Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Passable reception — Most Moose Pass residents take wait-and-see approach to Kenai Hydro’s plans

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

The players:
Homer Electric Association has partnered with Wind Energy Alaska to form Kenai Hydro. Wind Energy Alaska is a partnership between Cook Inlet Region Inc. and enXco, a renewable energy firm. Kenai Hydro has brought in consultants HDR Alaska to help with engineering and environmental research, and Long View Associates to assist with the permitting process.

The projects:
  • Crescent Lake would involve restricted water flow to the west into Crescent Creek, and a 13,000-foot pipe would take water east out of the lake past Carter Lake to a power station down the mountain.
  • Grant Lake would be dammed, with the lake level rising up to nine feet and draining as much as 25 feet. A pipe would carry water to a powerhouse, then return it to the creek above anadromous fish habitat.
  • Falls Creek water would be diverted through a pipe to Grant Lake to increase water storage and power output there, or else it would go down to a separate powerhouse and be returned to the creek.
  • Ptarmigan Lake water would be diverted through a 1.5-mile-long tunnel to a powerhouse before being returned to the creek above anadromous fish habitat.

As Kenai Hydro develops plans to build hydro projects on Crescent Lake, Grant Lake, Falls Creek and Ptarmigan Lake, residents of Moose Pass are left to wrestle with the concept of NIMBY — not in my backyard.

The projects would capitalize on the watershed in the Moose Pass area, generating around 5 megawatts each of renewable energy that would help somewhat lessen Homer Electric Association’s current dependence on natural gas. The concept of whether or not hydro is a good idea hasn’t been the issue, it’s whether or not hydro should happen the way Kenai Hydro is proposing, where it’s proposing — in a vast tract of mountainous wilderness that is literally out Moose Pass’ back door.

At a meeting Jan. 28 in Moose Pass, representatives of Kenai Hydro and its consultants shared their plans so far, answered questions and listened to concerns about the projects from 40 to 50 residents.

At a similar meeting the week before in Cooper Landing, the presentation was met with a negative response, with several people voicing strong opposition to the projects. Moose Pass residents were more accepting, said Joe Gallagher, HEA spokesperson.

“The tone was more receptive to the idea of the hydro projects,” he said. “I would say that the majority of the people there would support moving forward with the studies.

“They asked similar questions that residents in Cooper Landing did. They wanted to know about fish habitat, they wanted to know about visual impacts. People were interested about what types of roads might be necessary. They were very similar, but it seemed as though the responses we were able to provide seemed to resonate a little bit better with the people in Moose Pass.”

People at the meeting seemed to be willing to listen to what HEA had to say, and vice versa, said Jeff Hetrick, a Moose Pass resident who’s worked in fisheries for 20 years, including running the Trail Lakes hatchery at one time.

“I think they started the process the very right way — go to public and explain it to them, answer questions and keep on answering them. I think they did a professional job and ran a great meeting, and I’ve been to a lot of them, and they should be commended,” Hetrick said. “It was a good first step. I think they covered everything they needed to cover, the basics of everything, and gave enough information for people to chew on.”

Hetrick said people had a knee-jerk reaction to the projects when they first saw Kenai Hydro’s proposal, but he’s willing to wait and watch the study process continue to see if his concerns are addressed, he said.

“When you dewater a system, even with the best of intentions, you have some things that would be extremely hard to replace,” Hetrick said. “The best you could hope for it is to do no damage, which would be pretty tough. That would be jumping to conclusions. But they seemed very attuned or acute to fishery issues, a lot more so than I think you’d expect.”

But he does think the lack of direct benefit to Moose Pass residents — since they are Chugach Electric customers and wouldn’t see the rate decreases HEA members might get from the hydro projects — may impact local support for hydro.

“The human element arises with what’s in it for me? It’s probably going to be the toughest sell because local people aren’t going to benefit, other than contributing to a green world,” Hetrick said.

For him, that alone is reason enough to consider the projects.

“I don’t have any reaction yet. We all support alternative energy, so it’s time to put up or shut up,” he said.

Bruce Jaffa, who’s lived in Moose Pass and Cooper Landing for the past 35 years and has done construction work on other hydro projects in the state, including the Bradley Lake dam in Kachemak Bay, discredits the argument that the proposed area is “pristine” wilderness and should be left that way. Back before even he came to the area there were mining developments on the creeks, he said.

“We all rail about altering some of this stuff, and in fact it’s already been altered before,” he said.

Jaffa said he values the environment around him, but doesn’t think he, or anyone else, has the right to block what could be beneficial development simply because it’s near where they live.

“In America there’s this selfish — I’m going to call it selfish — NIMBY attitude that’s a result of the ’80s and ’90s, the ‘me first’ generation. The projects that would benefit us, that would benefit us as a civilization, we’re going to endorse those as long as they’re not done around me — that’s a cop-out,” Jaffa said. “Frankly, to move forward with a project like this one, you need to have an altruistic attitude because the benefits are not ones that you’re going to see immediately.”

But he does see the possibility of Kenai Hydro projects indirectly benefiting Moose Pass residents. He said having power generation in the area would lessen line loss, the amount of electricity that’s dissipated due to friction as electrons travel over long distances through transmission lines.

“Most clients pay for the power that is shipped, not the power that is received. … Having a power source here, they fill the line and reduce line loss. That’s a fairly philosophic issue, and I don’t know what the dollar number is, but it’s a real number,” Jaffa said.

Having HEA crews in the area could also benefit residents, for instance if an avalanche knocks out power, or they may help with water utility work. HEA may also contribute to the school or community, he said.

“I think that we will get a significant benefit from them, and I think that’s something that Homer Electric needs to present. They need to develop how this will benefit not just their ratepayers, but other residents of Kenai Peninsula, residents of Moose Pass and users of Railbelt energy grid,” he said.

Then there’s the benefit in a larger sense, of renewable energy, he said.

“For us to have a need in our society for green power or alternative energy instead of carbon-based fuel, I think we all agree on that,” he said. “So where are we going to do it? You have to do it in the available location.”

That being said, Jaffa doesn’t want fish habitat to be harmed, unnecessary roads to be punched through the wilderness or the visual beauty of the area to be compromised, he said. He thinks the projects can be done without those harms, and that the regulatory process will protect against them, he said.

“I think there are ways to do that. Construction would be short-lived and the design is such that it’s not tremendously harmful. If it doesn’t leave a lasting scar of some sort, the pluses outweigh the negatives,” Jaffa said.

Marion Glaser disagrees. She and her sister, Jolie, grew up in Moose Pass, and came back after college to live there. She said the area has value in its untouched state, for fish habitat and recreational uses, and doesn’t think the small hydro projects are beneficial enough to be worth the risks to the environment.

“I’m definitely not supportive. I do have concerns. I feel like people not only from the Seward and Moose Pass area, but the Kenai Peninsula, Anchorage, Lower 48 and the world come to this beautiful place. A lot of people come here to fish and hike, and the proposed hydroelectric dams would affect pristine wilderness areas that are just adjacent to hiking and fishing streams,” she said.

Glaser supports hydro, she said, just not ones that would affect streams that support fish and in areas that support wildlife and recreation.

“I’m very for green energy. I think it’s an important thing to strive for in this day and age, but I think that we need to preserve this place for our children, and I think that its highest value is its value as a beautiful, pristine place for recreation and for people to have access to rivers and lakes in the outdoors. I think that it would be wiser to do a hydro project in a place that there would be less impact to,” she said.

She’s particularly concerned about the effects changing hydrology would have on fish streams.

“I think that these streams have a certain carrying capacity of fish and insects and birds and rare and sensitive species of plants that have adapted to fit the natural hydrology of the area. Even if you take a third of the water out of these steams, the population of salmon, trout, wildflowers and insects will be affected,” Glaser said. “I know the costs would be a little higher to do it a little farther away from a well-populated area (with existing transmission lines). But I think that’s what should be done.”

Gallagher, with HEA, said those are all the types of comments Kenai Hydro wants to hear — support as well as people’s concerns.

“That was the point of this first round of meetings: What did we miss? What are the concerns? And we hear them and those are all definitely the key reasons why those meetings are held,” he said.

He said people’s responses to the projects could influence how they’re developed, but couldn’t say yet if opposition like the kind received in Cooper Landing would impact the projects, as HDR is still in its planning phase. He said he expects HDR to release its recommendations on which projects to pursue, and how to pursue them, within a month.

Malformed moose hit by vehicle — Hooves had abnormal growth

By Clark Fair
Redoubt Reporter

On Jan. 12, the story began ordinarily enough: Moose struck by vehicle on Kenai Spur Highway near Tesoro refinery. Family called to drive out and salvage meat.

Then the typical changed to the unusual: Family arrives to discover an oddity — dramatically elongated hooves. Family calls the authorities for an explanation.

According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife biologist Elizabeth Jozwiak, the moose — an older cow carrying a 2-month-old fetus — had “abnormal hoof keratinization.”

Keratins are a family of fibrous structural proteins that form hard mineralized structures in mammals: hair, nails, horns, claws and hooves.

On the Kenai Peninsula, some moose are believed to suffer from abnormal keratinization either because of a copper deficiency in their diet or an inability to process copper efficiently. The most visually pronounced evidence of this abnormality occurs in the hooves.

Whereas a normal, healthy moose of the same age might have hooves 3 to 5 inches long, three of this cow’s hooves were about six inches longer than that, and the rear left hoof was 10 inches longer.

According to Jeff Selinger from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, local state biologists hear at least one report a year concerning such hoof abnormalities.

Despite the elongated hooves, which tend to be softer and more rubbery than normal hooves, he said, the afflicted moose seem to manage all right.

The deformity did not necessarily contribute to the moose’s collision with the vehicle.

Superintendent ready to learn about retirement — Peterson to step down June 30

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

There’s someone Donna Peterson wants to meet.

It’s a person she knew some time ago, before she became Dr. Peterson, was named superintendent of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District and got too busy to keep up with old acquaintances as well as she would like.

It’s someone who loves to read and travel, goes for long bike rides, has plenty of time to spend with family and friends and, as Peterson recalls, had a bit of a wild streak.


After 10 years at the helm of one of the largest school districts in the state, and the largest employer in the Kenai Peninsula Borough, Peterson is stepping down June 30. She announced her resignation Jan. 28 to give the school board plenty of time to select her replacement. It also gives her time to prepare for the next chapter in her life — one where she’s the main character.

“I’m just going to have a break,” she said.

She’s not moving on to another job, much less locations. She’ll stay in Nikiski and do the things that she’s put on the back shelf during her tenure as superintendent.

“You wouldn’t want to give up a lake house now that you have time to enjoy it,” she said.

An item on her agenda is to finally have time to pay back one of her neighbors, Dan Carstens, vice principal at Nikiski Middle-High School, who likes to buzz her house on a jet ski or some other motorized craft, thinking he’s irritating her, she said.

Of course, being superintendent means she’s hardly ever home to hear it, but that doesn’t stop her from wanting retribution.

“I’ll be buzzing his house, except I’ll do it in the middle of the night when he has to work the next day,” she said.

Her first priority, though, will be spending more time with her 94-year-old grandmother, who lives in Nevada. Peterson is her primary caregiver, but can only manage to visit a few days here and there during the school year. She’ll also have more time to spend with her husband, Rudy, and travel to watch the college volleyball games of her daughter, Jamie.

She’ll read, exercise, relax and reconnect with friends.

“I really want a more simple life,” she said.

Does that mean she’ll don an apron, and learn to crochet and bake?

“God, no,” she said.

“I’m not crafty, so that’s not going to happen. I don’t cook, so that’s not going to happen. My circle will grow wider. A lot of it now is work-related. I hope to expand that.”

Not only will stepping down give Peterson time to herself, it also allows the freedom to be herself. When you’re in charge of the largest organization on the peninsula, responsible for more than 2,000 employees and 9,000 school kids, everything you say and do can be subject to scrutiny. You can’t allow a bad day to affect how you interact with others, you sometimes need to keep your personal opinions to yourself for the sake of diplomacy, and you can’t cut loose with friends at a bar over the weekend.

Not that she plans to do that now, she said, but the opportunity to only speak and act for herself, and not the entire school district, is appealing.

It’s also a bit daunting, downshifting from a public position of authority where she’s always informed and involved to being out of the loop.

“Sunday afternoons the phone rings and it’s not usually going to be a good thing,” she said. “I’m not going to be the one on the other end of the phone. That will be really hard to get used to.

“I’ll be exercising a lot, and finding other substitutes for that adrenaline rush that comes from being the leader of a large organization.”

The last time she took a break was over 20 years ago with two babies at home, and that only lasted five months before she wanted to get back to work, she said. So she expects to start working again sooner or later in some venue, writing articles and maybe another book, expanding her professional coaching business and perhaps volunteering locally.

“Anytime you’re involved with the kids, that keeps you young. It’s good for all of us,” she said.

She started out in KPBSD as a parent volunteer in 1990. Her first job here was as a sixth-grade sub for Tim Peterson, who now works out of district office as the human resources director for KPBSD. Maybe now she’ll finally be able to distance herself from the misconception that she and Tim are married, she said.

She taught fourth grade at North Star Elementary School and worked her way up to principal of the school, then curriculum director for the district before being named superintendent in 1999.

It wasn’t a post she expected to have for so long — she’s now the longest continuously serving superintendent in the state — and there was no way to foresee that the decade to come would include so many challenges.

After a boom of population growth and construction money on the peninsula in the 1970s and 1980s, resources dried up in the 1990s and student numbers have been steadily trickling downward, leaving the district having to pink slip employees, cut programs and consolidate schools. At the same time, education regulations were on the rise, with increasingly strict and cumbersome government initiatives, including the big one, No Child Left Behind.

But those challenges led to strengths and the district’s accomplishments that Peterson is most proud of, she said. The district adopted a culture of constant re-evaluation and not only making do with less, but making the most of what it had. That led to the first-rate technology system the district has in place, Peterson said, which is vital to keeping the far-flung district cohesive and in providing expanded opportunities to the district’s rural communities.

Peterson also pointed to the district’s finance department, which is regularly recognized for its excellence — another outgrowth of the lessons learned from stretching resources as far as they would go. And businesses and the larger peninsula community have been integrated into the school district through various partnerships.

“That would not have happened without scarce resources that caused us to look at things and do so many things differently,” Peterson said.

That’s not to say Peterson is glad the district was faced with resource challenges. Sometimes the hard times were just plain hard.

“We lost a lot of good people and we lost a lot of good energy because of scarce resources,” she said.

Another down side of the job has been dealing with controversial issues, she said. Not the contentious issues themselves, like school consolidations, but not always having all the cards on the table was frustrating.

“You might think politics, but I’ve enjoyed the politics because it’s all about education,” she said. “But controversial issues when things come up. I don’t like being surprised, but you’re going to be surprised if you put yourself out there and try new things,” she said.

“You’re always waiting for the ‘gotcha’ in this job.”

Some of the highlights of the district in the last 10 years Peterson pointed to have been the numerous awards and statewide and nationwide recognition district personnel have garnered, the role KPBSD has taken in being ahead of the curve on state and federal education initiatives, and the district’s hiring process for new administrators.

“It involves large groups of people providing input, being involved in the interview process and stating their opinions. It’s been good for the district,” she said.

In the list of accolades accumulated over the past decade, one of the most prominent is the fact that KPBSD made Adequate Yearly Progress, the benchmark of student achievement in No Child Left Behind legislation, as an entire district for the past two years in a row. KPBSD is the only large district in the state to do so.

“That took a long time. In 1999 we started the student achievement focus,” Peterson said. “… We said, ‘Until we get here we can’t talk about much more.”

Now that the district is “there” — with increasing success in student achievement and with state funding reworked last legislative session — Peterson said it’s time to step down and let someone else guide KPBSD to its next destination.

“It’s the perfect time to move on. Administrators are in place, the district is doing well. From the beginning coming in, you see administrative careers as having a lifetime,” Peterson said. “We have a wonderful new school board and we have new blood in there with administrators. I started thinking about, is it time to have somebody else take this to the next level?”

Peterson said she thinks school will change in the future, with school buildings and classrooms looking and operating differently than they have traditionally, and a new focus on kids’ individual learning needs.

“How is that is going to look? Let’s go try some new things. Everything’s in place to be the leaders in individual instruction. But it will take a long time and be a large time commitment and I’m not the person to do that,” she said.

She said she’s not worried about the future of the KPBSD, because folks are prepared to do a great job. But she’ll be hard at work in the next few months to ensure that future, helping the new school board get familiar with the district’s direction, and facilitating the transition for whomever the school board chooses to take her place.

“So the person loves the district as much as I do,” Peterson said.

Death-defying leaps — Man survives avalanche, double parachute malfunction

By Clark Fair
Redoubt Reporter

Jerry Dixon had nearly died many years before, and he was about to have another close call, but the irony of this newest narrow escape would not strike him fully until hours after the event.

Dixon was skiing beneath clear May skies with his friend, Mike Tetreau, in the mountains west of the Seward Highway near Lower Summit Lake. As morning became a warm afternoon, they climbed from the valley floor to a series of ridges and summits at nearly 4,500 feet elevation. Eventually it was time to head down, and they chose a new ridge for the final portion of their descent.

The final ridge featured several exposed rock outcroppings, and the two men kept a cautious separation between them as they maneuvered just below the rocks. While Tetreau waited, Dixon skied down and then turned left toward the ridgeline. As he turned, he kicked off a small point-release avalanche — a sloughing-off of snow, in this case a foot or two wide — dropping away from him for more than 30 feet.

But Dixon, who had spent a lifetime skiing in the mountains, didn’t stand still. He broke instantly for the safety of the nearest rocky outcrop. As he moved laterally, he heard a loud “whomp” and saw a crack shoot out in both directions from the bottom of the slide he had triggered. The crack was suddenly more than 300 feet long, and then the mountain face below it began to collapse.

As he reached the security of the rocks, the smooth slope disintegrated into a tumble of snow and ice, and spilled downward for nearly 2,000 vertical feet before rumbling to a stop in a wide deposition zone piled high with dense chunks of snow. Had he gone down with that churning mass, Dixon knew, he would not have emerged alive.

“If you were caught up in that, there’s no way you could’ve survived,” he said. “Once again, I was lucky.”

Dixon, a longtime teacher who grew up skiing on the slopes of Alta Ski Area in Utah, pondered his good fortune as he drove home to Seward.

When he arrived that evening, Dixon said, he hugged his two sons, Kipp and Pyper, and then kissed and hugged his wife, Deborah.

“My wife looked me right in the eye and said, ‘You’ve been in an avalanche, haven’t you?’ I said, ‘I set one off. If I was in it, I wouldn’t be here.’”

Sometime in the next few hours, Dixon was struck by the irony of his experience in the mountains. The avalanche had occurred on May 13, 2006, one day shy of being exactly 30 years since the most harrowing experience of his life, the first time he almost died.

It was May 14, 1976, and a 27-year-old Dixon was inside the belly of a twin-engine Volpar as it circled low over Birch Hill, just north of the Alaska smoke jumper base at Fort Wainwright near Fairbanks. Dixon and the other smoke jumpers inside the plane were preparing for their second practice jump of the day, preparing for another season of fighting fires.

Each jumper’s parachute was affixed to a static line that would pull his chute from his pack as he leapt from the airplane’s open door. As the line broke free of the top of the chute, the lower edges of the circular canopy would catch the incoming air and snap it open, buoying the smoke jumper for his descent to the ground.

The nylon parachute canopy was attached to suspension lines that, upon deployment, would angle down toward the smoke jumper’s harness into precise clusters of lines called risers, which the jumper could use for minimal steering.

The jumpers would exit the plane only about 1,000 feet above Birch Hill and would remain in the air for only one to two minutes. The idea was to practice real firefighting conditions, so the shortest jump, with the least margin for error, was preferred. In the case of a real fire, smoke jumpers need optimum accuracy. Extra time in the air can mean extra drift, and extra drift can mean landing in trees or in the fire zone itself.

Up in the plane, Dixon, a fifth-year jumper who had trained in and worked out of McCall, Idaho, stood momentarily in the open doorway, then launched himself into flight.

“Something didn’t feel right,” he wrote for the National Smokejumper Association in 2000. “The risers were tight against my face, and there was no opening shock. I pulled the risers apart and looked up to see a streamer.”

A “streamer” gets its name from its shape. It occurs when a parachute fully exits its pack but fails to open. It appears as a vertical column of fabric and does almost nothing to slow the jumper’s descent. Such a malfunction requires the jumper to take emergency action, and Dixon knew what to do.
He had trained for this eventuality, and he knew that, without a chute, he had less than 10 seconds before he would strike the ground.

Looking down, he located the handle attached to the ripcord of his reserve-chute pack, which was hanging like a small stuffed sleeping bag from his belly. He grabbed the handle and pulled, then punched the pack to release the chute. As the reserve chute shot upward, he turned his head aside and arched backward to avoid being struck in the face.

“The reserve blew past me, hesitated at the edge of the main (chute) and then flowed up alongside it,” Dixon said. “I was stunned to see it clinging to the side of the main.” Dropping at about 100 miles per hour, he pulled apart the risers to glimpse the rapidly approaching ground.

And once again, training paid off: He knew what to do.

“In my life, nothing’s been so clear. All fleeting thoughts were gone. There was almost a calm.
“My training told me to pull in the reserve and throw it out again. I grabbed the reserve lines and started pulling in the chute. Either the act of pulling or the fact that my body was arched so that I could pull harder caused the reserve to deploy. It seemed to explode, and I could actually see what appeared to be dust pulse from the canopy. (Then) the main started to billow and I was on the ground.”

Dixon landed on his back, his helmeted head smacking the ground forcefully. “My back hurt and I was in shock,” he said. “I left my chutes on the ground and walked away.”

Up in the Volpar, some of his fellow jumpers had assumed he was dead. From their perspective, he had disappeared, trailing two malfunctioning parachutes. One of the jumpers approached Dixon afterward and said, “We watched you go below the tree line. Everyone in the plane thought you went in.”

His only injury was a single herniated vertebra in his back, and he said that it was about a year before he was out of pain. But it was five more years before he was ready to jump again.

Dixon had been intrigued by smoke jumping since he had watched Richard Widmark in the 1952 film, “Red Skies Over Montana,” which is about 13 smoke jumpers who died fighting the Mann Gulch fire in 1949.

In his brief career as a smoke jumper, he said he had come to love the camaraderie of the jumper fraternity and the notion that the very nature of their jobs meant they had to rely on each other.
“You never look left; you never look right. They’re your buddies. They’re there for you,” he said. “You never wonder, ‘Will they be there?’”

Such a sense of closeness, of “brotherhood,” made it difficult for Dixon to stay away, despite his narrow escape in 1976. So in 1982 he went back to jump again.

In August 1982, he made what would turn out to be his final jump.

From a DC-3 over the rugged Salmon River wilderness in Idaho, Dixon leaped out and caught a draft that kept him aloft much longer than usual. Instead of fighting it by pulling in his chute for a more rapid descent, however, he allowed himself to drift, taking in the beauty of his surroundings for nearly seven minutes before he touched the ground.

“I was just like a bird,” he said. And that’s when he knew this jump would be his perfect ending.
Back at base days later, Dixon said he went to his squad leader and turned in his gear. The squad leader said, “I’ve never had a jumper in the middle of the day, the middle of the week, middle of a pay period, say he quit and turn in his stuff. Why?”

Dixon replied, “It took me six years to come back from a double parachute malfunction, and that last jump was just so magic. I was floating. I was flying. And that’s how I’ll always remember it.”

Thirty years after the experience over Birch Hill, all these memories would come flooding back once again, and Dixon would also recall his other numerous outdoor adventures — traversing mountain ranges, making first descents of distant mountains and dangerous streams, skiing the route of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. He would admit that he had been lucky throughout his life, but that life was too precious not to be fully lived.

As he is fond of saying, “Every day is a gift, and every sunrise is a new beginning.”

Classic fish tale — Theater parodies epic story to fit current events

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

An epic tale of love and betrayal, jealousy and triumph, a fish camp and a seriously ugly dress comes to Nikiski this week, as Triumvirate Theatre remakes the classic tale, “Gone With the Wind.”

In Triumvirate’s rendition, held Friday at the Nikiski Recreation Center, gone are the southern plantation of Tara and the backdrop of the Civil War. Instead, “Gone With the Fish” is set on a fish camp out north, with the fishermen going off to Washington, D.C., to ask for a bailout. Instead of the Yankees coming to town, it’s the feds coming with a corruption sting.

The show loosely follows the plot of the classic, 1939 firm featuring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, with the most memorable moments making an appearance, albeit in an altered state. There’s the love triangle between Scarlett, Ashley and Rhett, although Ashley is from a respectable oldtime fishing family and Rhett, the scalawag, is rumored to be connected to a plot to develop a large, earthen embankment to hold a giant containment lake at Pebble Mine.

Let’s all say it together, now: “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a dam.”

Then there’s the gown. The classic scene where a broke Scarlett has her housemaid make an elaborate dress out of the only fancy fabric left in the Tara — her mother’s parlor drapes — takes on new meaning this day and age when most homes sport miniblinds, rather than heavy, elaborate curtains.

It’s this kind of humor, as likely to make the audience groan as laugh, that makes the show entertaining, said Carla Jenness, who wrote the script.

“It’s a pretty funny parody,” she said. “There’s some wacky Alaska stuff and lots of talented actors and actresses, so it should be a lot of fun.”

Starring in the show are Carla and Chris Jenness, Joe Rizzo, Angie and Jamie Nelson, Charlissa Magen, Chris Pepper and Lucas Peless. The Nikiski High School dance troupe, with choreography by Phil Morin, will lend their talents to a dance number, the Virginia reel.

No, not the fishing pole kind, although that would have been funny, Jenness said.

The show is preceded by dinner, catered by Davis and Sons Pit BBQ, of Kenai. Following the performance is an auction of artwork and Hollywood memorabilia, including pieces by Jim Evenson, Kathy Zerbe, Connie Goltz, Rie Munoz, and John Van Zyle.

The event is Triumvirate’s fourth annual classic movie spoof and fundraiser. In previous years they’ve done “Cast-a-Blanca,” “The Maltese Salmon” and “Citizen King.”

This is the first time they’ve held the event in Nikiski. Jenness said they’re doing it to reconnect with the community and spread the word about the theater building they’re renovating on the North Road.

“We kind of wanted to get our community out here excited about the new theater that will hopefully be up and running in the next few years,” she said.

They bought a warehouse building in 2007 and are working to turn it into a used bookstore and theater space similar, but much larger, than Triumvirate’s venue in the Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna. They’ve got siding on the building, the roof is fixed up, the interior walls are up, the plumbing and electrical systems have been roughed in and there’s a new, donated sign out front along the Kenai Spur Highway. They hope to get Sheetrock up, finish electrical and plumbing work and get the bookstore portion open by late summer or fall, and then work on renovating the theater space, Jenness said. The show is a way to update people on the group’s progress.

“It’s kind of a ‘here we are, welcome to the neighborhood,’” Jenness said. “We did an informational meeting in the spring. This is just kind of bringing our brand of wacky humor out north. We thought it would be fun to remind people of where we are and that we’re working away.”

“Gone With the Fish” is Friday night at the Nikiski Recreation Center. Tickets are $25, available at Triumvirate Bookstore in Soldotna, or call ahead to reserve them at the door. Dinner is at 6 p.m. with the show at 7 p.m. and auction following. For more information, visit www.triumviratetheatre.org.

Arts and Entertainment week of Feb. 2

  • Art Works in Soldotna has photography by Joe Kashi and Rachel Lee on display through February.
  • The Funky Monkey in Kenai has artwork by Laura Faeo on display through February with a reception from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday.
  • The Gary L. Freeburg Gallery at Kenai Peninsula College will have “Leader of the Pack,” an exhibition of paintings by New York artist al baio , on display Sunday through March 4, with an opening reception from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday. Baio won the Boit Award for painting at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
  • Kaladi Brothers on Kobuk Street in Soldotna has artwork by Timothy S. Dahl on display through February with a reception from 5 to 6 p.m. Thursday.
  • Kaladi Brothers on the Sterling Highway in Soldotna has artwork by Scott and Renee Davis through February with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday.
  • The Kenai Fine Arts Center in Old Town Kenai has artwork by Clayton and Juanita Hillhouse on display through February.
  • 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.
  • Today
  • The film, “The Secret Life of Bees” will be shown at 6 p.m. with a light meal served at 5:30 p.m. at the Kenai River Center. Admission is free and donations are accepted for the LeeShore Center. To reserve a spot, call 260-7722.
  • Seamus Kennedy will perform at 8 p.m. at The Crossing in Soldotna. Tickets are $20, available from Sweeney’s.

First Thursday
  • First Thursday events today include an opening reception for Timothy S. Dahl from 5 to 6 p.m. at Kaladi Brothers on Kobuk Street in Soldotna, a reception for Scott and Renee Davis from 5 to 7 p.m. at Kaladi Brothers on the Sterling Highway in Soldotna, a reception for Clayton and Juanita Hillhouse from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Kenai Fine Arts Center, a reception for Laura Faeo from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Funky Monkey in Kenai, and a bluegrass jam at 6:30 p.m. at Christ Lutheran Church in Soldotna.
  • The Central Peninsula Writers Group meets at 6 p.m. in the conference room at Kenai Community Library. It’s open to the public. Bring extra copies of your work to share.

  • Entries are due by 5 p.m. for the Central Peninsula Writers Group’s 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. Entry forms and guidelines are available at the Kenai Community Library and online at kenailibrary.org under the Writer Group link.
  • The Alaska Oceans Film Festival will be shown as an installment of the Kenai Watershed Forum’s Winter Speaker Series at 7 p.m. at the Kenai River Center on Funny River Road. The festival involves films that celebrate Alaska’s ocean bounty, including short films on saltwater adventures, coastal cultures and marine science from Alaska and around the world. “Red Gold,” focusing on the proposed Pebble Mine, will be shown, along with shorter films covering a variety of subjects, from polar bears to lifeguards in Hawaii. It is free and refreshments will be served.

  • The13th annual Winter Wine Tasting and Auction will be held from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Kenai Senior Center, with gourmet appetizers and specialty wines, silent and live auctions and a variety of instant purchases and raffle chances. Contact Marquitta Andrus for more information at hospice@acsalaska.net or 262-0453.

  • A family board game event will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. at Kenai Community Library. Bring games to share, or play one the many available games. Call 283-4378.

Coming up
  • The Sitka Summer Music Festival musicians will perform at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 12 at Christ Lutheran Church in Soldotna. Tickets are $15, or $5 for students, available at the door and Northcountry Fair, River City Books and Sweeney's in Soldotna, and Already Read Books and the Funky Monkey in Kenai.
  • A high school dance and activity night, including a DJ, karaoke, Halo 3 competitions and unlimited laser tag, will be held from 8 p.m. to midnight Feb. 13 at Hawks Games in Soldotna. Call 260-9750 for more information.
  • Peninsula Artists in Motion’s annual Winter Ball fundraiser will be at 7 p.m. Feb. 14 at the Kenai Senior Center. It’s a black tie optional event with a catered menu, ballroom dancing with live music by Rob Ramponi's Alaska Swing Co., wine tasting by Bear Creek Winery of Homer, beer tasting by Kassik's Brewery and a silent auction. Contact Katrina Carpenter at peninsulaartistsinmotion@hotmail.com or 283-3140.
  • 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
  • Hooligan’s Saloon in Soldotna has open mic night Thursday and 9-Spine 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 Wednesday.
  • The Place in Nikiski has bluegrass by Them Other Shuckers on Friday nights.
  • The Rainbow Bar in Kenai has live music by Tuff-e-Nuff at 10 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
  • Veronica’s in Kenai has music by Robb Justice and Dan Pascucci from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Saturday.

  • The Duck Inn on Kalifornsky Beach Road has a karaoke contest every Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 9 p.m. through Tuesday with a $500 prize.
  • 9 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at the .406 in Kenai.
  • 9:30 p.m. 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 at 5 and 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 darts on Tuesdays.

Big horns, bad luck, good prices

By Clark Fair
Redoubt Reporter

Location, location, location.
Sometimes location is everything. At least such was the case in 1961, when Emmett and Betty Karsten of Ridgeway became the first civilian consumers of natural gas in Alaska.

A large natural gas field had been discovered west of Soldotna by Unocal and Marathon Oil Company in 1959, only two years after the discovery of oil in the Swanson River field. Soon, construction of a gas pipeline began, and the residents of Ridgeway and Soldotna were the earliest beneficiaries.

On Aug. 9, 1961, Ed Back, of Ed Appliance Service in Soldotna, and Bill Gross, of the Anchorage Natural Gas Company, completed the installation and hookup at the Karsten home.

The Kalifornsky Beach gas field turned out to be the largest field ever discovered in the Cook Inlet area, and it was soon supplying customers all across the central Kenai Peninsula.

Good luck, bad luck
August 1961 was a good hunting month for Bob Schmidt. He crept into the woods early on the opening day of moose season, located and shot a bull almost right away, and had his kill cleaned and hauled home well before the day was done.

Nine days later, on Aug. 10, Schmidt, a Kalifornsky Beach homesteader and commercial fisherman, was flown by guide Harold R. “Andy” Anderson into the Tustumena Glacier flats for a Dall sheep hunt. Anderson, Schmidt and the Rev. Paul Weimer, a Baptist minister from Soldotna, then hiked the difficult route into the mountains to establish a camp and search for full-curl rams.

Their search was successful. All three men made a kill, each one at an elevation of approximately 4,000 feet, and they all returned safely.

In the Aug. 25, 1961, edition of The Cheechako News, a photograph shows Anderson kneeling in front of three sets of ram horns displayed on a table. According to the information in the accompanying article, these were the horns from the Aug. 10 hunt, and the largest horns, flaring a prominent one and one-quarter curl, had come from Schmidt’s ram.

Anderson estimated that the ram had been 9 years old, although Schmidt himself said recently he believed it had been 10. A rough estimate of the horn size — a computation involving numerous measurements of horn thickness and length, plus distance between the horns — provided a score of 170, which made the horns a contender for inclusion in the Boone & Crockett record book.

No specific details of the measurements were provided in the article, but ironically the still-standing world record for Dall sheep was also killed in 1961. Harry L. Swank shot his ram in the Wrangell Mountains, and its horns — the right more than 48 inches long, the left more than 47 — scored a 189 6/8 with Boone & Crockett.

Unfortunately for Schmidt, he would never learn the official score for his set of horns. A fire in his home the following year destroyed his trophy, and a second fire sometime later destroyed his only photographs of the horns.

Best-laid plans...
The city of Soldotna had watched the city of Kenai try to keep up with a burgeoning student population in the mid-1950s, so city planners in the tiny town hoped they had it right when they constructed a four-classroom schoolhouse called Soldotna Elementary and opened its doors in September 1960.

An arrangement was already in place with Kenai to take all of the high school students, and Kenai also agreed to take all of Soldotna’s seventh- and eighth-graders. So when new Soldotna superintendent Charley Griffin, fresh from Georgia that summer, opened the school, 104 students in grades one through six were enrolled in classes taught by Griffin himself, his wife, Joyce, Maxine Reger and Tommye Jo Corr.

But in the following September, trouble arose: Kenai’s enrollment was still growing. In 1960, Kenai had had 535 students, including those from Soldotna. In 1961, even without Soldotna’s kids, Kenai’s enrollment had jumped to 657. So Soldotna’s seventh- and eighth-grade students would have to stay in Soldotna.

As a result of this change, in addition to a general enrollment increase, the total for Soldotna Elementary on opening day was a staggering 248 students. While residents of Kenai began a years-long argument over whether to build a separate high school, the residents of Soldotna began scrambling for more space.

To assuage the immediate problem, the city rented two rooms from M.L. “Red” Grange, who had recently completed the construction of a new office building behind the local medical clinic. To take care of the longer-range issue, the city began planning an addition to the school.

In 1963, Soldotna more than doubled the size of its school, but that still wasn’t enough. Later in the ’60s, three portable classrooms were set up behind the school, and by the time Griffin transferred in 1969 to become the principal at Kenai Central High School, the enrollment at Soldotna Elementary was 590.

Fortunately for the crowded students and staff, help was on the way: In 1969, a bid was awarded for the construction of Soldotna Junior High School. Unfortunately, the crowding didn’t stop there: KCHS was becoming so full that in 1973 a decision was made to keep all ninth-graders at the junior highs in both Kenai and Soldotna.

By the end of the 1970s, Soldotna was building its own high school, and by the end of the 1980s two more elementary schools — Kalifornsky Beach and Redoubt — were in business, and two new high schools — Skyview and Nikiski — were under construction.

Check out these prices!
In the fall and early winter of 1961, The Cheechako News carried advertisements promoting the following products and prices:

Pacific Northern Airlines was offering a round-trip ticket from Kenai to Anchorage for $14.65. Travelers interested in a one-way trip could fly to Anchorage from Soldotna with Cordova Airlines for only $6.

A new two-bedroom house on Linwood Lane, east of Kenai, was selling for $8,750.

For hungry residents of the central peninsula, the choices were improving: A 16-ounce top T-bone dinner was available at the Towne Café in Soldotna for $4.50, while a Deluxe Jumbo Burger could be had for a mere 90 cents at the Inlet Café in Kenai.

The Cottage Bakery in Kenai also advertised a special of 50 cents for a dozen cinnamon rolls, while Lou’s Market in Soldotna promised three “big packages” of “rippin’ good” cookies for a dollar.

As winter settled in, concerned parents might want to rush down to Gibbs Apparel in Soldotna, where children’s snowpants, featuring a quilted lining, were on sale for $5.49.

And to keep their vehicles running, area residents might be pleased to know that regular gasoline was priced at 45 cents a gallon at the Union 76 station in Ridgeway.

Of course, according to statistics based on the Consumer Price Index, area residents in 2009 might be interested to know that $100 in 1961 is the rough equivalent of $700 today.

Editorial: Image is everything in lead-up to hydro

For Kenai Hydro, the Homer Electric Association partnership that’s pursuing hydroelectric projects in the Moose Pass area, image is just about everything when it comes to gaining public support.

That’s why invoking the Low-Impact Hydropower Institute is a powerful sign. It’s an independent, well-respected organization that certifies certain hydropower projects as “low-impact,” meaning they meet stringent criteria meant to ensure protection of fish and wildlife habitat, recreation and historic interests.

Kenai Hydro has included the LIHI logo in its presentations and started off saying it intended to apply for certification for its projects. At recent meetings in Cooper Landing and Moose Pass, however, they’ve said they’re not eligible because the LIHI doesn’t certify new projects built after 1998. But they still use the logo and say they’ll follow the LIHI’s guidelines to create low-impact projects.

The change caused some raised eyebrows. In Cooper Landing, a resident requested that Kenai Hydro stop using LIHI’s logo because it creates the false impression that the organization has some involvement or association with the group, with is not true. In Moose Pass, Bruce Jaffa said he’s concerned that Kenai Hydro didn’t get all this straightened out before they started telling the public about it.

“I think it was a little wishful thinking that they could include that,” he said. “When you see a drastic change like that early on it gives you some reason to wonder why it wasn’t caught earlier.”

Fred Ayer, executive director of the LIHI, said he hasn’t been contacted by HEA or Kenai Hydro and that, “If they are using our logo, they are using it without our permission and in a way that certainly could confuse stakeholders.”

Ayer said the group’s focus is dams, and it does not support the construction of new dams, which is why it doesn’t certify new hydro dams built after 1998 — the year before LIHI was formed. But it is considering new, nondam technology for hydro and plans to create criteria for certifying new facilities. Kenai Hydro is planning dam structures.

If Kenai Hydro’s mistake in being ineligible for LIHI certification was a simple oversight, that’s one thing. But to know they don’t qualify and still use the LIHI image gives the impression of an association that doesn’t exist. It’s laudable and responsible for Kenai Hydro to want to follow the low-impact criteria, but without the LIHI having a say in whether they’re actually following it or not negates the whole purpose of the certification. Who is Kenai Hydro to say its creating low-impact projects along the lines of LIHI, without an impartial viewer checking to verify the claim?

Facts, figures, schematics and all the technical data that will come from environmental and design research will matter most to regulators in deciding whether to grant approval to build the projects — whether it’s one or all four, the way they’re envisioned now or in some revised state.

That information will matter to folks keeping close tabs on the development of the projects, too, but in this early stage of the process, when first impressions can lead to knee-jerk reactions of support or opposition, appearance reigns supreme.

Kenai Hydro needs to show it’s concerned about the environment it’s looking to alter and that it cares about protecting fish and wildlife habitat, recreational uses and scenic beauty. Maybe not as much as area residents do, because playing the “I hike up there once a year” card won’t win any credibility with locals, but at least enough to make people believe they’ll do what they can to minimize impacts from the projects.

Kenai Hydro’s desire to be low-impact is important and following the guidelines of the LIHI of its own accord is admirable, but to use the group’s name and logo to lend credibility to its projects, when in fact there is no association, just plain looks bad.

And that’s the wrong image to create.

Guest editorial: America’s responsibility, opportunity as an Arctic nation

Although many in the Lower 48 did not pay much attention, the White House recently released an important new policy statement dealing with an area of the world that is close to the hearts of many Alaskans — the Arctic.

The Arctic Policy 2009 calls for enhanced security, increased environmental protection, sustainable energy development, international scientific cooperation and greater involvement of indigenous people in the Arctic. U.S. Arctic Policy was last updated in 1994, but the Arctic is vastly different today than it was 15 years ago. The administration’s updated Arctic policy recognizes the United States as an Arctic nation — thanks to Alaska’s geographic location — and details new objectives, priorities and needs for the region.

Climate change and the environmental changes that come with it are occurring at an unprecedented rate in the Arctic. The polar ice cap is melting and areas that have never been accessible to energy development, shipping, and tourism have been opening up during the summer, leading some to predict that one day in the near future the fabled Northwest Passage, connecting the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean, might be a regular shipping route. This is an intriguing prospect for Alaskans.

A more accessible Arctic Ocean will require enhanced environmental protection in order to protect the vulnerable Arctic ecosystem. We must find the balance to allow for reasonable development of our vast natural resources while maintaining strong protections for the environment. Maritime activities relating to the transportation of goods, oil and gas, tourism and research will surely increase as marine access to the Arctic Ocean increases. Marine transportation through an ice-diminished Arctic has the potential to reduce shipping routes by thousands of miles, thereby greatly increasing the amount of maritime traffic just off our shores.

The distance through the Northern Sea Route reduces the Hamburg to Yokahama voyage by almost 5,000 miles. Recognizing that there will be increased activity in this area represents perhaps the greatest challenge and need for international cooperation. This is action that needs to be taken now, not after a major maritime disaster occurs.

The Arctic, however, isn’t just about responsibility — it offers opportunity, as well. We in Alaska know we have many of the resources that hold the key to bringing down the cost of energy in this country and reducing our dependence on unstable foreign sources of energy. Recently, the United States Geological Survey estimated that the Alaskan Arctic might contain more than 30 billion barrels of oil and 221 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in its undiscovered reserves.

There is also tremendous opportunity for Alaska to be even more of a leader in international scientific research. Some of the best scientific minds are already working in Alaska in our universities and in the field on climate and Arctic research.

While energy production in the Arctic is vital, we must not forget about Alaska’s first peoples of the North: the Inupiat, Athabascan and Yupik. The dramatic changes that are occurring may have a profound impact on our environment and their traditional way of life. Preserving the culture, languages and subsistence lifestyle of these Alaskans must remain paramount in our endeavors. That is why they must be involved in the political, legal and scientific decision-making to ensure that their voice, as the residents of the Arctic, will be heard.

When Russia planted a flag on the sea floor beneath the North Pole in 2007, seeking to claim almost half of the Arctic, it sent a strong message to Alaskans and the rest of the world. While the United States is working to map our own extended continental shelf, the best way to secure international recognition of our claim is by ratifying the Convention on the Law of the Sea. We cannot dispute other claims that might overlap with ours until we do. This intense interest in claiming Arctic territory is primarily driven by the quest for Arctic resources. Until recently, the resources of the Arctic were deemed to be too difficult and expensive to develop, but the region is now being explored and developed at an unprecedented rate.

Alaska and the United States must prepare for a melting Arctic and the international implications that brings. Our neighbors, Canada and Russia, are continuing to move forward with their claims and the development of their offshore energy resources and shipping routes. It is crucial to Alaska that the United States engage in multilateral discussions to establish strong international agreements to manage activities in the Arctic. If the U.S. is going to be a leader in this vital region, it is time to step up to the plate. Congress and the executive branch need to work together to implement this new presidential directive and give the Arctic the attention it deserves.

Sen. Murkowski, R-Alaska, the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, hosted the eighth Conference of Arctic Parliamentarians in Fairbanks in August.

Guest editorial:Habitat partnership puts focuses on fish

Kenai Peninsula Fish Habitat Partnership is a conservation partnership developing on the Kenai Peninsula. This partnership is working with the National Fish Habitat Action Plan to protect, restore and enhance our area’s fish and aquatic communities.

KPFHP is one of several partnerships developed concurrently with the National Fish Habitat Plan, designed to raise awareness of fish initiatives, assign priorities and generate annual congressional support to improve aquatic habitat. National Fish Habitat Action Plan is all about locally driven efforts that build private and public partnerships to improve fish habitat. Fish Habitat Action Plan partnerships are self-identified, self-organized and self-directed communities of interest formed around geographic areas, keystone species or system types.

These partnerships are nonregulatory and voluntary; locally and regionally based; driven by grassroots partners; focused on protection, restoration and enhancement in key watersheds; science-based; linked nationally; sustainable and accountable; and nonallocative.

The KPFHP began with a letter from the National Fish Habitat Action Plan Board accepting our request to be considered a regional partner. Since that time, an ad hoc committee representing various interests has come together to begin working on a strategic plan addressing the needs of fish habitat across a “region.” The group has conducted several public outreach meetings across the Kenai Peninsula and will continue to seek input throughout the development of the strategic plan. Developing this plan under the guidance provided by the National Fish Habitat Action Plan is our first step in being accepted as a regional partner. We anticipate this process continuing through May of 2009 and will be updated regularly under the strategic plan section of the Web site, http://office.kenaiwatershed.org/KPFHP.

Working to protect fish habitat on the Kenai Peninsula should be a goal all interests could and should support.

Plugged In: Get with the system (board) in building computers

Over the past several weeks, we’ve examined some of the most important factors that affect getting the most for your money when setting up and maintaining a properly balanced Windows computer.

This week, we’ll consider the remaining major components of your computer, including the system board, hard disks, video and CD/DVD drives.

If you haven’t had more than enough technical jargon by the end of this article, then you’re either a serious case or you’ve missed our prior articles, which you can find online at http://redoubtreporter.blogspot.com.

System Boards
The system board is the single most critical and complex part of your computer system. Most modern computers contain few, if any, traditional expansion cards anymore. The hardware and functions that used to reside on six or eight plug-in expansion cards are now integrated directly into the “chipset” on the system board, which is sometimes called a “motherboard.” Usually, that means that you’ll get more functionality and reliability for less money.

It also means that you’ll need to be very careful when choosing your system board because it’s the heart of your computer, even more so than the CPU processor. At the most basic level, your system board must mechanically fit your case and the case’s attachment points. Generally, so long as you get an ATX or Micro-ATX style board, mechanical compatibility should not be a problem. I prefer the larger ATX boards because they usually provide a little more elbowroom on the board, but Micro-ATX boards are often quite acceptable and are required for small cases.

Your consideration should start with deciding which CPU processor you’ll use because the system board must support the specific CPU processor. At the most basic level of plain mechanical compatibility, the system board must use precisely the same socket type that fits the intended CPU. Assuming that the CPU fits, then the system board should have a chipset that is compatible with the CPU and that includes all of the functions that you’ll want.

At the moment, NVidia and Intel make the most powerful chipsets for current Intel CPUs, most of which fit the LGA 775 pin socket. The best-rated system boards seem to use the following chipsets for Intel CPU processors: Intel P35, P45, G31, Q35 and Q45 chipsets, and NVidia GeForce 9400, 790i and GE 43 chipsets.

Most current AMD CPU processors use either the AM2 or AM2-plus socket and the best-rated system boards for AMD CPUs seem to use the following chipsets: AMD 770, 780 and 790 chipsets or NVidia 570 or 790 chipsets.

Some budget system boards will include onboard video, which eliminates the purchase of a separate video card. Onboard video is usually quite acceptable for average business and home use but is too slow for games or Photoshop. Well-regarded onboard video chipsets include AMD’s Radeon HD 3200/3300 series and NVidia’s GeForce 8200/8300 series.

Because it’s so easy to build a basic budget system board using off-the-shelf chipsets, there are many, many brands. I’ve found the most generally reliable system boards to be made by Gigabyte, MSI, Intel and AMD. ECS, DFI, ASUS and ASrock system boards used to have quite a following, but Gigabyte and MSI seem to be leading the pack lately in general user satisfaction. I’ve had good results with both Gigabyte and MSI boards, which are sold locally and are priced midrange. There are, however, many different models, even within the same brand, and models change very rapidly as features are added or subtracted.

Spending a little more for a high-quality system board is never wasted. The higher reliability and additional hardware functions are usually quite worthwhile add-ons, and you’ll likely be able to get by with a less-expensive processor in the short term and then upgrade when prices on the top-of-the-line CPU drop dramatically in six months. This is actually a very practical strategy that provides an inexpensive path for regular upgrades because CPU prices drop regularly. A good system board should have all, or at least almost all, of the following:
  • A chipset that supports the fastest DRAM speeds and “Hypertransport” speeds of which your intended CPU is capable. Otherwise, you’ll be wasting a lot of that expensive processing power.
  • At least eight high-speed USB ports with at least four, preferably six, physically present back-panel USB connectors and internal wiring for two to four more USB 2.0 connectors for front panel and internal use. Almost every external device connects to your computer through a fast USB port anymore, especially scanners, printers, microphones, Web cameras and mice.
  • One or two FireWire connectors would be nice, especially for video camcorders and fast external hard disks.
  • At least one gigabit-speed Ethernet network adapter. I prefer the Marvell gigabit Ethernet chip because it includes a unique test program that helps diagnose networking cable problems.
  • At least four fast 3.0-gigabit SATA connectors for internal hard disks and newer DVD drives and also at least one IDE connector for older CD/DVD drives. If you plan to use this computer to act as a central storage “file server” for a small office network, then be sure that it includes RAID 0+1 or RAID 5 disk array functions on the system board.
  • A decent audio chipset to power an external speaker set. Although the Realtek audio chipset is fine, I prefer the NVidia audio chipset. The audio control software seems more straightforward and effective and that’s most of it.
  • A floppy disk drive connector ¬— everyone except Microsoft knows that the floppy disk is obsolete. Unfortunately, installing many versions of Windows still requires you to have the specialized driver software for your hard disk controller on a floppy disk and you’ll need to connect that floppy disk.
  • Several small internal fan connectors.
  • The usual keyboard, mouse, and printer port connectors.
  • Several slots for expansion cards.
  • Small fans on the main system board chipsets, particularly fans that don’t interfere with seating a video card. Modern chipsets run hot and I do not believe that simple metal cooling fans provide enough cooling for long-term reliability. Small fans are better, assuming that they are of reliable quality.
Unless you are a gamer or a professional user of CAD, Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Lightroom, nearly any stable video card with driver software for your specific operating system will be adequate. Video functions built directly into the system board tend to be the slowest but are usually OK for business users. As with system boards, there are numerous video card brands and models, all of which are built using a few standard video chipsets from NVidia or AMD. I have used video boards built around the AMD/ATI Radeon for some years with good reliability and quite adequate performance for the price.

Generally, a separate plug-in 16-channel PCI-X video card provides the best performance. Get a video card that includes at least 256 megabytes, preferably 512 megabytes, of video memory installed on the video card itself. Video cards that “share” the DRAM memory installed on the system board are definitely budget items. They work OK but are not the preferred option. Be sure that the video card’s resolution and other characteristics are matched to your video monitor.

If you are an Adobe Photoshop CS4 or Lightroom 2.x user, check Adobe’s Web site for a list of video card chipsets that are certified to accelerate photo processing in Adobe Photoshop CS4 and Lightroom 2.x. Video card photo processing is a new feature in the most recent Adobe products. It’s a very worthwhile performance boost and is recommended. Gamers definitely need the fastest video cards available.

Decent video monitors are now quite inexpensive compared to even a few years ago. I have always had excellent luck with monitors from Viewsonic and their budget brand, Optiquest. Get a good monitor, though, because recent studies strongly suggest that higher-quality monitors improve productivity and reduce fatigue and eye strain. Wide-screen monitors are OK, but if you do get a wide-screen monitor, you’ll probably want to get at least a 22-inch, preferably a 24-inch, monitor. Otherwise, you’ll be squinting.

Hard disks
Twenty-five years after IBM introduced the first desktop hard disk, your hard disk’s performance remains one of the single most critical determinants of overall computer performance. (What I actually wanted to write was “Redoubt Reporter readers will readily recall my recent review of really radical performance with rapidly revolving disk drives,” but I’m not sure that I can slip it by our eagle-eyed, style-manualed editor, and the thesaurus ran out of synonyms starting with “re.”)

Look for these features in a good hard disk:
  • SATA II interface — it’s faster and easy to set up.
  • Fast rotation — 7,200 RPM drives are standard. Western Digital’s 10,000 RPM Raptor drives are really fast when matched to the right system board SATA disk controller, but they’re a lot more expensive. If you want the ultimate in desktop PC performance, be ready to spend at least two to three times as much per gigabyte capacity if you buy a 150 GB or 300 GB Raptor drive. On the other hand, these drives are rated as highly reliable.
  • High capacity — not only do you want at least 500 gigabytes storage, but modern high capacity hard disks pack the data more tightly, resulting in more data mechanically passing under the read-write head on each revolution, resulting in better overall performance.
  • A large “buffer,” at least 8 MB built in, preferably 16 MB or 32 MB.
  • High shock and drop resistance. None of us has ever dropped a hard disk or computer. None of us. Of course.
  • Two hard disks in your computer. Put your operating system and application programs on the boot drive (C) and your data on a second, physically different drive (D). That way, if Windows goes south, which it will in time, you won’t lose data when you need to reformat the boot hard disk. In addition, using a second hard disk to hold your data makes it easier to upgrade to a larger hard disk when needed and to back up your data.
Odds and ends
  • DVD drive and floppy disk — just about any brand-name DVD read/write driver and any brand-name floppy disk will do the trick. These have become commodity items.
  • Keyboard and mouse — wired keyboards and optical mice are generic commodity items. I prefer the convenience of a wireless keyboard. I’ve had my best luck with the less-expensive Logitech models, but even these fail more often than hard-wired devices.

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.