Daily Archives: August 12, 2009

Personal problem — Neighbors fed up with Kasilof fishery issues

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series examining the environmental damage and other issues arising from the Kasilof River public-use fisheries.

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Photos courtesy of Mike and Patti Curry.Trash, toilet paper and fish carcasses sit in the woods next to Mike and Patti Curry’s yard at the mouth of the Kasilof River a few years ago during the summer personal-use fishery. The Currys say they are frustrated with fishermen trespassing, littering, tearing up the dunes, clogging the road and the other poor behavior that occurs during the fishery.

Photos courtesy of Mike and Patti Curry.Trash, toilet paper and fish carcasses sit in the woods next to Mike and Patti Curry’s yard at the mouth of the Kasilof River a few years ago during the summer personal-use fishery. The Currys say they are frustrated with fishermen trespassing, littering, tearing up the dunes, clogging the road and the other poor behavior that occurs during the fishery.

Mike and Patti Curry, and several of their neighbors near the mouth of the Kasilof River, observed their own, private holiday Saturday — Fishermen Exodus Day.

It’s a much-anticipated annual observation, with the Currys celebrating by putting away their earplugs, picking up trash on the beach and heaving a sigh of relief that their property will be spared from use as a latrine, at least until next summer.

“I’m tired of people using my front yard as a toilet. I don’t go in your front yard and use it as a toilet. I don’t want to see your bare butts on my property,” Patti Curry said.

Setnet fishing is allowed for Alaska residents on the beaches stretching north and south from the mouth of the Kasilof from June 15 to June 24, and dipnetting is open at the river mouth itself from June 25 through Aug. 7. The stroke of midnight Saturday morning marked an end to the summer’s personal-use fisheries at the Kasilof, and the corresponding departure of the last of the thousands of fishermen who cram themselves along the north and south beaches of the river, quickly overflowing the space allowed for camping and parking, and challenging the capacity of the limited trash and outhouse services that are available to them.

The result is dangerous, disgusting chaos, Curry said.

“It’s really frustrating. And it gets worse and worse every year,” she said.
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Pretty unsafe — Scenic peninsula highways are scene of dangerous driving

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. A car slows on the Kenai Spur Highway between Kenai and Soldotna on Monday to turn left onto Beaver Loop Road, while a truck passes on the left over the fog line. This illegal pass is one of the unsafe driving behaviors law enforcement officers see a lot of on Kenai Peninsula highways.

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. A car slows on the Kenai Spur Highway between Kenai and Soldotna on Monday to turn left onto Beaver Loop Road, while a truck passes on the left over the fog line. This illegal pass is one of the unsafe driving behaviors law enforcement officers see a lot of on Kenai Peninsula highways.

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

On the Kenai Peninsula, drivers are blessed and cursed with beautiful, rugged terrain.

Highway drivers are treated to scenic views as the roads wind along rivers and lakes, through valleys and in the shadow of mountains. But the very elements that led to the peninsula’s highways being nominated as National Scenic Byways also contribute to the high number of accidents along those roads each year, and to the Sterling Highway, from the Moose River confluence with the Kenai River to Mackey Lake Road, being recently designated as a Highway Safety Corridor with double traffic fines.

The peninsula’s terrain leads to some challenging driving conditions — sharp S curves in Cooper Landing, up-and-down mountain passes and narrow shoulders with lots of traffic turning on and off the road. In the summer, the peninsula draws increased traffic and, with it, trouble from some drivers slowing down to enjoy the view and others speeding up to get on with their fishing trip, camping excursion or whatever summertime activity is on their agenda. Tricky yet beautiful roads and a tendency toward unsafe habits can make the peninsula a dangerous place to drive — as a spate of serious and fatal traffic accidents this summer have shown.

“It’s a combination of dangerous behaviors and multiple accidents on the road,” said Alaska State Trooper Ryan Tennis, with the Soldotna E Detachment, explaining the reasoning behind the Sterling safety corridor designation.
Tennis said troopers frequently see unsafe driving behaviors on peninsula highways in the summer. The most common is passing.

“There’s lots of unsafe passing, of course,” he said. “Passing on double lines, passing on corners. The Cooper Landing area is just a tragic area for that. We get constant traffic complaints from there. … And on (Kalifornsky Beach Road), people use the turning lane as a passing lane. That’s very frustrating. That can cause accidents very frequently.”
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Driven to extremes: Take care in unsafe traffic

By Joseph Kashi, Dale Gibson, for the Redoubt Reporter
Sadly, there have been quite a number of serious and fatal accidents lately involving local families where initial reports suggest that the local drivers were not at fault.

These situations, some of which personally affected many of us, forcefully remind us that we need to help even the odds by doing whatever we can to minimize the possibility that we, ourselves, will be caught in a serious traffic accident.

Here are some basic precautions that can minimize both the risk of an accident and later hassle if one occurs:

  • Always carry your driver’s license, registration and current insurance card for the automobile you are driving and be sure that they are all current. Also, carry emergency contact numbers for at least one family member not in the household and a friend. These should be placed where they can be found by emergency responders.
  • Tires really are where the rubber meets the road and are one of the most critical items for avoiding an accident in any season. Be sure you have good tires that are appropriate for the season.
  • “All-season” tires usually do poorly on winter roads. Studded tires actually have about 20 percent lower traction than regular tires on the dry pavement that we find throughout most of the winter. At this point, the best winter tires appear to be newer, soft rubber “micro-siped” tires with added traction compounds that really do grip slick surfaces better than studded tires. Used with anti-lock brakes, they provide better control and braking. Remember, anti-lock brakes are not the end-all in collision avoidance. They allow a reduced steering response over a nonbraking wheel, and your response to steering input will not be that of a free-rolling wheel. Control responses will be delayed and not as rapid as you may expect. When you engage the anti-lock braking feature in your vehicle, it will be felt as a vibration or chattering of the brake pedal. Do not pump the brakes. In some systems, pumping will cause the anti-lock brakes to disengage and you will begin skidding. The only way to correct this is to turn the vehicle’s ignition off and reset the anti-lock controller. Once engaged, the anti-lock brakes cycle at a high rate that the driver cannot possibly duplicate. Another misconception is that anti-lock brakes will decrease your stopping distance. But in some cases, they increase your stopping distance. If you are driving in virgin snow, for example, anti-lock braking will increase your stopping distance unless ice is involved under the snow. With locked wheels, the snow will build up in front of the locked wheels and further retard the movement of the vehicle. With anti-lock brakes, it allows the wheel to roll over the buildup that otherwise would aid in stopping.
  • Be sure your vehicle is in good repair, especially the brakes, front end and steering. In the event of a serious accident, this is one of the first items that will be checked by the investigating police officers. If you wander into the oncoming traffic lane, for whatever reason, mechanical or otherwise, you’ll be the party legally responsible for the collision.
  • If you steer into the opposing lane, you will in most cases be completely liable. Your best chance for survival will be to slow as much as possible before the collision. Here’s a simple example: If it takes you 20 feet to stop at 20 miles per hour on a given surface, then how far will you travel at 40 mph on the same surface? The most frequent answer is 40 feet, but it actually takes 80 feet to stop. That does not include the perception and reaction time, just the braking distance.
  • Be sure all of your lights work and are clean. We’ve seen a number of serious and fatal accidents where dirty lights and windshields may have been a factor in failing to see danger ahead, particularly pedestrians walking along the side of the road.
  • Do not just think about the outside of the windshield. The interior is just as important, and with the defroster going, the initial condensation will also build up a film that reduces your visibility as much as a dirty exterior.
  • In the same vein, don’t overdrive your headlights at night. A film or dirt on your headlight lens will reduce your visibility by as much as 70 percent.
  • Be sure your night visibility is greater than your braking and stopping distance at your nighttime driving speed. Most people feel they can see the roadway and hazards at night in enough time to avoid them. You’ll need to look down the road quite a distance to anticipate and avoid dangerous situations. Repeated studies have shown that most drivers take between 2 and 2.5 seconds to recognize and correctly react to a dangerous situation before starting to take appropriate action, like hard braking or steering around a problem. At 60 mph, that’s between 176 and 220 feet just to react and start to respond. You’ll need even more time for braking or other evasive action. Going that speed, you’ve already overdriven your headlights before you can even begin to react. Most head-on collisions show that the drivers did not brake before the collision, simply because they were not looking beyond the vehicle directly ahead of them and did not have time to react to a dangerous situation developing farther down the road.
  • It’s obvious from the above why we shouldn’t tailgate. You simply don’t have enough time to react if you are less than four to six seconds from the car in front of you at highway speed.
  • Give yourself a lot more stopping room when it’s slippery and start slowing down a lot sooner for stop signs and intersections. Every Alaskan knows this, but there’s a really big increase in rear-end accidents at stop signs a few weeks after the first snowfalls that stick. Many, but not all, of those accidents are caused by drivers new to Alaska winter driving conditions.
  • Fully defrost your windshield and windows before starting out. Frosty windows cut your visibility, especially when facing into the sun. This has been a major factor in a number of serious or fatal accidents.
  • Always wear your seat and shoulder belts. It’s the law, and it makes a lot of sense. You are far more likely to be injured if you are not properly belted in. Seatbelts not only prevent you from going through the windshield but, more importantly, keep you from being ejected from a vehicle in a collision. Your chance of death or serious injury is far higher if you are ejected. Often, your vehicle will roll on top of you. Better to be inside the steel rather than under it.
  • Do not assume that because you have air bags you are protected. Studies show that for the driver, the three-point restraint is 49 percent effective and the air bag is nearly as effective. That would lead you to believe that the combination of the two is going to be nearly 100 percent effective. That is not the case. A combination of the two is only about 52 percent effective in preventing death or serious injury. Do not disarm air bags unless you have a child under 14 in the front seat. Statistically, air bags really do save lives and substantially reduce serious injuries in head-on collisions. Canadian research indicates that children under 14 can be injured by air bags and should be in the back seat if at all possible. Younger children are legally required to be in approved child seats, which really do protect children if they are in good condition and used properly.

Common causes of accidents

  • Be aware of traffic laws and defensive driving skills. The Department of Motor Vehicles provides a useful, free booklet. As an example, one of the most common violations, and one of the most likely to lead to accidents and injuries, are people failing to understand who has the right of way at four-way stop signs, traffic lights and other types of intersections and traffic control devices.
  • Alaska law provides for a logical approach in which the first person at the four-way stop sign has the right of way, and then the person to the right and so forth. Unfortunately, most people, particularly younger drivers, don’t seem to know the law’s requirements in this regard. Similarly, oncoming traffic always has the right of way against vehicles turning left across oncoming traffic, even at a traffic signal, unless there is a protected left turn green arrow. The two-lane Sterling and Seward Highways frequently experience traffic slowdowns due to vehicles waiting for oncoming traffic to pass before making a legal left-hand turn. Don’t even consider passing one or more vehicles stopped because of a left turn. There’s a high probability that you will either hit the car turning left or hit the oncoming vehicle for which the left-turning car had stopped. This is a surprisingly common accident scenario.
  • Be conservative about your requirements for safe passing. Many passing zones marked by highway crews aren’t really that safe, particularly on busy highways that contain a number of blind curves and hills. Similarly, even if the pavement is striped to allow passing, it’s still illegal to make a pass with 100 feet of the intersection between the highway and a side road, regardless of the striping, for the reasons in the preceding paragraph.
  • Be aware of traffic around you. Many drivers are not really paying attention and may not be aware of your presence. As you approach or mingle with other vehicles, try to notice where those drivers are looking and what they seem to be noticing or ignoring. People really do seem to get frustrated and try to pass in obviously dangerous places or cut a too tight corner on blind curves.
  • One of the most common dangerous driving behaviors seems to be drivers who spend most of their time looking right toward oncoming traffic, even when they are simply making a right turn and staying on the same side of the road, and then pulling out in front of traffic approaching them from the left, in their own lane. As you approach people on your side of the road, look at the drivers who may pull out in front of you to pass and be sure that you know that they have seen you. If you’re not sure about the people or situations around you, then temporarily slow down or take other avoidant action to help the other drivers have enough time and distance to avoid a serious accident.
  • Use your headlights at all times. This helps other vehicles see and avoid you, even in daylight. Just because you can see what’s on the road ahead of you does not mean that other drivers can see you in time.
  • Avoid distractions like eating or arguing while driving. We recently had a case in which a vehicle stopped at a Sterling Highway red light had a very serious rear-end collision because the driver following him was looking at a vehicle for sale along the side of the highway rather than looking at the traffic situation in front of him. He didn’t bother to notice that the light turned red and that the vehicles in front of him had stopped. As a result, he sailed into them at highway speed, causing very serious injuries.
  • Avoid using a cell phone while driving in demanding situations. Repeated research shows that driving while using a cell phone is as dangerous as driving while intoxicated. Hands-free cell phones are not safer because the basic danger is the mental distraction of the phone call itself, rather than dialing and holding the phone. Texting and watching videos as the driver of a moving vehicle are illegal in Alaska and really dangerous in any event.
  • Don’t drive while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. That’s obvious, but still much too common. Most people’s ability to drive is diminished by the time that their blood alcohol level reaches .06, which is less than the legal DUI limit but still high enough to impair driving. For many people, a .06 blood alcohol level can be as little as two beers or glasses of wine consumed within one hour. Most people will metabolize about one glass of wine or one beer for each hour that they do not consume more.
  • Be aware of current weather. You can call 511 for current and forecasted weather and road conditions for major highways.
  • Carry a charged, compact digital camera, just in case. Besides, Alaska is a beautiful place and you’ll want those family and scenic photos.


Joseph Kashi is a trial lawyer in Soldotna whose practice is focused upon representing injured persons. Dale Gibson is a retired Alaska State Trooper who focused upon investigating serious motor-vehicle accidents and crimes, and who is certified as an accident reconstruction expert witness by the courts in Alaska and several other states.

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Learning the drill — Practice makes for better-prepared volunteer emergency responders

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. CERT team members extract a “victim,” Cindy Moore, during an earthquake scenario training drill Saturday in Kenai. CERT members, clockwise from bottom left, are Steve Lewis, Tom Burg, Eric Boehmler, Victor Hett and Kathy Heindl.

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. CERT team members extract a “victim,” Cindy Moore, during an earthquake scenario training drill Saturday in Kenai. CERT members, clockwise from bottom left, are Steve Lewis, Tom Burg, Eric Boehmler, Victor Hett and Kathy Heindl.

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

The calls coming across the radio following a substantial earthquake Saturday were grim. A man was found trapped under a four-wheeler at 310 Rogers Road in Kenai.

“Unconscious. Breathing. Appears to be stable. Looks like two broken legs. Needs evac as soon as possible,” reported one of three search and rescue teams canvassing a neighborhood in Kenai that was hit hard by the quake.

The report came across the radio to the incident command team stationed at the corner of Norman Street and Rogers Road, where they were simultaneously responding to radio traffic from the field and keeping an eye on a downed power line lying across Rogers Road.

Lyle Scrimger, incident commander, repeated the message, made sure the scribe had taken down the information, and gave his orders to the team.
“Leave one person with the victim and carry on with your search,” he said.

A few minutes later, another call came in. Searchers had found an injured woman in the yard at 309 Rogers. Apparently, she had been on a ladder when the quake hit, and now she was lying in a jumbled heap with her legs twining through the metal rungs. The team with the man under the four-wheeler wanted to know if they should bring their victim to the house with the injured woman and set up a medical treatment center there for both victims until an ambulance could arrive.

Scrimger considered the request for a brief moment, but thought better of it.

“Does he have internal bleeding? What if he has a broken back? We don’t want to bag him and tag him,” he said, explaining his decision to not move the victim.

Next was a reported natural gas leak at a home with several possible sources of combustion — five-gallon gas cans, two snowmachines, a boat with a motor, and a shed with fertilizer in it. Scrimger advised the team to mark the house as having a hazardous gas leak, so a team from Enstar could identify it quickly when they got to the scene.

“If you’re not seeing any open flame or ignition spots, tag it and move on,” he told the team.

The teams still had a lot of work to do — more houses to check for victims, structural damage, power outages, gas or water leaks and other hazards, and materials that could be catalogued and used for rescue or repair work. In a disaster situation such as this, who knew what else they would find?

Though the situation was only a drill, an exercise for the local Community Emergency Response Teams training program, that part was consistent with real life. The drill’s participants didn’t know what they were heading into, or what they would find when they got there.
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Barreling along — Riders race for state title in Soldotna

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Ready, aim, wait for it … Duck season opening is long-awaited affair, but be sure to be ready when time comes

By Steve Meyer

Aug. 1 hits duck hunters as if someone slapped them in the forehead with a 2-by-4. A panic ensues, and a flurry of activity and sleepless nights that don’t really subside until Sept. 1, the opening day of waterfowl season in Alaska.

The countdown to opening day for obsessive waterfowl hunters, and there really isn’t any other kind, actually begins Dec. 17, the day after the season closes. At that point we have 257 days to go and the panic remains in check for most of the winter, although it doesn’t keep us from reading everything available that remotely concerns waterfowl.

When spring comes and the waterfowl come through on their annual migration, we have to watch them, see how the numbers look, watch their patterns and see if the local ponds are getting much holdover for nesting — which will be an indicator of what to expect in the way of local populations come fall.

And, of course, for most of us, that is in between ice fishing, predator hunting, trapping and the myriad other outdoor activities we do. Summer finds most of us consumed with fishing, and when the final bout is over July 31, we panic.

I always marvel at the mentality that suggests there is “nothing to do” in Alaska. The real problem is there is not enough time in a day, not enough days in a year, not enough years in a lifetime, to do it all. But for waterfowl hunters, when the time comes, all else is forgotten.

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Science of the Seasons: No-see-um, but you sure feel them

By David Wartinbee, for the Redoubt Reporter

We have all heard the adage, “Be careful what you wish for, it just might come true.”  Those of us who spend lots of time along streams, whether fishing, dipnetting, hiking or collecting bugs, often wish for a clear, warm day without a hint of wind. We relish those beautiful days in the summer, and so do the Ceratopogonidae.

I know you’ve never heard this name before, and probably don’t even know who or what it is. If you think back to one of those warm summer days along the river when there wasn’t even a breath of breeze and there was something biting you around the hairline, on your hand or on your wrist. Worst of all, you probably swatted at it but never saw what it was. The unseen culprit was a very small Dipteran fly in the family Ceratopogonidae. Because we can’t see them as they bite us, we call them no-see-ums. In other parts of the country, they call them punkies or biting sand flies.

These tiny adult flies are no longer that the (–) two dashes between the parentheses. That’s why you never felt them land and probably couldn’t see them, either.

The common name, no-see-um, certainly is appropriate. The tiny size makes them vulnerable to wind, so on breezy days, you most likely aren’t bothered by them. When they do bite, it always seems to be in a particularly tender area. Because of their diminutive size, they need to bite where the skin is thinnest and, of course, most sensitive.
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