists bent on fostering the master race. But again, every time someone tries to define the movement, they must admit that they ignore the whole while focusing on the part — a part that is oftentimes incorrect. The ranchers of the west don’t give a hoot about the New World Order and the East Coast Manhattan Island militia could care less about the Idaho biosphere police who want to stop all elk hunting for fear the bullets will cause lead poisoning of trees. And you can bet the African American militia in Detroit couldn’t care less about the NRA’s worry that the guns might be taken away. So everyone tries to package the item, but finds that it has no real shape. What then is the common denominator?

I’ll answer that question in a minute, but before I do, I think it best to prepare readers with the grim reality that we are marching to widespread civil unrest. Out of that unrest will come either tyranny or anarchy. We don’t need conspiracy theories to trouble us. The reality of the Federal Government’s tyranny ought to do the job. And, if that doesn’t work, think of our land consumed by lawlessness, marauding gangs, severe shortages, and great peril.

But so what? All the discussion about the abuses of the Central Government merely restates the problem; and, restating the problem while avoiding a discussion on the effect leaves only one other area left to be discussed: The catalyst that will bring the revolution. That, friends, is a bubbling caldron about to boil over; and, while smiling faces ramble on about the effect, few are sober thinking enough to consider the cause.

Allow then an insight to the dynamic energy that caused the phenomenal effect we call the Militia Movement. While you read, keep in mind that the common people of the soil will grow stronger with every tread of the oppressor’s boot. None can talk us out of existence! No slick bureaucrat can reason with us as long as we are being thrown off our land. No politician can comfort us as long as corruption robs the bread from our children’s mouth. No judge can rule in our favor as long as courts are filled with injustice and where juries are bound and gagged. No petty politician can placate us while they heap more licenses, fees, permits, restrictions, and restrains on our effort at capital enterprise. No indeed! For you see, we feed on the tyrant’s abuse of us and grow strong on his oppression. The more the power brokers try to stop us, the stronger we become and as one falls, ten more rise. The reality that all Americans must deal with is that revolution is coming and soon. The people have had enough!

Because of the corruption the disaffection and feeling of estrangement grows. And from those multitudes emerges the militants. To stop them, the hand-wringing politicians use the press to demonize the militia and the media to support their disinformation campaign against the militia to keep their office, in turn promising to make laws prohibiting the militia. But their solution only causes greater oppression and repression of expression and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In order to make the supposed situation better, they only make it worse.

But what of the legality and the lawfulness of the militia. Ought we not look at the basic elements of the fuel that runs the engine? Raise the question in your own mind, “Is the citizen militia legitimate and lawful?” Our Governor, the Lawmakers, and others say no. You’ve heard their lies. Now here are the facts:

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution recognizes the inherent right of states to form militia units. That amendment reads:

“A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Not only does the Constitution allow the formation of a Federal military, it specifically recognizes state militias, and confirms that the citizen and his personal armaments are the foundation of the citizen militia. The arming of the militia is not left to the state but to the citizen. Should the state choose to arm its citizen militia, it is free to do so under the United States Constitution (bearing in mind that the Constitution is not a document limiting the citizen, but rather one that establishes and limits the power of government). Should the state fail to arm its citizen militia, the right of the people to keep and bear arms becomes the source of the guarantee that the state will not be found defenseless in the presence of a threat to its security. It makes no sense whatsoever to look to the Constitution of the United States or that of any state for permission to form a citizen militia.

Logic demands that the power to grant permission is also the power to deny permission. Brought to its logical conclusion in this case, a state may deny the citizen the right to form a militia. If this were to happen, the state would assert itself as the principle of the contract making the people the agents. Liberty then would be dependent on the state’s grant of liberty. Such a concept is foreign to American thought. While the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution acknowledges the existence of state militias and recognizes their necessity for the security of a free state and while it also recognizes that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, the Second Amendment is not the source of the right to form a militia nor to keep and bear arms. Those rights existed in the states prior to the formation of the federal union. In fact, the right to form militias and to keep and bear arms existed from antiquity. The enumeration of those rights in the Constitution only underscores their natural occurrence and importance. The Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads:

“The Powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Ultimate power over the militia is not delegated to the United States by the Constitution nor to the states, but resides with the people. Consequently, the power of the militia remains in the hands of the people. Again, the fundamental function of the militia in society remains with the people. Therefore, the Second Amendment recognizes that the militia’s existence and the security of the state rests ultimately in the people who volunteer their persons to constitute the militia and their arms to supply its firepower. The primary defense of the state rests with the citizen militia bearing its own arms. Fundamentally, it is not the state that defends the people, but the people who defend the state. The secondary defense of the state consists in the statutory organization known as the National Guard. Whereas the National Guard is solely the creation of statutory law, the militia derives its existence from the inherent inalienable rights of man which existed before the Constitution and whose importance are such that they merited specific recognition in that document. While the National Guard came into existence as a result of legislative activity, the militia existed before there was a nation or a constitutional form of government. The militia consisting of people owning and bearing personal weapons is the very authority out of which the United States Constitution grew. This point must be emphasized. Neither the citizen’s militia nor the citizen’s private arsenal can be an appropriate subject for federal legislation or regulation. It was the armed militia of the American colonies whose own efforts ultimately led to the establishment of the United States of America! While some say that the right to keep and bear arms is granted to Americans by the Constitution, just the opposite is true. The federal government itself is the child of the armed citizen. We the people are the parent of the child we call government. The increasing amount of federal encroachment into the territory of the Second Amendment in particular and the Bill of Rights in general indicates the need for parental corrective action. In short, the federal government needs a good spanking to make it behave.

One other important point needs to be made. Since the Constitution is the limiting document upon the government, the government cannot become greater than the granting power, that is the servant cannot become greater than his master. Therefore, should the Chief Executive or other branch of government, or all branches together act to suspend the Constitution under a rule of martial law, all power granted to government would be canceled and defer back to the granting power, the people. Martial law shall not be possible in this country as long as the people recognize the Bill of Rights as inalienable. The present actions of this country’s government have been to convince Americans that the Bill of Rights controls the people. The Bill of Rights has nothing to do with control of the people, nor control of the government established by the people. The Bill of Rights stands as immutable and unaffected by any change determined upon the Constitution by government.

It is in the Bill of Rights that we see the inherent right of citizen militias, vested in the people, to bear arms. The organizing and support of a state sponsored militia of the state is a power granted to the Governor. This fact is further supported by Art. I, §7, “The military shall in all cases and at all times be in strict subordination to the civil power.” But which military? It cannot be the citizen militia since the agent of a contract can hold, but cannot control the principle. Therefore, the military spoken of is the military force permitted to be formed by the state, which is the National Guard. Neither can it be the citizen militia because, like the Federal Constitution, the Constitution of Alaska is the child of vested power reserved to the people forever. There is no possible way that the Governor of this State or the Chief Executive of the United States, or any legislative body can “outlaw” the citizen’s militia for to do so would rob inherent power from the people and thereby transform the limited Constitutional Republic to a government controlled state. If that were to happen, our entire form of government would cease.

There is, I might add, a serious defect in the Alaska State Constitution. Article 12, Section 8, reads:

Residual Power. The enumeration of specified power in this constitution shall not be construed as limiting the powers of the State.” What this means is that our State Constitution does not limit the government of this State. Unlike the federal Constitution, which is a limiting document, giving specific enumerated and limited powers to the federal government, the State constitution gives the State unlimited, yet-to-be-declared powers. This threat alone ought to be enough to compel citizens to be on guard. That guard must be the people, formed together into a citizens militia, able to resist the uncontrolled power of the State should it trample on our God-given rights.

How than can the citizen militia be controlled? In simplest terms, it cannot be. It is the natural occurrence of the people who gather to defend against a perceived threat. Historically, citizen militias emerge when a clear and present danger exists, threatening the well-being of the people. It would stand to reason that power granted to the Governor to form a militia for the security of the people is intended to reduce the need for the citizen militia. Simply, if the National Guard did it’s job in securing the state, the citizen militia would not emerge. That it has emerged so dramatically seems to indicate that the people do not feel secure. Nor can the people be given promises of security. Well-being is not measured by promise, but by experience. Surely our experience has been that security is lacking, hence the emergence of the citizen militia. When safety and security are reestablished in America, the citizen militia will return to its natural place, resident within the body of the people, only to emerge again when security is threatened. Security is the common desire of all mankind. We can no more control the militia than we can change the nature of men. For their safety and security, people everywhere will form militia if and when necessary.

By now it should be clear that the militia predates state and federal constitutions. Its right to exist among the citizenry cannot be subjected to legal challenge. The only effective challenge to citizen militias would be political engineering. One may envision an effort to amend both the state and federal constitution specifically abolishing the right for citizens to form militia units. Should such a venture be dared, the natural need of the citizens militia would increase, actually drawing more free people to it. By now also, one should draw the conclusion that the militia is inherent to all social, interactive people concerned about the well-being of fellow citizens. This conclusion is that which is so clearly stated in the Bill of Rights. No man-made law can abolish the citizen militia since such a law would be in fact an unlawful act designed to dissolve power vested in the people. Such an effort would reveal an intent of any tyrant to transform limited government created by the people into a government limiting the people. Most tyrants know that such a move must be well timed. It is no wonder then, that power-hungry central government and groomed courts view the Second Amendment as applying only to organized militias, i.e. armies of the individual states, that is, the National Guard. Tyrants dare not admit that the people themselves are the militia. Why? Simply because tyrants will not admit that there exists something they cannot control. Good people will obey good laws, but they will not be controlled by bad ones.

To summarize: Citizen militias are historic lawful entities predating all federal and state constitutions. These constitutions grant no right to form militias, but merely recognize the existing natural right of all people to defend and protect themselves. The governments created out of well armed and free people are to be constantly obedient to the people. Any attempt to take the means of freedom from the people is an act of rebellion against the people. Currently in Alaska, the citizen militia is subject only to the historic role of American militias as defined in Black’s Law Dictionary:

Militia: The body of citizens in a state, enrolled for discipline as a military force, but not engaged in actual service except in emergencies, as distinguished from regular troops or a standing army.

In order to conform to this definition, and to remain able to oppose a rebellious and disobedient government, the citizen militia must not be connected in any way with that government lest the body politic loose its fearful countenance as the only sure threat to a government bent on converting free people into slaves.

So you see, the militia movement is much like the weather. You may talk about it all you want, but you cannot change what is coming. The corruption continues because the media is more concerned about movie stars than leaving to their children a land of honest government and honest courts. And while the true rulers of this land (We the People) fiddle with our amusements and distractions, enjoying the temporary bread and circus mood that now distracts us, the liberties so dear to our forebears, burn and become ashes. And sadly, as surely as an epitaph engraved on the tomb of the Late, Great United States of America, we allowed it happen. We walked into the night without ever knowing what had happened.

Concerned Americans are putting away food and seed and provisions. Many are buying silver coin and gold to be used when the Federal Reserve’s groundless money system collapses. Still others are forming communities to survive the coming crash and ensuing chaos. Thinking people are preparing and planning. Call them crazy, call them weirdoes, but never call them shortsighted. Theirs is a more practical survival plan than that of the money-mongers of Wall Street or the corrupted politicians in Washington.

Only time will tell who was right and who was wrong; but, if those so-called clowns and wannabes of the militia are wrong, they’ve missed nothing and they will have a lot of groceries. But if they are right, perhaps they alone will survive the catastrophe soon to fall upon this land.

Collapse will most certainty come to America. Just servicing the enormous debt alone now consumes more than a third of our nation’s output. We are floundering economically and will soon drown in our own debt. That alone ought to give us pause. And certainly the misguided trust in the man who occupies the White House ought to convince us that his empty promises and the corruption that surrounds him are a recipe for social disaster. But still greater in scope and scale is what apparently is to follow; for, unless there is a miraculous spiritual and moral change in the attitude of this nation, armed revolution and insurrection seems inevitable. Nothing can stop it. And so we prepare.

That, my friends, is what the militia is all about.

Norman Olson, of Nikiski, is co-founder of the Michigan Militia and the Alaska Citizens Militia.

March 10,  2010,  Guest Editorial: Protecting belugas is ‘right’ and reasonable

Maybe George Bush wasn’t our most eloquent President.  But he did use the 1906 Antiquities Act to designate national monument status for roughly 200,000 square miles of marine waters – the largest such designation by any president in history.  That’s because from Teddy Roosevelt to Barry Goldwater, and from Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan, conservation has been a long-standing staple of American conservative thought and politics.  And rightly so.  As preeminent conservative Russell Kirk aptly put it, “Nothing is more conservative than conservation.”

So why, then, do we hear such angry sky-is-falling, hair-on-fire rhetoric from our corporate captains and politicians when it comes to protecting the Cook Inlet Beluga whale? If you believe everything you hear lately, protecting the beluga whale will completely shut down all economic activity in Cook Inlet, and will leave us all in the dark burning sticks in cold caves.

Of course, that’s just plain wrong, and there are thousands of examples in Alaska and across the nation that prove that protecting our natural heritage and supporting a sound economy are not mutually exclusive. But the real question is, why have such extreme positions taken the place of common sense conservation?  It’s not as if we couldn’t see this issue coming a mile away. For the past decade, Mark Begich, Lisa Murkowski and of course Don Young — and our state and local politicians and agencies — have sat on their hands, refusing to act in the face of a slow-motion train wreck. Now, as the National Marine Fisheries Service takes steps to protect the whale — steps it should have taken years ago — the finger pointing, name-calling and factual distortions have hit a feverish pitch.

The Endangered Species Act is, like every law, imperfect.  But lesser protections have failed to provide the safeguards needed for the whale’s population to rebound.  While critics of enhanced protections decry the heavy hand of the federal government, they’re the first ones with their snouts in the federal trough when the money spigot opens.  Doesn’t it make more sense to work within the law to find ways to protect the beluga whale and enhance economic development at the same time?  When Sen. Ted Stevens faced a similar issue with the Steller sea lion, he acted boldly and brought tens of millions of research dollars into the Alaskan economy to find answers.  We can and should do the same thing here.

The NMFS Conservation Plan for the Cook Inlet Beluga whale includes a laundry list of research projects that will help us provide better management solutions.  Instead of arm-waving and foot-stomping, our politicians at the local, state and federal levels should look to research and science for some answers, and work to find out why the beluga remains troubled.

Instead, Gov. Parnell has “declared war” on the federal government, and we’re about to watch lawyers and slick public relations firms from Outside chew up millions in Alaska tax dollars to fight additional whale protections. While this grandstanding may make good politics in the lead up to elections, it doesn’t address the root of the matter: the Cook Inlet beluga whale is in trouble.

All sides to this debate seem to agree on one thing: the beluga whale is a vital strand in the ecological fabric of Cook Inlet, and we need to protect it for generations to come.

It’s not only the reasonable thing to do, it’s also the right and conservative thing to do.  Ronald Reagan, a darling of the American right, clearly understood these most basic ideals when he noted:

“What is a conservative after all but one who conserves, one who is committed to protecting and holding close the things by which we live…And we want to protect and conserve the land on which we live — our countryside, our rivers and mountains, our plains and meadows and forests. This is our patrimony. This is what we leave to our children. And our great moral responsibility is to leave it to them either as we found it or better than we found it.”

Bob Shavelson is executive director of Cook Inletkeeper, a member-supported nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the Cook Inlet watershed and the life it sustains. For more information, visit http://www.inletkeeper.org

Feb. 24,  2010,  Guest Editorial: Fish decisions should be based on science, not politics

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is predicting a dismal sockeye salmon return this summer for the Kenai River. This summer’s 40 percent-below-average return looks so grim that the United Cook Inlet Drift Association is preparing to seek federal disaster relief should the biological predictions ring true. The city of Kenai is also worried about a shutdown after making a considerable investment in personal-use fishery infrastructure at the river mouth, as are businesses that rely on salmon dollars. And the thousands who rely on fish for food may need to consider their options.

If the problem had been high-seas trawling, the Kasilof and other rivers should show a similar projected decline. They don’t. Almost certainly the predicted weak Kenai River return is a product of over-escapement in 2004, 2005 and 2006 that produced this year’s returning salmon. 2003 was also an over-escapement year, contributing to last year’s low run. While not an exact science, predicting salmon runs have reached an increasingly sophisticated level based on Ricker (1954) algebraic formulas modified by Ken Tarbox, B.E. King and Dave Waltemyer (1983), and more recently others, which incorporate brood-year interaction factors for the Kenai drainage.

With over 30 years of research, fisheries biologists can say with a high degree of confidence that 500,000 to 800,000 fish are the optimal escapement for Kenai River sockeye. Lower than that (under-escapement) and higher than that (over-escapement) produce a lower return of salmon three to five years later. The escapement for 2003-06 was not just a little over, but almost double what biologists said there should have been — double.

The problem isn’t that management mechanisms do not exist. One of the reasons for limited entry for commercial salmon fishing in Cook Inlet is to manage escapement. Because of limited entry, the number of permitted set- and driftnet fishers are known, and Fish and Game is authorized to limit or expand fishing days and locations, and impose gear restrictions. In theory, commercial fishers harvest enough fish, minus sport, personal-use and subsistence takes, to closely hit the target escapement predicted by scientific models.

So why didn’t Fish and Game commissioners during the last three years of the Murkowski administration and first year of the Palin administration take their biologists’ advice and exercise their authority to extend commercial fishing days to minimize what became massive over-escapements, resulting in this year’s probable depressed salmon run?

Two possibilities exist: both involve politics. First, the effect of over-escapement is to limit commercial fishing three to five years later. If over-escapement happens over a number of years, as it did for the 2003-06 period, the subsequently restricted commercial harvest would put more king salmon, essentially a commercial by-catch, into the Kenai River. Kings are the fish of choice for trophy fishers who form a small but zealous lobby, and Fish and Game decision makers may have bowed to that pressure. I, however, cannot believe that even the most ardent Alaska trophy fisher would advocate jeopardizing one of the world’s greatest wild red salmon runs for a chance at a photo or a wall mount.

More likely the over-escapement was a product of a formal and informal lobby by sport and personal-use fishers to put more fish in the Kenai. There are three factors here. First, starting with Gov. Tony Knowles, most politicians understand that there are far more votes among Cook Inlet sport and personal-use fishers than commercial fishers. Second, sport licenses largely fund Fish and Game creating a conflict of interest for managers who know that keeping noncommercial fishers happy enhances their funding. Third, from the questions they do and don’t ask at meetings, some Board of Fish positions are apparently occupied by individuals who lack understanding of the complex biological algebraic models used to manage fish runs. These factors predispose fish management decisions to overlook science and respond to popular demand.

A few years of bad management endangers the fishery but does not destroy it. Escapement for the years 2007-09 has been within the target zone, and things should return to normal. But there are lessons to be learned. The Ricker-modified algebraic models do not include a “P factor” for politics. The only way to keep salmon populations strong and stable is through a biologically managed fishery and control, to the extent possible, of ocean trawling. It’s time to restructure a bureaucracy capable of overriding and devaluing science, understand the algebra, and remove politics from the equation.

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College. This column was originally published in the Anchorage Daily News on Feb. 19.

Feb. 17,  2010,  Editorial: Time to make Kasilof beach issue heard

Sure, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. But lubricant application may be delayed if the squeak only occurs seasonally.

At the mouth of the Kasilof River, the personal-use fisheries represent a one-time squeak that has become progressively more deafening every summer. The fisheries themselves aren’t the problem — they’re a valuable opportunity for Alaskans to utilize one of the benefits of living in the state. It isn’t even the fishermen, for the most part. As with most crowds-run-amok situations, it’s more an issue of a few making the whole look bad. The real issue is the lack of infrastructure necessary to keep the growing crowds organized — no campgrounds and not enough parking lots, restrooms, Dumpsters and onsite management to effectively enforce fishing regulations and rules meant to protect sensitive ecological areas, private property and public safety.

Just as is often the case with irritating noises coming from a vehicle, the problems at the Kasilof are more than just an annoyance; they’re indicative of serious damage being done. But also as with car squeaks and rattles, they can be too easily ignored, especially when they aren’t constant.

During the summer, the increasing crowds of fishermen trampling beach grass, trespassing, destroying public and private property and leaving waste all around them — fish, human and trash — elevates from a squeak to a racket that can’t be ignored, particularly not by area neighbors, Kasilof residents who witness the destruction and deal with the aftermath, and others who want to protect the beach, the fish and the fishery. People heed the racket and vow to do something about it. But as seasons change, so does attention. The racket fades, as does the best of intentions.

Solving issues such as those at the Kasilof take time and preplanning. Once summer rolls around again, the salmon return and the fishermen follow, it will be too late to secure the necessary funding, plans, permits and partnerships to address the situation.

That’s why it’s so good to hear that several organizations are keeping their attention on the Kasilof, year-round. The Kenai Peninsula Borough, on behalf of Kasilof residents, is asking the Legislature for money to install post-and-chain fencing around the dunes to protect the fragile beach grass.

Beyond that, Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, is proposing an idea to have dipnetters purchase a personal-use fishing permit, rather than a sportfishing permit, and use that money to fund habitat protection, facilities construction, maintenance and enforcement efforts at personal-use fisheries.

On a more comprehensive scale, the South-Central Alaska Dipnetters Association is working with the Kenai Watershed Forum, two Nikiski High School students working on a Caring for the Kenai project, and other organizations with an interest in the river to protect the dunes and water quality at the Kasilof. While the students work toward installing temporary fencing around the dunes on the south beach, the overall coalition is building consensus to press the state and all its overlapping agencies with jurisdiction over the beach and fishery to address the infrastructure needs at the beach. As Kenai Watershed Forum director Robert Ruffner said, “If they’re going to have these kinds of fisheries that are this popular, they need to support infrastructure to pull them off where it doesn’t degrade the environment.”

These efforts need support from more than just those already involved. Everyone interested in protecting the river needs to speak up and add their own squeak to the roar of frustration growing over the inaction that’s desecrating the Kasilof beach. Contact assembly members, legislators and state agencies involved in the issue. Make it a topic of conversation at community meetings, coffee shops or wherever there’s a free ear to bend. Demand attention from Anchorage and Juneau. This is one problem that’s festered out of earshot for far too long.

Feb. 17,  2010,  Guest Editorial: Independent Light illuminates questions over HEA’s future

Thanks to Homer Electric Association for unveiling the ambitious “Independent Light” plan. If fully implemented, it could be the largest expenditure HEA has ever made. Before moving forward, our board of directors should make sure HEA members have a full understanding of potential costs and benefits of the plan.

For some time HEA has been trying to decide how to deal with the 2013 expiration of our power purchase agreement with Chugach Electric Association. HEA was never happy with the arrangement because it imposes many restrictions on us. That’s how we got drawn into the Healy 2 coal plant scheme. In return for operating Healy 2, HEA hoped to buy half the plant’s output —about 25 megawatts.

Here’s why that number was significant. HEA requires an average 80 megawatts of electric power to serve its members. Our share of Bradley Lake’s output is about 15 megawatts and HEA’s old “Soldotna One” gas turbine in Nikiski produces about 40 megawatts. Most of the remaining 25 megawatts is purchased from CEA. HEA saw Healy 2 as a way out of that relationship. But Healy 2, and the proposed deal, were rife with problems. Last May the HEA Board realized this and wisely withdrew.

Without Healy 2 HEA looked for an alternative. Independent Light is the result. The first part of the plan involves retrofitting the old Nikiski gas plant with a steam turbine run on waste heat. By also increasing the rate of burn, HEA expects we could boost output to 77 megawatts. Bradley Lake and Nikiski would then provide a total 92 megawatts, a little over HEA’s maximum peak demand.

The second part of Independent Light involves purchase and installation of two new natural gas turbines at the old Soldotna One site. HEA expects this to increase generation by another 75 megawatts, which would give us a total of 167 megawatts, over double our average load requirement.

Cost estimates for Independent Light discussed last year at HEA Board meetings ranged to $150 million including associated upgrades to Nikiski and Soldotna substations. Some 20 new fulltime employees would be required to run everything.

Independent Light is certainly an improvement over taking a giant step backward into the 19th century with dirty coal. But is it the best option? Following announcement of Independent Light, HEA Members Forum began receiving questions such as these:

  • How will $100 million to $150 million or more in new debt and addition of 20 fulltime employees to the HEA payroll affect electric rates?
  • Does Independent Light include the $75 million or so we need to spend on maintenance and upgrades to our aging distribution and transmission system?
  • Will borrowing so much to buy new natural gas facilities reduce, rather than improve, our ability to diversify with rate-stabilizing renewable energy alternatives as they develop?
  • Would negotiating a new deal to purchase power for a few more years result in less or more of a rate increase for HEA members?
  • Do we actually need 167 megawatts of generating capacity — more than double our average load requirement?
  • What’s to be gained by seeking independence from other Railbelt utilities just as the state administration and our legislature are promoting greater unification?

The Members Forum is not in a position to answer these or other related questions. Those answers need to come from HEA. We encourage HEA members to seek out a dialog with the Board and management. Become informed before embracing or rejecting Independent Light.

Mike O’Meara is spokesman for the HEA Members Forum.

Feb. 10,  2010,  Guest Editorial: Kenai Peninsula Fish Habitat Partnership taking shape

“We need to learn from other’s mistakes” is an oft-repeated phrase, and it absolutely applies to fish habitat and Alaska. For a wide range of reasons, the national record of caring for fish and fish habitat is not pretty.

Nearly 40 percent of North American fish, 700 species, are listed as imperiled and more than two-thirds of these species are federally threatened or endangered. These statistics are cause for concern, a concern that is prompting a call to change the way we do the business of caring for aquatic resources. We know the principal reason for the decline of fish is the alteration of their habitat and we must do a better job of working together to avoid detrimental alterations if we want to maintain healthy fish populations here on the peninsula.

Last month, a recently established National Fish Habitat Board approved the Kenai Peninsula Fish Habitat Partnership as a recognized partnership. The national board is well-represented by Alaskans and its thinking reflects the new model for caring for the nation’s fish habitat.

Drawing expertise from around the country, the National Fish Habitat Board developed an action plan and at the core of the plan is the working partnerships. These partnerships are regional in scope and are to be nonregulatory, voluntary and self-directed, such as the Kenai Peninsula Partnership. The regional partnerships will work with the national board to protect, maintain, restore and enhance fish habitat in a more efficient and effective manner by being more focused and strategic.

Recognition for the Kenai Peninsula as a partnership comes after more than a year and a half of work to develop our regional strategic plan among a broad coalition of both traditional and nontraditional partners here on the Kenai Peninsula.

More than 20 entities have offered their support to the partnership. They include all levels of government, nonprofit organizations and industry which agree we need to make sure we don’t repeat the mistakes of others, or create new mistakes that will lead to the demise of our healthy fish resources.

The Kenai Peninsula Fish Habitat Partnership represents the 15th recognized partnership in the nation and the third in Alaska. Our new partnership encompasses most of the Kenai Peninsula Borough with minor deviations to follow watershed boundaries and considers the fish habitat for both fresh and near-shore marine aquatic environments.

As the regional partnerships are developing plans and learning how best to work together, Congress is considering legislation that will make a national investment in these partnerships.

The National Fish Habitat Conservation Act was introduced in the Senate last summer and both Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, are co-sponsors of the act. The legislation would authorize the National Fish Habitat Action Plan and establish a $75 million grant program through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service for habitat projects. The authorization of the National Fish Habitat Conservation Act will be significant to Alaska and would greatly benefit the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

You can learn more about the Kenai Peninsula Fish Habitat Partnership by contacting coordinator Robert Ruffner through the Kenai Watershed Forum or by visiting the partnership’s Web site at http://office.kenaiwatershed.org/kpfhp/

Robert Ruffner is the executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum.


Feb. 3,  2010,  Guest Editorial: Pollution at 100 tons: Too much by any name

Sometime back in 2006, Chevron started having a little trouble with the vapor control units on a couple of their oil storage tanks at Trading Bay. So, they did what anyone might do in a similar scenario:

They shut them down.

That generally works well in most situations. If something goes wrong, we can usually just hit restart, or pull the plug and start over.

Only, Chevron didn’t start over.

And, since the vapor control units were designed to capture vapor from the oil before it leaves the tanks, shutting the units down allowed air pollution to escape.

Chevron said it wasn’t that much, but that was not true.

There were some “insignificant sources” of pollution that they reported were, “emitting no more than 2 tons per year of volatile organic compounds and 2 tons per year of hazardous air pollutants.”

That’s not really true either.

Prosecutors say the large oil company actually released more than 100 tons per year of volatile organics into the air from 2006 to 2008. Neighboring Granite Point released more than 15 tons per year of crude oil vapors in the same time period.

Only, they didn’t tell us.

Why should they? It’s not like it’s our air, or anything.

And, as difficult as it would be to determine which direction prevailing winds were heading on any given day of the past three-plus years, it’s even harder to say whether we were ever subjected to the ill winds of Chevron’s “volatile organic compounds.”

The fact is, we’ll really never know.

Do we even have air quality monitoring somewhere on the peninsula? If we do, it’s apparently some highly classified information.

A quick Google of “air quality Homer Alaska” brings up a weather.msn.com Web site that lists Homer’s air quality as “good.” It also says its air quality data is provided by “AIRNow.” However, a quick trip over to the AIRNow.gov site indicates that, “No cities currently provide air quality conditions or forecast data” from the entire state.

So where is our “good” air getting its stamp of approval? And doesn’t the fact that they used Blackhawk helicopters to swoop down and seize Chevron’s “computers, files, photos and other records” kind of imply that this was something fairly serious?

Doesn’t the next logical question seem to be, “What have we been breathing for the last four years?”

Calls to both the Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency were referred to the Department of Justice. A call to the Department of Justice was met with a couple of “unable to comment on an open case” statements, and questions remain unanswered.

According to the EPA Web site, “Volatile organic compounds are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects.”

A 2005 study of volatile organic compounds emissions in the  Kenai Peninsula Borough indicated some 7,846 tons of VOCs were emitted into the air.

Nearly 4,000 tons were emitted by industrial processes and non-road equipment.

Maybe another 100 tons is nothing — to Chevron.

— Homer Tribune, Jan. 27, 2010

Jan. 27,  2010,  Editorial: Keep it cool as talk heats up

It’s not surprising that discussions of climate change become as heated as they do. This one issue is a perfect storm encompassing all the hot-topic issues imaginable: environment, government, society, international relations, the validity of science, theories of conspiracy, economy, industry, employment, religion, education and on and on.

Think of anything that commonly evokes argument, and this one issue likely incorporates a facet of that divisiveness. You think talking politics at a dinner party is a bad idea? Try bringing up the endangered listing for polar bears or cap and trade legislation.

It’s not just that there’s still debate on whether unnatural global warming is happening and whether humans are to blame,  it’s the larger issues of what should be done about it, and when and how.

Not only will the answers to those questions challenge the very framework of how our society, economy, government and everyday lives function, they challenge our attitudes of ourselves, our country and our role on this planet.

Americans are blessed with an innate sense of pride, born of the core belief that we are willing to stand up, sacrifice and fight for what we believe in. We take pride in our achievements, revel in the extravagances they afford and expect continued advances. Though, in recent decades, we seem to feel that comfort and happiness is owed us, rather than just the right to pursue it.

Adding to that perspective is an education in science that tells us anything is possible. That we can create and achieve and solve whatever problems arise, if and when they get bad enough to warrant inventing a cure. After all, if necessity is the mother of invention, if it hasn’t been invented, it must not be needed, right?

In this case, wrong. Solutions in the climate change debate are imminently necessary, and though they are in development, it’s our resistance to accept what those changes will mean that stops us from addressing the problem.

All sides of the debate are guilty of an unwillingness to listen to and try to work with those holding differing opinions. It’s not surprising, since beliefs about climate change and what should or should not be done about it can be as closely held as religious views, with perceptions of life-and-death consequences. But it’s also not helpful. Productively discussing the issue with like and unlike minds is the only way workable decisions will be made and enacted.

A community dialogue on climate change last week in Kenai drew a crowd that was largely homogenous in its views on the subject. Many people commented that it was nice to be in a room with so many like-minded people and escape the usual rancor of global-warming debate.

While the agreement created an atmosphere where ideas could be suggested and enthusiasm for them could grow, it did little to advance discussion of realistic, workable policy and technology changes, because there was no one to question assumptions, point out problems or recognize where there will be challenges.

As uncomfortable as it may be, the debate is necessary. Difficult policy decisions can only come out of the rough, tough meat grinder of public debate. We’ll all have to live by these decisions and be affected by the consequences, so we all have a right to contribute to their formation.

As local discussions continue about climate change, with the city of Kenai looking to sponsor a forum in the near future on its proposed climate change pact, keep in mind that all voices should be sought in the process. That doesn’t mean they should shout or be combative, but they should be heard.

Consensus comes from diversity of opinions. Sometimes, necessary improvements are only seen by those looking for flaws.

So when it comes to climate change, open your ears, as well as your mouths.

Jan. 27,  2010, Guest Editorial: Scholarship is invitation to excellence

Alaska’s high school graduation rate jumped five percentage points last year and we graduated 8,000 students; a thousand more per year than a few years ago. That’s great news, and it’s a tribute to the efforts of our families and educators. Those are 8,000 kids who have pushed open the door to greater opportunities.

But many of our students still leave school without a diploma. That’s why I’m excited that Gov. Sean Parnell has sponsored legislation to provide families with an incentive to make high school a productive experience for students.

The Governor’s Performance Scholarship says to our kids: Challenge yourself in high school, work hard and you can earn a substantial scholarship that helps you fulfill your goals in life. We call it GPS, because its course requirements help students navigate through high school and into their careers. The program is for Alaska students at public schools, private schools and home schools.

To be eligible, students must take a rigorous curriculum, earn good grades and score well on an assessment. The scholarships may be used at private and public postsecondary institutions in Alaska. The scholarships will be funded from annual earnings on a portion of the state’s savings.

What I especially like about Gov. Parnell’s program is that it creates both academic and career/technical scholarships. Alaska needs the talents of all of our youth. Our economy offers good jobs for a variety of skills. Let’s fill those jobs ourselves.

I also like that the scholarships will be available for students with different levels of academic achievement. I was a school principal for decades, and I know that not every productive adult was an A student in high school. If you take tough courses, study hard and end up with a B or a C+ average, you also qualify for a Governor’s Performance Scholarship. That’s only right.

But it’s not a giveaway program. Students who want to receive a Governor’s Performance Scholarship must take four years of English, math and science, as well as three years of social studies. This requirement has a very practical benefit: High school students who take a rigorous curriculum in high school are more likely to do well in their postsecondary studies and earn a certificate or degree.

Furthermore, the GPS program provides an incentive for students to take science and math for four years, which is two more years than Alaska requires for graduation. Science and math open doors to many occupations that will lead the global economy in years to come.

If the Legislature passes Gov. Parnell’s bill, many details will be worked out through the public process of the State Board of Education and Early Development, which sets education regulations. For example, we anticipate phasing-in the course requirements over the program’s first few years. We expect that students, especially in small schools, may need to use Alaska correspondence courses to fulfill some of the curricular requirements. We will have to decide how to handle districts’ weighted grade-point averages.

You’ll be hearing a lot about the Governor’s Performance Scholarship this year as the Legislature considers the proposal. I hope you will talk to your legislators about it.

You can find a copy of the bill and a description of it at http://www.gov.state.ak.us/pdf/GPSLetter_Jan15-2010.pdf. Please contact Education Information Officer Eric Fry at 907-465-2851 or eric.fry@alaska.gov if you have any questions.

Larry LeDoux is Alaska Commissioner of Education and Early Development and a former principal and superintendent in the Kodiak Island Borough School District.

Jan. 20,  2010, Guest Editorial: Murkowski trying to rework health care plan

By Naomi Klouda

Homer Tribune

Efforts to shape the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the name of the new health care plan under debate in Congress, continue with hundreds of amendments. Eighty-six of those were written by Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

Murkowski’s amendments were to address the following: Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee health care bill to ensure that Alaska Natives would be able to participate in the health care grant programs included in the HELP bill; that Medicare patients could get private health insurance without sacrificing their Social Security benefits; and that physicians’ assistants, vital health care providers in Alaska, would be eligible for participation in “medical home” demonstration programs.

Another Murkowski amendment wants to ensure patients receive doctor recommendations for preventive health services and that provisions excluding abortion would not become a “required benefit under preventive services.”

“My amendment addresses the concern that the government will make coverage determinations for health care decisions,” Murkowski said. She wants to “keep doctors in” and government out.

As currently written, a U.S. Preventive Services Task Force would determine what is considered preventable care, such as mammograms. Murkowski’s amendment would delete this provision from the Democrats’ bill now under discussion.

The most recent proposed amendment deals with small construction firms who employ five people or less. Murkowski believes the bill would unfairly target the small company with mandates for insuring employees. That amendment is now being discussed in the U.S. Senate.

In a question-and-answer session, Murkowski outlines her concerns.

Homer Tribune: For a small business that employs about 10 people, how would this work?

Murkowski: Under the Senate bill, only businesses with 50 or more workers would be subject to the employer mandate to offer health care to its employees. However, a provision was slipped into the health care bill that would make small businesses within the construction industry subject to the employer mandate if they have only five or more employees. Failure to comply with the mandate would result in financial penalties of $750 per employee, costing more than $37,000 for a company with 50 employees.

If you work for an employer with less than 50 employees and your employer doesn’t provide health insurance, under this legislation you would be required to purchase health care or pay a financial penalty of either $750 or 2 percent of your taxable income.

If the employee’s income is above $54,120 for an individual, then the worker could be expected to pay between 12 percent and 15 percent of his or her income on health insurance. Which, according to Mark Foster, an Alaska health care consultant, suggests a net increase on the order of $1,160 a year for single coverage and $2,950 for family coverage in Alaska in 2016.

If the employee’s income is between $16,732 and $54,120, then he or she would be eligible to receive subsidies for the purchase of health insurance through a health insurance exchange. The amount of the subsidy would be based on income. However, even after taking into account the subsidies, the premiums and average cost sharing that the employee would be forced to pick up would amount to roughly 12 percent to 15 percent of his or her income. (Source: Nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office).

If the employee’s income is $16,732 or below, then the employee could be eligible to receive Alaska Medicaid. In fact, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service’s Chief Actuary, most of those who would be newly covered would receive their health benefits through Medicaid. The Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage goes even further to say that, for seniors and the disabled in Alaska who are on Medicare, this health care bill could make things even worse. Expanding Medicaid would actually hurt Medicare seniors and disabled patients by pushing them to the back of the line in getting access to a primary care doctor in Alaska.

If the small business provides health insurance that the federal government considers to be a high-cost “Cadillac Plan” ($8,500 price for an individual plan and $23,000 for a family), then these plans would be subject to a 40 percent excise tax. Foster has estimated that — because Alaska is a high-cost state — 50 percent of health plans in Alaska would be subject to the 40 percent excise tax in 2016. That, compared to 19 percent of the plans in the Lower 48. In fact, the plan administrator for the retirees of the Municipality of Anchorage says this provision will hurt retirees by imposing an additional 40 percent tax on the health benefits.

One of the biggest concerns about this bill is that it fails to bend down the cost curve on health care spending. So the employees (at small businesses) will likely not see a reduction in their health care premiums.

Homer Tribune: What about borough and school district employees?

Murkowski: Again, with regard to the excise tax on high-end health plans, if the cost of the borough/school district employees’ health benefits exceed the threshold requirements ($8,500/individual, $23,000/family) then the benefits would be subject to the 40 percent excise tax.

We know that Kenai Peninsula Borough employees and teachers who currently have individual health care plans will be subject to the 40 percent tax penalty included in the Senate-passed health care bill. While family plans currently don’t meet the threshold requirement for the 40 percent excise tax, annual health care inflation of 6 percent shows it is likely that the KPB family health plans will be well within the range of the 40 percent excise tax threshold when the high cost state trigger expires in 2016.

Homer Tribune: Currently, in Homer, for “affordable” health care there is the sliding scale clinic, the SVT Medical Center, which gained stimulus funding recently due no doubt to your efforts, as well. This means a doctor’s visit costs $20 for some people; others might pay $75, etc. How will the new health care plan compare in terms of what that individual might have to pay in the future?

Murkowski: SVT Medical Center could see additional funding for Community Health Centers; however there will also be a cut of nearly a half-trillion dollars from Medicare services which could harm patient access to primary care doctors.

Cuts to Medicare will restrict access to primary care doctors because fewer private doctors will be able to continue seeing Medicare patients.  This in turn will result in a shift in care from private doctors to safety net providers such as critical access hospitals and community health centers for Medicare patients and therefore, longer lines and greater waits as more patients turn to the clinic for care.

South Peninsula Hospital and SVT have played a key role in providing quality health care in both primary care and emergency care services. However, as the Senate bill will cut nearly a half-trillion dollars from services to Medicare patients, there is a legitimate concern that the overall funding of federal health care programs such as the Indian Health Services, Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans Health and Safety Net Providers like Community Health Centers and Critical Access Hospitals could be in peril in future years.

Homer Tribune: The public is being assured that people who already have satisfactory health insurance arrangements can keep their same policies. Would you elaborate on this, as it seems to be one of the points that draws skepticism?

Murkowski: According to the CMS Chief Actuary, the number of people with employer sponsored coverage would drop by about 17 million due in part to small businesses dropping coverage, companies with low average salaries ending their plans, and the two million people with employer coverage who would go to Medicaid. This would affect the ability of individuals and families to keep the same insurance coverage they currently have in place.

Homer Tribune: How will it impact Alaska Native health care? Some people see the system as that Native people receive “free” health care. In reality, for a second opinion or a hospital not authorized by the IHS, Native people do pay for the services they receive.

Murkowski: The Alaska Native Health System does a remarkable job of providing world class health care to Alaska’s Native people in spite of chronic funding challenges.

When a particular type of care is not available in the Alaska Native health system, Native people can tap a Contract Health Services account which is used to purchase care from non-Indian health facilities. Historically, Contract Health Services accounts have been underfunded. It is likely that President Obama would propose across the board reductions in federal discretionary spending to bring the deficit under control. History suggests that Indian health care accounts are not immune from across the board cuts in federal discretionary spending. So enactment of the national health care legislation could make it more difficult for the Indian health care delivery system to continue its good work. Appropriations to the Indian Health Service currently fund about two-thirds of the health care needs of America’s first people. The Indian Health Service cannot afford further cuts.

Jan. 13,  2010, Guest Editorial: Begich: Health care suffers from misinformation

Editor’s note: Sen. Lisa Murkowski also was invited to respond to these questions, but was unable to do so by deadline as she completes a tour of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Her comment will be available next week.

By Naomi Klouda

Homer Tribune

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, supports the new healthcare legislation making its way through Congress this month, known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Among his reasons for supporting it are that health insurance costs for Alaska families has increased five times faster than wages during the past decade.

“If we do nothing, those costs will double again in a few years to about $24,000,” he explained. “That’s 40 percent of the average family budget. The cost of doing nothing is just too high.”

According to Begich, the bill helps fix major ailments in American health care practices through some of the following provisions:

  • It ends discrimination for pre-existing conditions;
  • Ends discrimination based on gender;
  • Makes it illegal for insurance companies to drop your coverage if you get sick;
  • Extends the solvency of the Medicare trust fund by an additional 10 years while cutting waste, fraud and abuse in Medicare;
  • Makes prescription drugs more affordable;
  • Requires insurance companies to pay for preventive care.

In a question-and-answer session with the Homer Tribune, Begich and his staff outlined how the health care plan, if enacted into law sometime in late January or early February, would impact a small town like Homer.

Tribune: For a small business, like an East End grocery store that employs about 10 people, how would this work?

Begich: Businesses with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from having to provide health insurance for their employees. If the employees don’t have insurance, or have insurance they can’t afford, they can choose to look for a plan in the insurance exchange.

There was an amendment added that severely limits the exemption for construction businesses, saying only companies with five or fewer employees are exempt from employer responsibility mandates.

(Begich has written to Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader,  and others voicing his concern over this and encouraging it be changed and made more equitable in the final bill).

Tribune: What about Kenai Peninsula Borough and City of Homer employees?

Begich: Workers with employer-provided coverage will stay with their plans. If they leave their jobs or lose their jobs, they can buy into the exchange. Alaskans who have health insurance now, and are happy with it, can keep it. The thousands of Alaskans who do not have health insurance, or have insurance they can’t really afford, will have access to an insurance exchange offering affordable health insurance choices. An estimated 52,000 Alaskans will quality for tax credits to help purchase affordable health coverage.

Tribune: Currently in Homer, for “affordable” health care, there is the Seldovia Village Tribal Medical Center, which uses a sliding scale. The center recently gained stimulus funding to expand services. This means a doctor’s visit costs $20 for some people, while others might pay $75 or more. How will the new healthcare plan compare in terms of what that individual might have to pay in the future?

Begich: The bill has no mandates for how much clinics can charge.

Tribune: You have explained that people who already have satisfactory health insurance arrangements can keep their same policies. Would you elaborate on this, as it seems to be one of the points that draws skepticism?

Begich: The insurance exchange will be a choice for the uninsured and underinsured. Those who have insurance plans they like can keep the plans. Under the Senate bill, the exchange opens in 2014; in the House, it’s 2013.

Tribune: How will the bill impact Alaska Native health care? Some people see that as Native people receiving “free” health care. In reality, for a second opinion or a hospital not authorized by the Indian Health Care System, Native people pay for the services they receive.

Begich: Alaska Native health care will not be impacted. The health care legislation reauthorizes the IHS, and health care for Alaska Natives will not change. For those seeking a second opinion outside the IHS system, they could choose to have supplemental health insurance which could come from the exchange.

Tribune: What is the schedule for when we might see this bill passed?

Begich: The president was hoping it would be before his first State of the Union address at the end of January. February is more realistic.

Tribune: How do you respond to the attacks on the health care plan?

Begich: The worst attacks of late are by a group called “60 Plus,” which claims to be a leading voice for America’s seniors. Yet 60 Plus is a partisan front group for the pharmaceutical industry.

The real voice of America’s seniors is AARP, which is on the record busting the ongoing myths about reform. In fact, AARP endorsed the reforms passed recently by the U.S. House and pointed specifically to proposed improvements in Medicare. In its endorsement, AARP said the reforms will not only lower health care costs for millions of people, but also “strengthen Medicare benefits and improve the financial status of the Medicare trust fund.”

For an understanding of the differences between the U.S. House and Senate Bills on health care, go to http://www.begich.senate.gov, or check out the National Association of Realtors available at:  http://www.realtor.org/small_business_health_coverage.nsf/Pages/health_ref_faq_have_coverage?OpenDocument.

Jan. 13,  2010, Guest Editorial: Nervously flying the increasingly unfriendly skies

“Good evening, Mister, ah, Gronvold, and welcome to XXX Airlines. May I see your ticket, please? Thank you. And your photo I.D.? Thank you. And your birth certificate and/or passport? Thank you.

Do you have a copy of your most recent utility bill showing your mailing address? Thank you. How about a receipt from your last meal? No? Not a problem. According to our records, you had a Big and Tasty at McDonald’s in Kenai at 6:33 p.m., and supersized your fries and drink. That you paid $6.53, tax included, and left a $0.47 tip for Server No. 4.

Well, that takes care of the preliminaries. Now, I hope that your flight up to Anchorage from Kenai was pleasant. No? Well, I’m sorry about that. Yes, they say that severe turbulence over the Arm is rampant at this time of year.

Hmm, I see that you are going to fly with us all the way to Orlando tonight. Mister, um, Gronvold, ahem, because your flight will take you over Canada, which as you know is a foreign country, I have to ask you a few questions to comply with the TSA’s new international security procedures. OK? Good.

Now, are you able to open the exit door, if necessary? OK? Good. Are you willing to hold your bladder for at least an hour during the flight’s final approach for landing? Yes, that’s affirmative, one solid hour. Oh, and by the way, nothing on your lap top during that time. What? Yes, especially even your laptop. You agree? Good.

Now the big question: Are you willing to engage in hand-to-hand combat with an unruly passenger, if necessary? Why? Well, it’s something that we all have to consider, Mr. G. After all, none of us are safe anymore. Don’t you read the newspapers?

If I may direct your attention to the sign behind me, XXX Airlines has decided to waive all baggage fees in return for you, the passenger, being ready, willing and able to battle the forces of evil that lurk among us. Even on the most mundane and routine of flights like this one. Well, I’m sorry, sir, but that’s just the way it is.

Of course, if you find these conditions to be an imposition, then you are most welcome to step next door to ABC Airlines, but I’m sure they’ll have the same conditions. So, I’m afraid that you’re stuck either way. Unless you want to drive or, heh heh, walk.

Of course, if you would consider paying a small “security fee,” in cash, we can just forget the whole thing and no one will know. How? Well, I’ll just change your seat assignment from 3B in first class to 45DD way in the back of the cattle section. Nothing much ever happens back that far.

And besides, they say that the tail section is the safest. You know, in the event of an unfortunate-but-survivable incident. You agree? Good. Just slip me a few 20s when no one is looking and I’ll exchange your ticket with Mr. Al-Mounzowie. I doubt that he’ll mind being bumped up to first class.

Plus, he’s a much younger and fitter man than you are, certainly more clean-shaven. Now, please don’t look directly at me, don’t smile and, whatever you do, do not look as terrified as you are right now. It may frighten the cockpit crew, and goodness knows, they’re frightened enough as it is. Almost trigger-happy, to be honest.

So, enjoy your flight, Mr. Gronvold, and don’t forget to write if you arrive safely.”

Bill Gronvold is a freelance writer who lives in Kenai and Florida.


Jan. 6,  2010, Editorial: Make inlet healthy for whales and economics

The National Marine Fisheries Service’s proposal to designate 3,000 square miles of Cook Inlet as critical habitat for Cook Inlet beluga whales raises concerns that business as usual in Cook Inlet may become endangered along with the whales.

That’s a valid concern, and all the more reason to see the whales’ listing under the Endangered Species Act and this move toward increased habitat protections as an opportunity to encourage economic growth in the future, rather than a death knell for business as well as the whales. Scrutiny of the whales’ demise, and creating a plan based on that scrutiny, can encourage economic development by eliminating the risks to investment that the uncertain status of belugas currently creates.

Ideally, this situation would have been dealt with decades ago, avoiding the ramifications of an endangered species listing altogether. The belugas’ population has been known to be decreasing since the 1980s, and effective measures to reverse that trend have not happened.

This may well be one of the most expensive and difficult examples of “coulda-shoulda-woulda” the borough has yet faced. An easy way out of this situation is no longer possible. It’s time to face facts:

  • Cook Inlet belugas have significantly declined. A 1979 estimate pegged the whales’ population at 1,300. In 2008 their numbers were estimated at 375.
  • The limited measures taken to protect the whales and encourage their growth — primarily limiting hunting activities — have not been successful. Clearly, something beyond hunting is impeding their numbers. But the research and resources necessary to determine what that is have not been committed.
  • This issue is not going away. NMFS, not to mention all the environmental groups that have taken up this cause, are not simply going to let this go. Arguing that we shouldn’t be arguing about the whales — that they shouldn’t be listed as endangered — is counterproductive, not to mention detrimental to the whales as well as economic health of the region.
  • The whales have been designated as a genetically separate group. One suggested response to the endangered listing and critical habitat designation is to litigate that belugas are belugas, and since they are not endangered elsewhere in Alaska, they shouldn’t be listed as endangered in Cook Inlet. That’s a head-in-the-sand, unproductive way to address this issue.

The science says Cook Inlet belugas are distinct. Directing time, effort and resources toward discovering what is causing their decline and inhibiting their growth is the most productive way to address this situation. It’s also the best way to move forward and establish an environment that is healthy for whales, salmon and other creatures — including humans — as well as economic activities.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dave Carey issued a report Monday in advance of Tuesday’s assembly meeting that highlights sobering information from the belugas’ endangered listing. The following are some of the activities identified as having the potential to pose conservation threats to the whales and their habit: indigenous people’s use; recreation and tourism; military activities; tidal power development; commercial, recreational, personal-use and subsistence fishing; industrial activities that discharge or accidentally spill pollutants; continued oil and gas exploration, development and production; and development within and along upper Cook Inlet.

The subtext being that any and all of these activities — providing the economic lifeblood of the peninsula and beyond — may potentially be moved, modified or curtailed in an effort to protect the declining whale population.

As Mayor Carey points out, Cook Inlet supports an economy, along with whales.

“The challenge which now exists for the people of Alaska and the residents of the Kenai Peninsula Borough and those that live on the northern Cook Inlet around Knik Arm and Turnagain Arm is to promote the proper balance to achieve the restoration of the population of the Cook Inlet beluga whale and the cultural, social and economic needs for those who depend upon the Cook Inlet and its tributaries for their existence. The Cook Inlet is critical habitat for both humans and whales,” he said.

This is a particularly fractious time for a potential critical habitat designation and the controls and limitations that could come with it. With the borough and state’s overall financial picture, economic activities need to be supported, not hamstrung. The borough and other area municipalities are desperately trying to encourage further exploration for oil and gas and the continued operation of those industries, entice growth of the tourism industry, protect and grow fishing opportunities as well as help establish other economic opportunities in the inlet region.

Those industries are going to want a stable economic environment in order to continue current levels of activity, much less any expansion. They aren’t going to want to risk investment in an area with the substantial and myriad questions marks posed by the endangered listing and critical habitat designation.

So let’s answer the questions, once and for all. Let’s stop trying to ignore the fact that the health of the Cook Inlet watershed has been compromised and figure out what is causing the whales’ decline, what needs to be done to encourage their growth, and work toward making those changes.

It may be a painful process to undergo and may result in changes that are economically detrimental. But once a science-based plan for mitigating the beluga population crisis is in place, we can take a realistic look at the economic ramifications of that plan and work to mitigate those effects, as well.

Rather than shooting ourselves in the foot with continued avoidance, it’s time to bite the bullet, commit to finding a solution and working toward making Cook Inlet a healthy, stable environment for organisms and economics.

Jan. 6,  2010,   Guest Editorial: Health care bill a bad fit for Alaska

By Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska

Usually by this time of year, members of Congress stop hearing from their constituents because they’ve got other things on their minds — Christmas cards and presents and family gatherings to celebrate the holidays. But not this year.

This past week, my offices in Alaska and Washington were bombarded with hundreds of calls, faxes and e-mails from constituents. The overwhelming majority were upset, even outraged, that the Senate was about to pass a partisan $2.5 trillion health care bill that increases the role of the federal government in health care, worsens conditions for Medicare patients, raises taxes and insurance premiums and does nothing to reduce the cost of health care.

The Senate passed the health care bill on Christmas Eve and I voted against the measure as did all of my Republican colleagues. Many of the Alaskans who contacted me in recent weeks are confused by what this bill does and are concerned about how the legislation will impact them directly. They should be. In fact, the nonpartisan government scorekeeper, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), said late last week that a large share of the savings from Medicare was double counted and thus overstated the improvement in the government’s fiscal position. This further illustrates how the fatigued CBO staff is unable to produce accurate and verifiable information while adhering to harsh deadlines to pass a bill before Christmas.

Health insurance premiums would rise under the bill, according to the CBO, which said that premiums for individuals without employer-sponsored coverage would increase between 10 and 13 percent, which in Alaska could affect up to 28,000 people. The University of Alaska at Anchorage’s Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER), which reviewed the legislation at my request, concluded that premiums would rise roughly 12 percent, or a net increase of $1,160 for some individuals and $2,950 for some families in Alaska. Although subsidies would be available to help offset the cost, it is unclear from the bill who in Alaska would be eligible to receive them.

At 2,733 pages, no one can truly say they understand everything that is in this bill, but there are a few things that we do know. The Medicare program, which serves senior citizens and the disabled, will be slashed by nearly a half trillion dollars. Plundering Medicare to expand health care coverage is not reform.

ISER also said that Alaska Medicare seniors and the disabled would face even more severe restrictions in gaining access to primary care doctors and nurses than they do currently.

According to ISER, expanding Medicaid, the health care program for low income individuals, would create a surge of demand in Alaska that could send our Medicare beneficiaries to the back of the line due to Medicare’s low reimbursement rates compared to Medicaid’s rates. Unfortunately, the Democrats’ bill does nothing to fix the Medicare reimbursement rate inequity for Alaska.

There is also the $518.5 billion in tax increases under the bill that include a payroll tax hike of 0.9 percent for individuals earning $200,000 and couples earning $250,000, along with a mandate requiring all Americans to purchase health insurance or pay either $750 or 2 percent of taxable income, whichever is greater.

The bill also would impose a 40 percent excise tax on high value insurance plans. Because Alaska is a high cost state, ISER predicts that roughly 50 percent of health plans in the state would be subject to the tax by 2016 compared to only 19 percent on average in the Lower 48. Last week, I received a report from the Municipality of Anchorage Police and Fire Retiree Medical Trust saying that the insurance plans provided to its members would be subject to this 40 percent excise tax.

Throughout the debate, both sides stressed that any reform bill should first and foremost rein in the ever-escalating cost of health care. But this bill doesn’t bend down the health care cost curve as President Obama promised it would, according to the CBO analysis. While most of the tax and premium increases and Medicare cuts would begin upon enactment, many of the benefits would not kick in for three or four years. That’s like making mortgage payments on a new home but having to wait four years to move in.

A poll was released late last week that bears out the hundreds of e-mails and phone calls I have received from constituents who are opposed to the health care bill. The statewide Dittman Research poll of 393 registered voters in Alaska showed that 57 percent of respondents oppose congressional health care legislation; 64 percent expect costs to increase and 60 percent expect the quality of care to decline if the bill becomes law; and 59 percent want the congressional delegation to oppose the bill. Those are pretty convincing numbers.

Although the Senate passed the health care bill last week by the narrowest of majorities and with no Republican support, that was not the final vote. There are significant differences between the House and Senate health care bills, and those differences will have to be reconciled before a vote for final passage occurs.

So the debate is not over. Democrats have not been listening, despite poll after poll that shows a majority of Americans oppose the bill. Perhaps that will change as lawmakers return home this holiday season and constituents get an opportunity to express their views about the tax and premium hikes, Medicare cuts and sweetheart deals in this bill.

Dec. 23,  2009,   Editorial: Little can go a very long way

Economic recessions create a dangerous spiral. As profits decrease, jobs vanish and incomes shrink, belts are tightened to make up the difference. One of the areas strangled by budget tightening is support for charities and nonprofit organizations. But in tough economic times, the need for support services is at its greatest.

It’s a frustrating equation — needs increase while the financial ability to support them plummets.

But needs don’t have to go unmet, as our community has shown in several venues recently. One example shows the power of many doing a little versus a few doing a lot. A fundraiser for the family of Ivy Howland, a Kenai teen battling cancer, was happily quite successful. It wasn’t because of a few major donors, although the fundraiser did see some impressive acts of generosity. It was more a result of so many people helping out, from organizing the fundraiser to spreading the word about it, and people and businesses donating whatever they could. What those donations lacked in decimal places they made up for in quantity.

Additionally, Les Nelson, of Soldotna, is demonstrating the virtue of doing what you can, where you can. Through new friends and visits to the Philippines, he’s been touched by the plight of underprivileged kids lacking educations and the prospect of a job or a good life. Like many faced with a situation as large-scale and debilitating as childhood poverty, Nelson felt overwhelmed. There are three paths in that situation —ignore it, write a check for whatever can be spared and tell yourself anything more is out of your control, or roll up your sleeves and figure out what is in your control to do.

Nelson chose the latter. He’s an artist and graphic designer, and figured that’s what he has to offer, so he’s embarked on an effort to build an art school to train kids for careers in graphic design.

Such a grandiose gesture isn’t feasible for everyone, but the sentiment behind it is. Heavy financial support for worthy causes may not be within everyone’s means right now, but everyone has something they can offer. Perhaps a skill or service that can be used to further a noble aim, or a a donation of an item already owned or that can be made. If nothing else, time is a commodity always needed in fundraisers and nonprofit organizations.

Instead of lamenting that you can’t afford to give what you did last year, ask yourself —what can I do this year? The answer may be a smaller amount next to a dollar sign, or it could be something not monetary at all. Everyone has something of use —whether it’s skill at holding a hammer, a finesse for manning phone lines or simply time and the willingness to put it to use doing whatever is needed. It may only be a little this coming year, but it can go a long way.

Dec. 23,  2009,   Guest editorial: Healy coal belongs in mothballs

For years, many Alaskans have warned against firing up the Healy Clean Coal Plant for a host of reasons ranging from economic to environmental. Now it appears resource experts hired by the state to develop a 50-year power plan also have reached the same conclusion: bringing that boondoggle out of retirement could be another hugely expensive mistake.

Citing the significant risk of carbon pricing, Alaska’s consultants, Black and Veatch Corp., have made a clear recommendation that this plant should remain dormant. To us ratepayers especially, their assessment is reason enough to let it remain in mothballs.

The company recently released the draft of the Alaska Railbelt Regional Integrated Resource Plan. The final version will provide a plan for the state’s energy development over the next half century. In that draft, Black and Veatch noted that:

“Due to the operating cost risks associated with the possible enactment of CO2 legislation, Black and Veatch does not recommend that HCCP be included in the preferred resource plan at this time. HCCP is currently being held in mothball status: Black & Veatch recommends that this condition be maintained for the foreseeable future until such time as it becomes clear whether CO2 regulations are enacted and the resulting economic impact on the plant can be determined.”

Black and Veatch’s assessment is right on the mark. CO2 standards appear to be right around the corner. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that greenhouse gases are pollutants and thus subject to provisions of the Clean Air Act. The Environmental Protection Agency ruled recently that greenhouse gases threaten public health. The Obama administration is free to initiate emission controls through regulation. Nationally there is much political backing for such a move.

The U.S. energy industry apparently confirms what Black & Veatch is saying. Although they had been expecting the EPA ruling for some time, since the announcement, spokesmen have warned that the industry should expect increasing uncertainty and higher costs, especially among large-scale coal burners, like cement manufacturers and power generators.

If wasting the public’s money isn’t reason enough for state officials to back away from re-opening the HCCP, there are plenty more good arguments focused on protecting the environment and public health.

We have an abundance of natural gas. Exploiting that resource requires only the political will to open the state’s savings account and build a pipeline. Beyond that, the $12.5 million the Alaska Senate approved from the Railbelt Energy Fund just to get the HCCP working would be better used instead to promote clean and renewable energy resources – wind, solar, tidal and geothermal – of which the state also has plenty.

Black and Veatch has something to say about these resources, too. They recommend continuing development of Southcentral Power Project (natural gas) and the Fire Island and Nikiski wind projects. In addition, the company advised moving forward with research into the Glacier Fork, Chakachamna and Susitna hydroelectric projects, at least until environmental, geotechnical and capital costs can be understood sufficiently to determine if they are viable.

The company noted further that wind, tidal and geothermal would “become commercially mature” during the 50-year life of the plan, providing Alaskans with stably priced power.

If tapping into these cleaner energy resources is to become a reality, Alaska must fully commit to their development and the sooner the better. That means rejecting wasteful spending on attempts to make a failed idea work. On the bright side, the Healy plant has lived up to its name. It’s the cleanest type of coal plant we can imagine — one that burns no coal at all. Now let’s put our money to good work.

Mike O’Meara is spokesman for the Homer Electric Association Members Forum.

Dec. 16,  2009,   Editorial: Legislature return to 90 days? Not so fast

State representatives responding to a survey say they are unhappy with the 90-day legislative session and are considering a move back to 120 days.

Sessions were shortened from 120 to 90 days by voters in 2006, as a way to cut ballooning costs of sessions and to force legislators to go about their business in a more effective time frame.

The reasons legislators give for preferring a longer session tug at the democratic heartstrings. Legislators don’t have time to communicate enough with their constituents. Some matters only get one hearing, which doesn’t allow for enough research, consideration or attention. In short, bills are passed in haste and residents don’t have enough say in what’s going on.

It sounds like the 90-day session is an affront to good public process, and that may well prove to be the case, but far more factors than just legislators’ preference need to be considered before any sort of change is made.

After all, ask a quorum of just kids if they think summer vacation should be longer and you’ll get a resounding yes. But their preference is hardly the only perspective that matters.

Voters should have a say in this, too, and should have all the pertinent information available before any decisions are made. For instance, how much money is being saved by 90-day sessions versus 120 days, including resultant special sessions that have happened under both time frames? Do constituents feel like they’re lacking access to legislators or are left out of the public process? What bills, specifically, can be shown to have suffered or have had negative consequences because of the shorter session?

Legislators are quick to point out they don’t have enough time to do their work yet they jump to conclusions about reversing a public vote. The 90-day session may well prove to be too short, but the Legislature shouldn’t take it upon itself to switch back to 120 days without further consideration.

Dec. 9,  2009,   Editorial: Iditarod on the trail of change

Competitive mushing is at a crossroads in Alaska.

Economic pressures make dog sled racing an increasingly costly sport. Mushers’ expenses have gone up with prices for fuel and transportation, food, gear and veterinary services. Costs of putting on races continue to climb, and are never balanced out by even the most diehard volunteers. Bowing to their own economic pressures, race sponsors continue to scale back support or drop out entirely, as seen locally with the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race’s attempts to attract new donors. On a larger scale, that phenomenon is taking a nearly $1 million shortfall toll on the 2010 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

To compensate, the Iditarod will cut the purse yet again, now down to around $525,000. That’s hardly worth the time, trouble and expense for some mushers to even bother.

It seems the only thing that’s cheap in mushing today is the reputation the sport sometimes garners — with criticism over dog care and now attention to drug use with the Iditarod’s new policy to conduct random urine testing of mushers.

It’s a rough tradition, full of characters, colorful language and independent attitudes that often don’t fit the wholesome persona of athletes smiling from a Wheaties box.

That’s not to diminish the sport or the immense endurance, training, skill and athleticism it takes to succeed at competitive mushing. By and large, the poor reputation of mushers is unwarranted, since most mushers wouldn’t dream of jeopardizing dog care by using drugs or alcohol to the point of compromising their judgement or ability to function.

But it’s a tradition fitting of Alaska — independent, rough around the edges and not caring if others have a problem with that. Except competitive mushing needs to care what others think of it if it’s going to survive.

The sport simply isn’t sustainable without high-dollar sponsorships. It can either scale back to be home-grown and locally supported, with small races held out of the limelight of national public attention — and the corporate sponsorships that attention brings. Or, if the Iditarod, Yukon Quest and other big-name, big-budget races are to continue as they have, they need to polish their image to a shine that sponsors will want to reflect.

That means consistently and publicly enforcing policies against drug use, dog mistreatment, cheating and other black eyes the sport sometimes gives itself. It also means mushers hoping to take home a big purse or new truck in those races should support the policies and abide by them.

Mushers, race fans and race organizers can’t have it both ways. If they want races with big payouts and big spotlights, they need to get onboard with the big effort it takes to make that happen.

If they can’t stand their sport going the way of Wheaties, then find another path to run.

Dec. 9,  2009,   Guest Editorial: When ‘stupid is as stupid does’ hurts others

Is it just me, or does the gap between higher intelligence and primate-level stupidity seem to be widening?

Hear me out.

The world has always comprised a wide spectrum of personality, intelligence, common sense and compassion. Why some of us seem to wind up on the more generous side when it came to passing out positive human attributes is beyond my scope of understanding.

And while I’ve certainly done more than my fair share of stupid things so far in life, I feel at least far enough up the intelligence spectrum to weigh in on the chasm that continues to edge humans out to the extreme ends of mental discernment.

Given any set of variables, is it possible that just sitting someone from the lower end of the intelligence spectrum in front of a TV full of WWE, Jerry Springer and competitions gauging our intellectual abilities in relation to a fifth-grader merely dumbs them down even more? Really, what can we expect?

Stupidity alone is frightening enough. It’s bad enough to do it to yourself, but taking someone with you down your path of foolishness is something else. If you are foolish enough to imitate a World Wrestling move and do a head-butt drop on your trampoline at home, well — then I suppose that’s just Darwin’s theory at its finest.

The same goes for if you decide to bring a somewhat competent, though possibly equally as stupid — adult buddy over to join you in your fun. However, the whole equation changes when you factor in children.

Alaska State Troopers charged two men in Anchor Point in November with felony assault and reckless endangerment after they reportedly set fire to a 5-year-old boy’s head, causing second-degree burns on his face and head. Labeled by the two men allegedly responsible for the action as, “a practical joke gone wrong,” the lack of common sense, reason and any amount of compassion in regard to the young boy’s safety is remarkably disturbing.

If this chasm between stupidity and intelligence continues to widen, what kind of a society are we looking at in the future? What good does it do us to find the cure for cancer, make incredible gains in science and develop microtechnology that changes our world, if we still have idiots out there who think it would be funny to scare the crap out of a kindergartner because they are bored?

And, even if you excuse the “stupid” for their being somewhat less-fortunate on the brain-take at birth, doesn’t it become all too easy then, for the intelligent to oppress the stupid? Is that a bad thing? Wouldn’t we eventually move into “doing what’s best” for the stupid ones? And how would we even know which of us was stupid? Who would decide? What are the criteria?

You can tell someone they are black – or tall – but chances are, they’ve already figured that out. We have external measures for height, weight – and just about anything else you long to know about.

And while we have certain measures of intelligence that are arguably speculative and culture-specific at best, is that really a fair way to judge the smart from the stupid? What if you miss the cutoff by two points? Do you get to at least pick out your own clothes every day?

Apparently, for some of us, even that may be too much.

The problem with this kind of logic is that the stupid don’t know they’re stupid.

But can’t we at least keep them from setting each other on fire?

Sean Pearson is the editor of the Homer Tribune.

Dec. 9,  2009,   Guest Editorial: Support, expansion needed to make sure no neighbors go hungry

Thanksgiving is past and we had more than enough food on our plates. We enjoyed leftover turkey and dressing for a day or two. No one in my family was concerned if there would be a Thanksgiving dinner. We’ve always been fortunate to have enough food.

Through the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank and many of the agencies it serves, families who may have been concerned about Thanksgiving dinner were able to provide a turkey and trimmings on their tables. Seventy-one families received dinners directly from the food bank, plus 400 turkeys were distributed by member agencies. In addition, commodities boxes for a record 64 families were handed out in one day, Nov. 23.

For us involved in providing food to those in need, it is one sign that the hunger problem is growing on the Kenai Peninsula.

In the early days of our country, food availability was considered “feast or famine.” Today, famine and starvation are unknown in the United States. However, there is an increase in what is termed “food insecurity.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines this as not having enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle.

Food insecurity is a reality for those whose income is insufficient to pay the monthly bills and provide enough food to feed their families. For some people on the Kenai, it is an ongoing problem and has been for years, especially in winter. Recent job layoffs, salary reductions, illness, divorce and other problems have caused more of our neighbors to be confronted with a need for help. They may never have experienced this before.

The reasons are many but the problem is the same. The money doesn’t stretch far enough and groceries are the one item people can control and cut back on. The implications of inadequate food to families’ health and well-being may not be evident immediately. Eventually there will be problems. We as a community can keep that from happening.

The people of the Kenai Peninsula are well-known for their generosity. Churches, service organizations and individuals often step forward when they realize the need. The need is here and now. We must consider our good fortune and be willing to pass it on to help our neighbors.

The Kenai Peninsula Food Bank needs monetary or canned food donations of any amount, to provide for the increasing number of families seeking help. The number of new applicants for food has increased 40 percent since 2008. The Fireweed Dining Room provides an average of more than 1,750 lunches per month. The warehouse for the food bank will be expanded to make room for the additional food storage. Funding will be through a cost-share grant from the Rasmuson Foundation. We need public donations to meet the match.

Tonight, 800 million people throughout the world will go to bed hungry. If our community is successful in addressing the hunger issue, none will live here on the peninsula. No one deserves to be hungry.

Linda Griffiths is a member of the board of directors for the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank. For more information on the food bank’s Building to Nourish campaign, visit http://www.kpfoodbank.org/btn.

Dec. 2,  2009,   Editorial: Belugas need help, research not lawsuits

The National Marine Fisheries Service, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, announced Tuesday a proposal to list more than 3,000 square miles of Cook Inlet as critical habitat for beluga whales, to protect the few hundred remaining whales that were listed as endangered in October 2008. Thus begins a public comment period extending through Jan. 31.

The whales have faced a sharp decline in numbers for decades, down to an estimated 300 to 400 whales, from approximately 1,300 in the 1980s. The original decline was thought to be caused by overharvesting, but the population hasn’t rebounded since hunting was restricted.

The state of Alaska opposes the Cook Inlet beluga whales’ endangered listing and the designation of critical habitat off Anchorage’s shore, and Gov. Sean Parnell followed the announcement Tuesday with one of his own — that he’s concerned about the potential economic impact the listing will have on development.

Shocker. (Sarcasm intended).

Environmental groups also followed the news Tuesday with announcements praising the proposal, and many pressing for further action.

Again, shocker. (And again, sarcasm intended).

What’s striking in the responses to the critical habitat proposal on the state’s side is its lack of comments and action showing true concern over the fate of the belugas. Again, not surprising, considering the state’s firm opposition to the listing of polar bears, and former Gov. Sarah Palin’s statement that she intended to have the state sue to overturn the belugas’ endangered designation.

The state doesn’t seem interested in much beyond how the critical habitat designation or endangered listing may impact economics in affecting the oil and gas industry and other development in Cook Inlet. That is a sad dereliction of the state’s duty to protect Alaska’s resources — be they oil and gas, the land and waters on which those developments happen, or the creatures that inhabit those areas.

On the environmentalists’ side, many of the comments show a lack of realization for how critical industry and development is to the economy, in the Cook Inlet region and to the entire state. Comments blaming the whales’ decline on industrial activities are especially telling. While noise pollution, ship traffic, construction, new development and pollution are generally believed to be contributing factors to the whale’s population woes, it has not yet been proven, specifically,  to what extent those activities are affecting the whales, nor to what extent limiting those activities will help the population rebound.

Take this excerpt from a press released issued Tuesday by the Center for Biological Diversity, which was the organization that threatened to sue to make the critical habitat proposal come about in the first place.

“Cook Inlet is the most populated and fastest-growing watershed in Alaska, and is subject to significant proposed offshore oil and gas development in beluga habitat. Additionally, the proposed Knik Arm Bridge, a billion-dollar boondoggle, will directly affect some of the whale’s most important habitat. Port expansion and a proposed giant coal mine and coal export dock would also destroy key beluga habitat. … ‘While today’s proposal is an important step toward protecting the Cook Inlet beluga, protections for the species remain far from complete. Critical habitat designation should be promptly finalized and expanded to include the lower Inlet. Moreover, the Fisheries Service needs to prepare a recovery plan and stop so freely handing out permits to industry allowing the beluga’s habitat to be developed and disturbed.’”

Here’s a truly shocking idea — the state and environmental groups should work together to figure out what is going to do the most good in protecting the whales and assisting their rebound.

Conduct joint studies, share information, or at the very least stop wasting resources and time threatening to sue and counter sue over the issue, and use them instead to come up with a scientifically sound strategy to effectively address the whales’ decline, with the joint goal of limiting industrial activity as little as possible.

Protecting beluga whales — as well as salmon and other factors of the Cook Inlet watershed — should be both sides’ goal, and so should preserving Alaska’s economy.

Dec. 2,  2009,  Guest Editorial: No more funding for Kenai Hydro projects

In Alaska’s critical endeavor to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels, Alaskans deserve professional, carefully considered development of our renewable energy resources to ensure that the scope of any negative economic, social and environmental impacts closely justifies appreciable new energy production.

Since 2008, amidst enthusiasm to develop hydropower projects, the Alaska Energy Authority (AEA), and the Alaska Legislature have authorized Kenai Hydro LLC (KHL) to use over $1 million in very poorly directed public money to perform feasibility studies and federal pre-licensing activities for four hydropower dams KHL envisioned for Kenai River headwaters near Moose Pass and Cooper Landing.

KHL is a for-profit hydropower development consortium established in Delaware. Originally, KHL involved Homer Electric Association (HEA), Cook Inlet Region, Inc. (CIRI), and enXco — a French-owned company. CIRI recently announced it would no longer be a KHL partner.

In October, KHL abandoned its proposed Ptarmigan and Crescent lakes dams, and relinquished Federal Energy Regulatory Commission preliminary permits for those projects due to negative financial and environmental feasibility findings. Yet despite growing public opposition and legitimate, widely held concerns over project impacts, feasibility and funding, including future construction costs, KHL obstinately pursues its project to dam Grant and Falls creeks.

In his October report to HEA’s board of directors, HEA General Manager Brad Janorschke acknowledged problems with the Grant/Falls hydropower dams: “… we are seeing economic challenges with both projects and their future will be dictated by the availability of grant funds for study work and, if licensed, grants to offset a portion of the capital costs.”

In obtaining authorization for upwards of $900,000 of our money for its Grant/Falls proposal, KHL optimistically portrayed the combined dams as a 5- to 7-megawatt project. HEA now concedes Grant/Falls is a 4.5-megawatt project, and to continue studies KHL needs even more public funding. Neither AEA nor the Legislature should authorize any more money for what remains such a highly speculative and only faintly conceptual project. Never mind KHL’s $27 million project construction cost estimate.

Ethan Schutt, CIRI’s Senior Vice President of Land and Energy Development, characterized KHL’s proposed hydropower dams, and CIRI’s decision to end its involvement in the projects, during an October Legislative Energy Committee Hearing in Anchorage: “Projects must be locally acceptable, as well as commercially viable. These projects don’t appear to be either.”

KHL’s proposed industrialization of Kenai River headwaters at Grant and Falls creeks would prove expensive, irreversible and wrong. At a minimum, KHL’s Grant/Falls dams and their attendant environmental impacts would depress the regional and local economies that depend so heavily on the hydrological and biological integrity of the Kenai River watershed, its world-class fisheries and its wildlands.

Expenditure of public money to develop and degrade such vital public resources, lacking any broad expressions of community and public support, and in return for only negligible new electrical power benefits, simply should not happen. As former Gov. Walter Hickel pointed out in columns published by the Anchorage Daily News earlier this year, Alaska’s Constitution requires rational development of our commonly owned natural resources to yield clear public benefits; resources must not be developed haphazardly or for the private benefit of multi-national corporations like enXco.

The Grant/Falls hydropower dams are also contrary to the vast body of protective and progressive public policy established around the Kenai River and its tributaries. Provisions of the Chugach Forest Plan, the Kenai Area Plan and the Kenai River Comprehensive Management Plan express clear policy intent that, at a very minimum, strongly discourages any new hydropower dams in the Kenai River watershed. Residents of the Kenai Peninsula and Southcentral Alaska will not soon forget that the Cooper Lake hydropower dam caused the extinction of Cooper Creek’s pacific salmon stocks and destroyed what was once one of the best rainbow trout fisheries in Alaska.

By ending its involvement in KHL’s ill-conceived hydropower proposals, CIRI fulfilled its corporate responsibility and affirmed its support for the value system held by most Alaskans.

KHL, including HEA’s management and board of directors, should follow CIRI’s excellent lead as soon as possible.

As a forestry technician, Mike Cooney, of Moose Pass, has been involved in natural resource management and planning in both the public and private sectors in Alaska since 1979.

Nov. 25,  2009,   Editorial: Remove roadblocks to highway upgrade

There are only two seasons in Alaska — winter and construction — so road projects can take a long time. It can take years for a project to be planned out, added to the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program listing and work its way up the list in priority for funding.

But in terms of a project to rehabilitate a section of the Sterling Highway, from east of Sterling to the east entrance to Skilak Lake Road, the wait is getting excessive. The project is to re-pave the highway, widen the shoulders a bit, add some passing lanes and address the rising number of wildlife-vehicle collisions that occur on that stretch of road, because it’s a busy crossing for moose, caribou and bears.

The project has been nine years in the making. Part of that wait has been for a good cause — so a study could be done pinpointing the busiest animal crossings. But now that the data has been gathered, the problem becomes, what to do about it?

The Alaska Department of Transportation is in a standoff with the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge — which has to give approval for the project on refuge land — over how much wildlife mitigation needs to be done. Both sides say they’re working toward agreement, but as it stands now, nine months after the latest revised version of the study report came out, they’re nowhere near a compromise. The refuge recommends eight underpass wildlife crossing structures along the length of the project. DOT is so far proposing only one.

The Federal Highways Administration has said it doesn’t think the refuge’s recommendations are extravagant, so federal funding would likely come through for all the mitigation efforts. Yet DOT has an eye toward the rest of the STIP list and wants to divvy up the limited amount of federal transportation money the state gets toward other projects, as well.

There are always more projects needing funding than there is money to go around, and DOT will especially need to be conservative in planning projects once Congress overhauls the federal highways funding mechanism in the next year or so, which will result in less money for Alaska.

But this isn’t the project on which to scrimp. If agreement is reached soon and the project moves along, it can be funded under the current, higher level of federal reimbursement.

Traffic on the Sterling Highway is only going to increase, and so will wildlife collisions if something isn’t done. With the federal funding equation set to change, it will be much more difficult to adequately address these issues in the future, with less money available to do so. Let’s be proactive, and instead of fixing the road to “good enough” standards, let’s upgrade it so it protects drivers and wildlife well into the future. That way, instead of waiting for the project to get done, we’ll be waiting a long time before it needs to be redone.

Nov. 25,  2009,  Guest Editorial: River policy renovations — Borough revisits Habitat Protection Ordinance

The protection and sustainability of salmon habitat has been a long-term goal and need of the people of the Kenai Peninsula since long before the Kenai Peninsula Borough existed. To that end, the Kenai Watershed Forum received a grant from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to evaluate the effectiveness of the borough’s salmon stream Habitat Protection Ordinance.

The purpose of this borough law is to protect salmon habitat while also recognizing private-property rights. To fulfill our grant obligations, we agreed to document the history of the code, review the structure and content of the code, summarize code compliance and enforcement, and research permit activity.

The habitat protection code is often referred to as the 50-foot setback. Since its adoption in 1996, activities have been regulated within the “setback” of the Kenai River. In the year 2000, another 24 salmon-bearing streams were added to the setback code, using the same set of regulations as were in place for the Kenai River. Within the borough, there are over 1,000 known salmon streams, so it doesn’t cover all of them, but many of the well-known streams on the western side of the peninsula are on the list.

In addition to the 50-foot setback from the ordinary high waterline, the habitat protection code features a list of allowed uses, provisions for conditional-use permits, and grandfathering for structures and activities that were in the setback zone prior to 1996. The code is administered by borough staff at the Donald E. Gilman River Center.

In round numbers, the River Center has issued over 3,300 permits in 13 years. The majority of these permits have been for activities along the Kenai River. Of these 3,300 permits, 3,150 have been relatively straightforward, over-the-counter permits that do not require review of the planning commission. The remaining 150 were conditional-use permit requests that require a decision from the planning commission. Of those 150 requests, 85 percent were approved.

The beginning discussions of the ordinance review are starting to point to a number of “housekeeping” provisions that could improve the code, such as: provisions that allow for Americans With Disabilities Act access; reduction in the slopes that trigger additional setbacks; listing and defining allowable uses and activities, and more clear ties to other related sections of borough code.

A couple of key findings related to enforcement were also identified in the review. Most notably voluntary compliance and the desire of most landowners to comply with this section of borough code is very high. Most landowners want to do the right thing, and this code provides some guidance. However, the language of the code is often imprecise and subject to interpretation. This makes it challenging to evaluate if activities are in compliance, which in turn makes enforcement very difficult.

The related borough enforcement process and ordinance language are outdated and there is no written policy to guide the borough’s code compliance officer in enforcement situations. In analyzing the permits and known violations, the documentation of those cases that are out of compliance with the code is not very complete. Implementing better record keeping is something the River Center staff has already started to correct.

It is clear the borough has been relying on voluntary compliance as its single most effective method of enforcement. Since voluntary compliance to date is very high, this has been a positive. The records indicate 112 known cases of activities or uses that are out of compliance with the ordinance, eight cases are open and there is one case in which a fine was issued and collected. It is not clear where the remaining cases rest.

Currently, discussions have begun among members of the borough administration, assembly, planning commission and the Kenai River Special Management Area Advisory Board. While most of the housekeeping issues may quickly be addressed and remedied, much discussion is likely to occur on the larger issues of appropriate habitat buffer width, whether all anadromous streams should be protected, and how to enforce the code in a consistent and meaningful way.

Robert Ruffner is executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum.

Nov. 18,  2009,  Editorial: Parnell owes president a better reception

Here we are in November, nosing up on Thanksgiving, the hallmark holiday of hearth, home and hospitality. It’s traditional this time of year to share whatever bounties we’ve been blessed with, act the kind host when presented with the opportunity to do so or be gracious in accepting the hospitality and generosity of others, if we need to be on the receiving end of the societal kindness equation.

In Alaska, we like to pride ourselves on upholding that unspoken standard of helping when needed, whether it’s responding to a phone call from a friend in the middle of the night to go butcher a moose, stopping to check on a motorist having car trouble when it’s below zero, or lending a back and shovel to a neighbor who can’t quite manage their driveway on their own.

As governor, Sean Parnell should uphold the standards Alaskans believe in, and put forth an honorable, respectful and hospitable face in representing the rest of us. He failed to do that during President Barack Obama’s visit to Elmendorf Air Force Base on Nov. 12.

Air Force One, carrying President Obama bound for a trip to Asia, stopped over in Alaska briefly to refuel Nov. 12. The president made a quick appearance, expressing gratitude and commitment to our men and women in the Armed Forces and their families.

Though the hangar was packed with people wanting to greet the president, the crowd did not include Parnell or any high-ranking representative of Alaska’s leadership. Some have excused absences — Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell was in Sitka speaking at the Alaska Law Enforcement Training Program graduation. Sen. Lisa Murkowski was on a trip to northwest Alaska. Parnell, however, was in town speaking to a contractors meeting in Anchorage.

The speaking engagement was a prior commitment, nd Obama’s visit had been rescheduled due to a delay, but neither are justifiable reasons for snubbing the president. Of all the valid reasons to reschedule an in-town speech, surely “I need to greet the President of the United States on behalf of Alaska” would count.

Nothing momentous would have come from Parnell being at Elmendorf. There were no policy decisions to be made, and likely no opportunity to engage the president in a discussion of the woes or strengths of Alaska. And Alaska is a red state, having voted overwhelmingly for John McCain in the last election. But none of that trumps the basic rules of hospitality the situation required. The president is the president — whether the state overall voted for him or not — and should be treated with the respect that office deserves.

Parnell should have been there. It’s his job to act as host for the state of Alaska, and maintain the standards of respect and good manners. As an Alaskan, you don’t see someone walk away from a car with its lights left on and not say anything. As a good host, you don’t stay rooted to the couch in front of the TV when guests show up for dinner. As our governor, you don’t ignore the president when he stops by our store, bearing good will for our troops and state.

Nov. 11,  2009,  Editorial: Finding positive action from an ugly situation

The shooting of a brown bear by the side of the Sterling Highway on Oct. 3 west of the Russian River Ferry was an unfortunate event for all involved. Foremost for the bear, obviously, but also for the people it affected.

It was unfortunate that the witnesses who had stopped to watch and photograph the bear, or who were just passing by, had to see it get killed in such a shocking manner. It was unfortunate for the law-enforcement personnel on the scene trying to keep people safe, yet who were included in witnesses’ anger that the shooting was allowed to proceed. It became unfortunate for those investigating the incident and dealing with the aftermath, amid a backdrop of the uproar the shooting caused.

It was also unfortunate for hunters in general, who are given a big, public black eye if anyone thinks what happened Oct. 3 constituted responsible, ethical hunting practices. Thankfully, those involved in the incident are in agreement that it was all-around unfortunate, including the shooter, himself.

When asked about the incident, Joseph Wicker showed the good sense and reasonability he may have lacked in the heat of the moment Oct. 3 by taking full responsibility for what happened. He didn’t question it, didn’t try to deny it, didn’t try to blame anyone else or wiggle out of responsibility in any way.

Even in the face of public outrage, rumors and very pointed comments made about him, Wicker owned up and apologized. That’s true contrition and that deserves a measure of respect, even if his actions Oct. 3 do not.

In the aftermath, there may be good to come of this situation. It has brought attention to a breakdown in communications between regulatory authorities and hunters. Wicker shot the bear in an area of highway covered by a federal rule restricting discharge of firearms within a quarter mile of either side of the road. However, Wicker said he wasn’t aware of the rule. Alaska State Troopers said even they weren’t aware of the rule. While it is the hunter’s responsibility to research all regulations in the area in which they hunt, a rule as basic and protective to public safety as not shooting in the vicinity of a busy stretch of highway should not be such a well-kept secret.

Following the shooting, the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge posted signs along that stretch of highway identifying the no-discharge-of-firearms rule. The refuge says the signs going up and the shooting are unrelated, but the result is the same — it increases awareness. State and federal agencies should use this incident as impetus to consider how they communicate regulations to user groups and find a way to do so in a more effective, streamlined way. Yes, it’s the hunter’s responsibility to know the laws, but there’s no sense making it difficult for them to learn about them. It’s better to prevent unlawful activity than it is to deal with it after the fact.

This rule is one that won’t fade back to obscurity for a long time to come, and that’s a good thing.

It’s just too bad it had to take a situation this ugly to make that happen.

Nov. 4,  2009,  Editorial: Good to see democracy in action, even if only on a small scale

This year’s municipal election proves that you can fight city hall.

In Kenai, Soldotna and across the borough, residents spearheaded direct change in their government, spurred to action over decisions with which they were not happy.

In Kenai, residents voted to undo a city council move to rezone a portion of land along the Kenai Spur Highway, returning the parcels to Rural Residential 1. The vote likely isn’t the end of zoning issues in Kenai, or even in that area of Kenai, but it does send a strong message to the city and council that residents want a weighty voice in deciding how their neighborhoods will develop.

Soldotna saw a backlash over the city council’s decision to purchase land along Knight Drive for a cemetery site, instead of using a city-owned parcel near Redoubt Avenue that voters voiced their preference for in the previous year’s election. All four candidates who strongly favored the Redoubt site were voted into office, over candidates on the Knight Drive side of the issue. The new council members have wasted no time getting the ball rolling back toward the Redoubt site.

Boroughwide, voters reaffirmed their preference for term limits, keeping the limitation on assembly members’ length of service in place.

On one hand, it’s a bad sign to see the voter-initiative process being successful. If a majority of voters choose to support a stance through the initiative process, it shows their elected representatives were out of touch with the majority of their constituents. On the other hand, when government’s actions stray too far from the public’s wishes, ballot initiatives give voters a direct hand in steering policy back toward the course they prefer.

What was truly impressive about this year’s election was how many people felt strongly enough about public policies to speak up and get involved. Getting an initiative on a ballot, much less getting it to pass, is no small feat. It requires careful research and crafting of the text of the initiative, as well as all the time and effort involved in gathering signatures and promoting the issue to voters. Grass-roots efforts were ongoing across the borough to encourage residents to consider complex issues and take a stand for what they believed is right.

Disturbingly, few voters chose to honor the time and effort put in by all those who did get involved in this year’s election. Voter turnout across the borough was an abysmal 24.67 percent. There were pockets of higher involvement, like 60.8 percent turnout in the Kachemak Emergency Service Area, and 36.4 percent in Assembly District 9, on the southern peninsula. But overall, voter turnout cowered in the low 20s to teens.

With industry bailouts and continuing debate about health care reform, there’s been a lot of talk lately about the importance of capitalism and the role it’s played in making America a world leader. While there’s no doubt capitalism is a great economic system, it’s democracy that is America’s proudest heritage. Our system of elections and representation is what has driven the greatest achievements of this country, whether it be civil rights or women’s suffrage.

With Congress making billion-dollar, course-changing decisions, all the while with lobbyists exerting an increasingly inappropriate amount of corporate influence, citizens are left to feel like the national democratic process is further and further out of their hands.

It’s nice to see that, on a local level, at least, the democratic flame is still burning bright. It’s just too bad more people aren’t willing to help feed that fire.

Oct. 28,  2009,  Editorial: Aiming to answer shooting concerns

The passing weeks have done little to tamper the disgust several witnesses experienced in seeing a brown bear shot Oct. 3 alongside the Sterling Highway near the Russian River Ferry. A crowd of about 15 people had gathered to photograph the bear, creating a traffic hazard that drew Alaska State Troopers to the scene.

Two hunters dressed in camo and toting rifles also appeared, and shot the bear after it crossed the highway and headed up a slope to the trees. The shooting was viewed by troopers, stopped traffic and bystanders, including children

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the incident is still under investigation and isn’t releasing information about it. That does little to assuage the many concerns witnesses have voiced over the situation:

  • Why did troopers allow the men to fire on this bear? Troopers said the hunters had a valid permit, they weren’t violating a Fish and Game regulation prohibiting shooting from on or across a roadway, and didn’t want to run afoul of the hunter harassment law. But the area is covered by a federal restriction that prohibits shooting within a quarter mile of the highway. True, troopers’ very busy job is to enforce state law, but they should have been aware of the federal restriction, just as the hunters should have been. Why didn’t they point it out? Especially in light of the dangers to public safety created by the shooting of the bear.

Bullets could have broken apart, ricocheted off rocks or gone astray, threatening people still standing around or waiting in stopped vehicles. And if the bear had decided to charge, which is a distinct possibility when wounded, there was no lack of people it could have gone after.

  • Why is the investigation taking so long? Federal regulations prohibit shooting within a quarter mile of the highway. The hunters were reportedly barely a foot off the highway, well within a quarter mile.
  • Why aren’t hunting and shooting regulations covering all peninsula jurisdictions — Fish and Game, State Parks, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and Chugach National Forest — presented in one place? Hunters are responsible for knowing what is and is not allowed in any given area, regardless of how confusing overlapping jurisdictions may be. But all agencies involved could make life a lot easier for hunters, enforcement officers and wildlife if they would put their heads together and collaborate on presenting the rules and regulations in one clear, efficient way.

This situation shouldn’t have happened in the first place. All parties involved need to make sure it never happens again.

Oct. 28,  2009,  Guest Editorial: Building a future for Watershed Forum

As a dynamic, nonprofit organization dedicated to maintaining the health of Kenai Peninsula’s watersheds, the Kenai Watershed Forum is well-poised to serve the peninsula and the state of Alaska with increasing effectiveness, both today and far into the future.

To realize our full potential, we need to continue expanding and improving our programs and infrastructure. Embracing our mission to work together for healthy watersheds, we are launching a capital campaign to support the renovation of a building that will meet the growing needs of our organization for many years to come.

The Watershed Forum recently entered into a 30-year lease with the city of Soldotna to occupy a historic building located within a downtown Soldotna park at the confluence of Soldotna Creek and the Kenai River — a perfect location for our new home. The building, which is actually a 2,300-square-foot house, is one of the first permanent structures built in Soldotna, and has a unique history tied to the area homesteaders and the early highway crews. Locals might have heard this house referred to as the White House or the Soberg House.

The house was built by the Territorial Alaska Road Commission in 1955 for Ralph Soberg and his family. Soberg was the general foreman for the Alaska Road Commission in charge of the road construction projects in the 1950s. In the early 1980s, the state deeded the house, including 15 acres, to the city of Soldotna. Over the years the house has been used for city employees and park attendants. The house sat empty for many years until the city of Soldotna approached the KWF.

This building needs major renovations to provide for the needs of the KWF. In addition, the KWF Board of Directors has committed to incorporate Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards into each phase of the building. The LEED Green Building Rating System is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of a high-performance green building. There are currently only seven buildings LEED certified in the state of Alaska.

The Watershed Forum is now in a fundraising campaign to raise the necessary capital to renovate the building. We have currently raised nearly $60,000. Although that number is impressive, we are still a ways from our goal.

ConocoPhillips is our first Cornerstone Watershed Partner, contributing $25,000. Chevron is supporting this project with a gift of $7,000. Several local businesses are on board. Ryan Kapp from Edward Jones Investments has pledged $2,500. And countless others have pledged gifts to the Kenai Watershed Forum for this building project.

We anticipate breaking ground in the spring of 2010.

Josselyn O’Connor is project coordinator and membership and development director for the Kenai Watershed Forum. For more information, visit http://www.kenaiwatershed.org.

Oct. 14,  2009,  Editorial: Drive toward cleaner business

Lynden Transit is settling into its new home on the Sterling Highway in Soldotna, and is setting the bar for new ways of doing business.

The shipping company’s new terminal in Soldotna was built with an eye toward energy efficiency.

Everything about the facility is designed to conserve time, fuel, energy and, therefore, money. The layout is revamped so trucks don’t have to move around any more than absolutely necessary. Bay doors are redesigned so they don’t have to sit open, wasting heat. Yard lights operate on solar timers, and all lights throughout the building are energy-efficient fixtures.

A lot of it is a change in technology —switching to electricity-powered refrigeration units instead of diesel, buying electric forklifts, installing computer systems in trucks that can calculate the most efficient speed for gas mileage and the best routes to save time and fuel.

But underlying it all is a commitment to the attitude of energy efficiency. Recycling bins are numerous and well-used throughout the facility. Lights and heat are turned on judiciously. There’s a “no idling” policy in effect for both trucks and employee’s personal vehicles.

That attitude to embrace greener ways of doing business drives Lynden’s push toward making its entire operation more energy efficient. Lynden has realized the dirty little secret that eludes many other companies that are dragging their feet toward change — going green means saving money.

Lynden is a business with costs to cover and a profit margin to look out for. The company may want to do good by the environment for altruistic reasons, but it’s also interested in cutting fuel and energy costs and recognizes that eco-friendly strategies and technologies are a great way to do that.

We hope other businesses will follow Lynden’s lead and take a commitment to energy efficiency to heart. It just may go to their bank account, as well.

Oct. 14,  2009,  Guest Editorial: Bear shooting shows lack of hunting sportsmanship

To anyone like myself who has ever taken pride in being a hunter — in providing meat for the family table or in proving skill and courage — cases like the grizzly bear being shot along the Sterling Highway near the Russian River Ferry on Oct. 3 should be revolting. Typically, the meat is left to rot. Any “bragging” rights are pure fiction. And the amount of courage required wouldn’t do credit to a 2-year-old child. Yet, listen though you will for outrage by “hunter” organizations, the silence is deafening. The age-old concept of sportsmanship is all but dead.

As dead as yet another bear so foolish as to trust people.

Contrary to what one hears from many hunter organizations, the real enemy of our live-off-the-land heritage is not “bleeding-heart animal rights activists,” but “hunters” like this who lack any semblance of sportsmanship or respect for the rights of viewers.

The upper Kenai River is certainly not an ideal situation for bear viewing. Too many people without bear-savvy wander among the bears, all too often crowding in to get close-up photos. Yet, this is one of the few road-accessible places in North America where people have a significant chance of seeing a grizzly, especially one tolerant of human foibles. So this tiny area should be one of the last places where bears are “harvested.”

Sure, other bears will eventually replace this one. But will they be as tolerant of people? How many years will it take for the survivors to learn how to live peacefully among people? Will someone be mauled before they learn?

This victim is apparently one of the same bears which spent last summer catching salmon and snaring fish carcasses amid thousands of anglers and viewers without threatening anyone’s safety. Most of these bears are amazingly polite as they try to make a living in the same area where bears have been fishing for thousands of years — just the way we hope all bears will behave when forced into proximity to people.

Now, instead of this bear remaining alive for hundreds of thousands of people to enjoy year after year, its fur will adorn the wall of someone whose “courage and skill” evoke something less than admiration.

Ultimately, however, cases like this are less about slaughtering a trusting animal or about utter disregard for viewers, than they are about the cancer of divisiveness which we have collectively allowed to infect America, as though we had never learned one of warfare’s principle strategies: “Divide and conquer.”

It’s bad enough when a nation succumbs to the divisive machinations of foreign enemies; but even worse is when our own citizens do the enemy’s job for them. If there be truth to Lincoln’s words “United we stand, divided we fall,” then America is already teetering. Time to rebuild our cultural foundation by finding ways to re-unite with one another. Revitalizing mutual respect and consideration is a good place to start.

Steve Stringham is director of the Bear Viewing Association and the author of five books on Alaska’s wildlife. He earned his master of science degree at the University of Alaska studying moose, and his doctorate degree studying bears.

Oct. 7,  2009,  Editorial: Hunting for much better behavior

The interests and perspectives of hunters and wildlife watchers often clash, but it’s rare that they collide in so dramatic and disgusting a fashion as they did Saturday along the Seward Highway downstream of the Russian River Ferry.

Two hunters are reported to have shot and killed a male, subadult brown bear in full view of a crowd of onlookers — including children — that had been enjoying watching and photographing the bear in the Kenai River just moments before.

In the time it took the bear to climb up an embankment from the river, cross the highway and start running up the hill on the other side, the bear went from being a target of cameras to a target of rifles; a highlight of the day for a crowd of onlookers to a nightmarish scene they won’t soon be able to shake.

As the bear started up the hill, two men in camo and carrying rifles chased after it and shot it twice in the rear, an observer said. The report states that the bear rolled down the hill, flopping in a still-alive heap next to the road, where the men finished it off — all in full view of the crowd of horrified onlookers.

When done as it should be, hunting is not horrifying. It is not disgusting. It is not unethical. It is messy and uncomfortable for some to watch, but it is — or, at least, should be — a meaningful and utilitarian endeavor that instills more respect for the food we eat than shopping at a grocery store ever will.

What happened Saturday was not that kind of hunting.

Taking each facet of the incident individually, some arguments could be made to support what the men are reported to have done.

For one thing, the bear is a bear. Just because it was entertaining afternoon wildlife watchers doesn’t make it any less a wild animal that is permissible to hunt with the proper permit in the proper area during the proper time frame.

For another, hunters should be able to take advantage of an “easy” shot. If hunters luck into their prey with a minimal amount of effort, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t take the kill, as long as it is lawful to do so.

There is debate over whether the men were on the road or not when they shot. The matter is under investigation. Fish and Game regulations prohibit shooting from on or across a road. A state statute also prohibits discharging firearms within a state highway right-of-way, and a federal dictate covering that section of highway prohibits firing within a quarter mile on either side of the road.

It sounds as though the kill violates those regulations. But even if is was legal, it was not right.

Yes, a bear is a bear, and it is valuable as prey for hunters every bit as much as it is entertainment for wildlife viewers. But there are appropriate ways to draw the line between hunting with cameras and hunting with bullets, and this was not it.

This killing was disrespectful to the onlookers, created a dangerous situation for the crowd with the possibility of a wounded bear on the loose and created the possibility of a dangerous situation for traffic if the bear, the hunters or the onlookers ended up on the road.

What’s more, it was disrespectful to the bear. Who knows what influence the people had on the bear’s behavior or its decision to cross the highway. Hunters may get lucky in the field, but they shouldn’t traffic on a situation like this, created or contributed to by people enjoying the bear for an entirely different reason. Especially not when the kill is carried out with, “You got a problem with that?” swagger.

Being disrespectful and unsafe does not honor the Alaska tradition of providing for oneself by the bounty and mercy of nature.

This killing wasn’t an honorable hunt. It was a disgrace.

Sept. 30,  2009,  Guest Editorial: Weeding out threats to salmon habitat

It’s hard to believe that a non-native grass, introduced to the Kenai Peninsula because of its useful properties, could wipe out salmon habitat. That’s precisely what’s happened, though, in salmon streams and wetlands from California to British Colombia when reed canary grass has gotten near them.

Reed canary grass was brought to the Kenai Peninsula for use as a soil stabilizer and as a forage crop. It is preferred by some hay farmers because of its ability to grow in wet, heavy soils where other grasses won’t grow. It has long been recommended for use in revegetation of roadsides and utility corridors because it spreads rapidly, forming a dense sod that prevents soil erosion.

It’s these very properties, though, that make reed canary grass such a threat to our wetland and stream ecosystems.  Reed canary grass thrives in many of the same habitats as our native bluejoint grass, which is commonly found along stream banks. One major difference between the two is that bluejoint is a clumping grass, while reed canary is a sod-forming grass. The distinction lies in how an individual plant grows. A bluejoint plant grows by adding new shoots around the perimeter to form an ever-larger clump (also called a hummock). Reed canary grass, like other sod-forming grasses, expands by sending out underground rhizomes. The rhizomes can extend for several feet underground, sending up new shoots at intervals along the way. Many individual plants form the tightly-knit network that we call sod.

For salmon streams, this is an important distinction. Bluejoint grass, which has been growing on the Kenai Peninsula for thousands of years, won’t grow into a stream channel. When the stream channel is narrow and the hummocks on either side of it are large, the hummocks will meet one another over the channel, allowing the stream to flow unimpeded beneath. Reed canary grass, on the other hand, sends its rhizomes into the soil under the stream and sends up shoots into the stream channel. As the grass fills in, the channel itself can widen out and become indistinct. This causes a number of problems for stream dwellers, and particularly for spawning salmon.

In 1999, 158 dead, pre-spawn cohos were found in an abandoned reed canary grass pasture in King County, Wash. Investigators determined that the fish had been trying to swim upstream through a grass-choked channel running through the field. During a high-water event, the stream fanned out into the pasture and the salmon, unable to find the main channel, became stranded in the field as the water receded. Because of the widespread habitat destruction caused by reed canary grass, Washington has classified it a class C noxious weed.

Some have suggested that because of our harsher climate, reed canary grass may not produce viable seed here and won’t spread beyond where it’s planted. Both these assertions have been proven false. To determine whether its seed was viable, the Alaska Plant Materials Center collected seed from 17 reed canary grass populations around the Kenai Peninsula and conducted germination trials.

The results showed an average germination rate of 83 percent, showing that reed canary grass does produce highly viable seed here. The Kenai Watershed Forum and the Kenai and Homer Soil and Water Conservation Districts have done extensive surveying and mapping of reed canary grass on the peninsula. Those efforts have shown a clear pattern of reed canary grass spreading downstream along our creeks and into undeveloped natural areas.

In order to address this growing threat, the Kenai Watershed Forum in 2008 began efforts to control reed canary grass near waterways. That work has continued this year, and progress is being made. You can help by keeping an eye out for this invasive grass and reporting it, especially where you see it near waterways. It’s becoming easier to spot now that fall is upon us because it stays green (with dried out, beige-colored seed heads) long after other plants have died back for the winter.

Contact Michelle Martin at Kenai Watershed Forum, 262-5469 or michelle@kenaiwatershed.org. More information on reed canary grass is available at http://www.kenaiwatershed.org.

Michelle Martin is the invasive species specialist at the Kenai Watershed Forum.

Sept. 23,  2009,  Guest Editorial: Drift River terminal could have been disaster

“History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.”

— Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821)

When Exxon spilled millions of gallons of crude in Prince William Sound, it immediately hired an army of spin doctors to rewrite history. One of Exxon’s paid scientists even claimed Prince William Sound was healthier than before the spill, despite pockets of oil remaining on countless beaches and the crash of the herring fishery, among other lasting impacts. Now, we’re seeing the very same historical shape-shifting with the Drift River Oil Terminal incident.

Chevron operates the Drift River Oil Terminal at the base of the Mount Redoubt volcano in Cook Inlet. When Mount Redoubt awoke in late 2008, Chevron refused to disclose how much oil remained in its storage tanks. Why? The Homeland Security Act — Al Qaeda apparently posed a greater threat to our fisheries then a simmering volcano. When Redoubt’s massive eruption on March 22 sent trees, mud and debris through the facility, Chevron finally revealed the truth: over 6 million gallons of oil remained perched above our salmon, cod and halibut fisheries.

Chevron knew the risks. The same scenario unfolded during the 1989-90 Redoubt eruption. They reinforced protective dikes, but as the Alaska Volcano Observatory noted, volcanic debris flows (“lahars”) are like “moving walls of cement,” and reinforced dikes can only do so much against the forces of nature. In fact, volcanic floods this year overtopped the dikes, showing the dikes had no safety margin for a slightly larger eruption.

Despite months of warning, there was no actionable plan in place to address a catastrophic spill from the facility. The spill plan required by laws passed after the Exxon Valdez didn’t address a 6 million gallon spill, and it didn’t even envision oil from the tank farm hitting open water. In what should have been a day, it took more than a week to activate a Unified Command to coordinate spill prevention and response. And most disturbingly, the initial response priorities were not to protect our invaluable fisheries, but instead to ensure the continued flow of oil.

Chevron also had no plan to address significant economic losses when the facility went offline. Aside from contractor layoffs and their debilitating effects on local families, Alaska lost up to $2 million a month in revenues while the facility remained closed, according to state figures.

Finally, Chevron repeatedly put workers in harm’s way at Drift River, and in some cases left them stranded on the ground while eruptions, lightening and lahars raged around the facility. Oil field work is dangerous enough, and the bravery of those who went back into Drift River at the peak of seismic activity was exceptional. Had Chevron truly been concerned about worker safety, it would have reconfigured the facility to bypass the tank farm prior to the latest eruption. That way, the size of the eruption would not have been a risk factor, operations would not have been so drastically disrupted, and fewer people would have been put at risk.

Chevron Corporation knew all this, but its only plan was to hunker down and hope for the best. Hoping for the best, however, is not a lesson we learned from the Exxon Valdez. So, we dodged a bullet at Drift River.  Yet to hear the corporate public relations machine recount the story, you would think the Drift River response was flawless. No oil spilled, no injuries. No harm, no foul. We appreciate all the incredible work done to help avoid a catastrophe, but whitewashing this incident may prevent us from learning from our mistakes and having better preparedness and worker safety in the future.

The fact remains the Drift River Oil Terminal incident stands out as the most significant breakdown in spill prevention and response in Alaska since the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. That breakdown put our fisherman, workers and countless families and businesses around Cook Inlet at extreme risk. Want proof? Go to http://www.inletkeeper.org, see our timeline of events and judge for yourself. And know that what we see in Cook Inlet will invariably unfold in Bristol Bay and the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas if we allow our governments and the corporations to push into those frontier areas.

Bob Shavelson is Executive Director of Cook Inletkeeper, a citizen-based nonprofit organization with offices in Homer and Anchorage that is dedicated to clean water and healthy salmon.

Sept. 16,  2009,  Editorial: Terminal debate

In a perfect world, every election would have a ballot packed with informed, reasonable candidates, seeking no other purpose than to serve the best interests of their community and its residents. Every eligible voter would go to the polls, evaluating incumbent candidates on their performance over their past term in office, and judging whether a new voice might better suit their hopes for the future.

And road construction would never result in traffic delays, and frost heaves would be fixed by a wave of a wand … .

It’s nice to dream, but in the debate over term limits, it’s more practical to consider the reality: We are lucky enough to have a representative, participatory type of government, but we don’t exercise that luxury as much as we should.

Those in favor of term limits are right that incumbency gives candidates an advantage in elections. The risk is that candidates are returned to their seats simply because their name has become familiar. This makes it difficult for new voices to be heard or new directions to be considered. A lack of new input and vision can result in government being stuck in old patterns, sluggish to respond to changing times.

On the other side, participatory government is about just that — participation. If an eligible resident wants to dedicate their time and effort through the typically thankless job of elected office, why shouldn’t they be allowed the opportunity to do so? Just because they’ve already slaved away for a few years shouldn’t deprive voters who are happy with their performance the chance to have them continue that service. The sad fact is that, in many local elections, if it weren’t for incumbents, there wouldn’t be anyone to vote for.

One side argues that term limits would ensure changing leadership, theorizing that new always means better. The other argues that term limits restricts their ability to vote for whomever they choose, and that experience would be tossed out, simply because it’s experienced.

In a perfect, theoretical world, there would always be plenty of quality candidates to step up when others step down, and in larger races, on a statewide and nationwide level, that’s more the case. But locally, realistically, that’s not always what happens. And even when a seat does draw a large pool of contenders, voters shouldn’t be limited on who they can vote for. If they prefer someone who’s already done the job, so be it.

Incumbency can be a blessing, but also a curse. If voters aren’t happy with an elected official, they can say so at the polls. It’s their perfect right to do so.

Sept. 16,  2009,  Guest Editorial: HEA prepared for coming cold

Winter in Alaska is a beautiful time of the year, but it also requires each of us to take some extra precautions. The snow and cold temperatures can be great for outdoor enthusiasts, but those same conditions can create problems in the event of a power outage.

Every fall, Homer Electric Association urges its members to take a moment to make sure their homes are prepared for the possibility of an extended power outage during the winter months. Now is a good time to revisit your family emergency plan and make sure you have proper supplies such as drinking water, first aid kits, warm blankets, battery powered radios and flashlights, and extra batteries on hand.

This year, in addition to the possibility of weather related outages, there is a concern about power interruptions due to a natural gas shortfall. The natural gas supply in Cook Inlet has been on a downward trend for many years and while a shortfall is not likely, it is a situation that we need to be prepared for.

Homer Electric currently has a power supply contract with Chugach Electric Association that calls for Chugach Electric to supply Homer Electric’s power needs through 2013. Over 90 percent of the power generated by Chugach Electric is fueled by natural gas.

In an effort to be proactive, Homer Electric has joined with Chugach Electric, Matanuska Electric Association, Municipal Light and Power (ML&P, Anchorage) and ENSTAR to make sure that in the event of a temporary gas shortfall, a plan is in place to deal with the situation.

It is important to point out that the utilities have worked together many times over the years to ensure that there is enough gas supply for power and heating needs. There are many tools available to system operators to manage a gas delivery issue, including diverting gas from the ConocoPhillips Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) plant in Nikiski, increasing hydro power production at Bradley Lake, purchasing oil-generated power from Fairbanks, and discontinuing power sales to the Interior.

ML&P also has the ability to run some of its generating equipment on diesel and this may be used to “free” up some additional gas supplies. Running on diesel is more expensive than natural gas and all customers of Chugach Electric, including Homer Electric, and ML&P would share in the increased electric generation costs in order to get through the emergency.

If circumstances warrant such action, utilities may ask customers and members to take voluntary steps to reduce the demand on gas and electric systems. Encouraging and promoting energy conservation is always a priority of Homer Electric and in this case it would make even more sense to reduce consumption. Simple measures such as lowering the thermostat, turning down the setting on the water heater, turning off gas fireplaces, postponing doing laundry, and turning off all unnecessary lights and appliances would have a positive impact.

In the event the above steps were insufficient to deal with a gas delivery problem, a last resort would be intentional power interruptions. If this should occur, the outages would be of a short duration, approximately 20 minutes, for a pre-determined area. The outages would be “rolling outages”, so that the interruptions are shared equally by all customers in the Railbelt.

We do not anticipate that intentional outages will be necessary, but it is important to be ready in case those kinds of measures are needed.

In the coming months, we will be working with our partner utilities on a communications plan outlining energy conservation steps we will be encouraging customers to take this winter. These will be voluntary actions and for the most part will be the kind of conservation tools that are always good to use.

Being prepared for a possible gas shortage is basically the same as being ready for other emergencies, such as winter storms, that create power outages. By being proactive and working together, I am certain Homer Electric will be able to meet the needs of our members.

Bradley P. Janorschke is the General Manager for Homer Electric Association.

Sept. 9,  2009,  Guest Editorial: Bells tell the toll of effects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

The date is 09-09-09. International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Awareness Day. At 9:09 a.m., all over the world, bells will ring nine times to signify the importance of not drinking alcohol during the entire nine months of pregnancy.

So, what is the significance? What’s the big deal about this disability of FASD? Let’s look at a few facts: Alaska has the highest known incidence of FASD in the United States. In the past 10 years, the Kenai Peninsula has diagnosed more individuals than any other community in Alaska. We are only touching the surface of the problem.

There is no safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy. Your grandmother or your doctor may tell you it’s OK to have a drink every once in a while when you are pregnant. It is not. Recent studies show that even low levels of alcohol exposure can cause significant damage in a developing fetus.

Brain damage from fetal alcohol exposure is permanent. Kids don’t grow out of it. The learning, behavior and sensory problems stay with people into adulthood. It makes it hard for people to find and keep jobs, stay out of jail, have healthy relationships, stay sober and stay safe. It’s hard to wrap our heads around the fact that this little drink I am having right now is going to impact someone for their entire lifespan.

You won’t recognize most people with FASD. Ninety percent of folks with fetal alcohol brain damage don’t have the facial features that are so recognizable. When a kid like that gets into school, he or she looks just like everyone else. It’s an invisible disability, so the child just gets in trouble because they can’t learn or behave or sit still. Then, that same kid gets older and hates school because it’s hard and acts out because they can’t figure out how to get it right. The child is frustrated and lacks self-esteem, gets in with the wrong crowd and gets into trouble because they’re vulnerable and gets talked into doing stuff and doesn’t have the critical brain wiring to make good choices.

To add to the problem, most of the adults with FASD in our community are not diagnosed. They are just viewed as the high-maintenance, low-functioning folks who are in and out of the revolving doors of treatment, incarceration, medical care, churches and social services, who can’t seem to get it together no matter what.

So, what are we, as a community doing about it? As I mentioned above, the Kenai Peninsula has diagnosed more people than any other Alaskan community. That doesn’t necessarily mean we have more people with FASD; it does mean that we have a very active, high-quality diagnostic team that has been trained through the University of Washington. We are pretty savvy around here about FASD. The central peninsula receives a lot of education on this disability.

Once we get people diagnosed, though, we have very little in the way of services for them. For the most part, these folks are absorbed into mainstream culture, where they experience repeated failures and are misunderstood by most they come in contact with.

It is our task, then, to create a system that encompasses these people and strives to meet their needs for safety and well-being. The field of FASD is struggling with this nationwide, and we do not yet have a good solution, but we have in view the long-term goals of keeping folks out of jail, out of the ER, out of treatment and in healthy, safe surroundings

FASD is a disability that costs our community in many ways. The prevention end costs a little bit. Mopping it up once it’s here costs quite a bit more. Prevention is vaporous and difficult to sell to the lawmakers and to you, the taxpayers. We often spend the best of our energy and resources extinguishing the fires already burning because we can see instantly where our money goes.

It is my prayer that we let wisdom prevail and take responsibility from the start by sounding the alarm that it is not OK to drink during pregnancy, and then to follow that through with healthy behaviors of our own that reflect our spoken philosophy.

On this 10th anniversary of International FASD Awareness Day, will you commit with me to do that? Tell someone today that alcohol and pregnancy do not mix. Then, by your own lifestyle, proclaim it to be true.

Vickie Tinker is the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder program coordinator at Frontier Community Services.


Aug. 26,  2009,  Editorial: Energizing ideas

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dave Carey gave a disquieting warning during testimony to a special Legislative Committee on Energy in Kenai recently: The borough could experience brownouts this winter, when peak electrical usage outpaces capacity in the coldest stretches of the season.

Though we are better off than some areas of the state, the borough isn’t immune to the increasingly harsh realities of energy in Alaska. Traditional sources of energy generation are getting more and more expensive, and less and less available.

According to the Department of Energy, Alaskans consume more energy per capita than anywhere else in country, due to the cold and dark of our winters. In response, the DOE is allocating $60,344,280 in federal stimulus funds to the state, slated for weatherization, a state energy program and an energy efficiency and conservation block grant program.

There is no end to the financial hardships of Alaskans struggling with energy costs. It is a drastic and growing burden, especially in rural areas, and it is tempting to help with such immediate and pressing needs. However, this one-time influx of money is a unique opportunity to advance some truly energizing ideas, projects that wouldn’t get off the ground within the state’s usual budget.

Money should be used to facilitate Alaska becoming a leader in research, development and utilization of alternative energy sources, such as geothermal and tidal.

Proposing development of those technologies is typically met with the same excuse: They don’t exist in an efficient, cost-beneficial form. Well, let’s work toward making them exist. Alaska has the infrastructure for industrial and technical research and development. We have the natural resources on which to focus those efforts. What we need is regulatory support and financial resources and incentives to make that research happen.

This money could set Alaska a giant step ahead in resolving our growing energy crisis. With some foresight, ingenuity and a commitment to the future of Alaska, this funding could help be the light at the end of our increasingly dark tunnel.

Aug. 19,  2009, Guest Editorial: Kenai Hydro projects disregard importance of streams

By Bob Baldwin, Friends of Cooper Landing

The Friends of Cooper Landing, Inc. strongly object to five high-impact, low-output, seasonal hydropower proposals approved by the Alaska Energy Authority under the Renewable Energy Grant Program. Kenai Hydro, LLC and shell companies without substance are using over $1.2 million dollars of public money to study how to industrialize the Kenai River and surrounding Chugach National Forest areas for private gain. Incredibly, Kenai Hydro is partly owned by Homer Electric Association and Cook Inlet Region Inc.

HEA management is well-known for flights of fancy. The Kenai Hydro proposals are speculative business ventures approved by the HEA Board of Directors. Strangely, the invasive hydro sites are not located within the HEA utility service area, but that of Chugach Electric Association. Crescent and Carter Lakes, Grant Lake and Creek, Falls Creek, Ptarmigan Lake and Creek, and Victor Creek have been proposed. An initial attempt to obtain a federal hydropower license for a Grant Lake dam and a Falls Creek diversion into Grant Lake is in progress. HEA, perhaps, but we were very surprised to also find CIRI involved in a scheme to degrade the Kenai River and its invaluable fisheries.

Some renewable energy technologies have great potential to offset conventional energy costs and related environmental impacts. However, all renewable energy projects requiring major public subsidies must be rational. Alaska must not be guided by romantic sentimental instinct, to support renewable energy proposals at any cost. Existing public policy, negative impacts and traditional values must be considered.

Kenai Hydro, LLC ownership has been traced through a pyramid of seven companies extending offshore to Paris, France. Grant applicants quickly realize the Alaska Energy Authority is a cash cow without competent program management. Major public policy mistakes have occurred, five of which now threaten the Kenai River. Attracting international attention is the predictable result of putting $125,000,000 of unaccountable renewable energy grant money on the street. A hyped HEA public relations campaign has attempted to excuse a stunning lack of Alaskan values. Basically this has become Kenai Hydro/HEA/CIRI versus the Kenai River.

The Kenai Hydro fiasco was put in motion by AEA, contrary to decades of rigorous public planning to protect the Kenai River, which Cooper Landing helped develop. Unfortunately, AEA has operated in a vacuum. Unaccountable grants represent free money. Funneling massive funding through shell companies makes it obvious that applicant substance, technical qualifications, and Alaska experience have not been considered.

Grant evaluations did not consider irreversible impacts of industrializing the Kenai River watershed, with dams, roads, tunnels, powerhouses and transmission lines. In addition to basic river ecology and hydrology, fish, wildlife, habitat and the natural setting are directly impacted. Also not considered were the negative economic impacts on our local communities and the entire Southcentral region. AEA has simply shoveled money out the door.

The Alaska Legislature did not properly instruct AEA about requirements and management of the renewable energy grant program. One of the worst public policy nightmares in our long memory has been created. FOCL requests immediate withdrawal of Kenai Hydro funding approvals. Performance of a broad, independent renewable energy program review should be accomplished before the Legislature reconvenes. AEA Kenai Hydro funding approvals stand at $1,284,320. The Kenai Hydro business plan apparently anticipates state grants of $20-30 million each to construct the five proposed dams. The need for corrective legislation is obvious.

The studies funded by current grants clearly aim to compromise natural flows in the Kenai River Watershed. Ironically, the Cooper Lake Dam precedent used as a positive example to promote these proposals, eliminated Cooper Creek as an important salmon and rainbow stream. One compromise becomes a precedent for others, and the impacts are cumulative. We cannot afford to degrade the Kenai River stream by stream.

It is further troubling to find enabling consultants organizing “technical working groups” composed of invited experts from state and federal resource agencies. The clear intent is to determine what compromises affecting the Kenai River resource agencies will accept. We strongly object to state and federal government agencies designing for-profit private studies, to circumvent protective public policy.

Years of protective planning effort involving our communities, and local, state and federal government agencies, does not allow additional dams in the Kenai River Watershed. The cumulative impacts of five additional dams will exceed a Kenai River tipping point. Changes of natural flows in the headwaters will change the natural ecology and health of the Kenai River. Are we going to condemn the Kenai River to a slow death like so many Outside streams? It is unacceptable to spend public money to degrade the Kenai River.

Bob Baldwin is president of the Friends of Cooper Landing, Inc.

Aug. 12,  2009, Guest Editorial: Chuitna coal strip mine is wrong project for Alaska

By Dwight Kramer, Kenai Area Fishermen’s Coalition

The Kenai Area Fishermen’s Coalition (KAFC), a group composed of scientists and concerned users of the streams, lakes and open waters of Cook Inlet, opposes development of PacRim Coal’s Chuitna coal strip mine project.

Our organization includes 10 fisheries biologists with more than 120 years of experience in all areas of research and management. We have no commercial interest, but we are greatly concerned about the threat to the continued health of Cook Inlet water quality and fish and game habitat posed by the proposed strip mine that PacRim, a Delaware-based corporation, wants to build in the Beluga Coal Fields 45 miles southwest of Anchorage.

The company is in the advanced stages of securing state and federal permits. They hold a lease on 20,571 acres thought to contain an estimated 1 billion metric tons of sub-bituminous coal. If granted permits, PacRim officials say they could excavate as much as 12 million metric tons of coal annually, enough to fill more than 116,500 railroad coal cars. Roughly speaking, that’s equivalent to a train stretching from Anchorage to Juneau and back again. If PacRim develops the entire lease area — which is likely once costly infrastructure is installed — this project could last 50 years or more and would strip over 30 square miles of important fish and game habitat in Upper Cook Inlet.

Once PacRim strips the coal from the site, it will rely on a 12-mile long conveyor to transport the coal to the shores of Cook Inlet, where a 2-mile-long dock would load cargo vessels destined for Asian markets. We have serious concerns about the specific impacts this project will likely have on Cook Inlet natural resources, including:

Strip mining through watersheds: The project site includes a vast expanse of undeveloped wetlands that support healthy populations of fish, wolves, moose, bear and other wildlife. Coursing through it are several active salmon spawning streams that feed the Chuitna River and support Upper Cook Inlet salmon populations. Strip mining and associated development will unravel the unique functions and values of this natural system, and threaten the valuable fish and game resources that rely on them.

Destroying salmon streams: As currently proposed, this would be the first project in Alaska allowed to mine directly through an active salmon spawning region. As a result, the Chuitna coal strip mine represents a monumental precedent in Alaska. Reclaiming salmon streams in the complex environment found in the Chuitna area would be virtually impossible; in fact, we are not aware of any successful reclamation projects involving salmon stream reconstruction in an environment similar to that found near Beluga and Tyonek
Polluting water: PacRim’s plans also call for dumping an average of 7 million gallons of polluted mine waste and runoff per day into the Chuitna River watershed and Upper Cook Inlet. That’s more than 2.5 billion gallons a year directly into salmon habitat. Because the Chuitna River is a relatively low-flow system, it’s highly likely these discharges will adversely affect fisheries in the area.

Risking oil spills: To ship the coal overseas, PacRim will rely on a major coal storage and export facility to support deep-draft vessels destined for Asia. This complex would not only be located in fish migration areas, but also in one of the most unforgiving navigational environments in the United States. As a result, there is a considerable risk of oil spills and other casualties.

Mercury contamination: Chuitna’s coal would be burned in Asian power plants and mercury from those plants would end up back here in Alaska. As many people know, the state of Alaska announced in 2007 — for the first time ever — elevated mercury levels in Alaska fish.

We believe the coal strip mine is a poor example of forward-thinking development, and one that will put at great risk sustainable fish populations that already support Cook Inlet’s thriving fish-based economy. Outside investors shipping Alaska coal to overseas markets won’t serve Alaskans. The expected tax revenues would be small, and because Usibelli Coal Mine now supplies all the coal Alaska burns, none of that coal would contribute to Alaska’s energy needs.

Dwight Kramer is chairman of the Kenai Area Fishermen’s Coalition. KAFC is a private angler group with nearly 200 members from throughout the Kenai Peninsula and Southcentral.

Aug. 5,  2009, Guest Editorial: Kids should get hooked on fishing
By the Kenai River Sportfishing Association

They live within driving distance of one of the world’s most amazing sportfishing rivers in the world, but that doesn’t mean that every Alaska kid gets to experience the Kenai River. That will change later this month when 160 kids join with honorary host Sen. Lisa Murkowski to participate in the Kenai River Sportfishing Association’s third annual Kenai River Jr. Classic. Youth from the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Kenai Peninsula, Hospice and military youth who have parents stationed at Fort Richardson Army Base will be treated to a day of silver salmon fishing Aug. 12.

“This event is all about developing the next generation of anglers,” said KRSA Executive Director Ricky Gease. “There is nothing more fulfilling than seeing a boat full of smiling kids on the river, many who have never caught a fish and likely wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to get out on the river.”

The Jr. Classic is part of a nationwide effort — Take Me Fishing — to encourage young people to learn about and enjoy fishing, and where better to do that than on the world famous Kenai River.

In addition to an afternoon of fishing, the kids, ages 8 to 16, will have hands-on learning opportunities prior to the event, coordinated through program partner Boys and Girls Clubs of the Kenai Peninsula. Students will learn about stream and fish ecology with speakers from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Kenai Watershed Forum, while representatives from the Alaska Boating Safety Program and U.S. Coast Guard will share boating and river safety tips.

They’ll also have a chance to visit the Fish and Game Mobile Aquatic Classroom, which will be on site during the Kenai River Jr. Classic event. Central Peninsula Hospital will loan life jackets to all of the participants through its SAFE KIDS program. Kids will receive a free lunch and go silver salmon fishing for three hours with professional Kenai River guides.

TriWEST Healthcare is a prime sponsor of this year’s event, which will be held at Harry Gaines Fish Camp. Another 40 boat sponsors and dozens of volunteers help make the Jr. Classic possible. Prizes for the largest fish will be awarded for the top three fish. Last year, Jr. Classic youth caught nearly 200 silver salmon and at least as many pinks. The action will likely be a little less furious, since its not a pink year.

Kenai River Sportfishing Association is a nonprofit, membership-based educational and conservation organization of sport anglers, conservationists and others whose primary goal is to preserve and improve salmon habitat while promoting responsible sportfishing on the Kenai River. Learn more at http://www.kenairiversportfishing.com.

Kathy Day is the public relations manager for the Kenai River Sportfishing Association.

July 29,  2009, Guest Editorial: Learning the highlights of Alaska
By the Kenai Watershed Forum

Photo courtesy of Kenai Watershed Forum. Samantha Fox and Megan Haserodt are summer interns for the Kenai Watershed Forum.

Photo courtesy of Kenai Watershed Forum. Samantha Fox and Megan Haserodt are summer interns for the Kenai Watershed Forum.

We came to Alaska from the Midwest with visions of the classic Alaska experience — fighting grizzly bears, sweeping fish out of the river with our bare hands, surviving in the backcountry with nothing but a hatchet, and catching glimpses of the northern lights.

The latter was quickly dispelled, once we realized we could barely see stars at “night.”  While we have had the opportunity to view bears (from a safe distance), catch a king on the Kenai and venture out into the backcountry, we will be returning to the Lower 48 with a more realistic vision of Alaska.

We weren’t entirely sure what to expect from the state, based on the few tales that leaked back home, and we were uncertain what a summer working at the Kenai Watershed Forum would hold.
Upon our arrival, we quickly began to learn the ropes. Our first few weeks were filled with lots of fieldwork and an attempt to figure out how to dress for a typical day in Alaska. On the days when we were out on the Kenai River measuring turbidity and wading out to check on research buoys, we learned that two layers of pants and a pair of dry waders were a good idea. However, there were days, such as when we discovered a rotting moose carcass caught on a buoy, when rubber gloves might have been smart, as well.

Other days, when we were repairing tarps that had been laid down to eradicate invasive reed canary grass, which chokes out salmon streams, we were torn between suffering from the heat of long sleeves or the swarms of mosquitoes. While some stories about Alaska have proven to be false, the size and number of mosquitoes have unfortunately not.

While most of our days have been spent out in the field, testing water quality on the Kenai, surveying culverts to determine if they are in good condition to allow salmon to swim through them, trapping in small tributaries for salmon, and monitoring stream flow in the local watershed, we’ve also quickly realized why the tourist season around here makes some locals groan. We even met one local who claimed that winter was his favorite season because he could get a front-row parking spot at Safeway.

However, we question whether this is truly worth it, based on some other more frigid and dark accounts of winter up here. And we thought 10 degrees Fahrenheit was cold back in Michigan.

Yet when we are fighting the crowds in Fred Meyer, where even the express lane is a 10-minute wait behind lines of people armed with fishing rods, coolers and bags of ice in hopes of that big catch, we begin to understand why winter might be a pleasant break.
Fortunately for us though, some of our research occurs at hours where the normal person is likely asleep (although from our 4 a.m. fishing trip, we realize that fishing around here doesn’t operate on a nine-to-five). In particular, our extensive hydrocarbon study had us, with the help of a little coffee and a trip to Sal’s Diner, out at the dock by 5 a.m. to take water samples at regular intervals until midnight, and up in a plane doing aerial boat counts from the mouth of the Kenai to Skilak Lake.

While we have been working hard and enjoying our experience with the watershed forum, we have also gotten a chance to explore some other areas on the peninsula. We learned that mountains can be a lot higher than they look when you try to scramble to the top, that coffee from the Spit Sisters is a great way to wake up from a rough night of camping on the Homer Spit, that Skyline Trail is worth it even when you get to the top and the view is just a cloud, and that we could make it to the top of Mount Marathon about three times as slow as the good runners. Overall, we have loved getting to know the peninsula and have enjoyed the local hospitality.

Samantha Fox and Megan Haserodt are summer interns for the Kenai Watershed Forum.

July 22,  2009, Guest Editorial: Medicare model is broken, don’t expand it
By Sen. Lisa Murkowski
Americans are looking to Congress and the White House to see whether lawmakers and the President will deliver on their promises to reform our health care system. As a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP), which is considering comprehensive health care reform legislation, I am committed to working with both my Republican and Democratic colleagues. However, our success will be measured by whether we craft a health care bill that reduces costs while providing affordable, comprehensive medical coverage that ensures continuous access to nurses, doctors, medical health services, and does not interfere with the ability of individuals to continue choosing the health care provider of their choice.

As Democrats unveil reform proposals that amount to a massive government intervention, let’s recall the 1965 Medicare law that created the first federally run insurance program for the elderly and the disabled. At that time, we made many of the same promises to the American people that we are making today. We pledged that when you are no longer able to work, Medicare will take care of you. Similarly today, we are touting a government-run health plan, modeled on Medicare, that would provide all Americans with guaranteed access to care and choice in providers.

In Alaska, doctors are turning away Medicare patients who are being forced to pay out-of-pocket for medical care or forgo care altogether. In Anchorage, where half our state’s population resides, only 13 out of 75 general practice doctors are accepting Medicare patients. What doctors and patients in Alaska have quickly learned is that Medicare’s low reimbursement rates and bureaucratic hassles are hurting patient choice and access to care.

Simply put, Medicare is broken and, unfortunately, the problem only seems to get worse. In fact, Medicare is quickly going bankrupt and will actually be insolvent by 2017. Somewhat predictably, Congress is trying to dramatically expand the soon-to-be bankrupt Medicare program without taking steps to fix or stabilize the underlying problems. I cannot support making a bad situation worse.

Unfortunately, the health care reform legislation being pushed in the Senate has not been “carefully crafted,” and we still don’t know how this legislation will be paid for.  Additional questions are also begging for answers. Should the government require all Americans to purchase health insurance or otherwise face monetary federal tax penalties? With the downturn in our economy, should we force employers to provide insurance for both full-time and part-time employees? This could result in employers lowering wages to pay for health care benefits and hiring contract employees instead of new employees to avoid the onerous burdens of health care costs. Will a new, government-run insurance program, modeled on the Medicare model, put more Americans at risk of limiting access to their doctors like the Medicare program has in Alaska?

Finally, and particularly in light of the massive debt the federal government continues to amass, how much will this reform cost and can we afford the price tag? The United States is already facing a debt of $1.8 trillion for this year alone. We don’t buy a car or purchase a home before we know the price and whether or not we can afford it. Preliminary estimates project the cost of the pending health care reform plan well in excess of $1 trillion. Shouldn’t we explain to Americans how we intend to pay for this?

The stakes are simply too high to rush a bill through Congress, particularly if the result is to expand a severely broken Medicare program and drive the nation trillions of dollars further into debt. The ‘reform’ currently being touted by the White House and congressional Democrats would deny millions of Americans their choice of a doctor and leave crucial health care decisions in the hands of government bureaucrats. This is not the kind of health care “reform” I would support nor is it a plan the nation can afford.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski is a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, one of the key panels involved in drafting comprehensive health care reform legislation.

July 15, 2009, Editorial: Palin’s leap to national spotlight leaves Alaskans in the dark

The initial shock of soon-to-be ex-Gov. Sarah Palin’s announcement that she will resign at the end of the month was quickly followed by one question — why?

That still hasn’t been answered, at least not in any fashion that makes her look responsible, credible or worthy of the office in the first place.

She’s going to write a book. Go on talk shows. Campaign for like-minded politicians across the country, continue to amass contributions to her SarahPAC fund, build a right-leaning coalition, and who knows what else — possibly become a TV commentator or make a bid for a presidential campaign. All the while continuing her lip service that she will serve the interests of Alaska on a national level.

Palin has suggested it is unfair to hold onto the governor’s position as a lame duck, since she’s doesn’t plan to run for re-election, and that Alaska would be better served with her in some other capacity, although she hasn’t specified what, exactly, she plans that to be.

It boils down to one thing — she quit.

Palin asked for Alaskans’ support and they gave it, entrusting her with the responsibility of running their government and putting Alaska first. They endorsed her campaign promises to create open government, cut egregious spending and root out corruption. In return, Palin owes voters four years of her time, where Alaska is her top priority.

Alaska voters were the ones who elevated her to a position where she could be seen by the national spotlight. And this is the thanks they get? She abandons her constituents for the bright lights and dollar signs of national fame?

Palin clearly has the potential for celebrity, fame and position on a national scale. And more power to her. She has every right to pursue those goals, and she’s right that she could be a powerful force for Alaska from outside the state, using her spotlight to shed light on Alaska’s issues, needs, strengths and challenges.

But all in due time. If she were making this move when her term were up and the duties she accepted were complete, then many more Alaskans would be wishing her well and patting her on the back, instead of wondering why she turned her back on them.

In that regard, at least, Palin leaving has a silver lining, since she clearly isn’t who voters thought they were electing in the first place.

July 1, 2009, Editorial: Mayor/manager issue bigger than Carey

It is difficult to see the proposal to change the Kenai Peninsula Borough from a strong mayor to manager form of administration as anything but a referendum on current borough Mayor Dave Carey, but it is important to do so.

No matter who introduced the measure — whether they’ve been a friend or foe of the current administration;  no matter when the activation date — during Carey’s term or after it; and no matter how the debate at the borough assembly is couched — in terms of limiting Carey’s powers, specifically, or in terms of the general effect on government, the issue will unavoidably be linked to Carey, simply because of timing.

That would be the case no matter who was at the helm when the proposal came up, or even if Carey’s administration had produced nothing but calm waters and smooth sailing, instead of churning up contentious issues over changes in borough personnel and funding to the school district and nonprofit organizations.

Nevertheless, if the measure does come before voters, they should not look at this proposal as a referendum on Carey — we already have that, it’s the mayoral election — and look at the issue in the larger sense, because the outcome of this vote likely will be with us longer than Carey or successive mayors will be.

The proposal is a classic, “then again” measure, with reasons why it could be a bad thing for the borough. Then again, there are reasons why it could be good.

Pros: The measure would better ensure that the borough has a quality, experienced, professional manager at the helm. Running borough administration is a complex, time-consuming and immensely important job. The assembly hiring a manager would be more about qualifications than residents electing a mayor, which can be influenced by personality and personal history in the area.

A manager would also remove some of the potential for favoritism that exists with a mayor, since a manager would be less likely to be swayed by loyalties to some constituents, issues or communities.

Government would still be representative. A manager would carry out the directives of the assembly, not set policy of his or her own accord.
A manager would promote consistency in administration. Rather than the potential for a changing cast of characters at the borough’s helm with each new mayor, a manager would be more likely to hire and retain personnel solely on the basis of qualifications, not personal relationships or loyalties.

The cons: Administration would become less local. Managers would stand a larger chance of being hired from outside the borough, rather than having a borough resident run government as the mayor. Administrative positions, likewise, stand a greater chance of being filled by newcomers to the borough.

That means there could be less historic knowledge and understanding of the borough at the helm of the administration. A manager could learn, but wouldn’t be as familiar with the area as someone from here would be.

Residents would have less say in their government. They could still elect — or not — assembly members, which in turn hire or fire the manager, but they would no longer have direct control over the head of the administration, as they do with a strong mayor. A manager would be beholden to the assembly for job security, rather than accountable directly to residents.

Voters should consider these points carefully and separately from their opinions of the current mayor. The ramifications will be with us longer than the authority of Carey, his supporters, or detractors will be.

June 24, 2009 , Guest Editorial: Having a field day for the Kenai

By Rhonda Orth, Kenai Watershed Forum

The Kenai Watershed Forum staff is hard to track down during the summer months. Every day the water quality, environmental scientist and intern staff split into teams and head out across the Kenai Peninsula to fulfill our mission of maintaining healthy watersheds. Summer 2009 looks to be the busiest field season yet, as we continue to dive into some substantial research and restoration projects.

Eradicating reed canary grass is a project that began in summer 2008. It is a non-native species that was intentionally planted on the peninsula to control erosion. The grass grows so well, even in the middle of rivers and streams, it can cause the channel to narrow or dam up completely. When this occurs in salmon streams, loss of fish habitat can occur, along with the creation of barriers to spawning and migration. The watershed forum’s initial work on eradicating reed canary grass began with tarping at Bing’s Landing in Sterling and Beaver Creek in Kenai. Those two sites will be closely monitored over the summer until 2011, when the eradication should be complete. This summer, the reed canary grass project is expanding to include three additional sites. This project requires a lot of mapping, site research and manpower.

In a similar vein, KWF will be organizing five community weed pulls over the next several months in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. In an effort to eliminate noxious and invasive weeds, we draw on the community to support our efforts in the weed war. Weed pullers are rewarded not only with a sense of accomplishment, but also with a weed warrior T-shirt and lunch. It’s a win-win situation for our natural environment and concerned community members. If you would like to be a 2009 weed warrior, check the KWF Web site for upcoming weed pull event details.

KWF has been collecting temperature data on streams for the past several summers. This spring has seen temperature logger placement in 27 locations across the peninsula, many in partnership with Cook InletKeeper. Temperature data will be collected all summer, in an attempt to establish a baseline temperature scale for local tributaries.

Another ongoing baseline data project is flow monitoring of streams. Flow monitoring is done year-round, although the monitoring frequency increases dramatically in the spring due to glacial and ice runoff raising the level and flow capacity of our streams.

Fish trapping is an important tool to restoring protected waters on the peninsula. A small fish trap is deployed in designated streams considered likely or probable to have resident salmon. Documentation of two or more salmon is enough to nominate a stream for inclusion in the anadromous waterways catalog. Twenty miles of stream have been added to protected status as a result of fish trapping to date, and this project will continue through summer 2010.

Dictionary.com defines turbid as “not clear or transparent because of stirred-up sediment or the like; clouded; opaque; obscured.” KWF began monitoring turbidity on the Kenai River in 2007. During the month of July, turbidity levels were measured at river Mile 8.5, near the Chinook sonar site. When preliminary data showed elevated turbidity associated with usage, further research was needed to evaluate the situation. During summer 2008, turbidity was monitored from mid-May through September. Hydrolabs, which take turbidity measurements every 15 minutes, were placed at two locations — river Mile 11.5, upstream of Eagle Rock, which is a high traffic/use area; and river Mile 23, near Swiftwater Park, which is a low traffic/use area.

Additionally, KWF staff went out on the river to document turbidity levels at two additional sites twice weekly. As summer 2009 marches forth, so does turbidity monitoring. Not only will the 2008 sites continue to be monitored and provide valuable data, but KWF will also add two additional sites in July and August to capture the most accurate picture possible of turbidity in the Kenai River.

One of the projects with the most longevity at KWF is agency baseline monitoring. This program encompasses the entire the Kenai River beginning at river Mile 82, the mouth of Kenai Lake, to the river mouth. Twice a year, in April and July, water samples are taken at 22 sites by a collection of approximately 20 agencies which partner with KWF to establish baseline criteria for this valuable resource. It was through this monitoring effort and a similar study completed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in 1990s that identified the hydrocarbon issue in the river.

Hydrocarbons in the Kenai River have been under the microscope of KWF since 2000. In 2006, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation listed the lower Kenai River on its biannual list of impaired waters, after it estimated up to 500 gallons of unburned gasoline a day was polluting the river during peak use times in July. As a result, in 2008 the Division of Natural Resources and Alaska Fish and Game required only newer, efficient engines could be used during July for 2008 through 2012, and then year-round starting in 2013.

Hydrocarbons were monitored at three sites during 2008 following the ban: river Mile 10.1, near Beaver Creek; river Mile 5, at Warren Ames Bridge; and river Mile 1.5, Kenai City Dock. The results of the testing were very positive. No samples exceeded water quality standards. Summer 2009 holds more water quality sampling for hydrocarbons by KWF in an effort to supply sufficient data to “de-list” the river from the impaired waters list.

A single road crossing with a bad culvert can prevent fish from reaching miles of habitat. Properly installed culverts are critical to the success of salmon breeding and survival. Assessing improperly installed culverts or improper-sized culverts is one mission of KWF fieldwork. Culverts are evaluated by how high the “perch” is at the inlets and outlets, the slope, the circumference and the water depth. This summer’s assessment fieldwork focus is on the Deep Creek, Anchor River and Stariski Creek watersheds.

Replacing culverts is a big undertaking, and summer 2009 is going to be our biggest year yet with culvert replacement projects. Eight culverts will be replaced across the peninsula, providing increased access to salmon habitat. New culverts will be seen in several communities —  three in Seward, two in Sterling, one in Ninilchik and one in Hope.

As you explore the peninsula this summer, keep an eye out for the bright blue jackets of the Kenai Watershed Forum. You are sure to see one of our research or restoration teams out working in the field to preserve the integrity of our Kenai Peninsula watersheds.

Rhonda Orth is the accounting and office manager for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. For more information, visit http://www.kenaiwatershed.org.

June 17, 2009  editorial: Assembly made learned decision

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly made a wise choice in reinstating school funding that borough Mayor Dave Carey had attempted to cut.

Carey’s view on taxation and government is a good one — that, especially in trying financial times, it should be restricted to what’s necessary. But his idea in reducing funding below “the cap,” the amount the borough is allowed by the state to contribute to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District — is shortsighted.

The saying that you have to spend money to make money holds true in several ways with education. Part of the reason local legislators were able to finally win the fight to correct the inequity of state education funding is because they could demonstrate that the local government was 100 percent behind its schools. The borough’s full funding of education was leveraged into more equitable state funding for KPBSD.

Now that the district is getting more money from the state, it’s raised the sentiment that the district doesn’t need as much money from the borough. Not so.

Continued full support of education will help on a statewide legislative level and is a crucial investment in the key to the future of the borough — its kids.

Scrimping on $3.5 million in education funding, as Carey wanted to do, would create negligible savings to property taxpayers, but could have a major impact on kids. It could provide for teachers, music classes, counselors or vocational education opportunities. The difficulty in debating education funding is the benefits of it can be intangible, which make them hard to quantify. Sometimes it’s an energetic young teacher that makes the difference in a student’s life. Sometimes it’s a shop program that finally engages a kid who is lost in the classroom. And many times, the results of those benefits can’t be gauged immediately.

How much money is enough for education? Those looking to pinch pennies can take the view that the district always has its hand out, no matter what its budget is, and that education funding is a black hole always hungry for more resources.

Rather, education funding should be seen as a no-risk investment opportunity in our future. The benefits may not be calculable in dollars and cents, but giving students every opportunity to success makes the best sense of all.

June 17, 2009  Guest editorial: HEA rates stable — for now

By Brad Janorschke
First, the good news. As of July 1, Homer Electric members will see a decrease in the base rate charged for energy. This rate is the major component of the blended rate members pay for electricity and includes the cost of operation and maintenance along with the fixed cost of purchased power for the cooperative. In a filing with the Regulatory Commission of Alaska, HEA has requested a decrease in the base rate, from 13.545 cents a kilowatt hour to 13.296 cents a kilowatt hour. This decrease, although minimal, is the first decrease in the base rate since 2003.

Unfortunately, the base rate decrease is being offset by an upward adjustment in the wholesale power cost adjustment or WPCRA. The WPCRA is the second component of the blended rate and reflects primarily changes in the cost of natural gas Chugach Electric consumes producing power for HEA. The WPCRA for the third quarter is increasing from 3.970 cents per kilowatt hour to 4.439 cents per kilowatt hour.

Taken together, the two rate changes mean HEA members will see the blended rate change slightly, from 17.515 cents to 17.735 cents per kilowatt hour. The average member’s monthly bill will increase by $1.39 under the new rates.

HEA rates today are similar to what they were back in October of last year and significantly less than those seen in January 2009 when WPCRA adjustments pushed the rate over 21 cents a kilowatt hour. Unfortunately, fuel prices are beginning to edge upward again this summer and if the trend continues, electric rates are likely to increase later in the year.

This is a very difficult situation for Homer Electric and other Railbelt utilities because predicting and controlling the price of natural gas is out of our control. But while we can’t do much to influence natural gas commodity prices in the near term, there are two areas we can make a difference.

First, we are continuing to look at alternative power sources to reduce our dependence on natural gas. We are actively pursuing potential small hydro projects on the Kenai Peninsula. This summer, field work is being conducted at Grant Lake and Falls Creek near Moose Pass to determine the feasibility of a small hydro project that could produce five megawatts of power. The work is being supplemented by state grant money that has been set aside to study potential renewable energy projects. More information about these projects can be found on the project web site at http://www.kenaihydro.com.

Another avenue HEA was recently pursuing called for a pilot project to test a tidal power system in Kachemak Bay. Unfortunately, economic hurdles forced the company to indefinitely postpone the project. We will continue to keep abreast of tidal information and potential partnering possibilities in this area.

In addition to small hydro and tidal, there is a strong possibility of seeing wind power produced on the Kenai Peninsula in the near future. Kenai Winds, a private renewable energy company, has pending plans to install a wind farm in the Nikiski area in 2010. This power would be available to Homer Electric and be a valuable addition to our energy portfolio. We are also continuing to monitor met towers that are measuring wind potential at two different sites around the Kenai Peninsula.

The other step that we can all take is energy conservation. As the demand and cost for electricity increases, it is more important than ever to become energy efficient. Homer Electric will continue to offer its members advice and tips on how to use less energy. Our newsletter will always have a column, Wise Watts, devoted to sharing conservation news and information. We also plan to use the local media more aggressively to get out the word about energy conservation and what it can mean in both savings to individuals and overall benefits to the community. In addition, make sure to keep an eye on our Web site which is undergoing some major changes and will soon have a new look that will include energy conservation information.

We may not be able to control the price of fuel being used to generate electricity, but we can control the amount of energy we use and keep our electric bills as low as possible.
Homer Electric’s board, management, and staff are committed to energy conservation and developing alternative sources of power. I encourage each of our members to join us in this effort.

Brad Janorschke is the general manager of Homer Electric Association.


June 10, 2009  Guest editorial: Mapping project for good of all
By Stephen Stringham
Have you ever walked up to some stranger’s house and had them burst out of the door, screaming at you, accusing you of being a Nazi and an agent of the Anti-Christ? That’s approximately what has happened to some local residents recently as they walked from house to house gathering mapping data for the U.S. Census Bureau. Inciting such viciousness have been radio talk show hosts and their guests who revel in fanning the flames of public paranoia about Big Brother as means of furthering their own hidden agendas. The truth is far different.

Virtually every community in America gathers geographic information on real estate, including locations of houses and other buildings. Municipalities gather the information for safety and tax purposes. Utilities gather it for providing phone connections, electricity, natural gas, cable TV and other services.

Traditionally, address information has been stored on lists, first lists on paper, then lists on computers. Lists suffice for some purposes, but maps are better for others —  especially maps that code any spot on Earth by longitude, latitude and altitude. Using modern technology, coding is done by triangulating radio signals from any spot to three or more Global Positioning Satellites. Handheld computers that communicate with satellites are called GPS units. Coding this way is infinitely cheaper than conventional surveying, so long as you don’t need accuracy greater than plus or minus 10 feet.

One of many benefits of GPS mapping is helping visitors locate our homes and find the best route there quickly and easily. This is especially important in rural Alaska where many of us live on roads where house numbers or street signs are either absent or hard to read, especially at night or during blizzards. If the visitors are just delivering pizza, delays in finding your house just mean you’ll need to reheat dinner. But if the visitors are paramedics racing to save your kid from bleeding to death, a delay of 15 minutes could have dire consequences. Being able to find your location on a GPS screen, with the shortest, fastest route marked out automatically, could be of enormous benefit for emergency aid, food and package deliveries, and much more.

Better yet, in some regions (Outside for now, maybe here later), GPS units in vehicles can be wirelessly updated several times an hour with current traffic conditions. If the route to your home is blocked — e.g., by a traffic accident, highway construction or an avalanche — that could show up on the GPS unit and an alternate route plotted instantly, so that the ambulance doesn’t get stuck in traffic while your kid struggles for survival.

Benefits of GPS mapping are widely recognized by businesses and local governments across the country. Some have developed their own programs to collect GPS data (e.g., tied to their 911 system). But others may rely on the federal government, which is gathering such data nationwide in preparation for the 2010 census. Existing address lists and paper maps are littered with errors that need correction if each household is to be assured of receiving its census form next year.

Any personal information you put on a census form is, by law, confidential for the next several decades. However, census information can be used in a statistical way by government agencies and in some cases by the public. Furthermore, according to the grapevine, GPS address location info will be as open to the public as maps and address lists have always been.

Personally, I can’t see any justification for construing this as a neo-Nazi scheme or as Big Brother taking more control of our lives. On the contrary, it could be a big boon to all of us.

If you do not want a census worker to enter your property, add your phone number and name to your Keep Out or  No Trespassing signs. That way, a worker can call and ask permission to approach your home for a few minutes to map its location. Granted, Census workers have what you can think of as a de facto warrant to cross any land for this purpose. But no worker wants to offend you by barging in. So, please make it easy for them to do their job with minimal bother to you.

Whether or not you agree with address mapping, keep in mind that the folks gathering the data haven’t been possessed by Satan, contrary to some radio talk shows. Census mappers are just your neighbors who need a few weeks of work to survive the recession, while doing something they hope will benefit all of us. Please treat them as you would like to be treated.

Dr. Stephen Stringham earned his master of science degree at the University of Alaska studying moose, and his doctorate degree studying bears. He is the author of five books on Alaska’s wildlife.

June 3, 2009  Guest editorial: The case of the Kenai River reds — Joe Slate brings adventures in Kenai Peninsula conspiracy, geology
By Alan Boraas
“Slate! Joe Slate, get in here!” my leather-lunged boss hollered from his office across the hall. It’s his version of voice mail.

“Slate,” he said as I appeared at his door, “A client just called from Sterling mumbling something about a problem with reds on the Kenai River. I know you’re no biologist, but you’re as close as I’ve got. Go see what the problem is.”

He’s right about me not being a biologist. I’m an investigator with Ace Detective Agency. We’re a small outfit out of Clam Gulch, mostly working on divorces, bogus energy audits, terrorist activities, that sort of thing. Biologist or not, I grabbed my trench coat and hat, hopped into my Corvair convertible, and headed toward Sterling.

On the way I wondered why anyone would have a problem with salmon at this time of year. I was in for a surprise.

Out in Sterling I finally found the turnoff and drove down a bumpy gravel road that led to a small place on the bank of the Kenai River. A weather-beaten plywood sign nailed to a tree said, “No Trespassing!” with a spray-painted signature of one Ira Wraight. I looked down at the slip of paper the boss had given me. It said the client was I. Wraight. I figured this must be the place.

Wraight turned out to be a stocky man with a powerful grip. We shook hands after he called off his pit bulls and I asked, “What kind of problem are you having with salmon?”

“Salmon!” Wraight roared, “I got no problem with salmon. It’s them infernal reds.”

“You’re not having a problem with red salmon?” I asked in my most investigative voice.

“Not red salmon, you idiot,” I. Wraight thundered, “red communists.”

“Red communists here on the Kenai Peninsula, but the cold war is over” I stammered unbelievingly.

“Follow me,” Wraight led me to the riverbank.

“See,” he said pointing to the bank.

All I saw was the river powerfully surging by.

“Now look over there,” he said defiantly, pointing across the river to the opposite bank. ”What do you think of that?”

Again I saw nothing but the flowing river.

“Sorry, Mr. Wraight, I don’t get it.”

“Let me spell it out for you,” said Wraight. “My river bank is eroding; I lost a foot just this fall. The other side is federal land. You don’t see any erosion over there, do you?” I looked over at the sand bar on the other side, but before I had a chance to speak, Wraight continued. “It’s obviously a communist plot to destroy private property along the Kenai River.”

It began to make sense. I had studied a little geology as an elective when I got my detective certificate through the A-1 Detective School down in the Bahamas. But they had never told me that erosional processes could be manipulated by communists intending to destroy private property. What if terrorists heard about this? I should have gone for the two-year program.

“What do you want me to do?” I asked.

“Find ’em and stop ’em,” Wraight bellowed.

I drove down the highway to the Isaac Walton Campground, where the Moose River flows into the Kenai. I sat on a picnic table in the deserted campground and stared at the flowing river while I contemplated the situation.

Where would communist insurgents hide in Sterling? Are they Cuban, Chinese, maybe Soviet-era Russians? Just then I heard a familiar voice.

“Why, if it isn’t Joe Slate.”

I spun around and there was the beautiful woman I had met in Cooper Landing a few weeks ago.
“Judy,” I stammered. “What are you doing here?”

“Oh, I come here a lot when it isn’t crowded,” she said. “It’s a good place to watch the river and sit and think. And what are you doing here?”

I told her the whole I. Wraight story about how his property was eroding away because of red communists intent on destroying private property.

“Joe,” she said. “Rivers have been eroding their banks for eons before Karl Marx was born.”

“Really?”

“Really.” She went on: “Look behind us.”

She turned and pointed to a low ridge that cuts through the campground.

“That little ridge is an entrenched meander terrace. That’s where the bank of the Kenai used to be; then it meandered toward the other side at the same time it cut the river channel deeper. There are hundreds of these meander terraces around here.”

“Have you ever walked up the Resurrection Trail?” she asked.

“Uh, no, actually I haven’t.” I mumbled. “It’s a little hard on my wingtips.”

“Well, even in your wingtips you could walk just a few hundred yards up the trail on the Cooper Landing end and you would cross several meander terraces that are who knows how old.”

“Have you ever driven through Soldotna?”

“Sure, hundreds of times.”

“Well then you know about the little ridge you go up on Binkley Street as you drive past the Safeway store on the way to the post office. That, too, is a meander terrace where the Kenai River used to be. It cuts right through town. You can see the same terrace on Kobuk Street by the sewage treatment plant. As she spoke, she took out a paper and pencil and drew diagrams explaining what she was talking about.

After she finished I studied the diagrams a long time. Deflated, I finally turned to speak, but she was gone. She had vanished as quietly as she had come.

As I drove through Soldotna on the way back to the office, I turned right onto Binkley Street, left onto Redoubt and left again on Kobuk Street. Sure enough, I went up and back down the meander terrace that marked an ancient bank of the Kenai River.

I wondered how I would explain this to I. Wraight. I decided I would just have to tell it to him straight. Rivers meander. His property on the outside of a meandering bend would continue to erode, and the federal land on the inside of the bend would continue to fill in. Maybe he would come to understand that nature does what nature does, and not everything is a conspiracy.

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College Kenai River Campus. This column was originally published in the Peninsula Clarion on Nov. 21, 1986.

June 3, 2009  Editorial: New rules to bear in mind this season

They’re coming.

Early reports show sockeye salmon are making their way into the Kenai River and are about two weeks out from hitting the confluence of the Kenai and Russian rivers.

With the fish come their entourage — fishermen ready to line up shoulder to shoulder to ply the water with their lines. And bears, ready for an easy meal courtesy of careless fishermen, or flawed management strategies.

New regulations go into effect this year at the Russian, ending the “stop, chop and throw” program of past years  where anglers were encouraged to hack their fish carcasses up into small pieces at fish-cleaning tables along the banks and throw the pieces into fast-moving water.

As it turns out, the fish bits weren’t being flushed downstream as intended. Instead, they clogged up at certain spots, creating a tempting buffet for bears.

The changes this year mean anglers will either have to hike downstream to the confluence of the Kenai and Russian to dispose of their carcasses, or pack them home to be disposed of elsewhere. It’s more work, and managers are waiting to see how willing anglers will be to comply with the new rules.

If they know and care what’s good for them — and wildlife — they will. Strategies that avoid habituating bears to humans and the easy meals people can leave behind are worth the effort. It can be a trial and error process, as with “stop, chop and throw,” and anglers should be understanding and accepting of the new efforts recommended to protect them and bears at a historically dangerous spot.

May 27, 2009  Editorial: And still counting…

Photo courtesy of Rick Monyahan. A soldier has a moment of reflection at a Memorial Day service at Leif Hansen Memorial Park in Kenai on Monday.

Photo courtesy of Rick Monyahan. A soldier has a moment of reflection at a Memorial Day service at Leif Hansen Memorial Park in Kenai on Monday.

The observation of Memorial Day on Monday is a prescient time to do what should be done every day: respecting the men and women of our armed forces.
Regardless of political affiliations or views on any particular war or military action, the men and women who willingly put their lives on the line to serve and protect are still as important a part of this country as the minutemen in whose honored, selfless tradition they follow.
Economic woes, politics, elections and simply the march of time have diverted the nation’s consciousness from the continuing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Those with friends and family members in harm’s way never forget their bravery in the face of devastating consequences, and neither should we.
Consider:

  • 679 U.S. service members have been killed in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
  • 4,238 U.S. service members have been killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
  • Less than 50 of those killed in Iraq have been from Alaska.
  • 72.1 percent of the service members killed in Iraq were in the Army, 24.4 percent were Marines, 2.3 percent in the Navy and 1.2 percent in the Air Force.
  • 30 percent of those killed in Iraq were ages 18 to 21. 25 percent were ages 25 to 30, 24.2 percent were ages 22 to 24, 11 percent were over age 35, and 9.7 percent were ages 31 to 35.
  • Of the nearly 100 U.S. women service members killed in Iraq, 61 percent died in hostile action.
  • Of the 3,901 servicemen killed in Iraq, 82 percent of the deaths were due to hostile action.
  • Information from the Faces of the Fallen project of The Washington Post, updated Tuesday, March 26.

May 27, 2009 Guest Editorial: Yellow plastic good in 1 respect

What are the signs of spring that you look forward to in Alaska? Is it buds forming on trees? Songbirds returning? Maybe it’s the longer days or shorter nights (depending on how you look at it). Some folks see RVs and know that summer is on its way. Others look for sandhill cranes.

No matter what special reminders bring you the joy of spring, there is one sign of spring that bears special mention and a second glance: Bright yellow trash bags. As the symbol of community roadside cleanups, the yellow trash bags are perhaps a more important part of spring coming to Alaska than you may think.

The bags piled up on the sides of roads hold the remains of the winter, fall and previous summer that have been collected, stored and scattered. When the snow melts, we are left with garbage spread along the roads. Sometimes the garbage was carelessly thrown out of a window by a driver who couldn’t wait until they got to a proper place to dispose of their trash. Other times, it’s simply a case of people not realizing their hubcap flew off and rolled into the ditch by the side of the road. Regardless of how the litter got there, it’s there, and if it weren’t for the yellow trash bags, most of that litter would still be there.

Roadside litter can be a greater problem than simple aesthetics. Sure, it’s not pleasant to look at, but the hazards created by this litter are oftentimes overlooked until it’s too late. Roadside debris can clog storm drains and cause flooding. It can even clog culverts and create immense amounts of erosion and damage to very sensitive salmon habitat, a situation we experienced on the Kenai Spur Highway earlier this month. The areas surrounding yellow trash bags are much nicer to look at due to lack of garbage, but also create nicer habitat to ensure that our favorite signs of spring can continue to thrive.

Another aspect of yellow trash bags that is often overlooked is the fact that they represent community cleanup projects. This not only means that the community is being cleaned up, but also that the community is doing the cleaning. When a group of people pitch in, the results are there on the side of the road for you to see: Clean roadsides, full garbage bags and people walking, biking, skateboarding, rollerblading or running.

The Kenai Watershed Forum has worked on cleanup projects this spring with many different classes that wanted to help make their community a nicer place to live. The dedication of these students, as well as the myriad other people who volunteered to help with the community cleanup, is what makes this community so wonderful in the first place.

The poet Robert Frost, when writing of spring, said “nature’s first green is gold.” It’s safe to say that he wasn’t talking about golden trash bags on the side of the road, but one could say that the value of the yellow trash bags as a testament to dedicated community members and to a beautiful community is priceless.

As fishermen begin gearing up for the fishing season and greenhouses hold the promise of green and bountiful gardens, students are getting ready for a fun and exciting summer vacation. We will enjoy our summer in many different ways, and we will do it in a beautiful place — Alaska, which gives us so many gifts, such as budding trees, singing birds, and yellow trash bags on the sides of beautiful roads.

Dan Pascucci is the education coordinator at the Kenai Watershed Forum.

May 20, 2009 Editorial: Talk before it’s too late

Just what parents need, one more thing to worry about: Bad grades, bullies, strangers, orthodontics, teen sex, teen angst, violence in video games, college tuition prices, chicken pox/scarlet fever/MRSA/swine flu and, oh yeah, don’t forget drugs.

Drugs are bad. Right, Junior? Did they tell you that in school? Don’t do drugs. Here, now, grab your lunch bag/backpack/soccer cleats/gym clothes/science project/sleepover bag and get a move on, already, before we’re late.

If that’s all the conversation a parent ever has with their child about meth, it may already be too late. Because with meth, all it takes is once.

After just one use, 80 to 97 percent of people get hooked on meth, said Allison Biastock, project coordinator for the Alaska Meth Education Program. The younger the age of first use, the higher the chance of that person using meth again. The highest meth use age demographic in Alaska is already18- to 25-year-olds, and that age group is getting younger and younger, Biastock said.

It’s an uncomfortable topic to broach with kids, especially teenagers who can be reluctant to have an actual conversation about anything, much less drug use. It’s easy to assume the schools are covering it, or the Boys and Girls Club or the other youth programs that offer drug awareness and prevention education, or a combination of all of them. There’s the DARE program, after all, with experts coming into the class, a curriculum, “this is your brain on drugs” slide shows and all those other resources. What else needs to be said?

A lot. And it needs to be said often. Most drug awareness and prevention programs, like DARE, are general. While that’s worthwhile, they don’t focus specifically on meth, like Meth 360 presentations do, offered by the Alaska Meth Education Program. In Alaska, meth requires special attention because it is so powerfully addictive and, sadly, pervasive.

It can be in any community, in any neighborhood, among any demographic. Even if kids aren’t around it all the time, all it takes is one time for them to be hooked. That’s why parents need to talk to their kids about meth early and often, so if and when they are around it, they’ll know what it is, what it does, why they shouldn’t try it, and what they can say or do to avoid it.

But kids aren’t stupid. And the older they get, the more aware of their own budding genius they are. Which means they probably know more about meth than their parents, or at least think they do, and may not take seriously a drug conversation that’s limited to “meth is bad, don’t do meth.”

So parents need to go to school, as well. Learn about meth, its signs and symptoms, how it affects brain chemistry, what it does to a user and the myths, misconceptions and terminology. Even if your kid really does know it all and is prepared to so “no” if the time comes, keep the conversation going. If meth is an open, safe topic, kids are more likely to mention new things they’ve heard about it or if they think a friend may be in trouble.

It’s worth the time and effort. It’s worth the research. It’s worth the eye rolls or discomfort that may come from the conversation. It’s worth whatever it takes to keep kids from trying meth, not even once.

For more information, visit http://www.akmethed.com.

May 13, 2009 Editorial: No snap decisions in HEA’s new path

Homer Electric Association’s annual meeting Thursday in Homer drew a sizeable crowd of co-op members, and a deep pool of applicants turned out for the three open board of directors seats.

The co-op is sparking energetic interest and participation from across the peninsula. Ideally, that’s because peninsula residents realize HEA is at a crossroads, with its current natural gas contract nearing its end, and want to help steer the co-op’s future toward responsible, sustainable and renewable energy. Realistically, it probably has more to do with the fact that HEA’s current situation has resulted in increased rates. Hitting people in the pocketbook is a sure way to get their attention.

Hopefully, decisions about HEA’s future will be governed by both motivations, not one over the other. The continuing argument over the Healy coal plant is an example of the divisiveness HEA needs to avoid. One camp rails that all coal is bad, Healy is unfeasible and HEA shouldn’t touch it with a power pole.

The other side sees only the economic potential of Alaska’s vast stores of coal and turns a blind eye to the environmental harms coal produces.

HEA is conducting a study of its future energy-production options, and General Manager Brad Janorschke has said no decisions will be made until that’s complete. HEA has made a promising commitment toward increasing its use of renewable energy sources, but the fact is renewables won’t come online overnight, and something will need to make up the difference, whether it’s continued use of natural gas, or possibly coal.

What’s important now is to keep heads cool, options open and discussions moving forward. With a fresh new board and continuing interest from members to get this figured out, we stand a better chance than ever of finding a solution that’s as economic and eco-friendly as possible.

May 13, 2009 Guest column: Change in direction or clothes?

In 1837, Danish author Hans Christian Andersen published a satirical piece entitled “The Emperor’s New Clothes” that told an all-too-familiar tale of people sometimes not wanting to tell their superiors the truth.  Mr. Andersen invented a fictional ruler who was victimized by swindling transients who sold him a new suit of clothing that was, in fact, nonexistent.  So, although the emperor had been told by the tricky tailors that his was the finest suit in the land, no one around him wanted to admit that, as far as they could tell, the emperor had no clothes on at all.  But the more they looked and the more they thought about it, the more they were inclined to believe that maybe, just maybe, they were mistaken.

Mr. Andersen’s thesis holds true even today. While I was manager of a small FAA facility in Mobile, Ala., in 1989, we were visited by the then-FAA administrator, a retired admiral.  He was making the rounds of the country on a “listening tour” and wanted to pop in on us for a quick meet and greet.

We had not had the pleasure of making the admiral’s acquaintance prior to his sweeping in one morning, surrounded by an entourage of bureaucratic lackeys and yes-men. When he attempted to make small talk with us, I answered one of his questions by referring to a busy Air National Guard operation in nearby Gulfport, Miss. His response was totally off-the-wall and unexpected, as he implied having knowledge of the facility, but referred to it as “Tyndall AFB,” which was hundreds of miles east in Florida.

Wanting to make a good impression on the FAA’s top guy, my employees and I exchanged nervous glances, no one daring to correct this man who represented all power and knowledge of things avionic. Instead, we merely smiled, curtsied and murmured, “Yes, sir” and let it go at that. After a few minutes, the admiral left our facility no wiser than when he had arrived and still without the clothing of comprehension. One wonders how often the scenario was repeated as he continued his well-intentioned “fact-finding” national expedition.

Let’s fast forward to 2009. We have a newly elected emperor in Washington, who is spinning clothing for himself out of gold faster than you can say “Rumpelstiltskin.” We are the ones who are being fooled, as he is telling us that he is wearing no clothes, but we can see he is. Fully clothed.

Record numbers of voters, legal or otherwise, living or otherwise, poured to the polls last November. While record numbers voted for the Republican candidate, even more voted for the Democrat who would become our 44th President.

The anniversary of the first 100 days of his presidency passed with the usual fanfare, fawning praise and total lack of criticism because he is, well, the top guy. Isn’t he? And we can’t contradict our leader if he says that things are going smoothly. Can we?

The emperor has concentrated on “fixing” the banks and the U.S. auto industry. And the largely minority-based constituency who elected him are saying, “Yes, we’re pretty sure he’s doing a great job,” despite the fact that absolutely nothing has changed for them, except that they are among the unfortunate who may have lost their jobs, their homes and who face a bleak immediate future.

How about the Hispanic section of that constituency? Has anything been done for them? The blacks? The liberals? The same-sexers? The no-sexers? Hmmmm?

When one must gaze through smoke and mirrors to see the emperor, one cannot always tell what he is wearing, much less if he is wearing anything at all. And so we must continue to rely upon him to tell us. Can’t we?

Bill Gronvold is a freelance writer who lives in Kenai and Florida.

May 6, 2009 Editorial: Complaint against ethics complaints

There’s a simple way to show displeasure over the legal fund established for Gov. Sarah Palin’s defense against ethics complaints — don’t contribute to it.

Kim Chatman, of Eagle River, has taken her disapproval of the fund to an extreme, not to mention circular, level. She filed an ethics complaint in response to the establishment of a fund to defend Palin against ethics complaints.

Chatman charges that Palin is misusing the governor’s office for personal gain by securing unwarranted benefits and receiving improper gifts. The Alaska Fund Trust was founded by a Palin supporter and friend to allow Palin supporters to help the governor pay legal fees associated with the dozen or so ethics complaints that have been lodged against her.

The fund’s name is misleading, and puts a shiny face of what has become a tarnish on the governor’s reputation — the accusation that she acts with her own interests first, disregarding the code of conduct for her office.

In battling the ethics complaints, which range from flying her kids to vice presidential campaign events on the state’s dime to the infamous Troopergate scandal, Palin is battling to clear away that stigma.

Just like Alaskans concerned with her conduct have every right to file ethics complaints, even as frivolous as the latest ones have become, Palin has every right to defend herself against them. And her supporters have every right to continue supporting her, whether it’s through campaign contributions, shelling out money for her book which is inevitably forthcoming, or donating to a legal defense fund.

The ethics complaints need to be addressed. Whether Palin does it out of her own pocket or with the help of her legion of supporters makes little difference. When the legal decisions are rendered, they will be based on the facts of the case, not who helped pay for the lawyers.

As long as the fund is set up properly and donations are disclosed, then it’s just another vehicle for Palin backers to keep on doing what they’re already doing — supporting the governor.

The argument could be made that the money could be better spent for the good of Alaska, perhaps by donating it to a food bank or sending it to a rural village to help with unbearably high fuel costs. But citizens are allowed to donate their money — or not — however they wish.

Don’t like it? Then don’t donate. But stop taking up more of the state’s time and resources with frivolous complaints.

May 6, 2009 Guest column: North Kenai can take care of itself

The Department of Homeland Security has closed traditional access to one of the best agate-collecting beaches in Alaska. It happens to be located below the refinery complex in North Kenai.

Apparently Homeland Security is concerned that terrorists posing as agate collectors might be a threat to America’s supply of domestic petroleum. Perhaps they are worried of a scenario something like this:

Anti-American terrorists training in the Middle East smuggle in XtraTuf boots and Carhartts and practice looking for agates in the desert sands. It’s all a diversion to take over an American fertilizer plant.

Then they sail to Cook Inlet on a ship they got on the cheap from the Somalis and row ashore on a cold spring day. No need to conceal their weapons — it’s North Kenai — they’d be more suspect if they didn’t carry a gun.

Onshore the highly trained terrorists go into agate mode — walk head down at a slow pace into the sun, each carrying a plastic grocery sack.

Suddenly, one says, “Hey, I found one.”

“Akmed you idiot,” the leader gives him a dope slap. “We’re only pretending to search for agates. Let me see that. Hmmm, pretty neat.”

After they all take a look they get back to business. They have an old map showing a large fertilizer plant on the bluff next to a small LNG plant. At a signal from their leader, the band of terrorists charge up the bluff, guns at the ready.

Of course, all they are going to find is a mothballed fertilizer plant once known as Agrium.

Homeland Security needn’t have worried. This is North Kenai, where the local militia types could easily handle anything terrorists could throw at them. There are probably more guns and ammunition stockpiled in the cabins of North Kenai than anywhere in Alaska — maybe in America.

The minute the terrorists stormed the bluff, the pickups of the ad hoc North Kenai militia would have descended on them and captured them. Of course, it’s easy to capture a hot-weather terrorist when it’s 35 degrees with a bone-chilling wind off the inlet.

Subsequent events might go this way:

“Why’d you want to take over our fertilizer plant?” the burly militia leader interrogates the terrorist leader.

“We read on the Internet you can make a bomb from fertilizer and we wanted to blow up an American government building,” the terrorist leader says defiantly.

“You’re a little late. Timmy already did that,” the militia leader says. “So why would you want to blow up a government building?”

“We hate the American government,” the terrorist leader says with distain.

“Hey, we do too,” the militia leader says. “Now they want to take our guns away.”

“You’re kidding,” the terrorist says in disbelief, clutching his weapon to his chest.

Finding common ground, the terrorists and militia relax and chat. Someone pops a Bud and after a little encouragement, the terrorists forego their anti-alcohol vow. After all, it’s freezing.

“So why’d they close the fertilizer plant?” The terrorist leader asks, wiping some froth from his mustache. “Everybody needs fertilizer.”

“A former governor tied the price of Alaskan natural gas to the price in Louisiana and it got too expensive to run the plant. So they shut down.”

“What’s that plant over there?” the terrorist asks, pointing next door.

“That makes LNG and ships most of it to Japan.”

“You close one plant putting hundreds of people out of work and next door gas from the same field is shipped to another country? I thought you didn’t want to be dependent on foreign oil?”

The militia leader looks chagrined, “We thought so too.”

“So why’d they close the agate beach access if there is only a small LNG facility operating?” asks the terrorist.

The militia guys look sheepishly at one another. One of them standing in back grunts, “Good question,” and tosses his empty beer can into the back of his pickup.

The terrorist who found the agate holds it out.

“Hey, you found one,” the militia leader says and slaps him on the back. “Cool. I know where there’s an even better agate beach. Want to collect some agates?”

“Sure, we don’t have anything better to do,” the terrorist leader says.

They all pile into the back of a couple of pickups and off they go — militia and terrorists,  joking, laughing, sharing beers and anti-government sentiment.

Alan Boraas is an anthropology professor at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus. This column first appeared in the Anchorage Daily News on May 1, 2009.

April 29, 2009 Editorial: Unwritten rules of the Board of Fish

Brent Johnson’s appointment to the Board of Fisheries was sunk ostensibly because it violated a list of “unwritten rules” governing the board’s makeup.

There should be Native representation on the board, some argued. And Johnson, a set-netter from Clam Gulch, would replace someone from Fairbanks, leaving the Interior without representation.

The cardinal sin his nomination represented, however, was that he’s a commercial fisherman, and that could upset the balance between sport and commercial interests on the board.

All true, and all valid points — although the hairsplitting involved in pigeonholing board members as being either in the “commercial” or “sport” camps in order to keep parity can be extensive and misleading, since they aren’t nominated as either, and their decisions in any given matter are (or at least should) be motivated by factors beyond their customary method of wetting a line or net.

To further complicate matters, there was a subtext to the violation of the unwritten commercial-sport rule — Johnson is a Cook Inlet commercial fisherman, and a loud advocate for it, in an area with considerable shoving over the balance between commercial and sport interests. Had he been commercial from Southeast, Bristol Bay or elsewhere, or not as active a proponent of it, his nomination may not have drawn as much opposition as it did, since there was no argument over whether Johnson was well-versed in fisheries issues or whether his character and intelligence were up to the task.

But the larger issue is the unwritten one. None of the factors cited in testimony against Johnson, and in many other controversial board appointments before him, are required considerations in choosing members for the Board of Fish or Board of Game.

The state statute that governs board membership simply calls for the governor to appoint on the basis of “interest in public affairs, good judgment, knowledge, and ability in the field of action of the board, and with a view to providing diversity of interest and points of view in the membership. The appointed members shall be residents of the state and shall be appointed without regard to political affiliation or geographical location of residence.”

“Diversity of interest and points of view” implies a number of things — rural vs. urban; commercial, sport and subsistence fishing — but specifies none. What is specified is that geographical location shouldn’t matter. Neither should ethnographic considerations. Yet all were used as ammunition for shooting Johnson’s nomination down.

The Board of Fish has a monumental, momentous and thankless job. Fishing issues in Alaska are as prickly as the hooks that ply our waters, and members are routinely lambasted for favoritism, shortsightedness and all-out ignorance. Sometimes rightly, sometimes not. Either way, it’s still a job that needs to be done, and done as well as possible.

There’s enough contention that comes when the board is at work. We don’t need controversy over members’ appointments further muddying the waters. If unwritten rules truly rule the day, the state should make them written.

If regional representation is desired, then make that part of the nomination requirement, although it would be a trick to fairly carve up the state in just seven seats. Requiring that a Native be on the board isn’t necessarily useful, since a Native member doesn’t automatically represent a subsistence or traditional viewpoint. Instead, if how you fish is the biggest sticking point, make that part of the requirement. Designate commercial, sport and subsistence representation.

The overwhelming goal of board members should be the protection and fair allocation of the resource, and a board member’s ability to make decisions with that as their priority shouldn’t be influenced by how they’ve worked or fished in the past.

But the truth of the matter is, people seem unwilling to let go of those labels when supporting or critiquing appointments to the board, and the decisions they make during their term.

It shouldn’t matter, but it inevitably does. So let’s get it out there. Make it official. Perhaps when we do, the unwritten rules won’t hijack so much of the conversation.

April 29, 2009  Guest column:Partnerships help spring flow smoothly

It’s the end of April and the changing of the seasons, the changes you notice, depend on your perspective.

Get those tires changed is one perspective my wife has. If you’re moving freight or in the construction world, you’re tuned in to weight restrictions imposed on roads as the frost moves out. If you’re farming or gardening, you’re prepping the ground and working with starts. Birders are starting to witness the arrival of our feathered seasonal visitors. If you’re fishing, the options are broadening. So much happens this time of year, much of which we notice and much more goes unnoticed.

This past week, Kenai Watershed Forum staff has been going through one of its spring rituals, focusing on water in the smaller creeks. As the snow melts off, the creeks come up. For example, Slikok Creek most likely reached its snowmelt peak a week ago and will steadily drop until fall rains. Monitoring these smaller creeks, in addition to the Kenai River, has been an ongoing effort of many of our supporting partners. In fact, between the time this article was drafted and the time it hits the press, the baseline water-quality monitoring program coordinated by KWF will have celebrated the completion of its 10th consecutive year of monitoring.

The baseline monitoring program came about because no one was systematically monitoring the water quality of the Kenai River and its key tributaries. Many individual agencies and organizations had a desire and even a written plan to carry out monitoring, but it was difficult for any one entity to fund and carry out the work. We have learned and corrected some important things as a result of this program.

The baseline monitoring program, like so much of what gets accomplished in working toward fulfilling KWF’s mission: “Working together for healthy watersheds on the Kenai Peninsula,” is successful only because we have good partners and individuals that believe in this work and the proactive, working-together approach. Partners like the city of Soldotna, which for 10 years has helped carry out this monitoring program, allowing the 14 member agencies to utilize its laboratory at the water treatment plant for training and analyzing water samples the city’s lab has the ability to evaluate. This program wouldn’t have been successful without the city’s support or the support of the other 13 partners that contribute time, money or personnel to this effort year in and year out.

Another springtime event for KWF staff is the Caring for the Kenai program finals, where students from across the peninsula annually submit ideas to better care for the environment or improve our area’s preparedness for a natural disaster. Congratulations are in order to this year’s winners, who did an outstanding job: Olivia Pfeifer, Mandee Jackson, Anton Krull, Matt Fellman, Cody Dutcher and Cody Warfield. It is also worth calling out an extra set of kudos to last year’s winner, Lincoln Wensley, who will be heading to Washington, D.C., in the upcoming month to receive the Presidential Environmental Youth Award. This program is another example of good working relationships and partnerships among Tesoro, Chevron and Sikorski Consulting.

Much of what we don’t notice in spring occurs out of our sight. For example, April is the time of year when juvenile salmon emerge from the gravel. These juveniles will be a major driver for our economy in future years, and strictly from an economic perspective, these emerging fish represent a multimillion-dollar investment. For many, it is much more than anything monetary, it is an important symbol of our place and why so many diverse partnerships exist to help care for our watersheds.

From the perspective of the Kenai Watershed Forum, it is necessary to work in partnerships to make meaningful progress in maintaining healthy rivers, creeks and watersheds. Everyone that enters into any partnership has work and a responsibility to make the partnership successful. As the seasons change, we will continue to look at issues facing the Kenai Peninsula from different perspectives, we always learn something new when we do. We will also continue to look for opportunities to work with others interested in supporting our mission.

Robert Ruffner is the executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum.

April 22 , 2009  Guest column: Don’t get stuck missing school —
Immunization rule changes mean kids need proof of shots before fall

Even though it’s not quite summer, it’s not too early to prepare for next school year. In addition to the usual new notebooks and pencils, some elementary school students in Alaska will need immunizations before school starts this fall or by July 1 if they are attending child care. Children in kindergarten through sixth grade will need to show proof that they have received two varicella (chickenpox) vaccinations or that they already have had the disease. Children in preschool and Head Start or those attending child care who are not yet in elementary school will continue to need only one varicella vaccination.

Varicella is a contagious disease that usually occurs in childhood. Although many people think that it is not a serious illness, varicella can lead to severe skin infections, scars, pneumonia, brain damage and death. Serious disease complications are much more likely to occur in infants less than one year of age (too young to be vaccinated) and in unvaccinated children and adults who are older than 12. It is not possible to predict who will develop serious or even deadly complications from varicella infection. Persons who previously were completely healthy have been known to die as a result of this disease.

A single varicella vaccination is estimated to be effective for only 80 percent to 85 percent of children. This means that some persons who have received only one vaccination may remain unprotected. Approximately one-third of these vaccinated but unprotected children will experience moderate disease if they get chickenpox. A second varicella vaccination greatly reduces the risk of disease among these unprotected children and has been shown to be 100 percent effective against development of severe disease.

Varicella vaccination clinics are being held at Kenai Public Health Center, 630 Barnacle Way, Mondays and Wednesdays from 1:30 to 4:00, and at the Cottonwood Clinic in Soldotna on Thursday from 1:30 to 4:00 p.m.

To ensure children are protected against this disease, beginning July 1, verification that a child has already had varicella (or any other vaccine-preventable disease) will require confirmation by an Alaska-licensed physician (MD or DO), advanced nurse practitioner (ANP), or physician’s assistant (PA). These medical professionals must document this verification on an official state form that may be obtained from schools, healthcare providers or the Alaska Immunization Program Web site, http://www.epi.alaska.gov/immunize. Documentation of the history of varicella disease, signed by an Alaska-licensed MD, DO, ANP or PA and dated prior to July 1, 2009, will continue to be considered valid.

Children who have had varicella disease may still receive the vaccine. Unvaccinated children without an exemption will be excluded from attending school and school activities.
Reactions to varicella vaccination are uncommon and are usually limited to soreness and/or redness at the site of vaccination. The stronger, naturally circulating virus is more likely to re-emerge in adulthood as shingles than is the weakened virus used in the vaccine.

Also beginning July 1, school immunization regulations require that students who need a 10-year Td (tetanus/diphtheria) booster, typically at age 14 to 16, receive Tdap vaccine (tetanus/diphtheria/acellular pertussis). Outbreaks of pertussis, or whooping cough, are occurring in Alaska communities. This disease can be devastating to infants.

More information regarding the updated immunization requirements may be obtained at the Kenai Public Health Center, 335-3400, or by calling the Alaska Immunization Helpline, 269-8088 in Anchorage, or 888-430-4321 statewide.

Don’t wait – vaccinate!

Column submitted by Tami Marsters, R.N., a public health nurse with the Kenai Public Health Center, on behalf of the Alaska Immunization Program.

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