Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Green light — HEA hydro projects must be eco-friendly for low-impact certification

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of stories examining possible Homer Electric Association hydroelectric projects near Moose Pass. Next week’s story will focus on previous plans for hydro in the area.

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

If applying to have a hydroelectric project reviewed by the Low-Impact Hydropower Institute is worthy of the Eager Beaver Award, than receiving low-impact certification is akin to a gold star of achievement. Or, more appropriately, a green one.

The nonprofit organization, based in Maine, evaluates the environmental effects of hydro projects across the country and designates the ones that meet its criteria as “low impact.”

Low-impact certification is not required by the state of Alaska, the Department of Environmental Conservation, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or any of the other players that have a hand in approving hydro permits. The application costs thousands of dollars and presents extra hoops to jump through in an already paperwork-laden process. Even so, Homer Electric Association plans to seek low-impact certification for four hydro projects it hopes to build in the Crescent Lake area near Moose Pass.

“What we saw at the Low-Impact Hydropower Institute was a third-party, credible organization that can take a look at the projects and give its stamp of approval, and we think that’s a real worthwhile thing to pursue,” said Joe Gallagher, HEA spokesman.

Fred Ayer, executive director of the institute, said the low-impact designation for hydro projects is similar to food or other products being certified as organic. It’s a waving of the magic, environmentally friendly wand that bestows “green” status in a time when that shade is becoming more and more popular.

“Things are really popping. There’s sort of a renewed interest everywhere with anything that says ‘green.’ It seems to be full of excitement,” Ayer said.

Oftentimes, the owners of hydro projects that get low-impact certification use the designation for marketing and parlay it into charging higher rates for power from a “green” facility, Ayer said.

That’s not what HEA is after, Gallagher said.

“We’re not pursuing the certification in order to seek additional rates or anything like that,” he said.

The benefit for HEA in pursuing hydropower and wind energy — which it also is looking into — is that renewable energy sources lessen the co-op’s dependency on burning natural gas to generate electricity. Right now, through HEA’s contract with Chugach Electric Association, about 90 percent of HEA’s power comes from natural gas, with 10 to 12 percent coming from the Bradley Lake hydropower dam in Kachemak Bay. As natural gas prices climb, so do HEA’s rates — 8 cents per kilowatt-hour since 2008. HEA hopes the four proposed hydropower projects, each with an estimated output of 4 to 6 megawatts, will represent about 20 percent of HEA’s power and help stabilize rates, Gallagher said.

The low-impact designation isn’t necessary in getting the hydro projects approved and built. Kenai Hydro LLC — a joint venture of HEA and Wind Energy Alaska, which was formed by renewable energy company enXco — already has three-year preliminary permits from FERC to study the projects. As long as FERC and regulatory agencies sign off on the final permits the projects can be built, even if Kenai Hydro applies for low-impact certification and is denied. But if the projects do get the low-impact designation, it would be a stamp of approval from an independent source that HEA is trying to do right by the environment.

That could prove valuable in winning public support for the projects, especially from those in the Cooper Landing area who are leery of hydro projects, with Chugach Electric Association’s Cooper Creek hydro facility in their backyard. Old-timers remember fishing for salmon and pulling 20-plus-inch trout out of Cooper Creek before the dam was built in the 1960s. Nowadays, there are no fish to be found.

That’s exactly the sort of negative environmental effects the Low-Impact Hydropower Institute is trying to eradicate. Having a dam that blocks water flow and fish passage is a direct, do-not-pass-go denial of an application, Ayer said.

But siphon projects have been certified, Ayer said, where water is diverted through a pipe — called a penstock — to power turbines before being returned to the water system. Alaska Power and Telephone’s Goat Lake hydroelectric facility near Skagway is a siphon and penstock operation, and got low-impact certification in March 2007. HEA’s preliminary plans call for this type of facility.

There is a major difference between Goat Lake and the four sites being considered by Kenai Hydro — Ptarmigan Creek, Falls Creek, Crescent Lake and Grant Lake. Goat Lake doesn’t support fish and there’s no evidence of fish usage of the lake’s drainage stream within several miles of the facility, since fish migration is blocked by the 2,100-foot Pitchfork Falls downstream of the power plant.

The sites being considered by Kenai Hydro do show evidence of anadromous — migratory — fish usage, especially where they empty into the Trail Lakes system down by the Seward Highway.

“That’s the big driver — is this a big system? Does this have any fish that need to go up to complete their lifestyle?” Ayer said. “… In general terms, if there are fish in the project area it’s something people need to explain, ‘Yes there are fish and here are the issues.’”

The existence of fish in a water system doesn’t mean a low-impact hydro project can’t be built there; it just takes extra research, planning and consideration to mitigate any negative effects the hydro project might have.

The only other hydro facility in Alaska to get low-impact certification is the Bear Lake hydroelectric project on Prince of Wales Island near Klawock. It’s another siphon and penstock facility operated by Alaska Power and Telephone. The lake has a rainbow trout population, stocked there in the 1950s by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and a habitat study in 2002 found that Dolly Varden and chum, pink and silver salmon use the creek downstream of the facility. The facility is required to adhere to lake drawdown limits and to maintain certain water levels in the stream system. After five years of monitoring, no impacts to the fish were observed, according to the institute.

“It’s not that you can’t do some of those things, but they need to be done in a way that’s least destructive, and what amazes me is how well those things can be done — and how horribly I’ve seen them done,” Ayer said.

The certification process begins by a hydro developer contacting the institute and indicating their intent to apply for certification. The developer fills out a questionnaire and Ayer counsels them on whether or not they should apply. If it’s obvious a project won’t be certified, Ayes said he’d rather the developer didn’t waste time and money on the process.

The application fee varies by the size and power output of the project, but Ayer said HEA would probably be looking at a $2,500 fee, plus an annual fee that’s 15 percent of the initial application cost. In five years projects come up for recertification, with a cost of 20 percent of the initial application fee.

There’s a 60-day public comment period, where stakeholders and interested parties can voice their concerns, support or opposition to the project getting low-impact status. To spread the word about the comment period, the institute uses the same contact list FERC does in its licensing process.

“More and more places are engaging stakeholders to become involved in the whole process,” Ayer said. “… It seems to me the earlier you find out you have an issue, the better chance you have to solve it or work around it. If the project is in your area and you have any concerns, stay involved.”

The institute reviews the specifics of hydro projects to determine their low-impact status. It’s the same documentation FERC considers for licensing, but the institute can have higher standards for its low-impact designation than FERC does for licensing, Ayer said. The institute doesn’t do site visits — it’s not a big enough organization for that yet, Ayer said.

The criteria used in evaluating hydro projects are: river flows, water quality, fish passage and protection, watershed protection, threatened and endangered species protection, cultural resource protection, recreation, and facilities recommended for removal. The last one won’t apply to Kenai Hydro, since it will apply with new projects, not existing facilities seeking recertification.

After the comment period, the institute gives a report to its governing board, which meets by conference call to decide whether to grant low-impact statutes. The process averages four to six months, Ayer said, which is light speed compared to how long the licensing process can take when dealing with Washington, D.C.

Once approved, companies must submit an affidavit annually that says the hydro project hasn’t changed in any way that creates new impacts or would have affected the outcome of the original application. In five years the project goes through a streamlined version of the application process for recertification.

“Assuming nothing has changed, it’s reconfirmed that these guys have been good actors and they’re doing their thing the way they’re supposed to be,” Ayer said.

The institute has certified 37 hydro projects across the country since 2001, and recertified 10. It could be more, except the program is new enough that not many have come up for recertification yet, Ayer said. Most certified facilities are in the West — Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Utah, with others in Colorado, New York, Kansas, Vermont and elsewhere.

“It’s a fair and even standard, is what we like to say,” Ayer said. “What we’re doing is the same thing whether you’ve got a project in New Mexico or Maine or Alaska, the criteria for requirements is the same.”

That being said, there are some regional differences in the certification process because licensing requirements can vary by state. The federal Clean Water Act gives states input into projects that involve discharge or could impact water quality and require federal permits or licenses by allowing states to essentially sign off on the projects by issuing Section 401 certification. Certification stipulates that a project won’t violate state water quality standards. Some states review proposed projects and issue or deny Section 401 certification, and some — like Alaska —waive the requirement for 401 certification, Ayer said.

William Ashton, section manager for stormwater and wetlands with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, said ADEC does issue 401 certification for some projects, like dredging and filling wetlands, but waives the requirement for hydro projects.

“What that means for hydroelectric projects is we just don’t review the impact of them on water quality,” Ashton said.

That’s been the policy since he’s been in his position, since 2007, and he said it’s probably a result of limited staffing.

FERC generally accepts a waiver of 401 certification just like it would another state’s approval of certification.

“It’s basically optional to the states, and so that’s why, in our case, we just do the waiver. Just for the hydro. For other kinds of projects, we do look at that,” Ashton said.

That practice presents a problem for the Low-Impact Hydropower Institute, because 401 certification is one of the things it looks for in its evaluation process.
Projects that have a waiver of 401 certification, rather than the certification itself, have a harder time proving to the institute they won’t negatively impact water quality. It can still be done, but it generally takes a state acknowledging in some way that the project isn’t expected to hurt water quality.

“What that means is, in some cases those projects will be a little more challenging for us to put through our filter because we still need to understand and know that the project is not negatively impacting the water quality,” Ayer said. “Some of the projects that have great difficulty are from states without certification.”

But Alaska does have some things going for it when it comes to hydro, he said. For one thing, the water coming out of glacial-fed mountain lakes and streams already starts out clean, he said. And many mountain water systems are so high up with such steep elevation drops along the way that they don’t support migratory fish populations to begin with. Ayer said he’s been happy with the projects he’s seen from Alaska.

“The folks up there seem to have a pretty decent working relationship with the agencies. The projects seem to be well thought out and well done. That’s what we’ve seen so far,” he said.

“From my experience, most developers are trying to do the right thing. They’re going to be advised by state and federal regulatory agencies and their own consultants of what the issues are, and in most cases that’s what they’re going to do. They’re going to do the right thing.”

Cleaning up green energy — Low-Impact Hydropower Institute offers incentives to make hydro more eco-friendly

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

The Low-Impact Hydropower Institute was formed as a nonprofit organization in 1999 to reduce negative impacts of hydroelectric facilities by offering marketing incentives to hydro projects that don’t damage the environment.

American Rivers, a nonprofit river conservation organization, launched the institute, which is supported by a variety of conservation, renewable energy and public interest organizations — including Trout Unlimited, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Center for Resource Solutions.

Its governing board, which ultimately bestows or denies low-impact status, is made up of noted experts in the environmental field, said Fred Ayer, executive director. The governing board is advised by members of the institute’s Hydropower Industry Advisory Panel, Renewable Advisory Panel and a natural resources technical adviser. Again, all are respected in their fields, Ayer said.

When Ayer took the job of executive director in 2003, he said one of his first priorities after reading the organization’s bylaws was to diversify the governing board to include industry representatives, as well as environmentalists. To his surprise, the idea was shot down by people in the hydropower industry, he said.

“I talked to people who had projects certified and they said, ‘We want no part of that,’” Ayer said. “They don’t want a situation where it’s nothing more than a beauty pageant with industry folks tapping people on the head and saying it’s a good project. The value is certification comes from environmental leaders.”

For its first few years the institute operated on foundation money. The first application was processed in 2001, and now the application and recertification fees pay for the institute to operate. Ayer said they’ve put a lot of thought into fee amounts.

“Close to 25 projects that had been certified were surveyed and asked if they got the value they expected. What we found out to our delight is it had been priced appropriately and they had more than made back what they invested. So it worked for them and worked for us,” Ayer said.

The institute uses the same eight criteria to evaluate all its applicants: water quality, fish passage and protection, watershed protection, threatened and endangered species protection, cultural resource protection, recreation, and facilities recommended for removal. The size and power output of applicant facilities isn’t as big a factor as its impact.

“You could have small projects that were environmentally damaging or you could have big projects that aren’t. Conversely, you could have big projects that sit lightly on the land and vice versa. We tend to look at environmental criteria,” Ayer said.

The organization isn’t opposed to hydropower projects, nor it is always in favor of them, Ayer said. He said they’re just out to make the projects as environmentally responsible as they can be.

“It sort of takes away the stereotype that says all hydro is bad. Another side says all hydro is good. I think probably 90 percent of us appreciate the fact that there’s some good hydro and bad hydro, and it’s not that bad hydro was built by bad people, it could just be the standards in place at that time. I like the strategy of looking at projects individually.”

For more information on the Low-Impact Hydropower Institute, visit its Web site, http://lowimpacthydro.org.

Tall order — Family on the mend after son survives massive aortic aneurism rupture

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Three months ago, David Marshall was a pretty typical 23-year-old. He played a lot of video games, hung out with his friends, hoped to pursue a career as an artist, dreamed of having a big house and flashy vehicle, and basically lived day to day, until the day he had a broken heart and almost stopped living altogether.

Heartbreak is not an uncommon malady among 20-somethings. But for David, of Soldotna, who has Loeys–Dietz Syndrome, it meant he literally had a broken heart — a rupture in his aorta from his aortic valve all the way to his kidney.

Loeys–Dietz Syndrome is a genetic disorder discovered in 2005 that affects the connective tissue in the body. It’s similar to Marfan Syndrome — both afflict tall people with disproportionately long limbs — although Marfan’s usually involves other physical characteristics, like wide-set eyes or a cleft palate. Congenital heart problems are common among those with LDS, including aneurisms like the type David had Nov. 17.

“The way they described it is the glue that holds the body together is not strong,” said Julia Echeverria, David’s mother. “His heart got it first because it takes the most pounding. There was a little leak, then it blew.”

Echeverria moved to Juneau with her sons, David, now 24, and Ryan Marshall, 22, from California after visiting her uncle there 15 years ago and falling in love with the sense of community she felt in Alaska.

Both of her sons are tall — David is 6-foot-10 and Ryan is 6-6. She’s no slouch herself at 6 feet tall.

“We’re a big, tall family,” she said. “Everyone looks up to us. We clean places no one else cleans. People ask why we clean the top of the refrigerator — because we can see it.”

Both sons have the long limbs associated with Marfan’s and LDS, although Echeverria didn’t think anything of it while they were growing up, or even when the boys’ father died around age 40 after he’d already had a heart valve replacement.

David didn’t show any obvious outward signs of having the condition. He seemed to everyone, including himself, to be healthy.

In 2002, when David was 18, he was in a car accident and went to the Juneau hospital. While there, a visiting physician’s assistant from Canada noticed David’s height and limb length and figured he had Marfan’s.

“He looked at my son and said, ‘I can almost guarantee you have this disease.’ And we’re like, ‘We’re not even here for that,’” Echeverria said.

David underwent testing and the results were sent to a specialist at the University of Washington Medical Center. Even though they were concerned, they didn’t realize how precarious David’s condition was, Echeverria said.

“They knew his heart was not top-notch, but they had no idea this was going to happen,” she said.

LDS sufferers have a high risk of developing aneurisms. Medication can help alleviate the strain on arteries by reducing heart rate and blood pressure. Continued monitoring of a patient’s arteries is recommended to catch and monitor aneurisms. Beyond that, patients are told to take it easy. No competitive sports, no exercise that involves muscle strain, no activities that leave the patient winded.

“No basketball. He won’t be signing up for the NBA or anything. And he’s almost 7-feet-tall so they’d love him,” Echeverria said.

At first, Echeverria said she went into overdrive with all the energy she put into trying to keep David from expending any. It came to a head one day when he wanted to go sledding, and Echeverria tried to tell him no.

“He looked at me and said, ‘You know, Mom, I could have a long life and lie on a couch, or I can have a short life and a quality life.’ I finally said, ‘OK, but I’m going with you.’ So I grabbed a sled and we both went,” she said.

“In a way, I’m sort of glad I didn’t know earlier, because I wouldn’t have let him do anything,” she said.

Three years after the car accident, David’s diagnosis was changed to LDS, which moves more quickly than Marfan’s, Echeverria said. Doctors told Echeverria they should consider leaving Juneau and move somewhere closer to more advanced medical care because eventually, his aortic valve may rupture.

“They said, when this happens, don’t even call 911. Just hold him. He’ll go quick,” she said.

But Juneau was their home. Echeverria owns a four-bedroom house there, had worked as a social worker there for 15 years and enjoyed being part of her church community.
“I fell in love with Alaska. You know, when you go somewhere and feel like you belong. That’s how it was, so when they told us we had to go down south, we said, ‘But we want to be in Alaska,’” she said.

They knew they needed to move, but David was young and in otherwise good health. They figured they had time.

On Nov. 17, time was up. David went to bed Nov. 16 and felt progressively worse toward morning — chest pains, difficulty breathing and a feeling of increasing weight on his chest. When Echeverria went to check on David that morning, as she often did when he didn’t answer the phone, she knew something was wrong, but neither guessed the seriousness of the situation.

“I figured it was indigestion or a cold or something. I never had a concept that the valve on my heart was going out. It’s one of those things, you don’t want to think of the worst-case scenario,” David said.

They went to a doctor’s appointment, then to the emergency room. At that point it became a life-and-death imperative to get David to Seattle as quickly as possible.

“It was pretty much a death sentence for David, because it took so long to get to medical care and the hospital was inadequate. It’s just a small-town, community hospital. With the flight time, they said if we’d had weather, we’d have lost David. We were just very fortunate God was on our side,” she said.

In Seattle, David’s aortic valve was replaced and his aorta sewn up. Doctors told Echeverria if the tear had been a millimeter longer, David wouldn’t have made it.
“That whole day, I thought, ‘If one more person tells me he’s not going to make it, I’m going to snap,’” she said. “He’s got a purpose. He made it this far, so he’s going to be fine.”

They spent a month in Seattle while David recuperated. They didn’t know anyone in Washington, medical bills were piling up by the day and Echeverria wasn’t working while David was in the hospital. And now it was clear they had to move.

They didn’t want to leave Alaska, or live in Anchorage, so they settled on Soldotna. Central Peninsula Hospital is in town, and Anchorage is only a 20-minute flight away, if need be. Ryan had moved to the central peninsula, graduated from Skyview High School and made some friends here, and, as luck would have it, Echeverria’s brother and mother had moved to Sterling, giving the two an opportunity to reconnect and mend a family rift that had formed.

They stopped briefly in Juneau to pack up the house — donating or throwing out most everything she had and storing the rest, and trying to find someone to rent the house while it went on the market. So far, renters have fallen through and Echeverria’s thinking about just giving the house to the bank because no one seems interested in buying it.

They got to Soldotna on Dec. 20 with virtually nothing but suitcases of clothes. No car. No job. No furniture. No phone. No idea what they were going to do. Ryan’s friend, Joe Misner, and his family helped find them a place to stay and put word out in the community that help was needed.

It came almost overnight.

Suddenly Echeverria and her son had donated furniture, dishes, towels, food — even a brand-new bed big enough for even David to sleep on.

“I can’t even begin to say thank you enough,” Echeverria said. “I’ll be forever indebted to that whole family, and this community’s been awesome. I just cried. I didn’t know what else to do. I’ve never been treated this nice. And it’s hard times. That’s why when they were so generous it was so touching, because lots of people are having hard times.”

The hard times aren’t over, by any means, but they’re nothing compared to what they’ve already been through. Echeverria is looking for a job and hopes to be able to afford a car soon.

David is slowly recuperating, and adjusting to his new pace of life. He’s on a slew of medication, and will be on some of it for the rest of his life. He has to watch his diet carefully, can’t exert himself or raise his heart rate — even playing most video games are out — and can’t do much with his arms. He’s not even able to push himself up off the couch or lift a shirt over his head to get dressed. A gallon of milk is about the limit of what he can lift, and even a car ride leaves him exhausted.

“The hardest part of it is not being able to do what I want, when I want,” David said.

But he says he’s not angry about the turn his life has taken. Throughout the whole ordeal, David’s attitude has been a constant source of surprise among the medical community, Echeverria said.

“David’s a lovely, lovely, awesome person,” she said. “I’ve never met anyone who met David who didn’t think this, and I’m not just saying this because I’m his mom. He has a special purpose somewhere in life, because he’s still here. We feel very blessed.

“He has the best attitude. They said most people are so angry when this happens, and he’s just so happy to be alive.”

David does not see how he can’t be happy to be alive.

“I can’t complain. I’m happy to be up here. I’m just kind of focused on recovery and getting back to the other activities, like being able to shovel snow or walk the dogs, all the little things you take for granted. You wake up from the surgery and get a whole different game plan. It’s all for your health so I’m going to comply with it. All you do is to keep breathing a little longer. You really take it for granted until you don’t have the option,” he said.

After 18 years in social work, Echeverria said it’s easy to overlook how kind people can be. Not anymore.

“We’re so grateful for the Misner family, and the community had been really generous,” she said. “It really shows what kind of community Soldotna is. I think when you see the ugly all time you lose faith in the human race. This has just really renewed my faith in people.”

A donation fund has been set up in David’s name at Alaska USA, account No. 1433199.

Record bear kills alarm experts

By Naomi Klouda
Homer Tribune

Brown bears searching for meals in chicken pens, salmon racks and garbage cans posed a higher number of legal kills last summer, pushing its status as a “species of concern.”

Reversing the trend will require cooperation from humans who need to remove the temptation or erect bear-proof barriers.

That was the message from bear experts with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on Thursday night at the Islands and Oceans Visitor’s Center in Homer.

“For responsible management of the species, things need to change,” said Jeff Selinger, bear biologist with the Department of Fish and Game in Kenai, said, “As a starting point in this discussion, there is a plan.”

Fish and Game consider the Kenai Peninsula brown bear to be a “species of concern” because its population is “vulnerable to a significant decline due to low numbers, restricted distribution, dependence on limited resources or sensitivity to environmental disturbances.”

About 40 bears were killed last summer on the peninsula, nearly twice as many as the previous five-year average of 24 kills, and much higher than the average of eight bear kills per year from 1973 to 2008.

The numbers are likely even higher since not all defense of life and property kills are reported, Selinger said.

“During record kill years, the human-caused bear mortality are represented only in the reported bear kills,” he said. Bears are found floating dead down the Kenai River and other places, proving that bears are killed without anyone filing the required reports.

Hard bear data is difficult to come by, both in terms of a current population and accurate kill numbers. Selinger said he believes reporting is much better today than 20 years back when it was “common practice if they saw a black bear, they would shoot it and not report it.”

A biologist doing stream surveys 10 to 15 years ago might have seen a dozen bears per summer. “It was difficult to find a bear to dart in the Swanson River country in the 1990s. Three years ago, while running a capture operation, we found four in one day.”

Reports from credible sources also help biologists gauge the population. Resident reports of bear sightings that distinguish between sows with cubs, juvenile bears and adults help.

“It all starts adding up. We’re seeing a lot more bears than we ever had. Fish escapements are good relative to 30 years ago, and there’s more human-generated food for bears to eat, too. The bottom line is that with more food sources, there’re more bears.”

And with more bears come more human-bear encounters, he said.

That’s the part humans can address.

“The best solution will come from everyone working at this together. It has to be a cooperative effort with law enforcement, fish and game and most importantly the public,” he said.

“Over the last decade, 39 percent of all nonhunting, human-caused mortalities occurred at a residence,“ Selinger said.

“We can definitely have an impact with how we handle bear attractants. If we could take that number and cut it in half, then we can have an impact on the defense of life and property deaths.”

Mitigation measures already are seeing some impact, said Fish and Game wildlife technician Larry Lewis.

“We don’t have any hard numbers, but I’ll guarantee that whenever people have removed the attractants, they are seeing results. That doesn’t mean they won’t see bears around their home,” Lewis said.

The highest numbers of nuisance bears — 85 percent of those that end up killed — are under 3 years old.

They’re curious. They’re chased around in the woods by bigger bears. They don’t have a sow to protect them. “Then, they come to the end of a road and there’s a garbage can,” Selinger said.

A $50 bear-proof garbage can is one prevention tool. Another solution is to use electric fencing around salmon smokehouses, drying racks, chicken houses and other sensitive areas.

Bears have been attracted to fish wheels and drying racks for centuries. Yukon River residents were willing to try the electric fences to keep them out, and found them to be effective, Selinger said.

“It works. It’s not overly expensive at $200 to $250, and it can last you for 20 years,” he said.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough also is cooperating in the conservation program to keep attractants like garbage from bears.

At the Quartz Creek Transportation site near Cooper Landing, the borough tested huge Dumpsters to find what would it take to keep the bears out. Through this study, the borough came up with a prototype for all remote transfer sites, Selinger said. In addition to better Dumpsters, the plan is to put fencing around the whole perimeter to keep bears out. Remote cameras also will be placed to monitor sites.

Ordinary trash cans are easy for bears to open, said Lewis, who gave a slideshow illustrating the problem. One photo featured a bear breaking into a Tupperware trash can as though it were a bag of chips.

Freezers left outside also pose a temptation that causes bears to get shot, but a “couple of ratchet straps” offer an easy, cheap solution, Lewis said.

Increasing limits for hunters isn’t the answer either, Lewis said.

“You could shoot every bear here today, but if you don’t change, then in 20 years’ time, we will be back where we were — the new ones will move in.”

Trapping and transporting the bears elsewhere also doesn’t work.

“Might as well race them back to town,” Lewis said.

The solution is to isolate an area that has chronic problems and implement specific tools like the bear-proof containers, electric fences and cooperative neighborhoods where attractants are kept beyond bears’ ability to grow accustomed to, the presenters said.

If it works here, the Kenai Peninsula might be on to a good plan that can protect people from possible bear maulings, save property and prevent a downward trend in a natural species whose population faces perils under the current way of doing things, Selinger said.

Not so fast food — Moose meat was important but often off-limits to early homesteaders

By Clark Fair
Redoubt Reporter

Fresh red meat could be difficult to come by in the late 1940s and early 1950s on the Kenai Peninsula, particularly in the winter. Heavily salted canned meats were available but were far from fresh and often far from tasty.

On the other hand, fresh meat on the hoof was ambling all over through the mixed coniferous-deciduous woods, and many homesteaders were not reluctant to take advantage of this good fortune.

“Illegal moose meat was a main source of food for us,” said Maxine Lee, Soldotna’s first postmaster, in a personal history written in 2003. “We were all law-abiding citizens, but in 1948, to get a hunting license, you had to have been a resident of Alaska for a year or else buy a $50 non-resident license and hire a guide at $50 a day — even on your own land.

“We had little money. We needed meat. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife controlled hunting — the Feds. They knew that we were eating moose, but they also knew we needed food. We were circumspect, hiding the meat tied up in spruce trees.”

Lee also said that many folks in those days believed they would receive lighter punishment for killing another human being than they would for killing a moose. Still, she said, the authorities were occasionally known to look the other way, particularly if it was understood that a homesteader’s survival might depend upon the infraction.

Once, she and her husband, Howard, were visited by the game warden shortly after Howard had brought a frozen haunch into the house to thaw and carve it. Although they hastily covered the meat, its shape was difficult to disguise, even in the lantern-lit gloom of their home. In the end, when the warden departed, Lee said, “He knew that we knew that he knew.”

Howard Lee also wrote about those days, in a paper entitled “Reminiscent Ramblings of Early Soldotna.” He wrote: “The taking of moose legally, with license and in season, didn’t quite coincide with homesteaders’ needs or the most practical weather period to avoid waste.

“The risk of taking an animal was made most hazardous and detectable on the site of the butchering. Being spotted by our flying friendly game warden (Dave) Spencer kept us alert. Once the site was located either by bloody snow or the ravens having a feast on remains, it only took the effort of following one’s snowshoe trail to the culprit.

“Most moose were shot when it appeared a good storm was setting in to cover the tracks.”

Such was the case in February 1951 when Larry Lancashire thought the weather was about to change in his favor. He shot and killed a moose, butchered it quickly, and then dragged it home on a sled to his family’s cozy cabin atop Pickle Hill. Unfortunately for Lancashire, the forecast for heavy snow was incorrect.

Al Hershberger, who was stationed at the time at the Alaska Road Commission shop in Kenai, remembers the rest of the story: “Larry left word for me to stop on the way home from work and fix a magneto on a tractor that was giving him problems. I knocked on the door, and I opened it up, and there was a big kitchen table there just covered with moose meat, blood all over the place.”

Hershberger was invited inside, and later, when he had the magneto in hand and had promised to fix it and return after work the next day, Larry’s wife, Rusty said, “Why don’t you plan on stopping for dinner tomorrow night? We’ll have fresh moose steak and french-fried potatoes out of our patch.” Al readily accepted the invitation, salivating at the thought of fresh moose and potatoes, which the Lancashires were beginning to farm commercially.

The next day, Hershberger was in the parts room at the ARC when he happened to glance out the window and notice a small gathering of men: Allan Peterson, the local marshal; Dave Spencer, head of the Fish and Wildlife Service; and Jimmy Peterson, Spencer’s assistant and son of the marshal.

“They were all standing there talking. So I went out, and I said hi to ’em. Everybody knew everybody in those days, and I said to Allan, ‘What’s going on here? You plottin’ against somebody?’ He said, ‘Oh, that Larry Lancashire shot a moose, and we gotta go arrest him.’

“I thought, ‘Oh, there goes my dinner.’”

Hershberger said he was conflicted about what to do next: “I could run out and warn him, but it wouldn’t really work because they couldn’t get all that meat out of the way in time. So I didn’t.”

On the way home, he stopped again at the Lancashire home. Larry was still there, having been formally charged and instructed to appear later in court, and the moose and Larry’s rifle had been confiscated. Rusty was there, too, at work at the stove. When Hershberger said it was too bad that they wouldn’t be having moose meat that night, Rusty said, “Oh, no, no. I told ’em that I invited Al Hershberger to dinner tonight, and so they left us enough for dinner.”

Turns out that Sergei “Pete” Peteroff, a good friend of the marshal’s who lived down by Eagle Rock, was the one responsible for Lancashire’s arrest. Peteroff, according to Hershberger, “didn’t have any idea who shot the moose,” but he came across the kill site and reported it to Peterson, who likely followed the sled tracks right to Lancashire’s front door.

Hershberger said Lancashire was fined and later had to go to Anchorage for several weeks to get a job and earn enough money to cover the cost. Hershberger added that, a year or two later, when Sonny Miller was nabbed for poaching a moose, he was so destitute that the local community held a dance to raise money to pay the fine.

Dolly Farnsworth, who also has lived in the area since the late 1940s, added a coda to this moose-poaching tale: Her husband, Jack, and Frank Mullen shot an illegal moose near Jack and Margaret Irons’ cabin, where the Farnsworths were living at the time.

“They shot it out behind the burn pile,” she said. “And so they skinned it out and took it down to (Mullens’) cabin and hung it up.”

Marge Mullen and her children were visiting in Anchorage at the time, Dolly recalled, so the family cabin was temporarily available.

“And the thing is that the damn squirrels got in there,” she said. “It was hung right over the bed arch, and so you have all of these droppings from the squirrels right on (the Mullens’) bed. They were getting at that darned moose.”

The next day, Jack and Frank were back at the Irons’ place trying to cover their tracks. They were cleaning up everything that could implicate them, and pouring motor oil over everything that might attract hungry dogs.

While they were tidying up, a car loaded with men went by out on the highway, headed for Kenai.

“It was the trial for Larry Lancashire, for his poached moose,” Dolly said.

Shooting for her dreams — Skyview graduate merges photography, music industry

Blair Reynolds recently came back to town to wow folks with an impressive photography display at Coffee Roasters on Kalifornsky Beach in December. Her work is extremely high contrast, depicting band and concert events from names like Fall Out Boy and Silverstein.

She has some quieter portraits of whole bands or solo performers that feel quite intimate and spontaneous. Her full portfolio also includes shots of Dillinger Escape Plan, Every Time I Die, Alesana, Misery Signals, Chiodos, Gym Class Heros, Paramore, Haste the Day, The Bleed, Portugal the Man, Anberlin, Poison the Well, Bayside, Goodbye Elliot, The Sword, Circus Survive, The Academy Is, The Almost, Deftones, Boys Like Girls, N.E.R.D., All Time Low, 3oH!3, Fear Before and Geffery Star.

In an image from a Silverstein concert, she captured that ecstatic moment when a fan reaches for and makes a connection with an often-frenetic performer. The lighting is surreal, and as is true in much of what she chronicles, the lights created by other photographers actually help to garnish the amazing light for her lens to capture.

While growing up on the Kenai Peninsula she attended public schools and graduated from Skyview High School. An atypical student, Blair credits two teachers for altering her life path by encouraging her interest in photography, and helping her fulfill that dream. Clark Fair and Sandra Lewis, both teachers at Skyview High School, were definitely a positive influence, and she still values their support.

Sandra remembers Blair as an exceptional student who went the extra mile, refining and perfecting her photography, often spending vacations working hard on her craft.
“It was great to have her in class.” Sandra said. “She inspired me. I’m pretty sure she made her mind up to become a professional photographer her junior year and never deviated from that pursuit.”

Recruited by the Center for Digital Imaging Arts at Boston University, Blair attended school on the East Coast in 2005 and 2006. While studying photography, she began developing contacts with bands, record label executives, producers and high-end fashion photographers. After graduation, she moved to Denver and is currently employed by Soda Jerks Presents as a promoter for local music venues. Blair is also a tour manager for bands based out of Denver, New York and Los Angeles.

Blair envisioned using photography professionally, whether it translated into commercial success or not. Happiness comes from following your dreams, she said, and she loves the road she is on. She’s being careful to not fall into the various traps and foibles that can diminish the professional nature of what she does. She says it’s easy to not feel star-struck when so many of her friends are involved with bands and with the industry.

She also says she doesn’t want to be typecast into any one genre, and has the desire to do something important for the world at large. She’s been looking into Invisible Children, a Los Angeles-based organization that helps kids in Africa. She wants to go document what’s going on.

Talking to this young dynamo of a woman, I don’t doubt that if she sets her mind to it, it will happen. As we spoke, even more talent abounded in the crowded cafĂ© during the opening. Kelsey Shields, Derek Poppin and Kaleb Nelson were putting out grass-rooty, original music, a nice complement to the energetic photography.

Although her work speaks for itself, included in her bio was the following, impressive quote, from Dane Poppin with A Static Lullaby:

“Blair Reynolds Photography sets the bar for what should be expected out of a band/event photographer in a generation where every kid with a digital camera and a website can be labeled a ‘professional’. She is a person who has dedicated her entire life to pursuing her craft, and it truly shows. I’ve seen this girl surf crowds, elbow scene kids, and dodge speakers just to capture the intensity of a band’s live show in one photograph. If you are lucky enough to have her point the lens your way, be prepared to witness the best work her field has to offer.”

Zirrus VanDevere is a local mixed-media artist and owns Art Works gallery in Soldotna. She has bachelor’s degrees in fine arts and education.

Musical troubadours wander into Kenai for acoustic show

Redoubt Reporter
Staff report

Three wandering troubadours will alight in Kenai on Saturday.

Easton Stagger Phillips, the acoustic trio of songwriters Tim Easton, of Joshua Tree, Calif., Leeroy Stagger, of Victoria, Canada, and Evan Phillips, of Anchorage, have become companions on their musical journeys.

They discovered kindred spirits and developed respect for each other’s music. In January 2008, Easton and Stagger joined Phillips’ band, the Whipsaws, on its Alaska CD release tour. While on the road, they began to collaborate.

They found themselves in a Girdwood cabin, and spent the duration of a winter storm recording tracks for an album. In March 2008 they reconvened in Joshua Tree to finish the album, adding violin and highlights of organ bass pedals on some of the songs. With that, “One for the Ditch” was born and the trio began a performance tour.

“This is a natural fit,” Easton has said. “We travel well as a trio and we are not afraid to push each other to do better work. There’s a ton of songwriters out rambling about, and I feel lucky to have crossed paths with these two.”

“We keep each other together and in check, which makes it a very easy and fulfilling band to be in,” Stagger said.

“We are also big fans of each other so that helps,” Phillips added.

Rolling Stone magazine called Easton “a storyteller through and through, but he’s also a student of classic pop songcraft willing to interrupt a weighty narrative with an undeniable hook.”

Pop Matters has said “there’s a sincerity and warmth to Stagger’s music, serving up an interesting contrast of gutter poetry and pop sense, proving further that Leeroy Stagger is one of Canada’s emerging talents.”

On Saturday, Easton and Stagger will play at 7 and 9 p.m. at the Old Town Playhouse in Kenai. Admission is $10 for each show. For more information, on the band, visit http://www.myspace.com/eastonstaggerphillips.

Arts and Entertainment week of Jan. 14

  • The Soldotna Senior Center is looking for artists to display their work in the center's lobby. Shows are one month long. Artwork must hang on the walls. Call Mary Lane at 262-8839.
  • Artists Without Borders, in the 4D Building in Soldotna, presents a solo show by Laura Faeo.
  • Art Works in Soldotna has photography by Joe Kashi on display through January.
  • The Gary L. Freeburg Gallery at Kenai Peninsula College has the traveling statewide photography show, “Rarefied Light 2008,” on display through January.
  • Kaladi Brothers on Kobuk Street in Soldotna has artwork by Alyse Haynes on display through January.
  • Kaladi Brothers on the Sterling Highway in Soldotna has photography by Tony Oliver through January.
  • The Kenai Fine Arts Center in Old Town Kenai has “Facets of 3-Dimensional Art” by Joyce Cox on display through January with an opening reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday.
  • Odie’s coffee shop in Soldotna has a collaborative art show by Claire Rowley, Ashley Doremire, Sam Merry, Sue Zurfluh-Mann and Donna Schwanke on display through January.

  • Easton Stagger Phillips will perform at the Old Town Playhouse in Kenai at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Admission is $10 at the door for each show.

  • The Kenai Community Library will show the family film, “The Little Princess,” starring Shirley Temple, in the conference room at 1:30 p.m. Admission is free.

Coming up
  • Peninsula Winter Games organizers are looking for carvers willing to do ice sculptures around Soldotna and Kenai from Tuesday to Jan. 28. Contact Tami Murray at tami@peninsulawintergames.com or 741-8119.
  • The Kenai Community Library will hold a wire beading class from 1 to 3 p.m. Jan. 24. Participants are asked to bring a wooden or plastic ruler. Advance registration is necessary, and the materials fee is $12.50. Contact Cynthia Gibson at 283-4378 or http://www.kenailibrary.org.
  • The Central Peninsula Writers Group is accepting submissions for its 12th annual Central Peninsula Writers Presentation on March 14 at Triumvirate Theatre in the Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna. Adult and high school writers from Cooper Landing to Ninilchik to Nikiski may enter. Entries are due Feb. 6. Entry forms and complete guidelines are available at the Kenai Community Library and online at kenailibrary.org under the Writer Group link.
  • Central Peninsula Hospital is seeking artwork in a variety of mediums to display in its new addition. Artists in Southcentral Alaska are invited to apply. The deadline for submissions is March 9. For information about the program, contact Leah Goodwin with Aesthetics, Inc. at (619)-683-7500, or Goodwin@aesthetics.net, or visit http://kenaiphotography.com/CallForArtists.htm.
  • Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus is requesting proposals from artists interested in creating work to be placed in its new Riverview Commons by 5 p.m. March 13. The installation will be complete by Aug. 17. Proposals must include a conceptual sketch including notes, up to 10 slides of past work, a resume and a self-addressed stamped envelope. Submit proposals to Phillip Miller, Kenai Peninsula College, Facilities and Maintenance, 156 College Road, Soldotna, Alaska 99669. Miller can be reached at 262-0325 for more information.

  • Friday and Saturday nights at The Riverside.
Live music
  • The Crossing in Soldotna has 9Spine on Friday and Saturday night, with dancing in a smoke-free environment.
  • Hooligan’s Saloon in Soldotna has Tuff-e-Nuff on Friday and Saturday nights.
  • The Maverick in Soldotna has the Free Beer Band on Wednesdays and Sundays.
  • Moosequito’s in Sterling has open mic night Wednesdays, and live music Friday night.
  • The Place in Nikiski has bluegrass by Them Other Shuckers on Friday nights.
  • The Rainbow Bar in Kenai has The Mabrey Brothers at 10 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
  • The Riverside in Soldotna has Sean and Travis B at 8 p.m. Thursday.
  • Veronica’s in Kenai has open mic night at 6:30 p.m. Fridays.

  • The Duck Inn on Kalifornsky Beach Road has a karaoke contest through early February every Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 9 p.m. with a $500 prize.
  • 9 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at the .406 in Kenai.
  • 9:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays at Hooligan’s in Soldotna.
  • 9 p.m. Friday at J-Bar-B outside Soldotna.
  • 9:30 p.m. Monday at the Maverick in Soldotna.

  • The J-Bar-B has a cash drawing at 6:30 p.m. Saturdays. Patrons get one ticket each day they’re at the bar. Must be present to win.
  • Hooligan’s in Soldotna has Texas Hold ‘Em poker from 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays and free pool Thursdays.
  • The Maverick in Soldotna has a pool tournament at 8 p.m. Fridays.
  • Moosequito’s in Sterling has a Scene It game night on Tuesday.

Editorial: Arguments over life jackets are all wet

The Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation has a simple request: That commercial sport fishing guides on the Kenai River require their clients to wear class III personal flotation devices. Parks wants to make the requirement one of the stipulations guides must agree to in order to get a Kenai River Commercial Guide Permit.

The Kenai River Professional Guide Association has some convoluted reasoning as to why that shouldn’t happen: It’s too expensive, not necessary and unfair.

In a meeting of the Kenai River Special Management Area Advisory Board last week, Dave Goggia, vice president of the guide association, said it would “cost an awful lot” to put life jackets on boats for all clients — kids to 350-pound adults.

This from an organization that supported regulations requiring a switch from two-stroke to four-stroke motors on the river, despite the multiple thousands of dollars it costs to upgrade to a four-stroke. The guide association also didn’t complain about the costs involved in switching motors from 35 horsepower to 50 hp when that regulation went into effect. Yet the one-time expense of buying type III PFDs, which will last for years to come, is an onerous economic burden?

The Coast Guard already requires guides — and everyone else on the river — to carry type I PFDs, so some guides may already have the more substantial type III PFDs onboard. If they don’t, Trustworthy Hardware sells type III life jackets for about $50 a pop. If individual guides don’t want to buy enough PFDs on their own to supply whatever size clients they may get, then pool resources. Guides could maintain a stockpile of multiple sizes of PFDs to use to outfit clients, like the rafting companies on the upper Kenai do. When clients book trips — which is typically well in advance, so short notice is no excuse — have them specify what size PFD they’ll need.

Guides may be nervous about how the Lower 48’s economic crisis will affect business this summer, and rightfully so. If buying life jackets really does put that much crimp in a guide’s economic outlook, then do like most businesses and pass the cost on to clients. Adding just $2 onto the cost of a charter would recoup the cost of a $50 life jacket in 25 trips. Since most guides make two trips a day with multiple clients onboard, it would balance out in no time. And if an extra $2 is the breaking point between whether a client books a trip or not, guides have much bigger problems than PFDs to worry about this summer.

Goggia also argued that requiring clients to wear type III PFDs isn’t necessary. “We try to ensure safety on the river and we’re all about trying to be safe, but we don’t want to overdo it,” he was quoted as saying in the Peninsula Clarion.

Overdo it? How is wearing a suitable PFD overdoing it? Especially when there are kids and elderly passengers in the boats. It’s a good idea, even if the stipulation gets watered down to just requiring clients to wear type I life jackets. For healthy, fit adults wearing a proper PFD, a dunk in the glacial-fed, fast-moving waters of the Kenai is life threatening. Without one, it can easily be disastrous.

But the guides are being singled out, Goggia said. That much is true, but it’s not unreasonable for Parks to do so. As Jack Sinclair, area Parks superintendent, points out, Kenai River guides are the leaders in the industry. They set standards for everyone else. With guides leading the way in ensuring a higher level of safety on the river, it will pave the way for others to follow their example.

That should be a role guides aspire to, not bail on.

Science of the seasons: Many factors affect lake ice formation, thickness

As air temperatures descended this fall, most lakes became covered with a layer of ice.

Shallow lakes, with lots of surface area compared to the volume, froze first, and some very shallow lakes or ponds freeze all the way to the bottom. At the other end of the size spectrum, those lakes with large volumes and great depths, like Kenai, Skilak, Hidden and Tustumena lakes, are the last to freeze.

The reason for slower ice formation is due to the huge amount of heat loss that must occur before ice is formed. A basic property of water is that it takes a lot of heat loss — one calorie per gram of water — to cause a reduction of 1 degree Celsius. Then it takes even more heat loss — 80 calories per gram of water — to get ice to form after the water has already reached zero degrees Celsius.

In order for a lake to freeze, the entire water body, top to bottom, needs to drop down to 40 C. Another pivotal property of water that comes into play here is that water is most dense at 40 C, and thus it sinks to the bottom when it reaches that temperature. Water that is colder (or warmer) will be less dense and will remain above the deeper, 40 C water. Eventually, the entire lake will be at 40 C.

As the cold winter air on the surface causes the top layer of lake water to get colder yet, it becomes less dense and stays on top. Once it has gotten cold enough to freeze, it is 10 percent less dense than liquid water and, as we all know, ice floats. At that point, all the water underneath the ice is going to be 4 C or colder.

Initially, the formation of ice insulates the underlying lake water from further heat loss. However, heat is continually being lost from the ice. As ice loses heat, the underlying water freezes and ice forms on the bottom of the ice layer. It is not uncommon for ice to grow to 30 inches or more in lakes on the peninsula.

Lakes that have continued inflow of water after an ice cover has formed may have thinner ice cover in areas where groundwater seeps in or where stream water enters. Inflowing water will probably not be as cold as the lake water, so it will rise and possibly melt some of the overlaying ice. Even if the incoming water is colder than 40 C, it will stay on the top of the lake and may still cause some thinning of the overlaying ice. As careful ice skaters have known for a very long time, it is good to avoid those areas where water is still entering a lake.

As water enters and leaves a lake through normal input or drainage patterns, it can have an impact on the ice surface. Imagine a situation where water continues to enter the lake but the shallow outflow is blocked off with ice. The water level will rise imperceptibly and will push up on the ice. Since all lake ice covers have cracks, the rising pressure of extra water underneath can push liquid water through the cracks.

Water leaking through the fissures in the ice is referred to as overflow. When overflow occurs, unfrozen water sits on top of the ice. At times, overflow can be many inches deep. If there is no snow cover, the air will rapidly cool and freeze the newly exposed water. However, a thick snow cover acts as an efficient insulator and keeps the water from contact with the much colder air. Because of this insulating ability of snow cover, lake overflow may remain liquid for weeks at a time.

Ice cover on a lake can decrease the exchange of oxygen from the air into the water. Snow cover can reduce the amount of light reaching the lake bottom to virtually nothing, and very little oxygen-producing photosynthesis can occur.

Bacterial breakdown of dead plant materials on the lake bottom uses up much of the limited oxygen. By the end of winter, there can be very little oxygen left in the water. In some cases, there is so much oxygen depletion that the fish die. Shallower lakes are most often the ones with winter fish kills. Generally, lakes that are more than 15 feet deep can retain enough oxygen in the water to prevent overwinter fish kills.

Because there are so many variables — such as lake size, snow cover, incoming waters and variable air temperatures — that impact how fast ice forms, always check ice thickness before venturing onto the surface. This fall when prospecting for a lake to do some early ice fishing, I found one lake with a mere 4 inches of ice, and a lake less than half a mile away had more than 9 inches.

Have fun on the ice, but be careful the ice is thick enough for your intended use.

David Wartinbee, Ph.D, J.D., is a biology professor at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus. He is writing a series of columns on the ecology of the Kenai River watershed.

Date mistakes — Check your checks when writing new year

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Paperwork can take a time warp at the beginning of the year.

Anyone who’s accidentally written “2008” when they meant “2009,” raise your hand. Now smack your forehead with it and move on.

Other than some momentary confusion while brain cells that can count struggle to override hands that are accustomed to writing ’08, nothing bad is likely to happen from misdating things in January — as long as it’s an honest mistake.

Kathy Gensel, branch manager at Wells Fargo Bank in Soldotna, said misdating a check technically is a problem.

“As a general rule for all financial institutions, if a check has a date on it that’s more than six months old, it’s considered stale dated,” she said.

But in practice, as long as it’s just the year that’s off one digit, the check will likely still go through.

“It could be an issue, but a lot of times if somebody wrote you a check and put ‘January 8, 2008’ on there and you bring it in, if it’s for $50 we would probably cash it. Normally, it’s not an issue,” she said.

If the error is caught, correct the mistake and initial the change. Otherwise, don’t worry about it. Most documents requiring dates won’t become invalid simply because of an incorrect year.

At the Department of Motor Vehicles on Kalifornsky Beach Road, Mary (regulations prohibit her from giving her last name) said computers smooth out mistakes like an incorrect date, because information on forms is entered into the computer system.

“In the system, it’ll show that it was ’09,” she said. “On what we processed, it will have an ’09.”

Same thing at the Kenai Court House and the Kenai Peninsula Borough. In accounts payable at the borough, Julie Lahndt said it’s more challenging to promulgate a date mistake than it is to make one in the first place.

“The computers, you know how smart they are,” she said. “And there’s reports and reports and reports. It’s going to be caught sooner or later. And if not, it’s not like it’s something that can’t be fixed.”

At the Soldotna Post Office, an incorrect year isn’t a big deal, but an incorrect date could be a problem.

“At this time of year, it’s not really a big issue, unless it’s like meter mail,” said Postmaster Hector Rivera. “If the day is correct and it’s just the year (that’s wrong), it’s an obvious mistake. If we receive something dated, say, December 31 or whatever, then we will have an issue because we cannot process the mail with a meter strip that is not from the same day. But if it says January ’08 or January ’07, depending on the day, it’s an obvious mistake.”

In most cases, having the post office accept and process the mail or form, for a passport or whatever the case may be, overrides any date mistakes that may be written down.

“As long as it has our cancellation, that will supersede whatever date it has,” Rivera said.

Banks, courts, the post office, government offices and the DMV aren’t legendary for leniency when it comes to paperwork errors, but their reputation pales next to the sticklers at the Internal Revenue Service.

But even the IRS has better things to do than get bent out of shape over a simple ’08/’09 mistake. Just don’t misdate something on purpose for tax break reasons.

“The date errors aren’t as big a deal as much as it is the timing of when you do stuff,” said George Stein, a certified public accountant with Lambe, Tuter and Wagner. “If you receive a check in December yet deposit it in January, that’s really December income, not January income. They’ll go back and look and see what actually happened as far as when it cleared the bank and that kind of stuff.”

Tax preparers may not question those things, but the IRS might.

“Keep in mind that we don’t audit a tax return, so from a tax standpoint, we just go ahead and take the information the client gives us and assume it’s in the proper period,” Stein said. “If we’re doing audit work, that’s a different story. We’ll verify dates on invoices and that kind of stuff.”

To err is human, to monkey with dates on purpose is the makings of a fine.

Plugged In: Self configuring a good way to save on computers

This week and next, I’d like to discuss what’s cost-effective when purchasing a new Windows-based PC computer. A little care in choosing your new computer’s specifications can result in major savings without seriously compromising performance. Over the past 20 years, I have personally built a few hundred Windows-based computer systems and these articles are a distillation of that experience.

Name-brand systems are often advertised in print or Internet media with very low starting prices, but their ultimate purchase price can be just as high as locally purchased systems after fully “configuring” the system and paying freight. Aside from Costco and the now-defunct CompUSA, the retail electronics chains that I’ve shopped in Anchorage try to sell high-margin consumer electronics for full list price, which I consider ludicrous. If you do want to buy a name-brand system, then you’ll usually get the best with HP, sold by both Costco and Fred Meyer.

However, I believe that locally purchasing a “white box” computer custom-configured to your needs often makes the most sense, particularly in a less-populous area like Kenai-Soldotna where same-day manufacturer’s service is usually not available. Any prices that I mention in these articles were current in December 2008 at Soldotna’s Peninsula Technologies, where I usually buy my routine computer components, like hard disks and cases, although there are several reputable vendors in the Kenai-Soldotna area.

Don’t waste money “buying for the future.” In six months, today’s super expensive, top-end hardware will be ho-hum, and in a year it will be obsolete.
Any modern PC computer will contain the following basic components:

System case: Modern computers, especially powerful ones, generate a lot of heat, and excessive heat is the deadly enemy of computer reliability. Small cases in which components fit tightly may seem cute or easy on desktop space, but they’re not very expandable and are difficult to cool. You’ll do much better with a midsized tower case that you can put under a desk. You’ll be able to expand it much more readily and are less likely to fry internal components. Chrome, flashy designs and multicolored lights may look cool, but add nothing to performance.

On the other hand, the flash built into a lot of cases usually doesn’t cost any more, so why not? Just be sure that you get a case that is rugged, with lots of room for extra drives and that’s easy to access from both sides. A decent case will cost in the range of $80 to $90 locally, which is pretty reasonable, considering shipping costs.

Cooling fans: You will need to add some extra case ventilation fans, preferably at least one large, quiet, 120-mm fan on the back side that exhausts hot air. These are cheap insurance against hardware failure and data loss. Exhaust fans work better than fans that try to force air into the case. A second fan on the top or side of the case is a good idea. I prefer fans that plug directly into the system board and are controlled by it. Avoiding heat buildup is critical to computing reliability.

Remember to periodically remove dust and pet fur from all cooling fans, air intakes and internal components. Doing so is crucial to avoiding heat-related failures — as I know from recent personal experience. A 120-mm fan will probably cost about $12 to $15 dollars and take about three minutes to install, if you know where to plug it into the system board.

Most central processing unit processors sold in the manufacturer’s original retail packaging include a cooling fan that’s matched to the CPU when used at its rated speed. AMD seems to be particularly good about including very robust CPU cooling fans with their retail-boxed processors. However, if you plan to overclock your computer, as computer gamers are wont to do, you may need to buy a third-party cooling system. These tend to be expensive and are unnecessary for routine business use.

Power supply: Although a power supply may seem pretty boring compared to the latest and greatest Intel or AMD processor, it’s one of the single most critical components in a computer, and one of the most likely to fail. Although many computer cases include basic power supplies, these are often barely adequate, on the order of 350 to 400 watts. To ensure better internal cooling and increased reliability, spend the extra money for a decent quality, 500- to 600-watt power supply for a basic business computer and something even bigger if you are a gamer using a powerful video card. A good-quality, 500- to 600-watt power supply will cost somewhere between $55 and $80, but is money well spent if you are putting together a powerful computer.

Central processing unit: The CPU is the heart of your computer and will be built either by Intel or by AMD. Both companies make processors that are comparably reliable and fast. AMD processors tend to be exceptionally reliable and somewhat less expensive for the same performance. Cutting to the chase, I recommend a dual-core AMD Athlon X2 6000 CPU costing about $139 locally. Get the version that uses the current AM2 socket. This is neither the latest nor the greatest, but performs nearly as well in the real world for a lot less money. Here’s why:

Unless experimentally “overclocked” by a knowledgeable technician, a CPU will operate at its rated speed, usually in the range of 2 to 3 gigahertz (2 billion to 3 billion cycles per second). Overclocking, by itself, only marginally increases performance because other components like DDR memory and hard disks become bottlenecks that seriously limit any performance increases. Overclocking often introduces serious system instability problems and usually requires faster memory and expensive third-party CPU cooling fans. Business users should avoid overclocking (for one thing, it voids your warranty) but overclocking can be an interesting challenge to the technically adept who have nothing better to do at the moment.

However, just as more megapixels don’t necessarily translate into a better digital photograph, a higher CPU speed doesn’t always translate into a faster computer. In fact, even though quad core CPUs running around 3 GHz are definitely more expensive, all other things being equal, the overall performance improvement is usually only a few percent, basically unnoticeable unless you spend your work day doing nothing but playing demanding games or running synthetic performance benchmark programs. (I’ve actually been there and done that in years past when writing my Lawyers Lab technology columns for Law Office Computing Magazine.)

Much more important is a processor’s efficient internal processing. AMD Athlon X2 and Phenom quad core CPUs and the newer Intel Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad processors are both generally more reliable and more efficient than earlier Intel Pentiums and AMD single core Athlons of any speed. Essentially all current desktop CPUs have at least two, and often three or four, processing units located inside that single CPU chips, and even humble 32-bit Windows XP now recognizes quad core CPUs as four separate processing units.

All current desktop CPUs are inherently “64-bit” processors, which means they can be compared to a superhighway with many high-speed lanes and reduced traffic congestion in each direction. In theory, all of this should mean that a dual-core CPU arguably should be at least twice as fast, and a quad core CPU four times as fast, than earlier single-core processors. Sadly, that’s not true. You get less than you pay for and that has nothing to do with AMD or Intel and everything to do with Microsoft and application software vendors.

Windows and most current application software do not efficiently allocate processing tasks (threads) to several different processor cores, and thus do not take full advantage of the extra CPU cores. In fact, except for the newest versions of Photoshop and a few less-common application programs, most business programs, such as spreadsheets or word processors, can only use a single processing core. The remaining one to three CPU cores are basically wasted, using more electricity and producing a lot of heat but no illumination, although they do help a bit with background system chores like antivirus scans.

In addition, unless you’re using a 64-bit version of Windows XP or Windows Vista, you’ll only be processing at 32 bits, basically trying to navigate a freeway that’s become congested because half its lanes are blocked off. The 64 bit version of Windows XP is hard to find, although very reliable and quick, while the 64 bit version of Windows Vista is slowed due to fancy interface geegaws that demand a lot of processing power to look pretty, although they contribute little or nothing to efficient computing.

Next week, I’ll discuss what to look for when specifying the remaining major computer system components, including the system board, which now generally includes most of the controllers needed by a modern computer, such as audio, networking, USB, CD/DVD and hard disk controllers, video cards, DDR memory, hard disks, DVD/CD reader/writer, floppy disk drive, video monitor, keyboard, mouse and operating system.

Local attorney Joe Kashi received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from MIT and his law degree from Georgetown University. He has published many articles about computer technology, law practice and digital photography in national media since 1990. Many of his technology and photography articles can be accessed through his Web site, www.kashilaw.com, along with links to legal and community resources.