Monthly Archives: December 2015

Laugh riot — Nikiski students incite debate in mock rebellion

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Ross Halliday incites his fellow Nikiski High School students to secede from the Kenai Peninsula Borough with a fiery speech delivered Dec. 10 at the school. The assembly was a joint project between Joe Rizzo’s English and Darren Zibell’s social studies classes.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Ross Halliday incites his fellow Nikiski High School students to secede from the Kenai Peninsula Borough with a fiery speech delivered Dec. 10 at the school. The assembly was a joint project between Joe Rizzo’s English and Darren Zibell’s social studies classes.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

The students of Nikiski High School are fed up, and they’re not going to take it anymore.

“I denounce this Kenai Peninsula Borough, living through this oppression that is called school is unacceptable,” said Nikiski senior Kade Anderson. “Our duty is to be free and the borough should not be able to infringe upon it.”

Students in Joe Rizzo’s English and Darren Zibell’s social studies classes presented their declaration of sovereign independence Dec. 10 to “Colonial Governor (aka, Principal) Dan Carstens, school district Superintendent Sean Dusek and Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre. Representatives of the four new micronations the students intend to form — North Roadia, Order of the Guilds, Kratia Novus and Dysfunctional Dystopia — explained their intentions to secede from the borough, giving the officials a chance to respond and restore unity to the land.

Convincing the Bostonians that taxation without representation wasn’t really such a bad idea might have been an easier sell.

“Better to live a day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep. These are the words under which we rally,” said Ross Halliday, borrowing some quotes from Mussolini to a roar of cheers from the crowd. “I can say that their goal to turn us to mice has failed. Liberty is a duty, not a right. We recognize this and we ascend to the helm of victory. We do not argue with those who disagree with them. We destroy them!”

“You’re scaring me a little. This sounds like a real insurrection, we’re talking about blood and tyranny. It sound like you’re pretty serious about this,” Mayor Navaare said, braving the podium. “So what I’m going to do is to encourage the colonial governor and the superintendent to figure this out before we have to call in Michelle Obama to straighten you guys out.”

“Well it is a rebellion, so they’re not very orderly,” Rizzo responded. “You’ve had borough assembly meetings like this, Mike, I know you have.”

In amongst the boos, cheers and podium-thumping theatrics, the students gave speeches enumerating their list of grievances, pointing out inconsistencies and presumed injustices under which they are oppressed.

Why do other schools have vending machines, but Nikiski Middle-High School does not? Why do juniors and seniors have the privledge of leaving campus, but sophomores do not? Why are sweatshirts from the Homer bar Salty Dawg not allowed, when clothing from Walmart or similar retails that sell alcohol are?

Haley Miller cited National Sleep Foundation and Centers for Disease Control findings that students are not getting enough sleep to function at their best, arguing that school should start at 9:30 a.m., instead of catering to adults’ earlier schedules.

“If you are able to find a flaw in my reasoning it’s probably because I had to get up at an ungodly hour to get ready to come to school and write and deliver this speech,” Miller said.

Alecia Bridges took on the school’s dress code, in which hats are not allowed, nor is clothing that advertises a bar, or that bares shoulders or too much leg.

“Students should be allowed to express their unique, individual personalities through their style and clothes with less restrictions,” she said. “… We don’t want to hear, ‘Well, when I was your age.’ No. This is the new generation and the world is not the same as it was then. … If a guy wants to wear a hat, why not, if it doesn’t have vulgar language or an explicit graphic? For that matter, if a guy wants to wear a dress and heels or if a girl wants to wear men’s clothing then their personal style should not be based on gender preferences.”

Sam Tauriainen advocated for a loosening of the school’s cellphone restrictions.

“I think that as students we owe a certain respect to our teachers in class, that when we’re in class I think we should stay off our phones,” he said. “… But I think that during passing period we should be allowed to be on our phones.”

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Watershed Forum declares Sinclair — Retired Kenai-area Parks superintendent takes helm of ecological organization

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Jack SInclair started his new job as executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum on Friday. He retired from a 30-plus-year career in Alaska State Parks in 2012.

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Jack SInclair started his new job as executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum on Friday. He retired from a 30-plus-year career in Alaska State Parks in 2012.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

In his role as Kenai area superintendent for Alaska State Parks, Jack Sinclair was well known to the Kenai Watershed Forum, especially as he oversaw the Kenai River Special Management Area. And vice versa, to the point that Sinclair thought the Watershed Forum might be a good next stop along his career path.

When he retired from his state job in 2012, the Soberg House at Soldotna Creek Park, which houses the Watershed Forum, was full. So he went on about his retirement — family, fishing, hunting and a rafting trip down the Grand Canyon.

When Executive Director Robert Ruffner announced his retirement at the beginning of the year, the board of directors first cast a nationwide net for his replacement, which hauled back disappointing results. So a smaller, more targeted net was cast. Sinclair was open to the opportunity, though a little wide-eyed at this particular job.

“Robert has personified this organization, and so I’m following in his rock-star shoes. It’s daunting. He’s done some great things. No one that has seen his work would not be impressed,” Sinclair said.

Waterproof shoes would be more appropriate, and Sinclair is jumping right in to getting his footing in those. He’s going along on a water flow-testing trip to Ptarmigan Creek in January.

“I’m getting my feet wet — hopefully not too wet. I’m just looking forward to learning every aspect here. It’s going to be fun,” he said.

That approach has served Sinclair well. When he worked for state Parks he tried out every position he could, from ranger to maintenance, interpreter and naturalist.

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Cooper Landing highway reroute driving concern — Locals question expense, effects to businesses

Graphic courtesy of ADOT

Graphic courtesy of ADOT

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporte

Six cars drove past Wildman’s convenience store on the Sterling Highway in about two minutes on a recent weekend afternoon. Two of them pulled in. Wildman’s is one of the few businesses in Cooper Landing that stays open in the winter, much less on a Sunday.

General manager Heather Harrison says the business makes most of its money off the crowds of fishermen, tourists and commuters that clog the highway in the summer. But winter business is important, too.

“We stay open all year, we’re one of the very few places that stay open all year, and a lot of that is due to the traffic we’re able to pull in off the highway,” she said. “I do feel like people anticipate us coming up now at this point that we are one of the only places open and if they have to go to the bathroom, this is where they’re going to want to do it.”

That, and the fact that she’s on the Cooper Landing planning advisory committee, has her keeping an eye of the Alaska Department of Transportation’s plans to reroute the Sterling Highway through town. On Dec. 11, DOT announced its preferred route, building 5.5 miles of new highway north of town, and rejoining the existing Sterling Highway at Mile 51.5 between Cooper Creek and Gwin’s Lodge.

It’s the most-expensive alternative of the four DOT considered, and involves the least mileage of new road.

“I find the final plan to be a little surprising that they are bringing it out so close to town. It’s not going to bypass nearly as much as people thought,” Harrison said.

That’s both good news and bad to Harrison. First, she’s been worried what the bypass would do to winter business.

“Would I take the bypass as a traveler going to Anchorage to get around all the S curves, away from the road, yeah, I would. It’s safer, it’s faster,” she said.

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Growing the economy — agriculture flourishing on Kenai Peninsula

Redoubt Reporter file photos. Kenai Peninsula growers are finding high tunnels effective for Alaska-hardy produce as well as more exotic fare, such as corn and fruit trees.

Redoubt Reporter file photos. Kenai Peninsula growers are finding high tunnels effective for Alaska-hardy produce as well as more exotic fare, such as corn and fruit trees.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

When people think about the economy of the Kenai Peninsula, it’s usually oil and gas, fishing, and maybe education, health care or government. But there’s a growing trend to add another sector to that list — farming.

“These are not hobby farmers, these are hard-working folks. They are investing in infrastructure, they are buying equipment, they’re building storage, they’re building refrigeration for peonies, they’re putting up more high tunnels planting more. These folks are thinking ahead, and I think the rest of us should, as well,” said Heidi Chay, manager of the Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District, speaking at a Kenai Chamber of Commerce meeting Dec. 16.

Commercial agriculture is typically thought of on a big scale, but the Kenai Peninsula is growing its own agricultural revolution, one small operation at a time.

“Today the farms that are making headlines are the small farms under 10 acres, very likely under 5 acres,” Chay said.

From 2007 to 2012, there was an 11 percent increase in the number of farms statewide, and a 62 percent increase in the number of farms selling direct to consumers. On the Kenai Peninsula, farm numbers increased 30 percent in that time frame, and direct-selling operations have increased 111 percent.

A lot of that increase is due to high tunnels. The Kenai Peninsula has the highest number of high tunnels per capita in the country.

“If you don’t know already, this technology has transformed farming and food production in this state,” Chay said. “We can grow crops that we couldn’t grow easily here before. And these high tunnels lengthen the season significantly enough that farmers can harvest earlier than ever before, allowing them to put in a second crop, or even a third.”

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Plugged In: ‘Network in a box’ offers connectivity across the globe

Effective mobile computing and Internet access are now fundamental to improving education and knowledge of the world for everyone. In less-fortunate areas of the globe, especially areas without reliable AC electrical power, battery-powered computer access can be deeply transformative.

Closer to home, setting up a highly portable, battery-operated home network, storing all of your family’s photos, video, other media and family files, can be a real pleasure. It’s now easy, using inexpensive technologies that we’ll discuss this week, and one of the best ways to protect family memories in the event of a threatening situation, such as a fire.

Why even bother with any form of home or small school network in the smartphone era? Smartphones are useful, and the dominantly popular form of highly mobile computing in the U.S. However, they have significant cost and operational limitations compared to even the most basic, inexpensive notebook computers, particularly in educational environments and where large amounts of video and other data need to be stored and used by several people simultaneously.

These limitations, and the solution to them, became apparent when I and several other Soldotna Rotary members were recently asked to design and build a small, highly portable computer network for a desperately poor school in Masaya, Nicaragua. The school does not have electrical power in its classrooms and has no wireless Internet access, problems that persist not only in developing nations, but in many remote areas of Alaska, as well.

In the process, we found a rather unique and inexpensive solution for a mobile, battery-powered computer network that’s equally usable at home, at a Scout or Bible camp, and by families on a long-distance driving trip. Some minimal electrical power is required to recharge the battery-operated computers and battery-powered network in the evenings, but even rough, highly fluctuating developing-nation AC power can be used. It’s a “network in a box” — eight highly compact netbook computers that can run most of the day on a single battery charge, connected together with a battery-powered wireless network hub that includes massive central storage.

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Cooper Landing gets highway OK — ADOT identifies preferred north route for bypass

Graphic courtesy of ADOT

Graphic courtesy of ADOT

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

A trip through Cooper Landing is like driving back in time. Other than some repaving and filled potholes, the road hasn’t been upgraded since the Sterling Highway was completed in 1950, and it shows. Tight S curves with little visibility cling to hillsides and wind just above Kenai Lake and the Kenai River. Narrow lanes crowd big trucks, and the shoulders could be measured with rulers, not tape measures.

“Sometimes you can see the fog line on the outside of the lane that’s actually painted on gravel,” said Kelly Petersen, project manager with the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

Though the road hasn’t been upgraded in 65 years, traffic and its associated problems continue to increase. From 2000 to 2009, ADOT recorded 303 crashes between Mileposts 45 and 60, with 153 in the winter and 150 in the summer.

“Anyone that’s driven through this piece of highway, you know immediately when you’re at Milepost 45 because there’s no clear zones, there’s no shoulder, you’re more white-knuckled. And this is the place that everybody wants to be for the world-class experience of fishing,” Petersen said.

Yet a fix has been a long time coming. ADOT started working on an Environmental Impact Statement for a highway upgrade in the early 1980s, but for a longer stretch of the road — from Milepost 37 east of Cooper Landing, closer to the junction with the Seward Highway, to Milepost 60, west of the intersection with Skilak Lake Road. The project got split in two, with an upgrade of miles 37 to 45 being completed in 2001. The rest has been on the to-do list for so long that the original EIS has become the oldest environmental document for a highway project in the country.

But while the need for a safer road has been obvious, a solution has not.

“This project is in a unique place because it’s right next to Kenai Lake and the Kenai River, it’s a critical area with great salmon runs that are world famous. So, working between that and fairly steep terrain. And then, of course, we’ve got a wilderness area plus multiple trailheads, and there’s also cultural sites — archaeological and otherwise. So it’s definitely a challenging place to build,” said Shannon McCarthy, ADOT spokesperson.

Any one of those challenges can be a significant hurdle to a highway project. And in this case, the challenges kept coming.

“There’s just been a lot of changes in the corridor, both in traffic, the formation of (the Kenai River Special Management Area), the identification of selection properties under (the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act). The whole issue is, this is a complex piece,” Petersen said.

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BOF no Kenai BFF — Effort to host Board of Fish gets unfriendly reception

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Local efforts to host a Board of Fisheries meeting on Upper Cook Inlet issues in the Kenai area have again netted no results.

In a somewhat circuitous discussion Dec. 8, the Alaska Board of Fisheries underlined its decision from a year before to hold its 2017 Upper Cook Inlet meeting in Anchorage, rather than moving it to the Kenai Peninsula.

The board hasn’t held an Upper Cook Inlet meeting on the Kenai since 1999, despite regular pleas from municipal governments, fishing organizations, business groups and individuals to do so. The board first decided on Anchorage in October 2014 during a work session held in Juneau, but a problem with the venue led the scheduling issue to resurface in October this year, prompting another round of requests to hold the meeting on the central Kenai Peninsula. Gov. Bill Walker was among those writing letters asking the board to consider a location change for the Upper Cook Inlet meeting, even pledging to come to the meeting if it’s held on the central peninsula.

The board voted 4-3 to address the location issue at its Bristol Bay meeting, held last week in Anchorage, but that didn’t stop board members from grousing about the discussion.

“I agree with the other board members that this is a real distraction on a meeting that I felt required our full attention. I guess I’m very disappointed in that, that we would be getting so many letters and so many comments right in the middle of an important meeting for some other folks,” said Bob Mumford.

The board spent over a half an hour Dec. 8 debating both sides of various points, fairness being one. Board member Reed Morisky listed the seven fishery allocation criteria the board is tasked to consider in making fishery decisions as justification for holding the meeting in Anchorage, under the argument that the majority of the sport- and personal-use participants in the Kenai-area fisheries live in Anchorage or the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

As for fishery users on the Kenai, board member John Jensen said that Anchorage meetings aren’t that difficult to attend, especially with web streaming of proceedings and agendas posted online.

“They can come up when they need to do public presentations or talk to the board members. We’re not hiding. Anchorage is an easy place to get to for all user groups,” he said.

Sue Jeffrey and Fritz Johnson also cited allocation criteria, but in support of meeting in Kenai.

“We referenced the importance of each fishery to the economy of the region and the local area in which the fishery is located, and I believe that the local area, in this case, with regard to meeting location, has been neglected for too long,” Johnson said. “… I just wonder if, given the different nature of the urban areas in and around Anchorage, that there’s a kind of tyranny of the majority that impacts the more traditional residents of the Kenai Peninsula that we might want to think about in terms of keeping the meeting in Anchorage.”

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