Monthly Archives: January 2013

School district, unions head back to bargaining table

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Negotiating teams for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, Kenai Peninsula Education Association and Education Support Association are headed back to the bargaining table Wednesday with just one remaining area left to hammer out in contract talks that have been ongoing since last January.

Negotiations went before nonbinding arbitration in October, with the arbitrator’s advisory report released in December. Teams reconvened Jan. 22, where the district presented what it termed its “last best offer.”

The proposal adopts many of the arbitrator’s recommendations, including an annual salary increase of 2 percent each of the three years of the contract. In health care, the district is offering to shoulder a greater portion of the cost of the district’s self-funded insurance, lowering participating employees’ monthly premium to $291 per month, down from the $340 per month they were paying in fiscal year 2012. The district also agrees to eliminate the additional amount employees were contributing for dependent, spouse and family coverage.

The district also agreed to do away with the 50-50 split on cost overruns of the health care plan. In the previous contract, if health care expenditures exceeded the predetermined monthly contributions from the district and employees, those cost overruns were split 50 percent by employees and 50 percent by the district. Now if there are cost overruns, they will be paid at a rate of 80 percent by the district in the first year of the contract (fiscal year 2013), 83 percent in year two (FY2014) and 85 percent in year three (FY2015), with employees paying the resultant 20 percent in year one, 17 percent in year two and 15 percent in year three.

All this was welcome news to the associations in the closed-to-the-public bargaining session Jan. 22. There was just one deviation in the district’s offer from the arbitrator’s recommendation. The district is proposing changes to the membership and authority of the Health Care Committee, to prevent changes in health care coverage without agreement by district representatives and association members.

The district is proposing to eliminate one KPEA seat and add three seats to be appointed by the superintendent. Currently the committee consists of four KPEA members, three KPESA members and one Kenai Peninsula Administrator Association member. The district also proposes requiring a supermajority of 75 percent in any vote on changes to district benefits.

Also in the proposal is the stipulation that the district would not be required to adopt changes if they resulted in violations of established laws or regulations, altered the administration or management of health care benefits, resulted in a cost increase to the plan of more than 5 percent or would be detrimental to the financial interests of the district, as determined by the superintendent.

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Ideas afloat — Kenai fishing task force hears plans to change management

By Jenny Neyman

File photo by Patrice Kohl, Redoubt Reporter. A stringer of sockeye salmon were fished from the Kenai River at River Bend. The Upper Cook Inlet Task Force is mulling ways to better balance management of the Kenai’s sockeye and king salmon returns and fisheries.

File photo by Patrice Kohl, Redoubt Reporter. A stringer of sockeye salmon were fished from the Kenai River at River Bend. The Upper Cook Inlet Task Force is mulling ways to better balance management of the Kenai’s sockeye and king salmon returns and fisheries.

Redoubt Reporter

“There’s nothing worse than not fishing then having to go to meetings to talk about not fishing.”

That jest, from Jim Butler, a member of the Upper Cook Inlet Task Force, drew chuckles from the crowd assembled for the Jan. 14 meeting at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai. Though it was a fitting sentiment for the six hours of detailed, science-heavy, acronym-laden discussion, the trumping sentiment of the day was one of progress.

“I think this is a starting point. It’s trying to make the best of Armageddon, if there’s a way to do that,” said task force member Ken Coleman, a set-net fisherman. “… We are trying to make sure there’s a place in the sun for both of us. How do we achieve that is the art of the deal. We’re heading that way, I think.”

Three proposals to change fishery management plans for the 2013 fishing season were submitted for discussion. Each aim to prevent 2013 from being a repeat of the disastrous fishing season of 2012 — with sport and set-net fisheries shut down — should similar factors of a late and/or low king return amid a robust sockeye run again be the case.

East Side Set-Net Proposal

The set-netters’ proposal suggests several changes to the Kenai River Late-Run King Salmon Management Plan, including:

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One bear, two bears, more for you bears? Brown bear genetic hair sampling snares higher population estimate for Kenai Peninsula

By Joseph Robertia

Photos courtesy of John Morton, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. A brown bear boar leaves a hair-collecting station during a population census conducted during 2010. The resulting report pegs the Kenai Peninsula’s brown bear population at 624, the highest probability point in the range produced in the study.

Photos courtesy of John Morton, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. A brown bear boar leaves a hair-collecting station during a population census conducted during 2010. The resulting report pegs the Kenai Peninsula’s brown bear population at 624, the highest probability point in the range produced in the study.

Redoubt Reporter

For years many people have anecdotally suggested there are more brown bears on the Kenai Peninsula than the thrown-about estimate of 250 to 300. Last week the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge released findings from its DNA-based mark-recapture study that confirmed the sentiment, with a new estimate of 624 brown bears.

But, does this mean that there are more bears, much less, as some suggest, too many bears on the peninsula?

“Just because we have 624 now doesn’t necessarily mean there are more bears,” said John Morton, a supervisory biologist with the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge who oversaw the project. Rather, he said that the 624 number may simply reflect a more accurate estimate for a population number that has been here for years.

“It’s still at the low end for coastal brown bears, and not really a lot for the entire peninsula when you consider its overall size and resources. But it is a more solid and scientifically based estimate compared to the 250 to 300, which was useful at the time, but was based on densities from the Susitna area.”

The new estimate — comprised of 200 males, 200 females and 224 cubs — was derived after refuge biologists spent more than a month collecting hair samples in 2010. Bear habitat across the peninsula was divided into cells forming a grid. Each cell had a lure station baited with a mixture of fermented fish oil and cow’s blood, surrounded by barbed wire. As the bruins passed the wire — stepping over or going under it — their hair got caught in the barbs.

Using two helicopters with two, four-person crews assigned to each one, the two crews leapfrogged each other from one sampling point to another, deploying and retrieving traps and collecting hair samples, from 16 to 20 hair stations each day. That equates to checking each station about every seven to 10 days. The number of hair samples retrieved varied depending on location. Some stations had zero and some stations have had up to 721, but 12 samples seems to be the average.

“We got more than 11,000 hair samples in the end,” Morton said. “It was a lot of work, and I’m thankful that — given the

A tired bear census crew member rests in front of a helicopter used to shuttle crews from lure station to lure station.

A tired bear census crew member rests in front of a helicopter used to shuttle crews from lure station to lure station.

nature of what we were doing, landing helicopters in remote areas where we knew there were bears — I’m glad no one was hurt.”

Despite the arduous nature of collecting the hair samples, the real hard work began when the collection phase was over. The hair samples were sent to a lab in British Columbia and had to be separated — brown bears from blacks, which took months. Then the samples had to be analyzed further and the data reviewed for accuracy. It was these latter points that resulted in the two-year delay of releasing the final number of 624.

“We took months to crunch the numbers, but it was best to have it peer-reviewed by people outside the refuge and outside of Alaska,” Morton said.

Having a more accurate estimate will bring some changes related to the brown bear population, Morton said, but it’s tough to say for certain what those may be, since state and federal wildlife managers often have different ideas and directives about how to manage bruins.

“We manage game collaboratively with the state, but at the refuge, our mandate is to conserve wildlife. We’re not interested in artificially inflating or deflating a population, so for us, I don’t see anything being too different in the short run for how we manage brown bears.”

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Back in the saddle — Greenhouse sprouts kids’ riding dreams year-round

By Jenny Neyman

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Mercedes Tapley, 8, of Kenai, goes for a ride on miniature horse, Cowboy, led by  Gracie Carroll, 13, of Sterling, at C&C Alaskan Horse Adventures’ greenhouse-turned indoor horse arena during a kids’ horse camp on Jan. 21. Connie Green modified her greenhouse to be able to offer lessons even during the winter.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Mercedes Tapley, 8, of Kenai, goes for a ride on miniature horse, Cowboy, led by Gracie Carroll, 13, of Sterling, at C&C Alaskan Horse Adventures’ greenhouse-turned indoor horse arena during a kids’ horse camp on Jan. 21. Connie Green modified her greenhouse to be able to offer lessons even during the winter.

Redoubt Reporter

Outside Connie Green’s greenhouse-turned-arena, a breeze ambled unbridled across the rolling hills of Sterling, making the air feel icy, like the layer of slick, frozen crust barely hidden under a scant covering of snow.

Inside, with the wind blocked by the clear sheeting attached to the curved metal rib cage, the captured warmth from the afternoon sun mingled with the retained temperature generated from a propane heater and the bodies gamboling about within.

Some were two-legged and diminutive, requiring a coat to ward off any remaining Alaska winter chill. The others were four-legged, were equipped with coats and were plenty capable of generating their own heat from their couple hundred- to 1,000-pound frames.

All were enjoying activities usually reserved for fairer seasons in Alaska — horse-riding  lessons.

The newly built greenhouse allows Green, owner of Alaska C&C Horse Adventures on Jim Dahler Road in Sterling, to teach kids horsemanship year-round.

“There are personal indoor arenas around, but they usually aren’t open to the public, so this has been real special, especially to bring kids. The kids say, ‘Really? You’re riding in the winter? We can come in here, turn the heater on if I need to. It’s out of the wind, out of the rain, the snow, the darkness. I’ve got lights that come on at 4 p.m. and it just lights up like a football stadium in here,” Green said.

As she well knows, a love of horses isn’t seasonal.

“It’s my passion. It’s 24 hours for me, I love it,” she said. “And there’s so many kids out there who can’t afford horses. And because of my journeys in life and my love for horses, I yearn to share.”

Green leads Mercedes through the nuances of cinching a saddle.

Green leads Mercedes through the nuances of cinching a saddle.

The participants in Green’s most recent horse camp, a no-school day Jan. 21, were Green’s horse-wrangler-in-training,

Gracie Carroll, 13, of Sterling, and four other girls, all as enamored with all things equine as Green had been at their ages.

“I’ve loved horses always, since I was a kid,” said Kylie Ness, 10, of Sterling.

“Ever since I knew how to say ‘horse,’” said Jenna Helminski, 13, of Sterling.

“They’re fun to ride, you can groom them, you can walk them — there’s so many fun things you can do,” Kylie said.

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Almanac: Driven to exceed — ARC foreman had long, storied career

Editor’s note: This is the third of a three-part story concerning the life and accomplishments of Ralph Soberg, a general foreman for the Alaska Road Commission who was in charge of building the Sterling Highway. The first two parts introduced Soberg and provided a description of some early stages in the highway construction. Part three continues the discussion of Soberg’s life and the completion of the highway.

By Clark Fair

Photo courtesy of Hardscratch Press. In 1964, two years after his first retirement, Ralph Soberg posed for this photo on his gillnetter.

Photo courtesy of Hardscratch Press. In 1964, two years after his first retirement, Ralph Soberg posed for this photo on his gillnetter.

Redoubt Reporter

At the end of the day, Ralph Soberg would remember the biting insects and whose blood they liked best almost as much as he would recall the purpose of his journey.

On that day in the summer of 1947, the Norwegian-born Soberg and his longtime mentor and boss, Angelo F. “Gil” Ghiglione, climbed into a skiff near the village of Kenai, cranked the outboard motor into life, and headed upriver to determine the best site for a bridge across the Kenai River.

After motoring up to the original survey line (through present-day Soldotna), they measured the distance from riverbank to riverbank and discovered that a bridge at that location would need to be exactly 250 feet long.

They were pleased by the news — but decidedly displeased by their winged attackers.

“It was the black flies Gil and I had for company that day,” Soberg wrote in his memoir, “Bridging Alaska.” “When we went ashore, we were practically inhaling them.”

Photo by Al Hershberger. This aerial photograph shows the Alaska Road Commission headquarters on July 4, 1949, about two miles east of the village of Kenai. This is the current location of Wal-Mart.

Photo by Al Hershberger. This aerial photograph shows the Alaska Road Commission headquarters on July 4, 1949, about two miles east of the village of Kenai. This is the current location of Wal-Mart.

To escape the swarms, they opted to have lunch on a gravel island just downstream from the bridge site, hoping that the breeze along the water would disperse the insects. “But all we succeeded in doing,” Soberg said, “was finding out that they liked Italian blood better than Viking blood. After they took a few nips from me, they invited all their friends and went to work on Ghiglione. He got the worst of it by far.”

After lunch, they ran the skiff about three-quarters of a mile farther upstream to the mouth of Soldotna Creek, where they picked out a site for the permanent Alaska Road Commission maintenance headquarters that would eventually control the new highway and its ancillary roads.

A big movement of equipment was required before work on the new bridge began in the early spring of 1948, and by that time Soberg had made a big move in his personal life, as well — he had gotten married.

As a young immigrant boy on Unga Island, he had known and teased an even younger girl, Ruth Lauritzen, who had been born on the island but was also the child of Norwegian immigrants. Nearly two full decades after he left the island in search of employment, they found each other again, this time hundreds of miles to the east.

As Ruth Benson and the mother of two young daughters (Jackie and Jerry), she was living in Seward, where Soberg needed to travel frequently for supplies. They got hitched on Ruth’s birthday in December 1947, and the following spring, they all moved to the ARC maintenance camp in Kenai, where they lived in a Quonset hut until a small home was set up for them nearby.

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Bowled over by support — Scholastic league benefits from donations, fundraisers

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Mason Yamada, Keenan Orth and Morgan Bilyeu share a few laughs during a 1970s-themed night of bowling Saturday at Alaskalanes Family Bowling Center in Kenai. The event was a fundraiser for the youth who are all members of the Kenai Peninsula Scholastic League of bowlers.

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Mason Yamada, Keenan Orth and Morgan Bilyeu share a few laughs during a 1970s-themed night of bowling Saturday at Alaskalanes Family Bowling Center in Kenai. The event was a fundraiser for the youth who are all members of the Kenai Peninsula Scholastic League of bowlers.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Standing in front of crowd can be embarrassing for teenagers. Making your way to the front of a room full of your peers with “Disco Fever” blaring, while wearing a neon pink Velour leisure suit with a leopard-pattern lapel, and donning a giant floppy pimp hat, well, that would be awkward for anyone, regardless of age.

Mason Yamada handled this exact situation with poise Saturday at Alaskalanes Family Bowling Center in Kenai, where he was recognized for his pin-pounding prowess during a 1970s-themed night of bowling to raise money for him and several other young bowlers.

“Bowling is my sport. It’s what I do and I love it,” he said.

Yamada, one of eight middle- and high-school-aged youths involved in the Kenai Peninsula Scholastic League of bowlers, recently pitched a perfect 300 game — a tough task for any bowler. In addition to the bragging rights from his accomplishment, he also gained some green to one day be used for college tuition.

“The way it works is local businesses, adult bowlers and leagues support the kids, putting money into scholarship funds. This is our sixth year, but over the last five years we’ve given out between $15,000 and $20,000 in scholarship money,” said event organizer Kathy Waterbury.

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Plugged In: Calibration — Color me accurate

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

“What you see is what you get” has long been the norm for imaging and word-processing programs, eliminating nasty surprises where the printed final output doesn’t match what you saw on your computer monitor. Until recently, most digital photography was far more hit or miss.

Consistent and complete calibration is the key step in precision photography, ensuring that what you saw when you took a photo is also what your end viewers will see, whether as a final print or on a computer screen. It’s also key to reducing wasted and expensive supplies.

This week, we’ll examine the many factors that affect the appearance of your photographs and how to control these factors through careful calibration of each step of the photographic process. This is a somewhat technical but important topic, so we ask your indulgence and attention.

Careful calibration has always been key to good photography. During the film era, Ansel Adams’ “Zone System” was the best-known approach to reliably making high-quality photographs that accurately reproduced the photographer’s intent. In the digital era, it’s just as important, but easier and more affordable. You’ll not need to repeat precision calibrations very often but, over time, they’ll avoid a lot of wasted effort.

You’ll need some specialized hardware and software to calibrate accurately. Eyeballing camera and computer screens, then making guessed adjustments is neither accurate nor repeatable.

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