Daily Archives: March 11, 2015

Cool beans — Project sprouts volunteerism in elementary school students

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Students at Soldotna Montessori School package bags of bean soup mix to be donated to the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank on Feb. 27.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Students at Soldotna Montessori School package bags of bean soup mix to be donated to the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank on Feb. 27.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

The challenge wasn’t to get the first- through sixth-graders at Soldotna Montessori Charter School motivated to help feed the hungry in their community. The trick was getting them to be a little less enthusiastic and more measured about the task of packaging ingredients for dry soup mixes that would be donated to the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank.

“This is not a race. The important part is to not throw beans everywhere and to go slow and be accurate. So, slow down. Thank you,” said Matt Faris, a teacher at the Montessori school, who was directing an assembly line of students Feb. 27 as they added dried beans, cans of tomato and other ingredients to zip-topped bags, along with a hand-decorated card bearing cooking instructions and a message from students.

Bean Soup Day, as it’s affectionately called, involves all but the kindergarteners at the school. Over 600 area residents will enjoy a free, nutritious, easy-to-make meal, thanks to donations from the school community, a deal with Peterkin Distributing to purchase ingredients at cost, and the enthusiastic packing efforts of students.

Katharine Bramante and Peyton Story show off finished bags of soup.

Katharine Bramante and Peyton Story show off finished bags of soup.

“I feel very happy that I know that I can help somebody to have a better life or to just not be hungry when they go to sleep, because it makes me sad to think that there’s people in the world that have that happen,” said fifth-grader Katharine Bramante.

But it’s not just the hungry being fed. The project also fills students with the realization that they can make a difference in their community.

“We do this community service to show that these kids, they can make a difference,” Bramante said. “Because some kids feel very, like, they don’t feel wanted, and then when they see that they can do these things they feel like they can do it and they … ”

“They feel like they can contribute,” added sixth-grader Peyton Story.

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Pare down, don’t panic — Sen. Micciche advocates budget belt tightening

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. District O Sen. Peter Micciche gives a legislative update to a packed house of constituents at the George A. Navarre Borough Building in Soldotna on Friday.

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. District O Sen. Peter Micciche gives a legislative update to a packed house of constituents at the George A. Navarre Borough Building in Soldotna on Friday.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Sen. Peter Micciche’s message regarding the state budget was one of glass-half-full optimism. The state’s financial cup won’t be running over anytime soon, he told constituents at a town hall meeting in Soldotna on Friday, but as long as cuts are made and spending is reduced, it won’t be running empty, either.

“We’re in pretty good shape. The efforts that we’re making now are to make sure that we stay in good shape,” he said.

The District O senator, who won re-election in November, reminded the packed crowd in the assembly chambers at the George A. Navarre Borough Building that the state has seen worse financial times, but that the current situation needs to be addressed head on.

“Back in ’81, we were much higher than we are right now (in spending). The reality of it is we had no savings and we were in a lot more challenging position than we are today. We’re going to be OK. We have a bright future and plenty to celebrate,” Micciche said.

The state has about $70 billion in the bank, Micciche said, plus predictions of future petroleum revenues. But with oil prices currently down around $50 a barrel, the fiscal year 2014 projections estimate a $3.4 billion shortfall in the state budget, with another $3.5 billion deficit expected for fiscal year 2015.

“The fact is we’re overspending right now. We need some trimming and we can all pull it into line once that occurs,” he said.

Micciche outlined his financial priorities, including setting sustainable operating and capital budgets and a forward operating plan, working to bring North Slope natural gas to terminus in Nikiski, establishing a statewide energy plan, focusing on essential services the state is constitutionally mandated to provide, and reining in capital spending.

“Unless it’s something that comes with a federal match or federal funding where we need our capital in as the match, it’s going to be a year without capital,” he said. “… And then, making difficult choices — I need to hear from all of you on a regular basis about what’s important to you. What’s important to you is what’s important to me. It’s not about Peter, it’s about all of you.”

Several people spoke up at the meeting about programs and projects they wanted spared or funded — including reinstating money from snowmachine registration fees that goes to trail grooming organizations — including the Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers, sparing the Youth Court program, maintaining Alaska State Trooper staffing levels and providing fire suppression at the Ninilchik harbor.

Micciche cautioned that if budgetary belt-tightening isn’t enough to close the fiscal gap, then increasing revenue might be necessary. Utilizing Alaska Permanent Fund earnings, for instance, should be discussed.

“If the price of oil stays low and you all demand services above what we can afford, that’s one of the things you’re going to have to think about,” he said.

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Gold rush mushing — Ouiji board a fun ride to commune with Iditaord history

Photo courtesy of Robert Kasuboski. Joseph Robertia and Rod Perry, dressed in period attire, drive a historic dogsled out of Anchorage in the ceremonial start of the 2015 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday.

Photo courtesy of Robert Kasuboski. Joseph Robertia and Rod Perry, dressed in period attire, drive a historic dogsled out of Anchorage in the ceremonial start of the 2015 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Water flowed like a small stream in the asphalt gutter in which my sled dogs were standing. It was the result of warm, falling rain combined with melting snow — trucked in the night before and spread down the center of Fourth Avenue in Anchorage — that was quickly disappearing in the unseasonable, 40-degree air temperature. Still, I pulled on my beaver fur hat and slid my hands into beaver fur mittens, both usually reserved for temperatures 80 degrees colder, at the warmest.

I felt a little silly, but nothing about last weekend seemed logical. It began a few weeks earlier when I got a call from Rod Perry, one of 22 finishers of the first Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race in 1973. He no longer has a kennel of his own, but has never drifted far from the race or the route’s nonsporting beginning.

In 2009, Perry released the first of two volumes on the history of the Iditarod, “Trailbreakers: Pioneering Alaska’s Iditarod,” which chronicles the gold-rush era, when tons of gold worth millions of dollars was run, via dog team, out of remote areas of Alaska. In 2011, for the centennial commemoration of the Iditarod Trail, Perry was asked to lead the mushers during the race’s ceremonial start.

It occurred to him in that experience that while fans were rabid for race action, not many seemed to have a good understanding of the history of the route. Wanting to change that, Perry worked with the Iditarod and sponsor Wells Fargo to get the go-ahead to lead the 2015 ceremonial start while wearing vintage clothing and riding a replica of the Wells Fargo “Gold Train” freight sled that hauled gold from Nome to Anchorage from 1910-18.

The caveat, other than Perry needing to find a dog team to pull the 21-foot-long oaken freight sled — built in Kasilof by Perry, his brother, Alan, and friend, Cliff Sisson — was that this behemoth needed two people to steer it. One musher, Perry, would be on the back working the brakes and managing the speed, and one would be in front to steer by using a rudderlike device called a gee pole.

Having a trained-up team of huskies not committed to racing the trail, being athletic (and not scared to take a few falls) and generally standing too far from a shaving razor, I was an obvious choice for the part in the historical re-enactment. But from what I knew about gee-pole sleds, the front man was on skis.

“And I don’t ski, Rod,” I told him when he called.

“No problem,” he assured me. “You won’t be on skis. You’ll be riding a Ouija board.”

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Nonprofits cause big economic benefit — Report shows Alaska organizations need to adapt to meet challenging climate

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Dennis McMillian is part economist, part biologist and part Revolutionary War figure as he reaches out to nonprofit organizations in the state.

“I actually spoke to almost every chamber and every rotary in Alaska (in) 2010, 2011, like Paul Revere, trying to prepare people,” he said.

McMillian is the retiring president of the Foraker Group, formed to support nonprofit organizations in Alaska. He spoke to the Kenai and Soldotna chambers of commerce Wednesday in Kenai. Foraker has been tracking and analyzing data about Alaska’s nonprofit sector, and in 2010 saw trouble on the horizon.

A funding crisis was looming. The state’s nonprofits were overly dependent on governmental grants, in a federal climate that was clamping down on earmarks and Bridge-to-Nowhere-type projects, and in a state where a disproportionately large percentage of the budget is supported by a price-volatile commodity.

“We started preparing the nonprofit sector back in 2010-2011 that the day of $100-a-barrel oil was not going to last forever,” he said.

At the same time, there were simply too many nonprofits in the state to be sustainable — one for every 100 Alaskans, whereas the national average is one for every 200 Americans. Not only does that create competition for resources when money is no longer flowing as freely as it had in boom times, but there are only so many people willing and able to run nonprofit boards.

“Our best guess is there’s probably 20, 22 people to find nine or 10 good people to serve on every board in Alaska. That’s not sustainable. So we call that the crash of the herd. We just said the population is too dense for the ecosystem and that we were not going to survive,” he said.

So McMillian took the message on the road, advising nonprofits to find a new way to swim, before these factors caused them to sink.

“Three years ago I sounded an alarm, every way I knew how to do it. I screamed at the top of my lungs. And guess what? People actually listened. There’s this tendency to think, ‘Well, we’re not going to act until it’s too late,’ kind of like we did with our state budget. Well, it seems to me that our nonprofit sector are the most progressive business leaders in the state, because they heard this data three years ago and did it,” he said.

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Night Lights: Constellations march toward spring

By Andy Veh, Redoubt Reporter

An interesting constellation in March is Leo, its shape quite closely resembling that of a male lion, looking west, in the direction that it will move during the next couple of months. Its right front paw is the bright star Regulus.

While Leo should move across the sky as gingerly as any constellation week after week, it seems to be much speedier than others. What aids or produces that perception is that sunset occurs later and later, about 20 minutes each week. Thus, with it getting darker later every evening, it seems that Leo keeps progressing faster across the sky (because we look at it later when it already has moved farther west).

As a result, I perceive Leo as the harbinger of spring. When it appears in the east, winter’s end will soon be here and when it reaches the western horizon, flowers are in full bloom and deciduous trees will have regained their leaves.

Leo with Regulus follows the bright stars of winter, perhaps chasing them off —Sirius low in the south (but the brightest star in the sky, as seen from our solar system, is no match for Jupiter and Venus). Ahead of it are Betelgeuse, Rigel, Pollux, Castor, Capella, Aldebaran and Procyon, all of them appearing above the southern horizon.

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Plugged In: Light makes right when shooting ice at night

Photos courtesy of Joe Kashi, from the BP World Ice Art Championships

Photos courtesy of Joe Kashi, from the BP World Ice Art Championships

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

I’ve never successfully photographed ice sculptures despite a few half-hearted tries during the Peninsula Winter Games over the years. This year, I promised myself, would be different. Was it ever.

For years, friends told of the beautiful ice carvings exhibited at the BP World Ice Art Championships held every March in Fairbanks, a time when Alaskans once expected to experience something we still quaintly recall as “winter.”

It was evident, as I drove into Soldotna on Friday, that our new-normal early March had arrived on the Kenai Peninsula. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABoston was again buried in snow, but our willows were budding and wild iris emerging from the thawed ground under our spruce trees. There was little snow to be found on the Kenai Peninsula, let alone melting ice sculptures. So, onward to Fairbanks.

Experienced friends urged us to see and photograph the ice sculptures at night, when the clear ice blocks are lit from behind with powerful colored lights, rather than during the flat, white light of an overcast day. That was excellent advice. Under the low-contrast light of an overcast morning, with a dusting of new OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAsnow thrown in, even award-winning sculptures looked drab. At night, though, the same pieces exploded with a thousand hues of intense color, highlights and shadows that delineated every curve and line.

Lesson learned No. 1: The best ice sculpture viewing and photography occur after dark with direct light from behind and beneath the ice blocks.

Driving the 1,000-mile round trip to and from Fairbanks was hardly feasible over a weekend with heavy snow and winds from the upper Susitna Valley to Fairbanks. The Alaska Railroad’s package trip to Fairbanks to see the ice sculptures, taking the train from Anchorage to Fairbanks, staying at Pike’s Landing, and flying back the next day on Ravn Air, seemed affordable and sensible.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt definitely turned into an adventure. Our Alaska Railroad locomotives seemed “out of training” so early in the season, stopping three times to repair breakdowns or to disconnect and leave behind an engine with a damaged wheel. The scheduled arrival time allowed only an hour to get a cab to the sculpture display area some distance from the train depot before the 10 p.m. closing time. It would have been a rather hurried affair under optimum circumstances.

With several unscheduled repair stops and only one engine to crest the Alaska Range, we didn’t arrive until the 10 p.m. closing time. Roughly 100 people ahead of us vied for the one or two cabs that would periodically appear out of the blowing snow and stop at the train depot.

Despite all that, we had a delightful trip up on the train because of the eight unfazed Rotary friends traveling with us. Two brought a large container of shared food, something very much appreciated when power failures prevented any onboard food service for hours.

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