Monthly Archives: April 2015

In a chord — New community choir ends season on a high note

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Kenai Central High School choir teacher Simon Nissen directs the Kenai Peninsula Singers Community Choir in a rehearsal before their concert last week. Participation has been a smashing success throughout the year.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Kenai Central High School choir teacher Simon Nissen directs the Kenai Peninsula Singers Community Choir in a rehearsal before their concert last week. Participation has been a smashing success throughout the year.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Understatement alert — Simon Nissen is excited, as evidenced by a few comments from a recent choir rehearsal:

“It has such a pure ring to it. Aaah! So exciting! … That is everything that we need! … Oh, man! I really, really, really liked that! … Oh my gosh, that is awesome! I’m so excited! I hope you guys are inviting people to this concert, because it is something I am so excited about … .”

Nissen is the new choir teacher at Kenai Central High School. He also plays viola, a fact that spread throughout the local music community before he even moved up from Arizona last summer. He was recruited for the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra and was playing in its summer music festival five days after he got to town. Finding a venue to make music and new friends in his new community was, well, exciting.

“I just get really excited about music and just about being around people. So, yeah, I get kind of bouncy and jump around a lot.” Nissen said. “… People have, I think, responded well, and enjoy the music. I found that even if maybe it wasn’t their cup of tea at the beginning, if I’m very excited about it and can convey that through the way that I teach, I can usually get them to at least appreciate it, or find some excitement in the song.”

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Filed under community, entertainment, music

Gates to the future — Nikiski senior’s drive earns full ride scholarship

Photo courtesy of Tiffany Loepz. Nikiski High School senior Tiffany Lopez shows off her letter of recognition as a Gates Millennia Scholar with teacher Laura Niemczyk. The scholarship covers all costs for Lopez to pursue postsecondary schooling, all the way through graduate school.

Photo courtesy of Tiffany Loepz. Nikiski High School senior Tiffany Lopez shows off her letter of recognition as a Gates Millennia Scholar with teacher Laura Niemczyk. The scholarship covers all costs for Lopez to pursue postsecondary schooling, all the way through graduate school.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

For Tiffany Lopez, there was already plenty of evidence of persistence, optimism and work ethic. The Nikiski High School senior has wanted to be a vet since she was 3 years old and she’s been determined to make it happen.

She’s a solidly good student, not an effortless achiever, and works hard for the grades she gets, says teacher Laura Niemczyk, and that’s on top of working 30 hours a week because she pitches in to the family’s finances.

Lopez didn’t have money for college but had been figuring out a way to get an education, whether by staying in Alaska for school or going to a less expensive school out of state.

Niemczyk thinks she can accomplish anything. No matter what blocks her path, Lopez keeps finding a way forward.

“She has persistence. She can overcome any challenge that’s been thrown at her, she never lets something that happens in her own life hold her back, she sees it as a challenge and a way to move forward and to make her a stronger person. And so she’s taken any tragedy or adversity she’s had and turned it into a positive for her,” Niemczyk said.

Just look at her email address for proof.

“My name, ‘Tiffany, dot v-e-t, dot the number two, dot the lowercase letter b.’ So it reads, ‘Tiffany vet to be,’” Lopez said.

Or, for a slightly more obvious example, look at her certificate of being a Gates Millennial Scholar, which carries with it a full-ride scholarship for 10 years of post-secondary schooling.

“It’s kind of the Cadillac of all scholarships that are out there,” Niemczyk said. “This is the only one of its kind that will guarantee kids that much financial aid at this point in their life.”

The scholarship was started through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to support minority students of limited financial means, who excel in academics and leadership through participation in community service, extracurricular or other activities. One thousand recipients are chosen each year, from over 50,000 applying. And Lopez, from Nikiski, is one of them.

“I am over-the-moon excited about this,” Niemczyk said. “I told her from the very beginning that she could do this and I have complete faith in it. And I don’t think she started to believe it until we actually uploaded her application and she looked at all of her essays and she read them and went, ‘Holy cow, look at what I’ve compiled over the last five months. This is amazing.’ And then she started to get hopeful.”

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Filed under education, Nikiski, schools

Cooking up health — Workshop highlights better living through whole foods

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Ionia elder Eliza Eller provides instruction during a cooking class that was part of Healing Our Future, a workshop to exchange ideas revolving around diet and health.

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Ionia elder Eliza Eller provides instruction during a cooking class that was part of Healing Our Future, a workshop to exchange ideas revolving around diet and health.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Obesity, diabetes and digestive issues are few of the numerous maladies that can result from dietary habits, and in Alaska, perhaps no cultural group is more susceptible than Natives.

“Now in the grocery stores, there are potato chips, Coca-Cola, alcohol. It’s not at all like the foods from the world they’ve come from,” said Barry Creighton, who serves on the board of directors for Alaska Mental Health and Peninsula Community Health Services.

Creighton also is an elder member of Ionia, a Kasilof community where members live by a different structure and sense of time than mainstream Americans, with a macrobiotic diet being a cornerstone of their approach. Ionia partnered with the Alaska Sobriety Movement to offer a Healing Our Future three-day workshop over the weekend to exchange ideas relating to diet as a cornerstone of health.

“A lot of what we do has resonance with the Native world,” Creighton said, explaining a little about the Ionia lifestyle. Members begin their day by sitting in a circle, with all ages talking to each other, sometimes for more than two hours.

“No subject is too mundane,” Creighton said. After 30 years of these daily, group-therapy-type meetings and sustained participation with the Alaska behavioral health system, Ionians have developed ways to address numerous forms of mental health illness as a community, he said.

“This is what Natives have been doing for 6,000 years — the village, taking care of the family, taking care of the individual,” he said.

Ionians also operate on a different perception of time. There are no clocks in Ionia, and members don’t feel compelled to adhere to strict schedules.

“I’ll talk to someone for 24 hours if they need it,” Creighton said.

Diet also sets Ionians apart from the convenience-focused approach of eating fast food, highly refined and processed ingredients, and egregious amounts of sugar and salt.

“For some people, it’d be easier to change their religion than change how they eat,” Creighton said.

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Filed under Food, health, Kasilof, subsistence

LNG project fields question as fieldwork continues

A map of the proposed location of Alaska LNG's liquefaction plant, storage tanks, marine terminal and associated development in Nikiski. The area is bounded by Miller Loop Road to the south and Salamatof Road to the north.

A map of the proposed location of Alaska LNG’s liquefaction plant, storage tanks, marine terminal and associated development in Nikiski. The area is bounded by Miller Loop Road to the south and Salamatof Road to the north.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Nikiski residents, elected officials and area businesses have questions, Alaska LNG project staff were in the area last week with answers. Project representatives spoke to the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday and held an open house Thursday in Nikiski to give an overview of the project, update on fieldwork and outlook on the project’s timeline, as well as answer questions from the merely curious to the potentially personally affected and concerned.

“We’ve always had good turnout here in Nikiski, folks are interested in the project and they come out to talk to us about what’s going on and how the project is doing,” said Michael Nelson, socioeconomic lead for the project, speaking at the open house Thursday at the North Peninsula Recreation Center. Displays were set up around the old library, highlighting various aspects of the project, with blue-shirted project staff at the ready to answer questions or address concerns.

The maps were the most popular display, showing the currently favored route of the proposed pipeline coming from the North Slope, expected to cross Cook Inlet from near Tyonek to Nikiski. And the outline of the area proposed for the LNG plant, storage tanks and marine terminal, roughly extending west of Miller Loop Road to the shore of Cook Inlet, and from Miller Loop’s junction with the Kenai Spur Highway to the south to Salamatof Road to the north.

Scott Brown, who lives in Nikiski and Soldotna, said he thinks the project will be a needed shot in the arm for Nikiski, the Kenai Peninsula Borough and the state, and doesn’t have concerns about the project itself, but is nervous about what effects it might have on the community.

“It doesn’t bother me a bit that they’re doing that. What I worry about is once you build something like that, when it matures it’s going to bring in a lot of people and crime. Anytime your have something like that, that makes money, you’re going have all the things that trail in with money,” Brown said.

Speaking at a borough assembly meeting Tuesday, Mayor Mike Navarre outlined how big of a shot the project might be locally. Of the current $45 to $65 billion cost estimate, at least $22 billion is expected to be spent on the peninsula. Nelson estimates 9,000 to 15,000 jobs being created for construction of the project and 1,000 for the operation phase — many in the Nikiski area. And Navarre said that the tax revenue to the borough could be $100 million a year, with another $110 to $120 million to the service areas in Nikiski.

“So it would be significant revenue impact to the borough. … Under any circumstances it will provide a lot of benefit and revenue to support our community and borough for well into the future. And we are perusing and doing what we can to move that project forward,” Navarre said.

Perry Solmonson and Tim Winters are neighbors in Nikiski, about two miles from the perimeter of the proposed LNG facility site. Both have some concerns, but said they’re in favor of the project at this point — especially, Solmonson said, as it could help Alaskans get access to a cheaper source of heat and electricity, with the off-take points being proposed along the 800-mile pipeline.

“What I would hope to see as a positive is that the state and people that live here from rural Alaska, mainly, get some form of relief via the project. Or if they can’t get gas or electricity to those communities, a way that money from the project will subsidize those costs. There are lots of different ways to look at it, but rural Alaska needs help big time,” Solmonson said.

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Filed under industry, Nikiski

Study in patience — Kenai inks funding agreement on bluff erosion final feasibility study

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. A section of bluff in Kenai sloughs off into the mouth of the Kenai River. The city and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently ironed out the terms of a cost-share agreement to do a final study on the erosion problem, which could clear the way for a stabilization project to move to the funding phase.

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. A section of bluff in Kenai sloughs off into the mouth of the Kenai River. The city and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently ironed out the terms of a cost-share agreement to do a final feasibility study on the erosion problem, which could clear the way for a stabilization project to move to the funding phase.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

The approval of a cost-share agreement for a final feasibility study between the city of Kenai and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers might only be an incremental advance toward someday constructing an erosion abatement project along the mouth of the Kenai River. But it’s a necessary step, nonetheless.

The city had been anticipating the agreement for about a year, and the city council has already provided authorization for the city manager to execute the agreement. When the document was received April 16, City Manager Rick Koch said it didn’t contain any surprises. It calls for a 50/50 split to conduct a final feasibility study on a bluff stabilization project. Koch said the preliminary cost estimate for the study is $227,000 from both the city and the federal government, though the project could cost as much as $637,000 in all. The city will be using funds from a state appropriation toward a bluff stabilization project.

Koch said that the feasibility study essentially coalesces and refreshes the several previous studies the Corps has conducted on the bluff erosion situation, including reports on socio-economic impact, historical and cultural resources in the area and National Environmental Policy Act documentation that supports an Environmental Impact Statement for the project. The Corps also did a feasibility study, “to determine if the value of the areas that are being sort of saved from the erosion exceed the value of the cost of the project. There’s been a technical analysis, which defines the problem and explores solutions to determine if, in fact, the problem can be solved. And the results of that study were that, yes, the problem can be solved,” Koch said.

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Filed under ecology, Kenai

food bank cansBy Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

In its meeting April 21 in Seward, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly again rang up the issue of expanding the borough’s sales tax on nonprepared foods. But this time, the matter was put back on the shelf.

Currently, the borough collects a 3 percent sales tax on nonprepared foods for three months of the year — the tourism season of June, July and August. The rest of the year, the borough doesn’t levy a sales tax on groceries, though the borough’s 3 percent tax is assessed on the sales of other goods and services. Borough sales tax revenue throughout the year is used to fund district schools.

Kenai and Seward, the home-rule cities in the borough, can set their own taxes, and choose to levy a sales tax on groceries year-round. In 2008, the borough assembly passed an ordinance to allow general-law cities — Soldotna, Homer and Seldovia — to do the same.

So, in July, you’d pay 6 percent sales tax on a can of beans in Kenai or Soldotna, or just the borough’s 3 percent sales tax if shopping in Kasilof or Nikiski. In December, you’d pay 3 percent sales tax on that can of beans in Kenai or Soldotna, and no sales tax in the unincorporated areas of the borough.

Discussion has come up in the assembly last year to do away with the seasonal tax exemption and charge the borough sales tax on groceries year-round. That discussion culminated in a resolution that the assembly passed at its meeting April 7, to ask voters whether the borough should split the length of time in which the borough taxes groceries to six months and lower the exemption period to six months. The issue was to go to voters in the October municipal election.

But after the resolution passed, Kelly Wolf, who represents the Kalifornsky area, made a motion to reconsider the resolution, not wanting to put the question to voters after all because he didn’t want to open the chance that the exemption could be reduced from nine months to six months.

“We have families that are struggling to put food on the table for their families. So as I ask for reconsideration for this ordinance, I’d like to do it on behalf that this is the right thing to do,” Wolf said. “As a representative of the people, I’ve heard them, and I am listening.”

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Filed under Kenai Peninsula Borough

Plugged In: Get sharp — optics are key in clear images

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

A sharp lens’ crisp yet smooth rendering of detail has a unique look to it, suggesting a hyper-reality that’s almost tactile. You’ll need good optics to reach this higher level of image quality, though. Even the best post-processing software can’t enhance detail that’s not already there in some form.

As I’ve previously written, one of the prime advantages of the Micro Four-Thirds compact camera systems championed by Panasonic and Olympus is the wide variety of very sharp, affordable lenses. This week, we’ll take a hands-on look at some of these lenses. I’ll first describe the testing procedure because it taught me a good deal about making the sharpest possible images of static test subjects. Remember, to find the 35-mm equivalent magnification and field of view an M 4/3 lens, you must multiply its focal length by two.

While preparing these articles, I tested most of the lenses mentioned here. When specific lenses were not available for testing, I supplemented my own results with comparative data from http://www.dxomark.com, comparing general test results for both the unavailable lens and similar lenses that I personally tested. DXO, based in Paris, makes the hardware and software used by most lens and camera test sites around the world and publishes some of the most carefully measured and objective test data. That free, publicly available data allows anyone to directly compare up to three cameras or lenses against each other. It’s an excellent resource.

For these tests, I used a tripod-mounted Olympus E-M5 Mark II in both its standard 16-megapixel mode and its 64-megapixel, high-resolution, sensor-shift mode. The E-M5 Mark II, an updated model released two months ago, currently has the highest potential RAW file resolution capability of any affordable camera, higher than any current or announced full-frame digital SLR camera. That high-resolution mode is currently usable only on a tripod with unmoving subjects. You’ll need to use the lowest feasible ISO sensitivity to retain maximum detail. That’s particularly true with the somewhat smaller sensor found in M 4/3 cameras, so I used the E-M5’s base ISO 200 for all tests.

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Filed under photography, Plugged in