Common Ground: Oh captain, too many captains

Photo courtesy of Christine Cunningham. Landing this 80-pound halibut was physical exercise, as well as an exercise in following directions.

Photo courtesy of Christine Cunningham. Landing this 80-pound halibut was physical exercise, as well as an exercise in following directions.

By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter

My favorite ocean captains resemble football coaches. They are full of the inspiring mangled quotes and near heart-attack enthusiasm that make fishing about catching. They can get away with saying things that can’t be said in the office because, “80 percent of the people that die in the water don’t make it back.”
It’s the authority of skill that makes everything these captains do and say a part of the salt. It’s never been reassuring to me that a charter boat captain has a degree in seafaring or psychology. What reassures me in any leader, and a captain is surely a leader, is that when they say, “Get ready,” I get ready. I don’t always know exactly what they mean, but I’m sure instructions will follow.
We were fishing for halibut and noticed a ball of bait fish attracting gulls a hundred yards off. “Better get down a salmon rod,” the captain said. There were three captains on this boat — the technical captain and boat’s owner, a river guide, which is a kind of captain depending on his grit, and the captain of a charter boat who was fishing his day off. It was the charter boat captain who suggested we get the salmon rod. Because it was a good idea and because he couldn’t stop captaining a boat despite whose boat it was, he seemed to be the captain of the captains. In my mind he was the captain.
I didn’t pay much attention as the downrigger was set up toward the back of the deck and line let down. We had been catching halibut, but it had been a slow morning. When the salmon rod went down, I went for it. I don’t remember the sequence of where my halibut rod ended up or if I handed it off. All that happened next was a fight with a fish that was nothing like yarding one up from the bottom on 80-pound test. It wasn’t a king salmon, either. Nobody had to guess and everyone knew. It was a halibut.
“He’s over here.” The river guide pointed to where the fish broke the surface 20 yards behind the boat. The halibut had run on me three times. I held the rod, just waiting for room to reel. “He’s 40 or 50,” the river guide had said when it started. “What’s your guesstimate?” At the surface, the guess changed to 50 to 60 pounds. I held the rod upright as the halibut swayed on the surface. It had been 20 minutes and my arm shook against the rod. “Don’t run,” I thought. When he let up I reeled. “Just don’t run.”

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Power to the people — Incorporation of borough posed big questions

Photo courtesy of the Kenai Historical Society. This photo of the Borough Administration Building was most likely taken sometime in early spring in the mid- to late 1970s.

Photo courtesy of the Kenai Historical Society. This photo of the Borough Administration Building was most likely taken sometime in early spring in the mid- to late 1970s.

Editor’s note: The Kenai Peninsula Borough, Kenai Peninsula Borough School District and Kenai Peninsula College celebrate their 50th anniversaries this year. Following is a look at the incorporation of the borough.

By Brent Johnson

For the Redoubt Reporter

It was rough for boroughs to form. Framers of the Alaska Constitution picked boroughs to be better than the counties that in 1956 provided local government services in 47 states. As Vic Fischer and Tom Morehouse put it in their 1971 book, “Borough Government in Alaska,” “Alaska would thus avoid the proliferation of overlapping special districts, municipalities and counties that have made urban areas nearly ungovernable in most of the rest of the country.” Fischer, 90, of Anchorage, knows something about it since he was one of the 55 delegates who crafted the constitution, one of only three still living. Morehouse was a University of Alaska Institute of Social and Economic Research professor from 1968-94.

The constitution was ratified with statehood in 1959, but two years later there were still no boroughs in Alaska. Fischer and Morehouse explained it this way: “There was, in the first place, widespread local opposition to the creation of boroughs during the initial years after statehood. They would bring new and unwanted governmental controls and taxes to rural areas lying outside of any local jurisdiction, areas that were already receiving basic educational, road maintenance, and police protection services directly from the state.

“The boroughs, moreover, would overlap existing cities, and were therefore viewed as threats to city autonomy and as competitors for funds, functions, and territory. There was a similar problem with the existing school districts, where school boards and school administrative organizations resisted borough controls over their local public education programs.”

Statehood was popular. In a 1958 special election, statehood passed 40,462 to 8,010 (83 percent). Out of a population of about 225,000, around 48,500 voted (21.5 percent). Apparently, the desire to determine their own destiny propelled Alaskans into statehood, but fear of government and taxes left boroughs out of the equation. In some ways it was a strange irony. People seemed to have regarded statehood as gaining freedom from the federal government, and at the same time regarded boroughs as an entity to which they would lose freedoms.

For that matter, state government needed to take several steps before the formation of boroughs was even possible. The first Legislature set up a Local Boundary Commission, as prescribed by Section 12, Article 10 of the constitution. It was the Boundary Commission that had authority to approve or reject the boundaries of any borough formation petitions.

The 1961 Legislature tried to help citizens form boroughs by passing the Borough Act of 1961. It permitted the establishment of borough governments by local option. To bring a proposed borough to a ballot, organizers had to agree on boundaries, “class” (as in First Class, Second Class, etc., which describes the extent of municipal powers) and decide where the seat of government would be.

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Plugged In: Major image quality with micro technology

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

Micro Four-Thirds compact camera systems pioneered by Panasonic and Olympus are the most mature and comprehensive mirrorless camera systems on the market, with a wide range of excellent lenses and camera bodies whose image quality punches well above its weight class.

Micro Four-Thirds is actually a set of general design specifications open to any interested company. Several companies make M 4/3 lenses and camera bodies that are fully interchangeable. That openness and competition results in a wide selection of reasonably affordable, interoperable products.

Announced in 2008, with the first products marketed in 2009, M 4/3 cameras were the first compact-system cameras. By eliminating the moving mirror and reducing by half the distance between lens and sensor, M 4/3 cameras became much more compact without sacrificing image quality.

Even though it seems that moving-mirror, dSLR cameras have been around forever, they’re actually a relatively recent phenomenon, with the first affordable consumer versions appearing in 2006 or so. As so often happens, fashions are coming full circle, with bulky dSLR cameras being gradually eclipsed in turn by smaller, compact-system cameras in which eyelevel electronic viewfinders replace moving-mirror direct optical viewfinders.

That’s become feasible for two reasons. Electronic viewfinders, which take their image and exposure data directly from the sensor in real time, have become much better, now rivaling optical viewfinders. At the same time, image files produced by slightly smaller M 4/3 sensors are as good, or better, than those from many larger APS-C cameras. Even though M 4/3 cameras are more compact and portable than nearly all APS-C dSLR cameras, you’ll not notice significantly better image quality unless you take the leap from M 4/3 systems to much more expensive full-frame cameras.

When first designing earlier Four-Thirds and then M 4/3 cameras, Olympus and Panasonic bet the farm that the image quality of smaller sensors would continually improve until it became fully competitive with larger sensors, and it did. That’s especially true if you first preprocess M 4/3 files using DXO’s Optics Pro 9 software before importing the preprocessed files into an Adobe product for final work.

One nice touch by both Panasonic and Olympus is the use by each company of their best sensors in all current models. As a result, sensor quality is just as high in the least-expensive consumer models as in the top-end professional systems. With top-end models, you’re mostly paying for better construction quality and more features.

I’ve found that M 4/3 lenses tend to be more reliably sharp than those made for larger APS-C cameras. There are several reasons. The smaller glass elements used in M 4/3 lenses are easier to produce and assemble without defects. Quality control by M 4/3 lens makers, like Olympus, Panasonic and Sigma, tends to be better than average.

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Wasting away — Unknown disease affecting sea stars along West Coast

Photos courtesy of Karyn Traphagen. A sea star is found suffering from an ailment that turns it into a very soft mass, rendering it incapable of maintaining its body structure. So far, scientists have been unable to point to a specific cause for the disease, which they are calling a wasting disease.

Photos courtesy of Karyn Traphagen. A sea star is found suffering from an ailment that turns it into a very soft mass, rendering it incapable of maintaining its body structure. So far, scientists have been unable to point to a specific cause for the disease, which they are calling a wasting disease.

Naomi Klouda

Homer Tribune

Sea stars along Kachemak Bay are being found with found missing limbs, their flesh decayed to such a degree some observers are describing the sight as “melting.”

When this new mystery disease hits, suction cups on sea stars’ tube feet fail them as they are too weak for clinging to dock pilings. Their cups don’t adhere to rocks in their habitat tidal pools.

A scientist visiting Alaska, Karyn Traphagen, said she hoped she wouldn’t find the mysterious ailment so pervasive when she visited Tutka Bay in July. The problem had been documented on the Pacific Coast and not yet pinned to Alaska’s northern coasts.

“I came in May and September 2013 and took a lot of photos in the ultralow tides,” said Traphagen, executive director of the blog, “Science Online: Stay Curious.” “I saw signs of it then, but it was much more pronounced when I returned last month. I saw even more signs of the sea star wasting disease — lesions on some of the arms, some were missing one or more arms. The tissue decays, mushy flesh, the inability to even hold itself against the piling or rock.”

Traphagen sent photos to biologists collecting sea star research at the University of California Santa Cruz. The biology/ecology department there is on the forefront of documenting the problem and finding the cause.

“They confirmed that the sea stars I observed exhibited the sea star wasting syndrome and that the location observed was the farthest north field reported incidence of the disease,” Traphagen said Friday. “I then went back to my 2013 photos (May and September in Kachemak Bay) and found some evidence of the disease as early as May 2013.”

Since last summer, scientists and tide-poolers up and down the Pacific Coast have noticed sea stars dying in startling numbers. Observers documented sea star bodies turning to mush. Others described the creatures disintegrating, while others found stars that had lost their limbs and color. The phenomenon was termed sea star wasting disease.

That’s a name for the problem, but there’s no firm understanding yet of what causes it. Biologists do know what’s not causing it, Traphagen said. On its website, UCSC’s Department of Ecology and Biology gives a report that shows the usual suspects are being ruled out.

It’s not plastic pollution.

“We’re talking about completely pristine areas to completely degraded areas, and we don’t see any pattern that is suggestive of (plastics),” states the report, “Pacific Rocky Intertidal Monitoring: Trends and Synthesis.”

It’s not ocean acidification.

“What we’ve seen with respect to ocean acidification is that there are local areas which can be affected, but we don’t see any broad pattern of it,” the report states.

And it’s not the Fukushima radiation.

“The trajectory that has been proposed with respect to the distribution of any of the debris really doesn’t come very far south. And with respect to the radiation, that wouldn’t have arrived here yet. Also, just the distribution of the disease and apparent lack of the disease in other areas, really doesn’t lend itself to (a Fukushima link),” the report continues.

Another suspect, climate change, might account for some of the problem. Although climate change is warming the ocean overall, the ocean along the West Coast has been in a cool period since the 1997-98 El Niño, said Pete Raimondi, chair of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at University of California, Santa Cruz. “There may be local warming areas but in general it’s been a cool phase and so it doesn’t appear that this is related,” he said.

Scientists don’t know how many sea stars have died so far. Raimondi says it could be in the millions. One particularly hard-hit species, the sunflower starfish, has “pretty much disappeared,” Raimondi said.

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Signs of the times — Soldotna considers city code changes

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

There are troubling signs in Soldotna. Or signs of trouble. Or, more specifically, trouble regarding signs.

That’s a sign in itself — when just describing a situation is difficult, managing it is even more so. Nevertheless, that’s the position the city of Soldotna is in regarding the posting of temporary/portable signs in the right of way along the highway corridors. Sandwich boards, banners, chunks of painted plywood propped with sand bags and cinder blocks or just markered posterboard facing the inevitable doom of wind or rain, announcing to passers-by all manner of festivals, sports games, performances, fundraisers, craft shows, farmers markets and other events.

Illegal, the whole lot of them.

“For types of portable signs and, really, any signs that are in the right of way, our code is very clear — they are prohibited. But you wouldn’t suspect that by driving downtown,” said Stephanie Queen, the city’s director of economic development and planning.

For event organizers, temporary roadside signs are a quick, effective way of advertising — Rodeo this weekend! Oilers game tonight! Kenai River Festival parking ahead! Carwash next right!

And for those passing by, signs are an equally quick, effective way to be informed of something in which they might have interest.

But such postings also pose potential problems, as safety risks to drivers and pedestrians if placed so as to impede vision, as unsightly eyesores or at least visual irritants to those not wanting to view the clutter, as an unfairness to those to those missing out on the free advertising by not posting temporary/portable signs, and as a challenge to the city in struggling to decide what to do about them.

Direction from the city code is clear — such signs are not allowed — but the community’s preference on the matter is not.

“There are instances where people really like those signs — with an event going on they find them a really helpful way to know about it. We also hear from people that they don’t mind the signs if they look nice, but we don’t have any guidance about sign appearance in the code,” Queen said.

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Sign thefts rankle campaign supporters

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

While free speech is a tenant of democracy, area Democrats are feeling silenced by thefts of their political signs this election season.

Signs supporting a yes vote on Ballot Initiative 1 — repeal of the oil tax reform bill passed by the Legislature — and Democrat-supported candidates for state and national offices, including Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, Democrat gubernatorial candidate Byron Mallot and nonaffiliated candidate Eric Treider for Senate District O, are disappearing around town, supporters say.

“There are probably close to a dozen signs that have disappeared in the last month,” said Dick Waisanen, of Soldotna.

Most are going missing in and around Soldotna. Signs posted at the Y intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling highways have been taken down three times now — twice left in a pile, and the third time, last week, stolen altogether.

“For the amount of money the candidates are trying to raise and trying to budget and all of a sudden they’re missing some signs, it does put a crimp in their fundraising. I don’t know if some people think, ‘Well, it doesn’t mean anything.’ It is vandalism, it is against the law,” Waisanen said.

The signs were placed on private property with permission of the property owners, in accordance with city and Department of Transportation regulations, Waisanen said.

“We always get permission,” said Waisanen, who is familiar with political sign-posting regulations from his previous runs for office. The city of Soldotna confirmed they did not remove the signs.

Even more frustrating is that signs backing Republicans and the No On Prop 1 campaign don’t seem to be touched, he said.

“The Democrats respect the right of free speech. If they (Republicans) want to put up a sign, that’s their prerogative, but they should respect our right to do the same.”

This has happened in previous elections, as well. Mary Toutonghi, of Soldotna, has had campaign signs taken right out of her front lawn.

“I’m just beyond yelling and screaming and shouting,” she said. “I’m ticked. I didn’t have a word to come out. It’s stifling my free speech. I don’t have the equal ability to express my views because (my signs) are being stolen. It’s vandalism and theft.”

Toutonghi said that sign thefts are not only a violation to the candidate or cause being supported, but also to the owner of the property from which the signs are being stolen.

“A number of them, some people who are worried about what will happen on their property, haven’t put the signs back up when they’ve been stolen. This is really ridiculous,” Toutonghi said.

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View from Out West: Fishing for a new outlook — Hauling in experience in a different fishery

Photo by Clark Fair. Yvonne Leutwyler picks fish from a subsistence net in the Wood River near Dillingham this summer.

Photos by Clark Fair. Yvonne Leutwyler picks fish from a subsistence net in the Wood River near Dillingham this summer.

By Clark Fair, for the Redoubt Reporter

Every intensive public fishery in Southcentral Alaska contains some elements of the circus.

There is the center attraction, usually sans ringmaster. There are also families and clowns and wild-animal acts, plus crowded parking and games, prizes and refreshments — and an unfortunate cleanup crew.

In 1980, I first experienced the elbow-to-elbow sockeye slamfest on the Russian River. I’d previously only glimpsed such action on Sterling Highway drive-bys to Cooper Landing, but that summer I rode the ferry across the Kenai River and watched up close the snaking human conga line, the glistening whiplashes of monofilament, the tangled thrashings of salmon and hip waders.

A few days later, I tried a more personal engagement — another ferry ride, followed by shoehorning myself into place between anglers and joining the meat market. One hour, a few sockeyes and multiple snarled frustrations later, I departed, swearing I would never return and that no “bountiful harvest” at the Russian River could compare to the relatively serene milieu involved in fishing along some middle stretch of the Kenai, my solitude punctuated only occasionally by the swift passage of outboard-powered river boats.

Red is gold in Dillingham, as in this salmon, ready for the smoker.

Red is gold in Dillingham, as in this salmon, ready for the smoker.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, I also tried dip netting — first from a skiff just above the Kenai boat launch, then from the banks of both the Kenai and Kasilof rivers. In both cases, although the reaping was plentiful, the quality of the experience left much to be desired. Despite the thrill of involvement in such an “event,” I tired quickly of the lack of privacy and fishing Zen, of jostling for the best modicum of bank space, of the sand-encrusted coolers and tourists, and of the fish waste and the trash.

A few years ago, when my daughter’s Kenai Central High School ski team landed beach cleanup duties as a fundraiser during the annual personal-use fishery at the mouth of the Kenai, I assisted in trash collection and decided then to stop attending this carnival. I returned to my lonelier middle-river angling.

Here in Bristol Bay, there is also fishing chaos of sorts, but the tenor is decidedly different.

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