Monthly Archives: August 2011

Common Ground: Hunting for patience with Lucky ‘Lucy’

By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter

The best deal in town is a pigeon.

The price on pigeons has been stagnant for years, it seems. At $2, tax included, you can purchase your very own live pigeon, to do with what you want. I wanted to shoot my pigeon, but in a nice way — an honorable way. His short time on earth would be in service to a great tradition of upland bird dogs. He had modest living quarters and his very own office (the pigeon pole) in the far corner of the yard. He spent his evenings fouling his water dish — the price for a pigeon that doesn’t foul its own water dish is  $100 because they are so rare.

My pigeon didn’t like his harness. When I attempted to buckle the harness around him he wrestled me to the ground and pulled the harness from my grasp, flew across the yard over an ecstatic group of hunting dogs and vanished forever — or so I thought.

The harness cost three times the price of the pigeon. The hunt for Lucy (pronounced “loose-y”), the reluctant pole-dancer pigeon, lasted over an hour. I know that you’re not supposed to name animals that will one day be dinner, but I figured there’s no law against naming a bird that got away.

Nearby, my business partner in pigeon enterprises had the shotgun at the ready. At my urgent request, he unloaded the corked empties and put in two live shells.

The pigeon blinked from a nearby tree. I couldn’t see his eyes, but I knew it was blinking the way pigeons do — exposing the entire eye in such a way that, if it were a human expression, would denote incredible stupidity. But in a pigeon, it was somehow reassuring. Continue reading

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Art Seen: Proffered displays — Art faculty teach by example

By Zirrus VanDevere for the Redoubt Reporter

“Hieroglyphic Morning” by Jayne Jones is part of the art faculty exhibit at the Gary L. Freeburg Gallery at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus through Sept. 15.

It’s time again for the faculty art exhibit at the Gary L. Freeburg Gallery at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus, and it looks like it’s going to be an interesting year.

The most intriguing offering is Celia Anderson’s large-format painting on paper called “Tricksters.” In it, ravens appear to be tearing up an American flag, scrap by scrap, and flying off with the pieces. It is left to the viewer to decide who or what the tricksters represent, I suppose, and most folks are likely to have an opinion about it. I love the piece for its more formal delights — the vibrant brushstrokes and well-handled composition create a work that is dynamic and entirely engaging. If ravens were to pick it apart, I think each scrap would be an amazing little painting.

Right beside it sits a mixed-media piece by Kathleen Rolph, where a puppetlike version of a raven sits in a birch “tree,” and two adorable babies sit in a nest. From what I know about these types of events, it is likely synchronicity rather than planning at play, so it was fun to see. Continue reading

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Night Lights: Night scenes looking up

By Andy Veh, for the Redoubt Reporter

Graphic courtesy of Andy Veh

Now it gets dark at a reasonable time in the evening and besides the sun and the moon we can again see planets, the occasional meteor, comets perhaps, stars, some star clusters, and two galaxies.

First, find the Big Dipper low in the northwest, then take the distance between the dipper’s last two stars and extend it five times toward the zenith (the point straight up), and you get to Polaris, the North Star, which is a semibright star at the end of the Little Dipper’s handle. It also marks our latitude on the Kenai Peninsula at 60 degrees above the northern horizon.

Next, find the constellation Cassiopeia, in the shape of a W, on the other side of the Little Dipper, high in the northeast. High in the sky as well, almost in the zenith, is Cygnus, the swan, which also looks like a cross. Its brightest star, Deneb, connects with two other bright stars, Vega and Altair, in the constellations Lyra, the harp, and Aquila, the eagle. Together they make up the prominent summer triangle.

Just left of them is the Great Square of Pegasus, high in the southeast. To its left is the first object you are able to see, ultrabright Jupiter. Turning to the west we can see bright-red Arcturus setting, a sign that summer is over. And rising in the northeast is bright yellow Capella, a corner of Auriga’s pentagon. Throughout the night, all constellations move from east to west (of course, it’s Earth rotating that gives us this illusion). Thus, the evening western constellations set while in the east Taurus, Orion, Gemini and Cancer are rising throughout the night, telling us that winter is coming up. Continue reading

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Plugged In: Walk on the wide side, with wide-angle lenses

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

Wide-angle lenses present both optical design challenges and unique photographic opportunities.

Photographically, the demagnified images inherent to a very wide-angle field of view and the necessarily close camera-to-subject distances often result in strong and unusual optical effects.

These wide-angle photographic effects are neither good nor bad in themselves. What matters is how you use them, either to make cliched photos or to show a fresh and unexpected point of view of a subject.

As I compared the sharpness of various lenses, I found that affordable wide-angle zoom lenses sometimes did as well or better overall than more expensive prime lenses, at least in the price ranges affordable by mere mortals.

That’s really odd. My guess is that current consumer-grade, wide-angle zoom lenses likely benefit from economies of scale and more modern optical designs. Continue reading

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Pouring over oil transit details — Transportation risk analysis to study, reduce dangers of Cook Inlet spills

By Jenny Neyman

Photo courtesy of Dr. David Wartinbee. Escopeta’s Spartan jack-up rig makes its way up Cook Inlet this August. Cook Inlet is expected to see increased traffic in the next 10 years.

Redoubt Reporter

Given the myriad risk factors of an oil spill that a new Cook Inlet marine transportation study will be considering, the wonder isn’t the danger that spills could occur, it’s the fact that there haven’t been more of them.

“We’ve been very lucky,” said Tim Robertson of Nuka Research and Planning, which is facilitating the study. “Any of these kind of catastrophic or very serious oil spills are very low frequency events, and we’ve just been lucky that we haven’t had a serious incident. All of the parts and pieces are here for a very serious type of accident.”

The level of risk of an oil spill is a product of frequency and consequence, Robertson said — how much opportunity there is for a problem and how significant the damages could be. In Cook Inlet, both factors are great.

“We have significant vessel traffic,” he said. “We have a number of large ships that come in, including crude oil tankers and oil product tankers. We have the very large, very fast container ships that are essentially our supply line in Alaska. We have a number of smaller bulk carriers that haul fishery or forest products, and intermixed with all this other traffic are tugs and barges and fishing vessels.”

Large or small, quick or plodding, carrying environmentally hazardous products as cargo or just as fuel, each of those vessels faces significant navigational challenges in Cook Inlet.

“We have tremendous tides, and currents that are driven by the tides, that make navigation difficult in Cook Inlet,” Robertson said. “We’ve got a lot of shoal waters, waters that are shallow so a ship has to be very careful to be in their channels, not like some other places where it’s broad and deep. We have the ice season in the wintertime, which is really the only major port in North America that deals with significant ice accumulations in the wintertime. And we also have a lot of darkness and periods of obscured visibility. All those things are risk factors.”

If there is a spill, the possible environmental damage is great — world-class fish runs, federally protected beluga whales, migratory birds and sea life. And what’s being hauled isn’t the only danger. The fuel required to do the hauling would also be hazardous if spilled into the inlet.

“It’s not just looking at the cargo being crude oil. Even if the vessel is carrying something benign, like pingpong balls, if there’s an incident it still has its own fuel source on-board. There is a risk of danger regardless of the cargo,” said Jerry Rombach, director of public outreach for the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council.

In the past three decades, there’s only been one significant spill in Cook Inlet — when the tanker Glacier Bay ran aground on a large submerged rack on July 2, 1987, and spilled 207,000 gallons of oil. And there’s been one recent major close call, on Feb. 2, 2006, when an ice floe tore the tanker Seabulk Pride lose from the KPL dock in Nikiski and pushed it aground about a half mile up the beach.

Overall, Cook Inlet’s record of oil spills is relatively unfouled, particularly considering the amount of vessel traffic and the navigational hazards that exist. The point of a maritime transportation risk assessment of Cook Inlet currently being launched is to keep that record clean.

“There haven’t been many incidents but there have been a few and it only really takes one. It gets people thinking about the risks involved in maritime navigation, and especially with our oil production and oil shipping in the inlet, it is even more necessary that we take a look to determine if our navigation needs warrant any additional oversight,” Rombach said.

CIRCAC is partnering with the Coast Guard and Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to conduct the assessment. It is a federal requirement added by Congress to the reauthorization of the Coast Guard in 2010 that such an assessment be done, prompted in part by the Seabulk Pride incident, and even more so by the Selendang Ayu incident in 2004, when the cargo freighter ran aground off the coast of Unalaska and spilled an estimated 350,000 gallons of bunker oil and diesel.

A marine transportation risk assessment has already been conducted for the Aleutian Islands region, and now it’s Cook Inlet’s turn. Nuka Research, based in Seldovia, was contracted to facilitate the process, as it did for the Aleutians project and has done for the Alaska DEC in assessing risks of land-based oil spills statewide.

The study is expected to cost under $2 million, Rombach said, with about $430,000 being secured so far.

“We know we’ve still got fundraising to do, but this gets us about a fourth of the way to where we need to be. It’s enough that we can get a big part of it under way,” Rombach said.

The project will include three phases. The first is to assess current vessel traffic in Cook Inlet and project what traffic will be like over the coming 10 years.

“It looks at what types of vessels are here, what kind of cargo are they carrying, how much fuel they have on board, what kinds of fuel they have on board, what routes they take, that sort of thing,” Robertson said.

An initial Cook Inlet marine traffic analysis was completed in 2006, so this will be an update of existing data. It’s likely to show an increase in traffic, Rombach said, especially with increased oil and gas exploration activity, such as the arrival of Escopeta’s Spartan jack-up rig, and the expected addition of another jack-up rig from Buccaneer Energy this winter.

“We tend to think that there’s a higher level of activity in the inlet. Some of that might be wishful thinking, but some smart people are saying there’s a lot of oil left in the inlet. We’re not fortune tellers, we don’t know what might happen with the gas pipeline coming to Nikiski, but we just think all signs point toward a greater level of activity in the inlet and we want to be prepared,” Rombach said.

Next will be taking that 10-year projection and estimating what potential accidents could occur, given that traffic. A panel of experts will review those two reports to analyze what impacts may occur if those accidents were to happen.

“Where would oil go if it ended up in the inlet? They would do a trajectory analysis. And experts from natural resource agencies might estimate what would get oiled if these spills occurred. It gives us the consequences,” Robertson said.

An advisory panel representing various stakeholder groups and agencies will monitor these phases, then take all the resulting information and come to a consensus on recommendations to submit to the Coast Guard that would increase vessel safety and decrease the risk of spills in the inlet.

“At the end of it, we will have this risk picture. They’ll look at it and say, ‘OK, these are the things we can do to reduce the risk — either reduce the frequency of the accidents or the severity or the consequences of the accidents,” Robertson said.

The recommendations could be simple or complex. Some of the suggestions from the Aleutians advisory panel in the wake of the Selendang Ayu spill, for example, were for the Coast Guard to keep specialized equipment on-board and to have different vessels available to respond immediately to an incident.

“Some might be fulfilled just by the Coast Guard tweaking how it operates. Some others might require new regulations, so that you’d have a whole new regulatory process that would kick in that would include public comments and writing new regulations and rules and so forth,” Rombach said. “We really don’t know where this will take us, but some of it could be quickly implemented, some other suggestions might take longer to implement.”

Rombach said the advisory panel will operate as independently from the management team as possible, even to the point that some of its recommendations may not be exactly what the steering agencies would like to see result from the process.

“We (CIRCAC) would like to see (a requirement for) double-hulled vessels, for example. But the recommendation might be that, based on the hazards that are identified and the traffic patterns that are projected, the panel may say, ‘We don’t think that’s necessary.’ So we know that there might be some undesirable recommendations (from what CIRCAC may prefer) that might come out of this, and we’re prepared for that.”

Currently, applicants are being sought to serve on the advisory panel, with one panelist and one alternate from 12 identified stakeholder categories, including Cook Inlet ports and harbors; land and natural resource managers; Alaska Native Tribes and subsistence users; nongovernmental organizations; the fishing industry; mariners in local trades, including tugs and barges, container ships and tank vessels; marine salvage and rescue tug operators; marine pilots; and oil platform or mobile drilling platform operators.

Panelists will be appointed as individuals, not representatives of a company or organization, and will be selected based on their knowledge of local infrastructure, relevant industries, waterways, navigation, weather, habitat and area use.

“I consider this our key to success is seating a good advisory panel. We’re looking for folks with knowledge of their stakeholder group, willing to come to the table and learn. Our experience with this process is everyone has something to teach everyone else,” Robertson said.

The deadline for submitting an application to serve on the advisory panel is Aug. 26. The application can be downloaded on the risk assessment website, http://www.cookinletriskassessment.com. Completed forms can be emailed to CIRAapplicants@nukaresearch.com or faxed to 240-368-7467. Notification of the selections is expected by Sept. 1, with the first panel meeting slated for Sept. 12 in Anchorage.

For more information on the risk assessment, including all relevant documents, schedules and contacts that will be updated as the process continues, visit www.cookinletriskassessment.com.

As this process begins, Rombach cautions Cook Inlet residents to realize that it takes more than good luck to avoid oil spills.

“Particularly in a place like Cook Inlet, and particularly with the nature of the cargo largely being gas or oil, that just almost screams for this attention to be given to navigational hazards. We would like to think that the shippers in Cook Inlet, the oil processors and operators, the oversight of our organization and the presence of an outfit like (Cook Inlet Spill Prevention and Response), that we are as prepared as any place on Earth for an incident of almost any kind,” he said. “This is just one more piece of the puzzle that hopefully, when the effort is all said and done, we will have a product and set of recommendations that will take us even further than other parts of the country, and other parts of the world, in preparedness.”

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Mite concerning — Red mass on East Mackey Lake leaves biologists scratching heads

By Dr. David Wartinbee, for the Redoubt Reporter

Alaskans have been seeing red quite a lot lately.

Photos courtesy of Dr. David Wartinbee. A mysterious red mass drifts to the shore of East Mackey Lake on Aug. 4. The mass is thought to be a massive hatch of larval mites, though it’s not known for sure why so many ended up on the surface at the same time.

We recently heard about reddish-colored fungal spores that were found en masse in Kivalina. Then there was red-colored water in Kachemak Bay, similar to a red tide, though not harmful. Apparently it’s now the central Kenai Peninsula’s turn.

I was taxiing my plane to the dock at the northern end of East Mackey Lake on Aug. 4 when I spotted a 100-yard streak, between 10 and 30 feet wide, of bright red stuff in the water. As I tied up the plane, the wind shifted and this fire-engine red material drifted toward the plane.

As an aquatic biologist for 40 years, I had never seen anything like this and was way beyond curious. I took photographs as it approached and got out a jar to collect a small sample. Yes, as a geeky biologist, I almost always carry a few jars for collecting bugs or other interesting things.

The red stuff was on the surface of the water and was made up of very small particles. Continue reading

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KPB mayor aspirants carry peninsula roots

By Naomi Klouda

Photo courtesy of the Homer Tribune. Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor candidates Tim O’Brien, left, and Fred Sturman speak at a candidate forum.

Homer Tribune

If there is one trait held in common by all six candidates hoping to fill the top borough political slot, it is their love for telling how they came to live and contribute to life on the Kenai Peninsula.

All six candidates running for Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor spoke about his or her own roots on the peninsula at a forum provided last week by the Kachemak Board of Realtors. Continue reading

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