Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Arsenic on tap — Contaminant levels in area wells create murky issues

Editor’s note: Next week’s Redoubt Reporter will continue an examination of arsenic levels in drinking water, focusing on the perspective that arsenic contamination is not a serious concern.

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Think before you drink.

That phrase usually refers to booze, as in campaigns to prevent drinking and driving or admonishing mothers against fetal alcohol syndrome.

On the central Kenai Peninsula, there’s a much more common beverage that requires attention — plain, old, unassuming water.

Filling up a glass at the tap from houses on private wells and even municipal sources may get residents more than they bargained for, including an increased risk of cancer and a whole slew of side effects, from fatigue and skin discolorization to respiratory tract irritation and possibly even seizures.

That’s because most drinking water in the area contains arsenic, a toxin that comes from minerals dissolving into underground aquifers. There isn’t much argument over whether arsenic is in the water, even through it isn’t detectable by sight, smell or taste, or that some wells have arsenic levels high enough to pose health risks and warrant the instillation of costly water filtration systems.

Other issues regarding arsenic stir up debate.

How much is too much?

How widespread are high arsenic levels?

For that matter, what level of arsenic is considered high?

Answers vary. Some describe a situation that is near epidemic, posing serious health risks to the majority of the population.

“The level of the significance of it on the peninsula is so ridiculously high that I think every single person should have their well tested specifically for arsenic,” said Dr. Robert Thompson, who has tested and treated patients for high arsenic levels in his Soldotna practice for the past five years.

Not only are dangerously high arsenic levels common in water sources on the central Kenai Peninsula, but most people have no idea their water is contaminated because there are no regulations requiring arsenic testing or setting acceptable contaminant limits for private wells, Thompson said.

Others say it isn’t that big of an issue and that concern over arsenic may be a misperception stemming from the Environmental Protection Agency a few years ago changing the maximum amount of arsenic allowed in municipal water sources, which are governed under the Clean Water Act. The allowed limit was lowered, but that doesn’t mean the amount of arsenic has increased.

“Generally on the Kenai Peninsula we have good water. As far as health concerns, it’s generally good,” said Mike Tauriainen, owner of Tauriainen Engineering and Northern Test Lab in Soldotna, which does water analysis.

When arsenic is concerned, one thing is clear — it’s a murky subject.

Water woes
Janette MacDonald chocked up her weight gain and diminishing energy to getting older.

She’d always been fit and active, doing rodeo when she was younger. She still works out an hour a day, on top of the physical demands of taking care of her and her husband’s livestock and running the Sterling Moose River Dog Kennel they operate out of their home. The MacDonalds eat well, avoiding most processed food and even raising their own beef. And she drinks water “like a cow,” she said, downing several liters a day from her kitchen faucet.

Despite all that, she gained 60 to 70 pounds over about five years, and no amount of diet or exercise would take it off. Her energy level was shot to the point where she’d have to take naps during the day just to recharge enough keep the kennel up. Her hair was brittle and falling out, she developed skin spots and nail discoloration, and was having trouble with her memory. She was 50 at the time, in 2006, and figured it was all an inevitable part of age catching up with her.

“I was fighting the weight but I thought, ‘Well, I’m just not eating very good.’ We push all this off as we’re aging, we’re getting older, our bodies aren’t responding as well. We need to eat better and exercise more, but that just makes you tireder,” MacDonald said.

In March 2006 she went with her daughter to an appointment with Dr. Robert Thompson in Soldotna. Being acquaintances through kenneling Dr. Thompson’s dog on occasion, he asked how MacDonald was doing. She didn’t hesitate in telling him she felt like hell.

Thompson is a proponent of measuring and addressing mineral deficiencies in patients to improve their health, rather than prescribing medication for a host of ills. It’s a philosophy he developed in writing his book, “The Calcium Lie,” and in developing a treatment strategy for hyperthyroidism (an underactive thyroid), which he said is a common problem for people who are overweight.

“I’m just trying to take better care of patients,” Thompson said. “The way we practice medicine today is not right, it’s messed up. We can’t presume to get people better with pills. Somewhere along the way in medical school we forgot about the biology of disease and figure if you have a medical problem you must have a drug deficiency.”

Thompson recommended MacDonald have a hair mineral analysis done. A hair sample was sent to a lab in Texas and analyzed to determine the levels of minerals and toxins in MacDonald’s system. The results came back showing McDonald’s arsenic level was off the charts at 204 parts per billion. The recommended limit is 10 ppb. The chart from the lab only went up to 70 ppb.
“I was like, ‘Oh, crap,” she said.

Her arsenic level was so high it was robbing her body of other, needed minerals, she said. Sodium, potassium, magnesium, zinc — “everything else was below the level it should be at,” she said. “Arsenic pulls all the good stuff out of you. Your body is so busy fighting it you don’t absorb any of the nutrients.”

Arsenic is bioaccumulative, meaning it builds up over time. At elevated levels it can contribute to a host of problems, including weight gain, fatigue, hair loss, skin rashes, pigmentation of nails, confusion, numbness in hands and feet, respiratory tract irritation, muscle aches, stomach problems and even seizures, and it can lead to an increase in free radical formation, which ages connective tissue in the body, Thompson said. It’s also linked to increased cancer risks, especially skin, lung and liver cancer.

“When is exceeds 10 parts per billion, it increases the cancer risk 30 times, and so it’s a real, significant problem from the long-term standpoint, as well as potentially a shorter-term standpoint,” he said.

Arsenic can come from a variety of sources, including eating some forms of seafood and some brands of store-bought chicken, and breathing smoke from burning treated lumber, Thompson said. But none of that would explain MacDonald’s high level. The most likely culprit was also the most mundane — her home drinking water.

The MacDonalds had their well water tested for arsenic, and sure enough, it came back at 70 ppb. The maximum level recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency is 10 ppb.

“It’s a huge problem on the peninsula, about 80 percent of the wells, based on the testing I’ve seen, have high arsenic levels,” Thompson said. “I’m more surprised when they’re not elevated than when I see them when they are elevated.”

MacDonald has lived in her house off Otter Drive in Sterling for about 20 years now and had no idea there was a problem with her water. After the diagnosis she and her husband, Charlie, had a water filtration system installed that removed arsenic from all the water used in the house, for drinking, cooking, bathing and cleaning.

“I never even heard of it. Nobody ever talked about it. I had no idea,” MacDonald said. “You look at the water and it looks good and it tastes good and that’s it. We had the best-tasting water in Sterling. It was clear and beautiful and it was sweet. People would come fill up water jugs at our house. Now it’s on a filter and it’s flat-tasting.”

MacDonald’s husband and daughter had their arsenic levels tested and they were found to be slightly elevated, but nowhere near the degree hers was. But she’s lived in the home longer and works there running the kennel, so tap water was what she drank all day, every day, for 20 years. Charlie works as a Homer Electric Association lineman and isn’t around the house as much. Plus, he isn’t a big water drinker. Neither is MacDonald’s daughter.

Thompson has been recommending tissue analyses in his practice since 2000 among his patients in Anchorage and on the Kenai Peninsula. Anchorage patients show elevated arsenic levels occasionally, but it’s much more common on the peninsula, he said. He estimates having about 1,000 hair analyses done for patients in the last nine years of practice — the last five in Soldotna — and from those results said that arsenic “is a huge problem.”

“The Sports Lake area — everybody’s got high arsenic. Mackey Lake, same thing. And Longmere Lake, same thing — high arsenic levels. Every single well in that area has it. And when you eat the fish out of those lakes, guess what you’re getting — arsenic. Kenai, Nikiski, Kasilof — same problem,” Thompson said.

He speaks from personal experience, as well, after finding the drinking water at the house he brought on Sports Lake Road had an elevated arsenic level, he said.

“I think I lost about half the hair on my head within the first year I moved to the Sports Lake area until I realized what was going on,” he said.

Once a high arsenic level is diagnosed, the first step of treatment is preventing any more accumulation of the toxin. That means getting water from an uncontaminated source or, more feasibly for most people on private wells, installing a filtration system. Treatment options have changed over the years, and Thompson said he now prescribes a product called Metal-Free, a chelation agent that removes heavy metals by binding to the metal ions and flushing them out of the body. MacDonald said she also had treatment for an underactive thyroid, underwent feet detoxification treatments at a spa in Soldotna, and credits the support of her Taking Off Pounds Sensibly group, AK No. 164 in Soldotna, for helping her lose the weight she put on.

A year later, in April 2007, MacDonald had another hair analysis done. This one showed her mineral counts to be back to normal and her arsenic level down to 13 ppb. She lost about 60 pounds, her skin and nail discolorization was fading and she felt better than she had in years, she said.

“I’ve got energy all over the place now and I’m two years older,” she said.

Since the experience she’s made it her mission to inform people about the dangers of arsenic in drinking water. She’s told all her neighbors and friends to get their water tested, and her TOPS group had an information program about the subject.

“I would say a high percentage of the wells all have arsenic in them and a lot of them haven’t even tested their wells, and I’m on the bandwagon going, ‘Wait a second, guys, at least get your water tested. At least rule that out,’” MacDonald said. “Some say, ‘Oh, it’s not going to bother me.’ Well, it hasn’t yet, but arsenic builds up in your system. It doesn’t go away.”

Thirst for knowledge
If MacDonald and Thompson are on the bandwagon to warn people with private wells about arsenic, Mike Polocz from Culligan is taking the reins to raise public awareness. He said he’s alarmed not only about the level of arsenic he’s seen in private well water since he moved to the central Kenai Peninsula, but also the lack of knowledge about the situation.

“If this was happening down in Illinois when I was there, this would be all over the news. I mean all over. And I just don’t get it,” he said.

Culligan sells water filtration systems and for the last eight years has done arsenic testing, Polocz says. The test is a kit where Polocz adds a chemical to an unfiltered water sample, which turns a strip of paper a shade of orange or yellow, depending on the amount of arsenic in the water. The color is matched to a key to show the arsenic level. He said the test has an error rating of plus or minus 5, and shows arsenic levels in parts per billion.

He said his concern over the issue isn’t due to his company selling water filtration systems. He’s concerned about the health implications, he said. As such, he said Culligan is offering free arsenic water testing on all new wells, and for existing wells through the beginning of March. Otherwise the test costs $25.

“I didn’t think (arsenic) was that bad until I realized how high it’s gotten and how many are oblivious to its existence or effects,” Polocz said.

He said the frequency of finding high arsenic levels is increasing. He used to find a well with 70 ppb perhaps once a month, he said, but in February he tested two on Kalifornsky Beach Road that tested at 70 ppb at the same time. Well depths and differences in aquifers affect arsenic levels, and arsenic levels can differ at homes even right across the street. But by and large if a neighbor has a problem, the rest of the area probably does, too, he said. He also theorized that earthquake activity might increase arsenic levels in water, so that a previous test result years before may no longer be valid.

His own water, off Betty Lou in Sterling, had tested previously at 50 ppb. He tested it again recently and got a result of 80 ppb, he said.

“It’s a good thing I’m moving,” he said. “I’m probably a little paranoid. Now that I know about it, I get out of the shower and I’m looking at my arms and stuff.”

Polocz recommends a filtration system for drinking water that has 10 ppb of arsenic or higher. At 50 ppb, he recommends a whole-house filtration system, because arsenic can be absorbed through the skin at high levels.

“Treat all the water in your house so when you fill up the tub and put your kids in it you’re not putting them in 70 parts-per-billion arsenic,” he said.

Polocz has started putting colored dots on a map of the central peninsula hanging on a wall in the Culligan office to represent well sites that have tested high for arsenic, with large orange dots for 70 ppb and smaller ones for lesser levels. It creates a striking visual, with ominous clusters of color particularly in Sterling, the Sports Lake area and along Kalifornsky Beach Road.

Polocz said most people aren’t even aware there might be a problem, since arsenic testing isn’t required on private wells.

“I’m learning more and more about it every day,” he said. “Well drillers are happy when they’re under three parts-per-billion iron and it’s not coming out like tomato sauce. Hear no evil, see no evil. Once they hit good water under three parts-per-billion of iron, it is what it is.”

Bald eagle carries off puppy — Owner blames decreased eagle feeding for Kookie becoming a snack

By Naomi Klouda
Homer Tribune

BobbieLee Briggs took her 11-week old puppy, Kookie, out to do its business Saturday morning, never suspecting that she might need to protect her pet from predators.

Little Kookie, (pronounced like Cookie), a Chihuahua, was so small it fit into Briggs’ hands. She paid $300 for the dog and brought her home about five weeks ago. On Saturday, Briggs set Kookie down, and along came an eagle.

“It was a full-grown eagle. It hit me on the head and shoulders and knocked me down. I looked up and he’s got my puppy,” Briggs said.

“Chihuahuas are small. When I looked up, the eagle had it like it was a mouse in its claws. She didn’t even struggle. The way she was held by the eagle was the way I would pick her up. The eagle kept flying off and didn’t drop her.”

Shaken and upset, Briggs said she didn’t know where to turn. On Monday, she spoke to a person at the Islands and Oceans Visitor’s Center, who suggested she write a letter to the editor. She also was told she might tell the Homer Police and contact the city of Homer.

“But I was afraid they would just laugh at me,” she said.

One of Briggs’ complaints is she believes this winter’s congregation of eagles poses a menace to small pets in town. She said city actions regarding eagles on the Homer Spit might be at fault.

“There haven’t been eagles in this area for a while,” Briggs said, speaking of the Fireweed neighborhood in Homer. “They were definitely looking for food. It’s like they are out hunting for squirrels. I want people to keep an eye out. Though, even if they are keeping an eye out, it could happen.”

Briggs said she hasn’t seen many eagles down on the Homer Spit, where they get a free meal for a few more weeks.

After the “Eagle Lady” Jean Keene died Jan. 13, the Homer City Council permitted Keene’s assistant to continue feedings through March 27. The council acted on the advice from wildlife officials who recommended against an abrupt halt to feeding eagles.

“I don’t think they are being fed anymore,“ Briggs said. “I was down there Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and I saw maybe one eagle the whole time.”

That makes her believe eagles are dispersed through town, hunting for food and searching out other eating opportunities.

“I think people need to be warned. I’m afraid somebody else’s animal might get taken. The eagles are hungry, and they are going to take food any way they can take it,” she said.

Steve Tarola, who feeds the Homer Spit eagles at the former home of Jean Keene, said he continues to feed a large grouping of eagles each morning.

“They are being well-fed here. Eagles are getting full,” he said.

The eagles will take off when longer days come, he said. They return to home territories to defend them.

“But we see them go even if there was food here,” he said.

Making neighbors feel right at home — Old-time club helps make new bonds

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Saturday morning at the Kenai Peninsula Association for Family and Community Education retreat was ostensibly spent learning crafts.

The ladies attending, from Homer, Willow and the Nikiski area, did learn how to create an Alaska pin ribbon and an Alaska flag beaded pin, in line with the retreat’s theme celebrating Alaska’s 50th anniversary of statehood. But they learned a lot more about each other in the process.

As they sewed, cut, beaded and glued, they chatted, renewing old bonds established at prior years’ retreats, and cementing new friendships.

A list of trivia of what things cost 50 years ago set Rieta Walker, of Homer, off on a few stories.

“I paid $72 a quarter in Montana University (compared to $1,250 to attend Harvard University for a year a half century ago). Now you’re lucky if you can buy a book for 72 bucks. I’m so old I remember when a penny postcard actually cost a penny,” she said.

Margaret Dubber, of North Kenai, had a tale of costs of her own to share, about her move to Alaska from Oklahoma after marrying her husband, Rodger.

“He didn’t introduce me as his wife. He said I was his Okie souvenir. I said I’m the most expensive souvenir he ever bought. And he’s been paying for it for 35 years,” she said.

The retreat Friday and Saturday at the Aspen Hotel in Soldotna hit on a little of everything that the Family and Community Education program is about — creating crafts, sharing knowledge, raising money for charitable projects and socializing in order to form and maintain a net of ties that bind a community.

The program has been around since the 1930s in the United States, though groups used to be called homemakers clubs. Farmers wives would gather to work on craft projects, share information — about sewing techniques, home health remedies and the like — and organize efforts toward a greater cause, like pushing for child immunizations.

The original Nikiski club, the Redoubt Homemakers, has been around since the 1960s, and was responsible for raising enough money to get Nikiski’s first ambulance.

Since then membership has waxed and waned, as members aged, moved or got caught up in the increasingly hectic pace of life and new modern conveniences that conveniently contribute to people being more isolated. For one four-year stretch, Joy Carew, who’s been a member for 45 years, held every post in the club because there wasn’t anyone else to do it.

Nowadays the Redoubt Homemakers is up to 12 members and is active year-round. They make craft items to donate to various causes, sell homemade items at bazaars and festivals to raise money for the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank and the Nikiski Neighbors program that sponsors families for Christmas, clean up trash in the spring, take field trips and hold their retreat once a year. This year’s was attended by the Homer FCE group and the She-Mon-Sun group from Willow.

“We love these ladies,” said Donella Otter, of Willow, about why they attended the retreat.

“It’s a long winter, we need a break,” said Mary Olson, of Nikiski. She’s largely responsible for the Willow group’s presence. She and Bonnie Shurtleff, of the Willow group, have built a friendship through FCE activities and were happy for a reason to visit each other.

“And there’s such a thing as the Kenai fabric store. All the reasons kind of blend together,” Shurtleff said.

The Nikiski group meets twice a month throughout the year at Nikiski Fire Department Station 1. The program agenda is a scaled-down version of the retreat, with potluck food, some sort of speaker or demonstration, crafts and a business meeting — which is as short as possible to leave the majority of the time for crafts and socializing.

The group’s open to anyone to join — even men, although none have taken the plunge beyond husbands helping haul supplies or other supporting duties.

It’s that spirit of inclusiveness that Nancy Whiting, with the Redoubt group, found so inviting. She talked her husband into indulging her 10-year dream of living in Alaska by moving to Nikiski in 2005. She wanted to live in Nikiski because of its rural feel, where houses are spread out and there’s just woods around you. But that same sense of natural isolation can lead to social isolation when you don’t know anyone.

“For me, they were some of the first people I met. I have to say it boosted my confidence in being accepted here. They accepted me wholeheartedly. I wasn’t the new kid. It was like, ‘Welcome,’ and my newness here wasn’t an issue,” Whiting said. “I’ve not been a joiner in my life, but I was really happy to join this one.”

Many of the group’s activities center on crafts, like sewing, quilting or cooking, but one need not be knowledgeable in those areas to be involved. Novices play a special role in the organization, since much of its purpose is to pass on expertise.

“There’s a lot of wisdom, knowledge and information that is heartily and readily and easily shared,” Whiting said.

Beyond that, the group forms a safety net, for the community in all the charitable work it does, and also for each other.

“I have to say, first and foremost, it probably offers friendship. Not that everybody always agrees 100 percent with everything and everybody else’s ideas, but we’re like sisters. It’s kind of like we get to know each other, we’re personal with each other. It’s like, if you have a problem or an issue, you can call.”

Spicing up the stage — ‘Hot Knights’ murder mystery liberally seasoned with laughs

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

In this year’s Kenai Performers murder mystery dinner theater show, “Hot Knights,” Mike Druce has brought back many of his familiar characters.

There’s the deceased, who had a pretty good idea someone was out to get him, but still wasn’t able to avoid getting got.

There’s the smooth talker out to be everybody’s friend, and the tough act who’s more bluff than bite. Then there’s the dumb one, the floozy and the na├»ve youth.
And don’t forget the one-eyed, ex-con, safe-cracking Mexican gardener.
Well, OK, that one’s new.

And so is the plot, set in the genteel South.

“It’s kind of like ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ meets ‘Dallas,’” Druce said.

“Meets ‘Airplane,’” added Allen Auxier, one of the actors.

Auxier plays Big Granddaddy Prescott Knight, patriarch of the extended, prosperous and dysfunctional Knight clan. He’s also the keeper of the secret recipe to Knight’s Hot Sauce, which is the source of the family fortune.

He is engaged to Pepper Devine, played by Bethany Thornton. What she lacks in fidelity she makes up for in youth and beauty. The family is sure she’s only with Prescott for the inheritance — although they’re no better in that department.

Granddaughter Shiloh Devereaux (Yvette Tappana) is as hot after Prescott’s money as she is any man she meets, including Fester N. Boyle (Cliff Bouchard), Prescott’s personal attorney.

Sue Rae DuKane (Charlissa Magen) is Prescott’s daughter, married to W.C. DuKane (Ken Duff). Magnolia DuKane (Tanya Marquis) is their idealistic, if somewhat dense, daughter.

She’s engaged, or hoping to be, to the only character dimmer than she is — Brick Tarmac (Gabe Segura).

“He runs the intelligence gamut from A to B,” Druce said.

Prescott’s ex-wife, Helen Knight (Mary Bailey) returns from her enthusiastic enjoyment of Italy — and Italians — just in time for Prescott’s death. Through it all, the family housekeeper, Sassy (Terri Zopf-Schoessler) checks that their whims are met and glasses kept full, even if she doesn’t keep her tongue in check.

There’s also Juan (Bob Mabrey), the aforementioned gardener, who is not to be confused with — but constantly is — the other hired help, “Juan two,” as he’s often called.

Rounding out the cast is Judge Titus A. Drumm (Jamie Nelson), who comes in during the second act to get to the bottom of the murder, with the audience’s help.

In the first scene Prescott reveals that there have been several attempts on his life, and he’s considering changing his will. Whoever is making the effort to kill him succeeds at Prescott’s annual birthday cookout, leaving the family and staff to point fingers and wonder what has become of the missing secret sauce recipe.
Druce said the characters in a sense write the play for him.

“The basic 10 characters are really the same people in every show. I change the names and put them in a different situation,” he said.

As for the names, he hasn’t run out of puns yet.

“Ask me a year from now when I’ve had writer’s block for about six months or so. They seem to just kind of suggest themselves,” he said.

“We certainly are suggestive,” Tappana said.

In this version, Druce spiced up the who-dunnit with a Southern flair.

“I always had kind of fond memories of the ‘Dallas’ TV show,” he said. “I don’t know how the hot sauce came about. I think once I came up with the hot sauce the rest fell in place.”

Along with Prescott, two others are harmed in the making of this murder mystery, although they aren’t ever seen in the play, just referred to. One is Juan two. He’s shot, making for a hole in Juan.

“If you’re looking to be offended, you will be,” Druce said, referring to lines like that.

“Hot Knights” may not be brimming with good taste in that sense, but tasty Southern fare will be served for the dinner portion of the show. The show is a joint production of the Kenai Performers and Kenai Senior Citizens Center. Dinner is at 7 p.m. and the show starts at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the senior center.

Tickets are $30 each, which includes dinner and the show. There’s also a no-host bar. Tickets are available at the senior center, Charlotte’s and Already Read Books in Kenai, and River City Books in Soldotna.

Druce doesn’t yet know what his characters will be up to in the future (other than no good), but one thing’s certain in this show — the secret’s in the sauce.

Art Seen: Last Frontier meets Far East in natural lacquer paintings

It was the Tai Chi that lured her in. Kathy Matta, of Soldotna, had a Chinese neighbor who liked to practice the mesmerizing physical art outside daily. Matta was intrigued by the practice, and eventually traded her English speaking skills and help with grocery shopping for his Tai Chi expertise. She eventually traveled to Fuzhou, China, for Tai Chi competitions, and was finally introduced to the art of natural lacquer painting.

It took seven years of returning to the area before contemporary artist Tang Minxue was willing to begin teaching her the strict and difficult discipline using what is considered to be one of China’s natural treasures. The subtropical climate is critical in the drying and polishing process, which usually takes a year to complete, but sometimes even longer.

Matta has been returning to study this art for nine years, and is interested in keeping the tradition alive and pure. Chinese television has produced two documentaries about her art and life in China, and numerous articles have been done on her life in Alaska. She says she lives in two of the best places in the world.

Matta grew up in New Jersey and studied at the NYC Graphic Center in New York. She is an accomplished watercolor and acrylic painter, but finds her most exciting niche in the lacquer painting she imbues with the natural pigments of mother-of-pearl, duck eggshells, silver and gold leafing and many colorful minerals.

The fresh natural lacquer is actually poisonous, related to poison ivy. It was originally used 700 years ago to coat coffins and housewares like pots and bowls, and was only later introduced as a painting medium. The visual effect needs to be experienced in person; a photo cannot sufficiently deliver the exciting effect caused by the luminosity of these mediums.

Because of the complexity of the pieces that are currently on view in a small but exciting exhibit at Frames and Things in the Blazy Mall, it can be difficult to discern which marks are the artist’s, and which are a pure outcome of the entirely unique materials. One gets the sense that the images have grown out of the medium, and as such have an organic birthright.

Her most successful and sophisticated works are those that have larger areas of visual rest but then also contain a solid composition, as in “Curiosity and The Drum.” Others could use a stronger design element to hold them together, with more effort toward breaking up the spaces more fully.

Matta is well-known for combining Native motifs with loving renditions of local animals, and the lacquer and eggshell effect is well-suited for describing our mountains and tundra. I would love to see what the artist could create nonrepresentationally with these fascinating mediums.

Matta’s variety of work can be seen in other venues in Alaska, including the Arctic Rose Gallery in Anchorage and Art Works in Soldotna. Her show will be on exhibit at Frames and Things until the end of March.

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.

Arts and Entertainment week of March 4

  • Artists Without Borders in the 4D Building in Soldotna has artwork by Susan Anderson on display through March.
  • Art Works in Soldotna has egg tempera paintings by Andy Hehnlin on display through March.
  • Coffee Roasters in the Red Diamond Center on Kalifornsky Beach Road has an exhibition of Kenai Peninsula College student photography from the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race on display through March 26.
  • The Funky Monkey in Kenai has nature and wildlife photography by Samantha Becker on display through March.
  • The Gary L. Freeburg Gallery at Kenai Peninsula College has “Details,” an exhibition of paintings by Nikiski graphic artist Chris Jenness, on display through March with an opening reception from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Sunday. Refreshments will be served.
  • Kaladi Brothers on Kobuk Street in Soldotna has “This Season That We Call Winter,” a photography exhibition by Genevieve Klebba, on display through March.
  • Kaladi Brothers on the Sterling Highway in Soldotna has photography by Jeremy Reeve on display through March.
  • The Kenai Fine Arts Center in Old Town Kenai has the Peninsula Art Guild Biennial Judged Exhibition, on display through March with an opening reception at 6:30 p.m. Friday.
  • 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. The artist of the month in March is Corrine Fairchild.

First Thursday
  • An opening reception and awards ceremony for a Kenai Peninsula College student photography contest of the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race will be held from 4:30 to 6 p.m. at Coffee Roasters in the Red Diamond Center on Kalifornsky Beach Road. The guest juror was Charles Mason, head of the journalism department at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
  • First Thursday events include an artist reception from 5 to 7 p.m. for photographer Genevieve Klebba’s show at Kaladi Brothers on Kobuk Street in Soldotna, an artist reception from 5 to 7:30 p.m. for a show by Susan Anderson at Artists Without Borders in the 4D Building in Soldotna, an artist reception from 6 to 8 p.m. for egg tempera painter Andy Hehnlin at Art Works in Soldotna, a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. for nature and wildlife photographer Samantha Becker at the Funky Monkey in Kenai, and a bluegrass jam from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at Christ Lutheran Church in Soldotna.
  • The Kenai Writers Group meets at 6:30 p.m. in the conference room at Kenai Community Library. It is open to the public. Bring extra copies of your work to share.

  • “Hot Knights,” a dinner theater murder mystery by Mike Druce, will be performed at 8 p.m. with dinner at 7 p.m. and a no-host bar at the Kenai Senior Citizens Center. Tickets are $30, available at the senior center, Charlotte’s and Already Read Books in Kenai and River City Books in Soldotna.

  • Loraine Larson will teach a fur sewing class from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Kenai Community Library. Participants may choose to make a fur ornament for $10, or baby booties or beaver earmuffs for $26 each. Call 283-4378 to register.
  • “Hot Knights” is performed at 8 p.m. with dinner at 7 p.m. at the Kenai Senior Citizens Center. See Friday listing.
  • Mari Hahn and Roland Stearns will perform a concert of music for voice, guitar and lute at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Christ Lutheran Church in Soldotna. Tickets are $15 general admission, $5 for students, available at Northcountry Fair, River City Books and Sweeney's in Soldotna, and Already Read Books and the Funky Monkey in Kenai, and at the door.
  • Auditions for Kenai Performers’ “Sudden Theatre,” a series of 10-minute plays, will be held at 2 p.m. at the Old Town Playhouse in Kenai. Shows will be April 17, 18, 19, 24, 25 and 26. For more information, contact Marc Berezin at mberezin@edudatasys.com or 262-8874.

  • Kenai Community Library will have a Family Fun Game Day from 1 to 4 p.m. with a variety of board games available for all ages, or bring your own games.
  • Auditions for “Sudden Theatre” at 2 p.m. at the Old Town Playhouse in Kenai. See Saturday listing.

  • Visiting artist Charlen Jeffrey Satrom will instruct a watercolor class at the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Building Monday through March 13. The $225 fee includes all materials. Class is limited to 12 and early registration is advised. Call 262-4590.
  • Submissions are due for artwork for Central Peninsula Hospital to display in its new addition. Artists in Southcentral Alaska are invited to apply. For information, contact Leah Goodwin with Aesthetics, Inc. at 619-683-7500, or Goodwin@aesthetics.net, or visit http://kenaiphotography.com/CallForArtists.htm.

Coming up
  • The 12th annual Central Peninsula Writers Present event will be held at 4 p.m. March 14 at Triumvirate Theatre in the Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna.
  • Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus is requesting proposals from artists for 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 a jam session Thursday night and AK Free Fuel on Friday and Saturday nights.
  • The Maverick in Soldotna has the Free Beer Band on Sundays.
  • The Place in Nikiski has bluegrass by Them Other Shuckers on Friday nights around 7:30 p.m. through March.
  • The Rainbow Bar in Kenai has live music by The Mabrey Brothers at 10 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
  • Veronica’s in Kenai has open mic night from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Friday and music by Sue Biggs and Jack Will from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Saturday.

  • 9 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at the Duck Inn on Kalifornsky Beach Road.
  • 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays at the .406 in Kenai.
  • 9:30 p.m. Wednesdays at Hooligan’s in Soldotna.
  • 9 p.m. Fridays at J-Bar-B outside Soldotna.
  • 9:30 p.m. Mondays at the Maverick in Soldotna.

  • The Duck Inn has a Permafrost vodka party Friday night and a Jager party Saturday night.
  • 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.
  • The Maverick in Soldotna has a pool tournament at 8 p.m. Fridays.
  • Moosequito’s in Sterling has limbo on Wednesday, a tattoo competition Friday night, Scrabble night Monday and darts Tuesdays.

Special delivery — Dog mushers had treacherous job of Alaska’s first overland postal routes

By Clark Fair
Redoubt Reporter

When the price of sending a letter through the U.S. Postal Service rises to 44 cents in May, people will complain, even though that 44 cents can carry their letters all the way across country, often in just two or three days. A hundred years ago, when the price was about two or three cents per letter, the mail took much longer to reach distant destinations, traveling much more difficult routes.
This increase in difficulty was perhaps more true in Alaska than anywhere else.

For instance, a resident of the village of Kenai a century ago might receive mail occasionally by boat from Homer in the summertime, but seldom or not at all throughout the winter. When ice made boat traffic unsafe on Cook Inlet, any mail that actually reached Homer would have to be transported overland to Kenai, or held onto until better conditions existed.

According to Ruth Grueninger’s postal history in the book, “Once Upon the Kenai,” the beach and overland routes were used initially by Paddy Ryan, who toted the mail on foot to Kenai’s first postmaster, Eugene R. Bogart, who was appointed in 1899, and to Bogart’s many successors.

Ryan was followed by Gregory George Brown, who used a horse to make the trip, and by Nick Kalifornsky, who employed a dog team for the task.

According to Alan Boraas, anthropology professor at Kenai Peninsula College, many Dena’ina men other than Kalifornsky also ran the mail route. When any of these mail carriers encountered the wide swaths of water presented by the Kenai and Kasilof rivers, they most likely used a boat, left by canneries operating near the river mouths, to cross to the other side. When the boats were on the wrong side, he said, they probably hailed the cannery caretaker or winter watchman to bring them across in his dory.

At smaller streams, such as the Ninilchik River, Deep Creek or the Anchor River, they likely headed upstream to find a suitable crossing over the ice, he said.

When most of the mail began to channel through the “Gateway City” of Seward — arriving in the ice-free port via steamship, and then heading out from the southern terminus of the recently established Iditarod Trail — the challenge of hauling the mail to Kenai changed. In 1918, longtime Kenai resident Paul Wilson Sr. was awarded a Star Route contract to carry the mail by dog team to Kenai.

Star Routes were developed by the U.S. Congress in 1845 to provide the swiftest and most secure means of mail delivery possible at the lowest possible price. A contract, which typically lasted four years, was put out to bid, and the lowest bidder was usually awarded the deal.

In Alaska, over terrain that could change drastically with each passing storm or warming trend, the task of arriving on time and in one piece could be exceedingly difficult, according to Dr. Linda Chamberlain, a Homer-based sled-dog musher and epidemiologist who is currently writing a book on the historic use of dog sleds to deliver the mail.

The first Star Route in Alaska was awarded in 1894 to Tlingit musher Jimmie Jackson, who had the prodigious task of delivering mail from Juneau more than 1,000 miles to Circle, north of Fairbanks. He managed the feat a single time, traveling from Juneau by a canoe to Atlin Lake, British Columbia, and then on foot and by dog team the rest of the way.

On the trip, Jackson had to hunt and fish to feed himself and his team; however, the rigors were too much.

“Two dogs dropped dead in their tracks,” Chamberlain said. “He had to use the last one for food.”

Another tough Star Route pioneer was Ben Downing, who ran a mail sled between Dawson and Eagle, starting in 1899. In 1903, on the way to Dawson, Chamberlain said, Downing and his dog team went through the ice. He managed to extract himself from the water but the dogs did not survive. Alone and with his feet frozen, he walked the rest of the way — nearly 300 miles — to Dawson.

“When he arrived in town, the bloody footprints came all the way in,” Chamberlain said. Downing refused to allow his feet to be amputated, and he died two years later of complications resulting from his injuries.

Downing’s story is indicative of the toughness and perseverance of the pioneer sled-dog mail carriers, Chamberlain said. They were expected to be on time, and they knew they could lose money or even their contracts if they were late.

Star Routes were “a very important source of income for rural Alaskans. There were many, many Native carriers. The Star Routes created a whole economy,” Chamberlain said.

This economic boost became particularly evident when the Alaska Road Commission surveyed the Iditarod Trail, from Seward to Nome, in 1910, and when it became the official northern mail route in 1911. Roadhouses sprang up every 25 to 50 miles along the trail as people in the Bush found ways to tap into local travel, said Chamberlain, whose book, “Mushing the Mail,” she hopes to have ready for publication by the 100th anniversary of the Iditarod Trail in 2011.

The trail sprang up initially as a means for prospectors and fortune-seekers to reach the gold-mining towns of Iditarod and Nome.

“It was brutal out there,” Chamberlain said. “So the Iditarod Trail created a system of safety and support.”

Chamberlain recalled one particularly gruesome pretrail tale: “They found a mail carrier frozen (in 1907). He was buried in snow outside of Nome, and somebody saw a protruding hand and dug down and found him with his dogs wrapped around him. And the mail was dated 1901.”

From the main Iditarod Trail sprang up ancillary trails, such as Paul Wilson’s route to Kenai, which began in Cooper Landing or in Lawing, depending on which site had the official U.S. post office at the time.

According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service historian Gary Titus, who has researched and traced the Seward-to-Kenai mail run, the route varied somewhat from winter to winter because the conditions were so variable. In 1923, he said, the ARC performed a reconnaissance of the route and prompted some upgrades.

Those upgrades included new shelter cabins, some repairs to existing structures and widening of the trail in places. Eighteen miles of new trail was cut to a width of 9 feet, Titus said, and 27 miles of the old trail was widened to 5 feet.

In virtually all types of weather, carriers traveled with freight sleds, often packed with hundreds of pounds of mail. These sleds were longer than a modern racing sled and narrower and more sturdily built, usually of hickory or ash. Carriers rarely rode on the backs of their sleds, and travel could be very slow as they occasionally walked in snowshoes out in front of the dogs to break trail in heavy snow.

Generally, according to Titus, the carriers followed this route into Kenai: From the west (river outlet) end of Kenai Lake, they followed a light-duty wagon road along the southern bank of the Kenai River until they reached Schooner Bend, where a bridge had been constructed in 1920. Now on the river’s northern bank, they followed a continuation of the wagon road until they moved onto a higher bench for easier travel.

They followed the bench until they reached Jean Creek, which they followed up to Jean Lake. They crossed the length of the lake and climbed the low pass to Upper Jean Lake, from which they descended into a series of lowland lakes and swamps that led them to the Moose River. They followed the Moose River to its confluence with the Kenai River, and then followed a Native river trail on into Kenai.

The round trip could be made in seven to eight days under good conditions, but the carriers were given 30 days in which to do it.

In 1930, airplanes began to land on the Kenai beach once a month with the mail, and by 1934 an airstrip was created on the bluff. By 1940, the end of the mail-sled era was at hand. The bulk of the mail throughout Alaska was now being carried by airplanes, which could arrive every day on the airstrips carved next to some rural communities.

By 1940, Kenai had had 13 different postmasters and had moved its post office nearly a dozen times, usually from one person’s home to another, but the price of postage to send a letter across the country was still three cents.

The price rose to four cents in 1958. As usual, people complained.

Downtown Wilderness — Outdoor gear retailer has new owners, moves into town

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Given Brian Richards’ love of the outdoors, he’s a little disappointed that he and his wife’s business venture is keeping him cooped up inside so much lately. But at least it means he’s helping others get out and enjoy the outdoors.

Richards and his wife, Nikiesha, purchased outdoor gear retailer Wilderness Way in November and recently moved the business to the old Trustworthy Hardware location in downtown Soldotna.

Richards is from Utah originally, came up to Alaska for a summer four years ago and liked it so much he talked his wife into moving up permanently. He worked for an outdoor retailer in Utah before the move, and started working at Wilderness Way three years ago.

“Other than that I’m just an avid user of everything in here. I like spending as much time outside as I can,” he said. Although, with the move, “I can’t remember the last day off I’ve had.”

The process of buying the business, the new building and getting things moved has been going on for about six months, he said. The Richards bought the store from Walter Ward.

“He’s been ready to retire and move on to other things. I just approached him about it,” Richards said. “I thought it would be fun. I enjoy working here so much I thought it’d be fun to take over and run it.”

He and Nikiesha looked at other locations in their search for a new site for the store, but nothing came close to the old Trustworthy location on the Sterling Highway, which is in the same complex as Safeway and the Peninsula Center Mall. The building is tri-level, with an entryway area, an upstairs and downstairs. The space is 9,000 square feet in all. The downstairs will be used for storage for now, with the 5,000 square feet of the entry level and upstairs used for retail space. That’s as much as the old Wilderness Way location had in the entire building, including the back storage area.

“This should be a good location right in the middle of town here, a little more accessible to people,” he said. “We looked at few other places but this one I think really fits us well and it’s the right size and a good deal, really. I think it’s the right fit for it.”

It took two weeks to have a new roof put on and for the wood floors to be refinished, and packing up and moving all the merchandise took about five days. The store reopened in its new home last week, although the staff — the Richards and Diane Penland — are still unpacking and getting things set up.

The extra space means the Richards will expand the store’s inventory, with more variety in the products they already carry, and some new items.

“More hunting stuff — packs, accessories, that type of thing. We’ve carried high-end fly-fishing gear for a number of years now. We’ll probably expand that a bit, too, get back into that side of things,” Richards said.

On Saturday, Lacie Ferrar, Bleu Schachinger and Kyle McMillan, all of Soldotna, were in Wilderness Way looking over the expanded selection of North Face apparel. Ferrar said she liked that the store is now in town.

“No one wants to drive out to Sterling,” she said. “This is probably the most people I’ve ever seen in Wilderness Way at one time.”

Schachinger said she was glad the old Trustworthy Building had an occupant again. She remembered the days of the “big buckets of nails that spun around. It’s been lonely,” she said.

Richards said he’s excited for the new venture, especially moving the business in town, despite concerns over the nation’s economic crises.

“It’s an existing business. We’ve got a pretty well-established local clientele for Wilderness Way. We’ve seen sales have been pretty steady, in line with the last few years, anyway. I hope to see it stay that way. We’ll still provide the same services and products,” he said.

Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays and closed Sundays. The store will have a grand opening sale Saturday.

Dog days of fashion — Special jackets will help keep team ready to run in Iditarod

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

As Dallas Seavey mushes his sled dogs through temperatures that could plunge to minus 50 degrees or colder during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race starting this week and beds his team down at rest stops along the trail, Julie Bowman will be warm and comfortable in her home in Sterling. But she’ll still have a hand in keeping Seavey’s team cozy and their muscles limber, even from thousands of miles away.

Seavey, son of 2004 Iditarod champ Mitch Seavey, approached Bowman this winter about making adjustable jackets for his dogs to use in the Iditarod. Bowman, who runs a sewing business, Julie’s Ideas, out of her home, was intrigued.

“I had a lot of fun with it and just think it was a neat project,” she said. “I certainly enjoy doing special-order things like that, instead of making 400 pairs of socks. I just enjoy the different projects and enjoy the challenge of making something new.”

Seavey brought Bowman a jacket he wanted her to modify and re-create for his team. The jacket fits over the front legs of the dog and fastens with Velcro over the shoulders, so it’s adjustable for different-size dogs. The material is an insulating polar fleece on the inside with a wind-resistant coating on the outside. She also made some from a less-expensive fabric with a more rubbery exterior, so Seavey can compare how each holds up on the trail. Bowman also sewed in three pockets, one over each shoulder and one over the chest, that can hold packets of chemical warmers to keep the dogs’ muscles warm and limber.

Seavey said he uses the jackets mostly when he’s resting the dogs to keep them warm, and to prevent and treat muscle soreness. He also uses them on the trail when it gets particularly cold.

“In my case if I have a dog that’s thin or a shorter-hair dog, in a year like this when we could see 50 to 60 below, it really helps them to stay warm and conserve calories. If they’re a shorter-hair dog it lets them stay more comfortable and rest a little better,” he said.

He’s bought similar jackets before, but the outlet in Alaska he used to get them from isn’t open anymore, and he didn’t want to shop in the Lower 48. He also wanted someone who could customize the jackets.

“I thought we could make them a little bit better than we were getting. More to fit my dogs, which tend to be little bit smaller than most people’s,” Seavey said. “I also have a lot of sewing stuff I have around mushing. When I found Julie’s contact information, I thought it would be good to start building a rapport, to kind of have this stuff done locally. My parents have run a business on the peninsula all of my life, and now that’s what I’m doing, so we like to have as much done locally as we can.”

Seavey and his wife, Jen, are living and training in Kasilof this winter. In the summer they run WildRide Sled Dog Show in Anchorage, an extension of the Ididaride Sled Dog Tours business the family operates in Seward in the summer.

Seavey has trained dogs with his dad for years and ran training teams of 2-year-olds in two previous Iditarods, just like his wife will do this year. This is Seavey’s first year running competitively in the Willow-to-Nome race, which starts Saturday.

“My dogs are looking absolutely incredible. It’s the first team I’ve trained entirely by myself, for myself. It’s been fun doing things a little differently, and it’s working out well. All my dogs are happy and healthy and ready to race,” he said.

Keeping his dogs healthy is one of his primary goals.

“For me, being my first competitive Iditarod, I really want to not overpush the dogs and see that the dogs are maximized and they place as high as they are capable of placing, and having a nice healthy team the whole way,” he said. “Halfway through you see teams in rough shape and I would really like to avoid that.”

Having the jackets will help.

“Especially if it is really cold you put everything warm on them to keep them a little bit warmer,” he said.

The same goes for the mushers. Bowman made neck gaiters for Dallas and Jen Seavey, as well as Rachel Scdoris, a legally bind musher.

Bowman said she started her business in 1995 doing primarily knitting, but has since switched to fleece products.

She sells her hats and other gear at Sweeney’s and Trustworthy Hardware locally, as well as craft shows. Beyond that she occasionally takes on custom projects.

“A lot of it is just people saying, ‘Do you have or can you make?’ Or, ‘I have this really cool hat I like but I can’t find it anywhere,’” she said.

A lot of Bowman’s work is for family or charity, including donating 300 to 400 hats to SOAR International, a Christian outreach mission, to distribute in Russia each year, so she didn’t mind the extra work and tight deadline to help out local mushers.

“Dallas called and said he wondered if I could make them and can I have them ready in two weeks? I needed something to think about. It gave me something interesting to do,” she said.

Guest editorial: Alaskans vigilant against threats to gun rights

Legislation recently introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives reminds us that we must remain vigilant in the defense of our Second Amendment rights. Gun owners in Alaska and across the nation have expressed great concern about the introduction of H.R. 45, The Firearm Licensing and Record of Sale Act.

H.R. 45, introduced by U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., would require any person owning a handgun or semiautomatic firearm to obtain a federal firearms license. To apply for this license, individuals would have to submit to thumb-printing and release their medical records. The bill would even make it a crime for gun owners to change their addresses without notifying the attorney general.

First, let me reassure all Alaskans that I adamantly am opposed to H.R. 45. The bill would be impossible to enact, unacceptably invasive and likely is unconstitutional. The legislation has gained no support and stands zero chance of passage.

But the legislation has served one purpose: It’s a reminder that Americans must remain vigilant in the protection of our constitutional rights. While we must not take actions that would endanger the public, I applaud the many Alaskans who have taken the time to gather in opposition to this legislation. Gun owners absolutely are right to take notice and oppose efforts to erode the Second Amendment, and I stand ready to lend my support.

Despite potential threats, gun owners celebrated a victory last year with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller. For the first time, the high court unequivocally upheld an individual’s constitutional right to bear arms. The majority opinion said “there seems to us no doubt, on the basis of both text and history, that the Second Amendment conferred an individual right to keep and bear arms.”

I was pleased to support Dick Heller in his challenge of the D.C. gun ban by joining a group of 55 U.S. senators in a friend-of-the-court brief expressing our belief that the Second Amendment was intended to protect an individual’s right to bear arms. Last month, the Senate passed legislation, which I cosponsored, that would fully realize the promise of the Heller decision by eliminating onerous gun control rules in D.C.

Additionally, in 2007, I supported efforts to bring common sense to firearm rules on public lands. These efforts became successful last year with a new rule requiring federal agencies to defer to state laws regarding concealed firearms in national parks. I am pleased with the new rule and have cosponsored legislation to expand and make the rule permanent. In addition, the 110th Congress passed important legislation to bring fairness to the background check system. I also backed efforts to protect veterans from being improperly stripped of their Second Amendment rights.

The new year has brought a new Congress and a new administration. I am pleased by President Barack Obama’s campaign statements in support of the Second Amendment. However, I remain wary of those in the administration and in Congress who would seek to restrict our rights.

Rest assured that I will keep a watchful eye on attempts to restrict Second Amendment rights and vigorously will oppose them should they come before the U.S. Senate.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski has represented Alaska in the U.S. Senate since 2002.