Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Mayor ponders budget belt tightening — Nonprofits say costs of cuts go beyond borough funding

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Money doesn’t grow on trees.

It’s an especially fitting adage in trying financial times, such as the situation Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dave Carey is concerned the borough may soon find itself in. Oil prices are down, which may affect how much state revenue sharing funds the borough receives. The borough also doesn’t yet know what impact the new sales tax exemption on nonprepared foods will have on its coffers.

In response, Carey is considering pruning the borough’s budget, including funding for nondepartmental organizations — such as the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District, the Kenai Watershed Forum, Central Area Rural Transit System, Small Business Development Center and the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council — by starting those organizations out at zero in the administration’s proposed budget.

That zero may or may not turn into funding as the organizations state their case for why the borough should fund them and more information on the borough’s financial status becomes clear.

Axing the amount of nondepartmental funding the borough gave these agencies last year would save over $600,000. But agencies say the money they’ll lose from that cut would actually be much higher.

That’s because money may not grow on trees in the literal sense, but when it comes to governmental funding, it does grow in budgets.

Gaining leverage
In the world of government grant funding, “local support” is often the magic phrase that opens the federal treasure chest. Many governmental funding programs give out matching grants, awarding funding that meets, and often exceeds, money pledged on the local level. In the case of the agencies that have received borough nondepartmental funding, those local dollars are leveraged into larger sums through higher levels of governmental funding. For those grant programs, if the borough’s contribution doesn’t come, state and federal funding may not, either.

Jennifer Beckman, executive director of CARTS, said the organization can at least double the amount it receives from the borough through leveraging. Depending on which funding sources Beckman matches the local contribution with, CARTS could turn $50,000 into as much as $165,000, she said.

John Torgerson, director of the Kenai Peninsula EDD, said the organization leverages the $50,000 it receives from the borough into state and federal grants to round out its budget. About 20 percent of the EDD budget comes from the borough, 30 percent from the federal government, 25 percent from the state and the other 35 percent the EDD generates on its own, in part through the programs it operates, like rent from its Business Incubator Center, he said.

“We can say it is a package deal. The $50,000 helps us leverage more money from other partners. It makes a good package when we show that we have support of all the public sectors,” Torgerson said.

“Without borough funding, some of the programs would be more difficult to do.”

Torgerson said zero-based budgeting is not an unusual tactic, and he welcomes the opportunity to sing for his supper, as it were — to demonstrate to the mayor and borough assembly the work EDD does with its funding.

“There’s a lot of good questions and one way to really bring a lot of these things to the forefront is, not necessarily to zero us out of the budget, but to start at zero and look at the jobs being performed and evaluate each one of those functions. Maybe $50,000 is not the right number. Maybe $50,000 should be lower, or maybe it should be higher depending on the job we do,” he said.

Nonprofit, not a handout
While the EDD is a nonprofit organization, Torgerson doesn’t see the borough’s funding as a charitable contribution. The EDD is more like a contractor performing services for the borough, most notably economic planning, in return for the funding it receives.

“The more of a service we can do for the borough, the more we can help out the people of the borough. It’s almost a straight-up business arrangement. It’s a similar arrangement with the federal government and the state — we perform a function for the money we get,” he said.

A similar argument could be made for the other agencies. Yes, they’re nonprofits, but they provide services of benefit to the borough, without the borough having to hire people and operate the programs itself.

The Kenai Watershed Forum received $100,000 from the borough in nondepartmental funding for the first time last year to conduct a specific task — repair or replace culverts that are impeding fish passage on borough roads.

Robert Ruffner, executive director of the watershed forum, said the money came after former Mayor John Williams saw the culvert work the organization was doing on state roads with the Alaska Department of Transportation. Williams decided to reinvest fish tax money into habitat protection by writing the $100,000 into the budget for the watershed forum to expand its work to borough roads. The assembly agreed.

“I think it’s really good the borough is working on getting its house in order in terms of that particular issue. It is a big deal all over Pacific Northwest,” Ruffner said.

Since receiving that money in July, Ruffner has leveraged it into a little more than $400,000 in funding from Fish and Game, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Department of Commerce through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, he said.

“We took one dollar from the borough and turned it into five for roads,” Ruffner said. “We were more successful than I thought at leveraging other funds. There’s a general sense of enthusiasm amongst the funding agencies at having local governments really stepping up wanting to fix them.”

Ruffner said there are probably 30 culverts on borough roads that “really need to be fixed,” he said. Remediation costs range from $30,000 up to $2 million, which is taken into account when prioritizing projects. Funding at the federal level is still available to continue work on the culverts, but far less would get done without the borough contribution.

“There are a lot of federal programs out there that work on those types of issues. The biggest issue is getting the nonfederal match secured,” Ruffner said. “Occasionally there’s some grant opportunity that doesn’t have a federal match requirement, but it’s pretty rare. We certainly wouldn’t be doing five or six a year. It’ll scale way back.”

Costly cuts?
KPTMC Executive Director Shanon Hamrick contends that the borough will lose money, not save it, by cutting the organization’s funding.

Last year KPTMC returned $4.50 for every dollar invested in the organization, Hamrick said. When tourists come to the peninsula, they contribute greatly to the economy. Some sales taxes target tourists specifically, including the per seat, per day tax that went into effect in 2007, and the sales tax on nonprepared foods, which is now only collected during tourism season. In 2007 alone, tourism contributed $400,000 new dollars to the borough economy from the per seat, per day tax, Hamrick said, and she expects 2008’s figure to be even greater.

“What they have to acknowledge is that their contribution to KPTMC is not a contribution to a nonprofit organization. It is an investment with a marketing agency that conducts marketing on behalf of the Kenai Peninsula Borough. For every dollar spent with us, we return many, many times over in dollars that come in by people coming to visit,” Hamrick said.

Carey doesn’t dispute that tourism brings revenue to the borough. But he does question how much effect KPTMC and its Outside marketing efforts have on visitors coming here, as opposed to people coming because they’re repeat visitors or from word of mouth.

“I want to see data that advertising is what brings people here,” Carey said. “ I don’t know how many people see an ad Outside and say, ‘Oh, I’ll go to the Kenai.’”

Alaska has gotten far better publicity lately than KPTMC could provide, with Gov. Sarah Palin’s notoriety from her vice presidential campaign and Alaska’s quarter and statehood stamp coming out. Carey suggested Alaskans use the notoriety to encourage friends and family Outside to visit.

“Call those people back and invite them to come to Alaska. That is a stronger marketing tool than putting ads in Outside newspapers and magazines,” he said.

A downturn in the economy is the worst time to reduce peninsula marketing efforts, Hamrick said, because that’s when tourism dollars matter most, yet are hardest to get. People may decide to come to Alaska for reasons other than KPTMC, but Hamrick wants them to come to the Kenai, not get captured by other areas’ marketing efforts.

“By not investing in marketing during this economy, especially, we are going to see unprecedented losses to other areas of Alaska that are aggressively marketing,” Hamrick said. “If we want to quit marketing, we can just sit here and watch all of our visitors going north instead of going south, because you can bet they’re aggressively reaching out to the visitors coming here this year, because the fact is Alaska tourism will be down this year.”

Hamrick was expecting this year’s budget to be $650,000, compared to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough tourism marketing arm, which has a budget of more than $900,000, with 80 percent of that coming from its borough, Hamrick said.

Hamrick was expecting about half of KPTMC’s budget to come from the borough, since Carey advised her in the fall to submit a borough funding request of $325,000 this year — a 10 percent increase over last year, Hamrick said.

That was when borough finances appeared sounder. Now, Carey wants his administration and the assembly to evaluate each of the nondepartmental agencies in line for funding.

“That’s the first question that has to be asked — is this something the borough should be funding, period?” Carey said. “Second, once the answer is yes, is certainly looking at the impact of it. On a number of them, certainly, we’re looking at it in terms of how much it leverages and is that a proper function of the borough? … It’s always balanced with, is this the best way for us to take the taxpayers’ dollars out of their pocket?”

If it’s determined that borough funding for an organization, like KPTMC, should cease, that doesn’t mean the organization will disappear. If taxpayers want to support it, they still can, Carey said.

“If we can leave more money in their pockets through lowering the mill rate, with the savings that will occur, they could then make their own choice to give that money to KPTMC, if that’s the decision we make,” Carey said. “Other than government taking money and deciding we know best, leave money in the hands of taxpayers and let them decide what’s best.”

Hamrick said she appreciates the desire to lower the mill rate, since she’s a taxpayer, too, but doesn’t believe doing so at the expense of KPTMC is in the borough’s best interest.

“People having lower property taxes isn’t going to mean a thing if they can’t pay their mortgage because they don’t have enough business coming through their door,” she said.

Carey: Taxpayers should have more money left in pockets

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dave Carey is keeping an eye on troubling financial times he sees on the horizon as he prepares the borough’s fiscal year 2010 budget.

“I am going to be very conservative. If I don’t know we have money in the bank, I’m going to assume we do not have it,” he said.

Several factors have put him ill at ease. Oil prices have dropped over the past year. During a trip to Juneau four weeks ago, legislators gave notice that the resultant decrease in state funds could mean a decrease in funds passed on to local municipalities, Carey said.

“The forward funding they set aside for revenue sharing was very much now in play. Up to 50 percent of that could end up not coming to us,” Carey said.

He’s heard that increases in state education funding are secure, but he’s concerned about the capital budget, which has not yet been released. Projects that had been cut from previous attempts at state funding were expected to see money this year, but that may no longer be the case, Carey said.

Local revenue is also in question, he said. He does not yet know how much the seasonal sales tax exemption on nonprepared food will decrease revenue, and property tax revenue may not come in as expected, either.

Property tax assessments have been sent out, and as of Friday 1,740 people had contacted the assessor’s office seeking to have their assessment lowered — thus having to pay less in taxes, Carey said. He said Monday that he’d heard 340 of those assessments were being changed.

Carey is also waiting to hear how much the borough can expect in oil and gas industry property taxes. Last year the borough budget included $603 million in oil and gas industry property taxes, Carey said. The state does assessments on all oil and gas property taxes, and businesses still have a chance to appeal and get their assessments lowered.

“The question is, how much do we get?” Carey said.

Carey is required to submit a budget to the assembly by May 1, but said he may not have answers to these questions before the budget is due. As a result, Carey said he’s taking a cautious approach by examining all aspects of the budget for areas that can be trimmed. Times are tough for borough taxpayers, too, he said, so his goal is to keep as much money in taxpayers’ hands as he can, possibly through a mill rate reduction.

“We’re committed that in these difficult economic times, if we can lower how much money we take out of people’s pockets, it would be better than if we increase it or even if we keep the same,” Carey said.

Carey asked borough departments to submit budgets with no more than a 4 percent increase, he said. And service areas are being examined for ways to save funds, although that isn’t an area Carey has much control over, since borough voters approve service area mill rates.

Grants are being examined to make sure they are “good” grants — ones that won’t stick the borough with years of costly maintenance, management or upkeep costs after the grant capital is spent. The level of forward funding required also will be examined in applying for grants. Many grants require the recipient to pay costs up front and apply for reimbursement, which can strain a municipality’s fund balance if it doesn’t have the money available to do that.

Carey also has moved to zero-based budgeting for nondepartmental agencies, including the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council and the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District. Affected nonprofit agencies will start out with no borough funds allocated to them, although money may be added back into the budget as the agencies’ purposes and contributions are examined, and the appropriateness of borough funding is considered, Carey said.

“Primarily in these tough economic times, I believe government has to be extremely frugal in how we spend public money, which is what my goal is and that is what we will do,” Carey said. “It is obviously a partnership between myself and the assembly and the people as to what the mill rate will be and what the budget will be and it is very much a concerted team effort.”

Students get new view on science — Class takes pictures of Earth with International Space Station camera

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Kenai Middle School’s seventh-grade trip photos are a world apart.

There are no snapshots of friends mugging for the camera, no remembrances of funny signs or interesting roadside curiosities, no photographic evidence of practical jokes done while the victim was sleeping.

That’s because the students weren’t the ones doing the traveling. But they were in charge of the camera, and they used their shutterbug and science skills to capture images not seen in any typical vacation slide show — pictures of Earth from space.

The KMS seventh-grade science class participated in ISS EarthKAM, a NASA-sponsored program that allows students to take high-quality photographs from the International Space Station as it orbits the planet.

The program has been going since 1996, and science teacher Allan Miller had students participate in it when he taught at Sterling Elementary School. When he started teaching at Kenai Middle this year, he found that co-teacher Cheryl Schey had done the program at Kenai Middle previously, so they decided to expand it to all seventh-graders as part of science class.

“This is a cool project. It has so many applications. It can be a social studies project, geography, a science project. Now there’s enough data over 10 years you can see some of the effects of climate change. You can see it with real student-generated data. I think that’s fascinating,” Miller said.

With EarthKAM, classes can reserve use of a special digital camera pointed at Earth on the International Space Station for three days at a time. They program it to take pictures at certain exact times — down to the second. Students figure out the longitude and latitude of what they want photographed, and figure when the space station’s camera will be in range by tracking the station’s orbital trajectory, altitude and speed.

“We had these little time zone things where you could see where the space station was going over at certain times and you had to find what you wanted to do, and it had to be pretty precise on where it was,” said Courtney McCauley, a seventh-grader. “And then you just put in the latitude and longitude and all that and where you wanted to take pictures of.”

Miller had the students take pictures of biomes across the planet. McCauley picked a part of the globe she’d like to see for herself one day.

“I like Sydney, Australia, and I want to go there, so I decided to take a picture of Australia. I took a couple pictures, this just happened to be the best of them,” she said.

The area she photographed is the West Coast of Australia, near Port Headland. It’s a section of coastline where copper-colored sand meets the deep blue of the ocean.

“The iron-rich sand and blue of the ocean really contrast each other nicely and there’s some beach in there. It makes some really unique designs. Some you would look at and you would swear it was art. It doesn’t even look like a picture,” Miller said.

“I didn’t know how it was going to turn out. I didn’t know it would turn out in that much detail, but I think it turned out really well. Other ones were good, but I think mine just had like the border and all that, and the water in it,” McCauley said.

It’s a difficult task to capture exactly what you want, Miller said. The altitude of the space station, the speed it’s moving at and a lag time in technology creates about a three-mile margin of error that needs to be compensated for.

“It comes down to luck of the draw, in that you don’t have total accuracy. You think you’re shooting a picture of a coastline and it turns out a nice shot of ocean,’ Miller said.

Student pictures are archived in a massive database, and can be viewed online at www.earthkam.ucsd.edu, by clicking on the Images tab and browsing by school.

“I think just being able to take a picture of anything you wanted and see the picture back and see what it looks like in real life. You may think it looks like something but when you get the picture back it may look like something else. It’s a different point of view than what you see it from,” McCauley said.

Not only did the project contribute to the students’ knowledge of geography, orbital mechanics and other topics, their photos contribute to an archived body of science.

“There are some incredible shots in there. I think students take a real sense of pride because, ‘This is my picture. I took this from space.’ It’s probably the closest thing any one of us will get to being there, that’s for sure,” Miller said.

Except in Miller’s case, that may not be true. He’s still awaiting word of whether he’ll be selected into NASA’s astronaut program. He applied with 4,000 other hopefuls in July, and made the cut down to 120 selected for the interview stage. He went to the Johnson Space Center in Houston in December for a round of interviews and rigorous physical, psychological and intelligence testing.

From that he was selected as one of 40 finalists, and just spent another week in Houston undergoing more medical testing. He’s the only educator left in the running, in a pool with mostly military pilots and doctoral-level scientists, he said.
“It’s just a bit intimidating, for sure,” he said.

Miller will hear in May whether he’s one of the 10 to 15 selected for the astronaut program. If he is, he’ll have to report to Pensacola, Fla., in early June to start learning how to fly jets.

“It’s not going to be a gradual little transition, it’ll be wrapping up school, then taking off,” he said. “We’ll see. I feel real good about how it went. They didn’t find any big medical problems, which is what they were looking for this time.

“It’s going to make for a long couple months waiting, for sure.”

The wait is broken up by some excitement this month, as Miller is spending the week in New Orleans at the National Science Teachers Association National Conference on Science Education, where he will be the first ever recipient of the Dr. Wendell G. Mohling Outstanding Aerospace Educator Award, co-sponsored by the Challenger Center for Science Education and Sally Ride Science.

The award recognizes a teacher who demonstrates excellence locally and nationally in the field of aerospace education. A committee of teachers, professors and scientists selected Miller from a pool of nominees across the United States. He gets $3,000, a free trip to the NSTA conference, and the award will be presented by astronaut Sally Ride at the awards banquet Sunday.

“It’s just so humbling. It’s the first time they’ve presented this award nationally, just for teachers specializing in space and aerospace science. I enjoy what I do, but I don’t think of myself as national class,” Miller said. “And so it’s really humbling to go down there and kind of be representative of all teachers.”

Miller said it will be a thrill meeting Ride, since she’s one of his heroes.

“Talk about someone laying the groundwork for ladies in space and ladies in science, and she continues to be a nationwide leader in science education,” he said.

He’ll be decked out for the honor thanks to support from back home. He went to Malston’s in Kenai to rent a tuxedo for the event, and when owner Ron Malston found out what it was for, he donated the rental.

“It’s neat to see other people getting excited about it, too,” Miller said. “There’s thousands of teachers in this district working hard every day, and there just isn’t enough recognition for teachers out there. A lot of times the recognition doesn’t come for years. To have it right when I’m in class is pretty exciting.”

Strong appeal — Bodybuilding offers new challenges

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

At 38 years old, Pako Whannell is in the best shape of her life.

That’s saying something, since the longtime volleyball coach, college athlete and manager at the Peninsula Athletic Club hasn’t been a slouch in the fitness department.

She’s worked out regularly, played volleyball and stayed in shape throughout her life, but she retired from coaching a few years ago and a back injury kept her from playing as much volleyball.

“I needed to find some other thing to stay focused on and stay fit and healthy,” she said.

She found it in bodybuilding. Whannell went to Anchorage with a group of friends and fellow gym members last year to support Scott Griebel and Sohnya Hamar as they competed in a bodybuilding competition.

“We just were inspired. It was just kind of a neat, entertaining thing to watch as well as it’s different and it takes dedication and hard work,” Whannell said. “But I think a lot of ladies these days might be tired of the same old routine of the doldrums of work every day and working out. They’re looking for some kind of challenge. It’s starting to explode,” Whannell said.

She and a few other ladies from the PAC decided to start training. About a year later, they were signed up to compete in the Alaska State Pro-Am Bodybuilding Figure and Fitness Championships in Anchorage on March 7, and are planning to compete in the first ever Kenai Peninsula bodybuilding competition March 28 at Kenai Central High School.

“It’s not really heard of to just train for a year and go into a competition,” Whannell said. “Most of those athletes train for at least two or three years. Our friend, who’s a trainer, said, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’”

The answer was a resounding yes. Bodybuilding is not a casual hobby or something done halfway. It involves an entire lifestyle change.

For Whannell, that has meant weightlifting an hour a day, five days a week and doing cardio 30 to 40 minutes, four to five times a week, all fit in around her other priorities in life.

“I have two kids and a husband, and so I have to kind of work around their schedules, as well, and still be a mom and wife,” she said. “It does take a big toll on your family, but they’re very understanding.”

Her time in the gym has been the easy part of the journey. The nutritional aspect of bodybuilding is the most challenging, she said. Whannell changed her diet and now closely monitors and plans everything she eats to make sure she’s fueling her body in the best possible way for her metabolism and physiology to maximize results.

“Whatever you put in your mouth is what you’re going to see on your body onstage, so you have to be careful. And, you know, I like food, so that was the hardest part of it. A lot of people look at that and go, ‘Eh, I can’t do that.’ But you can. After a month it just became a habit,” she said.

Balancing the challenges is the support Whannell and her fellow bodybuilding newcomers got from the gym.

“The whole gym was very supportive in encouraging us and they saw the changes in our bodies when we were working out five days a week at the gym. The neat thing is the community and club was very supportive of what we were doing,” she said.

That support and level of involvement led to a rare honor at the bodybuilding championship March 7 — the Peninsula Athletic Club was given the team award for all five of the competitors from the PAC placing high in the competition. The award typically goes to an Anchorage gym, Whannell said.

“The highlight was winning the team award, since we all placed so well we received that. That was the best part of it. We were happy how we did individually, but the team award meant more to us than anything,” she said.

From the PAC, Scott Griebel, in his third competition, placed third in men’s middleweight bodybuilding. Sohnya Hamar, in her second competition, placed first in lightweight bodybuilding and fitness. Judi Klok placed first in master’s women bodybuilding and won the overall award in her first competition. Aleasha LaFleur, in her first competition, finished second in novice women’s bodybuilding. Whannell, also in her first competition, took fifth in the figure division, 5-foot-3 and over.

Other Kenai Peninsula athletes competing were Darren Hagen, who finished first in his division in novice men’s bodybuilding, and Helen Aye, who placed first in the figure division, 5-foot-3 and under. Both were from The Fitness Place.

Being a first-timer in a bodybuilding competition was a nerve-wracking experience due to trying to banish butterflies and get pumped up to go onstage, Whannell said. But the experience of competition also helped make the months of hard work worthwhile.

“When you get out there in those lights and perform and show what you worked so hard for, and you’re so proud of yourself for achieving these goals, you just feel so good inside,” she said. “It’s hard to describe, it’s just an adrenaline rush, ‘I’m out here, I’m doing it, this is what I’ve got.’”

Built to last — Bodybuilding interest on peninsula swells to point of holding local show

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Seeing the toned, sculpted physiques flex, pose and perform in the lights and music onstage will be impressive enough at the Kenai Peninsula’s first Alaska Bodybuilding Figure and Fitness competition March 28 at the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium at Kenai Central High School.

The truly jaw-dropping part comes in realizing how much effort goes into the competitors being onstage — often a year or more of rigorous, multihour, five-days-a-week workouts and diligent commitment to an exacting nutritional regime where every calorie consumed is calculated for maximum benefit.

“Nowhere else in the state will you find a gathering of more lean, fit, healthy people at one place at one time than the 28th of March at that auditorium,” said Bernie Pendergast, of Sterling, who’s promoting the event. “I also think it’s important that people understand it’s not only a competition where these great athletes will be onstage, but it’s an athletic event and it’s also entertainment.”

Just like bodybuilders don’t become ready to compete overnight, the peninsula competition didn’t become a reality in a matter of days. It’s taken months to organize and promote the event, and it’s taken years for local interest in bodybuilding to grow to the point of supporting a competition.

Pendergast, who’s lived on the central peninsula since 1989, got interested in bodybuilding in 1996 and 1997 by helping his son, Nicholas, then a Skyview High School student, train for a junior men’s bodybuilding competition in Anchorage.

After his son graduated, Pendergast decided he wanted compete, but he ran into a frustration that likely limited involvement in bodybuilding in Alaska over the years, he said. There was only one bodybuilding organization in the state at the time, and it didn’t distinguish between natural, drug-free bodybuilding and bodybuilding that allowed steroid use.

“Even myself, in the years I competed, because I’m not really a big guy, I’d go onstage at about 155 pounds and have to stand, a lot of times, next to people who had a chemically enhanced physique, and they weighed over 200 pounds,” he said.

Pendergast competed for three years then got certified as a physique judge. Now he helps judge bodybuilding competitions, which has always meant traveling outside the peninsula – until now.

Central peninsula interest in the sport has grown in the past few years to the point where taking an informal head count of how many local bodybuilders would participate in a Kenai competition yielded 20 to 25 people, Pendergast said. Shows can include upward of 60 competitors, but 25 to 30 is a more manageable number. The Kenai show is open to competitors statewide.

“As long as I’ve been training in the gym here in town, since 1990, I’ve never seen, not only the interest, but the actual commitment to train and diet and getting into the condition they need to be to be competitive in this sport. It has really grown tremendously in the last couple of years,” Pendergast said.

Now the state has the Alaska Bodybuilding Figure and Fitness organization, which promotes natural bodybuilding, athletes have an avenue to be competitive in bodybuilding without the pressure of using drugs. Pendergast said that has helped the sport draw a following of health-conscious athletes looking for a unique challenge.

“It’s quite overwhelming for me, really. I am excited about it. I thought, you know, now that we’re natural and can promote the sport of bodybuilding to our young people through sensible weight training and good, sound nutrition and let them still build a physique that can be competitive onstage, it is really exciting. I like the involvement in it because it is a natural sport,” Pendergast said.

He had some time free this winter, and decided to “grab the bull by the horns and go with it. I just decided maybe the time was right down here,” he said.

He started making the rounds in the community for event sponsors and supporters. The response was overwhelming, he said.

“They were like, ‘Wow, how can I help?’ It’s been a really good outpouring of help in the community to get this thing going,” Pendergast said.

He hopes the support translates into attendance at events March 28. Not only will it show interest in the sport of bodybuilding, it will show support for local competitors.

“We’re looking forward to seeing everyone come out and support all our local athletes. It is a growing sport and we want people to be more educated in it and get more people involved,” said Pako Whannell, a manager at the Peninsula Athletic Club and bodybuilder who plans to compete in the Kenai event.

“We’re kind of nervous because everybody we know lives in the community, but we’re proud and really want people to understand that anyone can do this at any age,” she said.

There will be a prejudging event at noon where competitors go through set poses and are evaluated by judges. Admission for that event is $10 at the door.

The main event starts at 7 p.m., where competitors perform individual routines to music and awards are handed out in each class and division, including men’s and women’s bodybuilding, women’s figure and women’s fitness. Overall awards are given in each of the women’s categories, and in men’s bodybuilding.

Tickets for the 7 p.m. competition are $25 for prime seats, or $15 and $10 for side and balcony seating. Tickets are available at GNC, The Fitness Place, Peninsula Athletic Club and at the door.

Modern ring to it — Traveling circus puts human feats center stage

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Alaskans don’t need a circus to see exotic animals. But aerial acrobatics, magic, contortionism and other exotic human feats of skill, balance, athleticism and finesse — well, that’s a horse of a different color.

That figurative horse will be on display today, March 18, at the Soldotna Sports Center, as the International All-Star Circus performs at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.
The International exhibition is a modern circus, one where humans, not animals, are the centers of attention.

“It’s Ringling Brothers meets Cirque du Soleil. The American flair with the big production acts and cotton candy and kids’ room bounce, things like that. It also has beautiful aerial ballet and quality of performance, acts in that type with a modern, clean circus,” said Cornell “Tuffy” Nicholas, ringmaster and producer of the International All-Star Circus.

Nicholas has a background in traditional circus, with his father being a ringmaster with Ringling Brothers for 27 years and his mother being a polar bear trainer with Ringling. He went on to explore myriad styles of entertainment and now has 30 years experience promoting and producing live productions, including the Moscow State Circus and Moscow International Circus, concerts, festivals and sporting events.

The appeal of the modern circus style, for Nicholas, is putting human accomplishments onstage.

“It’s just more fun when you don’t have animals in your show. You must compensate for that with more acts and stronger acts and that’s why I bring in these big troupes, daredevils, the best contortionist, the best clowns and the best acrobats. The show has to be fantastic to keep the expectation of a quality show traveling around the world. When you don’t have animals, you must do more,” he said.

The cast includes 26 performers, including circus professionals from Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russia and Germany, as well as members of the famous Flying Wallenda family. Acts include strong man, high-wire routines, a contortionist, clowns, magic and various feats of acrobatics and balance.

“It’s really about quality and jaw-dropping feats. We always try to find things that people have not seen before,” Nicholas said. “Aerial ballet is beautiful, the contortionist is really amazing. This girl, it’s hard to describe, when she does some of these feats you cringe, you smile, you squirm in your seat, you wonder how she does it.”

Creating the show is the best part for Nicholas.

“The fun part for me is really assembling the performers and putting together the acts. Through years growing up in the circus and having different shows I know most of the best performers, and then I constantly get CDs in the mail and requests to go to YouTube to look at things, and sometimes travel different places in the world to look at different acts. That’s the fun part — watching it come together,” he said.

Nichols recently stepped beyond his behind-the-scenes work producing the show to take center stage as ringmaster, following in his father’s footsteps.

“Now I’m out in the ring with all the different performers, and it’s just a lot of fun,” he said.

The International All-Star Circus is on an Alaska tour, with performances in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and Soldotna. Ticket prices vary depending on general admission, preferred seating and advanced purchase. Advanced purchase tickets for general admission are $11 for kids and $19 for adults, and advance purchase tickets for preferred seating are $22.50 for kids and $30 for adults. Tickets at the door are $14 for kids and $22 for adults for general admission, and $27.50 for kids and $35 for adults for preferred seating. Advanced tickets are available online at www.takemetothecircus.com.

“It’s 26 people performing live onstage in some of the most modern and incredible performances you’ll ever see in your life, no matter where you are. This show could play Madison Square Garden, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit — this is a show that would do well anywhere on the face of the planet,” Nicholas said.

More information about the circus can be found at www.internationalallstarcircus.com.

Art Seen: Brush with the wild side

Susan Anderson is basically a Fauvist, as far as I can tell. I’ve been watching her work for years now and am continually intrigued by it.

Stephen Sanders, who created a Web site dedicated to Fauvism, explains Fauvism as this: “Shortly after the turn of the century, (it) exploded onto the scene with a wild, vibrant style of expressionistic art that shocked the critics but has since been recognized as one of the seminal forces that drove modern art. They were called the fauves, French for ‘wild beasts,’ a term of derision used to indicate their apparent lack of discipline. Today fauvism, once thought of as a minor, short-lived movement, is recognized as having paved the way to both cubism and modern expressionism in its disregard for natural forms and its love of unbridled color.”

Disregard is not the word I would use, instead preferring the idea of a supra-regard translating into the joy of expression through the happy mimicking of the wondrous and varied forms in the natural world.

Anderson was not formally trained, apparently, but rather lived and breathed art in the context of a family full of artists and art educators. The folk appeal and seeming naivety of her pieces work best when she uses simplified images without an abundance of detail.

The landscapes in her solo exhibition at the 4-D Interiors upstairs gallery space generally lack the unusual and psychological drama the others obtain. One exception is “Paris Taxi,” a watercolor whose irregular perspective and loose handling serve it immeasurably. The feel is of a street more alive and holding greater character than any photo or photorealistic rendering could capture.

In “Hanging Out,” she has let the bold strokes and large areas of color and texture create a ground for the three figures who seem to be constructed of stacked shapes. With less detail, the viewer is allowed to wonder all sorts of things about the subjects, as well as simply enjoy the bold brushstrokes.

“Jazz Guitar Man Jeff Golub” is almost too slick to be included in this exhibit; the effect is clean and predictably composed. She painted it from an image she captured with an iPhone at a concert, a technique also utilized on the more interesting “Soulman Sam and the Band,” which brings us back to the quirky style I so appreciate. The figures appear to grow from the bottom of the canvas, and the composition has a drunken, vibrant feel. The sharp angles and high contrast between the complementary colors of blue and orange create a mysterious energy.

“Greek Harbor Lights” is a sweet watercolor, fancifully created and left simple, as is the small portrait “18 Going on 30,” which has the brazen marks I’ve come to really love about Anderson’s work. “Into the Finish” is unusually composed and encapsulates both the energy of a sled-dog race and the chaos of inclement weather.

Anderson’s most successful piece has got to be “Man in Thought,” done in encaustic on a small panel. The ancient medium, a combination of beeswax and resin, is extremely inviting. One has to be disciplined in order to not reach out and caress the smooth surface and luscious, lumpy buildup. The piece consists of basically two panels. The separation is created with the pigment, rather than the substrate, but the effect is complete. The left side compromising of two-thirds of the image is entirely abstract, with two floating squares that create tension and, alternately, solidity. The right side has a discernable figure of a man, but is handled in the same spontaneous quality as the rest of the piece.

“Blue Note” is also done in encaustic, but lacks the anchored design needed to hold the floating paper in a context. It is an inviting medium, however, and one I am never unhappy to run across.

Anderson’s exhibit runs through 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 18

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Wednesday, March 18
  • The International All-Star Circus will perform at the Soldotna Sports Center at 5 and 8 p.m. Tickets at the door are $14 for kids and $22 for adults for general seating, and $27.50 for kids and $35 for adults for preferred seating.

  • The Kenai Writers Group will meet at 6:30 p.m. in the Kenai Community Library conference room. It is open to everyone. Bring extra copies of your work to share.

  • Veronica’s in Kenai has a concert from 6 to 10 p.m. to raise money to purchase an ASCAP license, to allow the venue to continue offering musical performances that include cover songs. Fifteen musicians will perform, and there will be a Chinese dollar auction.

  • A floral centerpiece class will be offered by Carroll Knutson at the Kenai Community Library from 1 to 3 p.m. Participants should bring a 6-inch bowl, heavy kitchen shears and a store-bought bouquet. The cost is $5.

  • Kenai Community Library will hold a Family Game Day from 1 to 4 p.m. A variety of board games will be available, or bring one of your own to play. It is free and open to the public.

Coming up
  • The grand opening of the Curtain Call Consignment Boutique will be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 27 and 28 at the Kenai Performers’ Old Town Playhouse in Kenai. Organizers are taking consignments of new or gently used namebrand and designer clothing, handbags, shoes, jewelry and accessories. Contact Mary Krull at 398-2931.
  • “Trails North,” a documentary about the Junior Iditarod, will be shown at 4 p.m. March 28 at Triumvirate Theatre in the Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna. Admission is free.
  • “8 Stars of Comedy Gold,” a comedic play about Alaska history, will be performed by Sidecar, an improvisational acting troupe from New York City, at 7 p.m. March 27 and 28, and April 3, 4, 10 and 11 at Triumvirate Theatre in the Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna. Tickets are $7 for adults, $3 for kids.
  • The Friends of the Kenai Community Library will hold a fundraiser dance from 8:30 to 11:30 p.m. March 28 at the American Legion Hall in Old Town Kenai to raise money for a library expansion. Live music will be by Bull Don and the Moose Nuggets. Finger food, coffee and tea will be served. Tickets are $10, available at the library and at the door. Call Edale Clark at 398-1399 for more information.
  • The Friends of the Kenai Community Library will hold a high tea from 2 to 4 p.m. April 5 at the Merit Inn in Kenai to raise money for the library. Catering will be by Charlotte’s. Tickets are $25, available at the library and from board members.

  • Friday and Saturday nights at The Riverside.

Live music
  • Hooligan’s Saloon in Soldotna has a jam night Thursday and Mother of Pearl on Friday and Saturday nights.
  • The Maverick in Soldotna has the Free Beer Band on Sundays.
  • Moosequito’s in Sterling has Paul Davis on Friday.
  • 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.
  • The Vagabond on Kalifornsky Beach Road has a jam session Friday.
  • Veronica’s in Kenai has Food for the Soul 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 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 darts Scrabble night Monday and darts Tuesday night.

Towering memories — Mystery plaque shakes up story of ’64 quake

By Clark Fair
Redoubt Reporter

In the early 1980s, friends of Jean McMaster were tearing down the lean-to attached to the back of her log-cabin dance studio near Kenai when they came across an old brass plaque hanging on the wall in a room that had been used for radio-dispatch calls to the Kenai volunteer fire department. The rectangular plaque had grind marks on each corner, as if bolts holding it in place had been sheared off to remove it.

Stamped into the metal was the name of the manufacturer: the Pittsburgh-Des Moines Steel Co. And below that were four lines of data: Whatever the plaque had been attached to had been erected in 1952 and had a capacity of 150,000 gallons. Its “upper capacity level” was 147 feet, 6 inches, while its “lower capacity level” was 120 feet, 2 inches.

Longtime area educator, Gene Morin, whose daughter and son-in-law, Chris and Britton Cook, had been helping tear down the lean-to, realized what the plaque was, and Morin thought he knew who might like to have it.

Back on Good Friday, March 27, 1964, Clayton Brockel, the 37-year-old director of adult education and recently appointed director of the new Kenai Peninsula Community College, had just finished another day of work and was planning to wind down. He climbed into his 1960 white, two-door Chevy Corvair and headed west out of Kenai toward the Wildwood Army Station, where he was a civilian regular at the Friday evening social hour.

He arrived in front of the Officers Club at approximately 5:30 p.m., parked in front of a 4-by-4 post supporting an electrical plug-in, and strolled inside. The Officers Club consisted of three stories —upstairs quarters, a downstairs mess hall and a basement bar and social area. Brockel walked in through the front door and headed down.

“I walked in, and I recall that someone said he wanted me to meet this new officer,” said Brockel, now 82. “So we shook hands, and, about the same time that we shook hands, the earthquake started.”

It was 5:36 p.m.

The epicenter of the quake, which would become known as the most powerful ever recorded in North America, was about 80 miles east of Anchorage. From its focus deep inside the earth, surface waves were generated that rippled through communities, fracturing foundations and warping the ground so that trees tipped wildly in the undulations.

At Wildwood Station, the Army’s red-and-white water tower was easily the tallest structure, rising nearly 14 stories above the low buildings and gridlike network of roads on the base. It stood directly across a narrow road from the Officers Club, about 200 feet away.

When the surface waves reached the base, they caused the tower’s huge reservoir, containing more than a million pounds of water, to rock back and forth like the more-limber trees. The waves destabilized the tower, and the entire structure came crashing to the ground.

The concussive force of water and air shot outward from the point of impact, driving the back window of Brockel’s car through the vehicle, smashing out the front windshield as it exited. The driver’s-side door bulged and bowed under the pressure as glass fragments littered the Corvair’s interior and embedded themselves in the back of the front seat. The car itself was slammed through the 4-by-4 post and shoved up onto the snow-covered lawn of the Officers Club.
Inside, no one was sure at first what was going on.

“We couldn’t move in the basement,” Brockel said. “It was shaking that bad. We had to wait until it was over. We were hanging on to anything we could hang on to.” And then the tower fell.

A huge booming sound could be heard inside, and the impact of the tower striking the ground could be felt throughout the building. The high windows on the tower-side wall of the basement were blown inward, and water began surging in through the vacant window frames.

“The lights went out in the club, and the emergency lights came on,” Brockel said. “And someone said, ‘My God, it must be a bomb!’ Because we couldn’t see anything. We couldn’t see outside.”

Outside, across Alaska, devastation was being wrought. Parts of downtown Anchorage were being reduced to rubble. Ocean waves were being generated that would kill dozens of people in Southcentral coastal communities, and the death toll statewide would rise above 100. Vibrations from the quake would be felt over a land area of more than a million square miles, and quake-generated ocean waves would affect communities as far away as northern California.

In the Officers Club, one young officer had left his room and headed downstairs for social hour just before the quake struck, Brockel said. In the violent shaking in the stairwell, he lost his balance, toppled downward and broke his arm. It was the only serious injury to anyone on the base.

“As soon as the ground stopped shaking, we evacuated the building, and when we walked out, we were walking in water,” Brockel said. “I was scared.”

Outside, the evacuating officers and civilians immediately noticed the fallen tower and realized that no bomb had struck the base. Brockel just stood there with the others, stunned by the destruction, and astonished at the fate of his car.

The first human voice that he said he remembers hearing after leaving the Officers Club contained a message of doom. A terrified civilian, who had been on duty at the power plant just down the road, raced around a corner and into view.

“It’s all over!” he screamed. “Wildwood is gone!” Fortunately, he was incorrect.

Brockel eyeballed his vehicle and wondered whether it would even start. He tried his luck, pulling open the damaged door and climbing in. He inserted the key, and the engine turned over. Lacking both a front and back window, he drove to his home on Walker Lane in Kenai.

“It was cold,” he said. “It was awful cold.”

The Corvair wound up in a lot behind Ingram’s Garage in Soldotna. “I parked it back there. I believe it was totaled,” Brockel said.

As a consolation, he purchased a 1963 Chevy Biscayne, named it “Old Blue,” and drove it for many years while he was the director of the college.

But the aftereffects of the Good Friday earthquake didn’t end with his car.

“I was teaching then, as well as being the adult education director,” Brockel said. “I was teaching at the Kenai School, on the second floor of that building, and when I went to school Monday morning, I noticed that one of my students was missing.”

The missing student was Larry Damon, son of Frances Damon, who was the daughter of Clarence and Anna Goodrich, who would later make a generous land contribution to the community college. Both Larry and Frances Damon had been in Whittier at the time of the quake, and both were killed by an ocean wave.
The quake also affected Brockel psychologically.

“I was pretty well shaken up by that,” he said. “I recall that I did not like to go into any building that was over two stories high. Like, if I were to go into Anchorage on business, I was going to stay in a motel. I would never stay in a high-rise. And I wouldn’t stay above the second floor.”

For months after March 27, he also suffered momentary dizzy spells if he experienced any vibrations akin to those in the quake. At school, when kids would walk in front of his desk, the trembling sometimes would upset him.

“The damn floor would vibrate,” he said. “And it was the same vibration as the earthquake, and I would momentarily have a dizzy spell.”

Certain elevators in Anchorage had the same effect, and Brockel began to wonder if he was going crazy, until he overheard someone else describing the same phenomenon.

Eventually, Brockel resumed his attendance at social hour in the Officers Club, but things were never the same. Parking his Biscayne might remind him of how close he had been to still being inside the Corvair when the quake hit. “I don’t know what damage would have been done to my neck and head,” he said. “I’ve often wondered about that. I’m glad I’ll never find out.”

And he remembers the next time he saw the officer to whom he’d just been introduced that day. “I said, ‘Remind me not to shake hands with you again.’ And we both laughed,” Brockel said.

During the cleanup effort that followed the tower’s collapse, one of the civilian contractors hired to help was Carl Haller, who was then married to Jean McMaster. Brockel suspects that Haller came across the section of tower containing the plaque and decided to keep it, so he detached it and took it home.
Nearly 20 years later, long after Haller and McMaster had divorced, the plaque, along with a scattered assortment of other mementos and old papers, was still hanging on the wall of the radio-dispatch room when demolition time arrived.
Gene Morin, who had retired and was visiting that summer from his home Outside, looked at the plaque and thought of Brockel, who was pleased to receive it.

“I thought that was pretty neat,” he said. “That water tower became a pretty important factor to me after the earthquake.”

Brockel’s friend, Martin Breitenfeld, made a wooden frame and used brass screws to affix the plaque to the backing. Beneath the plaque he attached a label: “GOOD FRIDAY EARTHQUAKE 1964, Wildwood Station, Alaska.”

That’s all the reminder Clayton Brockel needs these days.

Editorial: Belt tightening good, but don’t squeeze too tight

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dave Carey is right in taking a cautious approach to the borough budget this year. Financial storm clouds are on the horizon — with a drop in oil prices affecting state revenue sharing, a decrease in sales taxes from the exemption of nonprepared food and a question mark over how much the borough will feel the deepening national financial crisis. Whether the storm amounts to a drizzle or a hurricane, it’s good fiscal policy to put sandbags in place now, before the rains come.

Carey has asked all departments to submit budgets with no more than a 4 percent increase. He’s looking at service areas and grants for ways to save money and avoid costly obligations down the road. He’s also instituted a zero-based budgeting approach to the nonprofit organizations the borough has funded in the past, meaning the organizations will have to justify why and how much the borough should fund them.

These are all sound financial practices, and Carey’s desire to lower the mill rate to keep more money in taxpayers’ pockets is an idea that’s sure to be popular.

That desire can be carried too far. Government’s role is to provide essential services on behalf of the people funding it. But when “essential” is defined too narrowly, it does a disservice to residents, even if it means they have some extra cash after tax season.

In the case of the nonprofits, they do a service to the borough far beyond the value of the funding they receive. They leverage local funding into much more on a state and national level, and do important work with it without the borough having to hire people or create programs.

There is a line that delineates what’s proper for the borough to fund and how much that funding should be, and this is a good time to examine it. If the mayor and assembly decide to cut, they should do so with their eyes open the full impact those cuts will have on these organizations, the services they provide and the revenue they bring into the borough.

Belt tightening is in order, but let’s not strangle ourselves in the process.

Guest editorial: Transparency, good faith, public participation needed to solve energy dilemma

Recent grass-roots action by Homer Electric Association cooperative members which resulted in the HEA Board’s decision to contract a third-party, fact-based Power Supply Study is a shining example of why public participation is essential in influencing responsible regional energy policy, including study and development of renewable energy projects.

Unfortunately, HEA, doing business as Kenai Hydro LLC, is aggressively pursuing hydroelectric projects proposed for Kenai River headwaters near Moose Pass and Cooper Landing, which do not represent good renewable energy policy or good public policy.

HEA widely and deliberately misrepresented the projects as “low-impact” to obtain public money and to defuse legitimate public criticism.

HEA funding requests mischaracterizing the projects as low-impact resulted in over $1 million in public funding from the Denali Commission, Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority/Alaska Energy Authority, and the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee.

Project information distributed to the public, HEA cooperative members, and state and federal agencies prominently displayed the Low Impact Hydropower Institute logo. At meetings in Cooper Landing and Moose Pass, HEA stated its commitment to develop the projects, as much as possible, in compliance with LIHI criteria.

The truth is LIHI does not support construction of any new hydropower facilities. LIHI criteria only apply to existing hydro facilities built before 1998, only evaluate the compliance of those existing facilities with conditions of their Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) licenses, and are not applicable to conceptual projects. HEA’s association of LIHI’s logo and low-impact criteria with these projects was not only irrelevant, but a disingenuous attempt to hoodwink agencies and the public into believing these projects would substantially meet independently established, low-impact environmental criteria.

Preliminary permits issued by FERC describe construction of dams of up to 10 feet high and 200 feet wide. HEA has publicly rationalized the need for over eight miles of new road construction, destruction of existing hiking trails and dewatering of Kenai River tributary streams providing important fish spawning and rearing habitat.

HEA continues promoting these projects despite having been informed that the projects, as proposed, do not conform to important public policy and resource management provisions of the:
  • Chugach Forest Plan;
  • Inventoried Roadless Area Rule;
  • Kenai River Comprehensive Management Plan;
  • Kenai Area Plan;
  • Kenai Peninsula Borough Comprehensive Plan; and
  • Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s management intent for the Kenai River watershed.

The timing and amounts of funding, limited state oversight and overly elaborate designs based on insufficient data that do not comply with existing resource management plans and policy, especially for the Crescent and Ptarmigan lakes projects, has raised concern that HEA engaged in a classic “bait and switch” scheme. Local residents fear that public money ostensibly allocated to the Crescent and Ptarmigan lakes projects was spent improperly to promote the Grant Lake/Falls Creek project, and that overall, HEA wasted public money to pursue, at best, marginally feasible projects where the potential impacts far outweigh the possible benefits.

Despite its use of public funding and the fact that these projects rely totally on development and use of public lands and waters, HEA is attempting to limit process transparency and public participation in the FERC licensing, National Environmental Policy Act, mandatory conditioning and permitting processes for these projects.

HEA has stated it plans to seek FERC permission to use the Traditional Licensing Process to authorize the projects. According to officials in FERC’s Washington, D.C., offices, the TLP provides the least process transparency and opportunities for public participation. The TLP is driven and controlled by the project proponent, requires few public meetings, and involves the public late in the process after many decisions have already been made.

The Integrated Licensing Process provides greater process transparency and opportunities for public participation. FERC implemented the ILP in 2005 as its default process, in part, to correct well-documented public participation and process transparency deficiencies associated with the TLP. The ILP involves the public and discloses existing project information early in the process. In addition to soliciting written public response and comments, the ILP provides for a comprehensive series of public meetings. Under the ILP, environmental study plans are developed in coordination with the NEPA process to help ensure public and agency concerns identified during NEPA scoping are addressed through collection and analysis of pertinent data.

To address the high costs and uncertain future of electrical power generated from declining reserves of Cook Inlet natural gas, industry, government and the public need to work together in a good-faith effort to carefully study and prudently develop renewable energy projects. Full public participation in a transparent process is necessary to ensure that public funding and development of public lands, waters and resources results in an appropriate balance between public and private interests, and that renewable energy projects are in line with reasonable social and environmental impacts that are fully disclosed.

Mike Cooney is a forestry consultant and hunting guide who has worked in natural resource management for more than 30 years. He is a resident of Moose Pass.

Science of the seasons: Stream debris can be good for fish, insects

The first raft or boat trip on the Kenai River each spring is a new adventure because the river will have changed significantly since the last trip in the fall. There will be new channels and unknown shallows that have to be noted in order to avoid costly repairs to the boat bottom or prop. Along with the substrate changes are the arrival or removal of large logs and, sometimes, entire trees. Sections of a river with significant numbers of logs and stumps are usually given a wide berth by boaters.

Logs and stumps are transients in the river until a large flood or ice jam washes them downstream. Eventually they will end up in the inlet and can create their own hazard out there. While in the river, however, the logs can have a significant impact on surrounding substrates and can become a temporary microcosm of riverine organisms, especially fish.

Most floating trees and logs are the result of normal bank erosion as the river meanders within its flood plain. “Sweepers” are frequently seen on the outside of river bends as the tree-supporting substrate is slowly washed away and trees bend over the river. As more and more of their support washes away, they dangerously skim the river surface until being completely uprooted. Once floating free, the strong current carries them downstream to the first shallow section. The limbs and branches are lighter and have more surface area than the stump and trunk end. Because of this, the heavier stump end tends to get dragged, begrudgingly, downstream.

Once a log or tree becomes “grounded” in the river, it starts changing the river substrates nearby. Water washing up against the unmoving trunk or stump will create a deeper hole below or to the side. Other areas along the log will slow the current so that sand, gravel and cobbles will be deposited there. By deflecting parts of the current, new channels will be created around the log. Some of the substrate and channel changes will in turn cause the log to be washed farther downstream. The process begins again as soon as the tree stops.

Once one log gets solidly lodged in the current, others seem to be attracted. In a fairly short period of time, with the arrival of new trees, large logjams can develop. As the numbers of logs build, so does the impact on the original water-flow pattern. Logjams can cause water to be diverted far from the original course and new side channels can be formed. These side channels create a variety of new pathways for the water to flow downstream.

Streams with numerous side channels are much more difficult to navigate with a motorboat than those with a clearly defined channel. However, rivers with more logjams, as well as an increased number of side channels, seem to have much fewer flash floods compared with rivers that have had logjams removed. By diverting water into numerous areas of the flood plain, the water moves downstream more slowly and is less able to erode away constraining lateral banks.

Various aquatic insects will use trees and stumps for an in-stream residence. Since many insects feed on fine, drifting organic particles found in the water , a spot on a tree limb with water drifting past is the best seat in the house. Some, like hydrospychid caddisfies, build filtering nets on these wooden substrates. Others, like black fly larvae, attach their abdomen to the limbs and filter out fine particles with special antennal fans. Because algae and diatoms will grow on the submerged wooden substrates, algal grazers will also be attracted to the logjam. In streams with soft, muddy bottoms, logjams and submerged trees can be some of the only available insect attachment sites.

For fish, and the astute fisherman, logs and stumps along a river are attractive areas. Because of the deeper channels around the logs, fish can find passageways if they are moving upstream. There are usually sections underneath the logjam where the current is slower than the surrounding stream and these areas are used as a fish refuge. Other fish will remain in the deeper sections underneath the log and wait for drifting or dislodged insects to wash right to them. Light shadows created by the tree or its limbs will also camouflage fish from potential predators. It’s kind of like an all-you-can-eat buffet for the fish in a sheltered restaurant.

Like virtually every other part of a stream or river, there are constant changes in the submerged trees and logs, as well as the rocky substrates around them. While these dynamic habitats can be dangerous for boaters, they can be a blessing for aquatic insects, fish and fishermen.

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

Plugged in: Troubleshoot PC problems before throwing money them

A few months ago, I became concerned that the central file server at my law office was performing much slower than expected, given the very fast components from which I built that device. Because I didn’t want to just throw money at a balky computer, my first reaction was to systematically troubleshoot the system.

The best way to troubleshoot a slow computer is to individually test each subset for overall performance and see whether you have a bottleneck that can be easily and inexpensively upgraded. For this purpose, I like PassMark’s Performance Test 6.1, which comes in both a 32-bit version for regular Windows XP and 32-bit Vista and a 64-bit version for more advanced systems like Windows XP x64, Windows Server and 64-bit Vista. You can get a fully functional 30-day trial version from www.passmark.com, but the purchase price is so reasonable that I suggest buying a long-term license so you can later test your system as needed.

Before testing your system, be sure to completely defragment the boot drive using a disk defragmenter like Diskeeper (www.diskeeper.com). A fragmented hard disk will result in unreliably low performance metrics and will not give you an accurate understanding of where your computer’s weaknesses lie. Similarly, prior to testing, be sure that you have run Windows Update so that your Windows operating system is fully up to date.

Performance Test includes many individual tests, but the most important ones are the combined scores near the end, particularly “CPU Mark,” “Memory Mark,” and “Disk Mark” for business users. Persons using the newest CS4 version of Adobe Photoshop and computer gamers will also be very interested in “2D Graphics Mark” and in “3D Graphics Mark.” I believe that these individual subsystem tests are more meaningful than an overall “PassMark Rating” for the tested computer. These tell you what subsystem most affects your overall performance. PassMark provides a number of comparative test results for standard models, allowing you to directly compare your system with other computers.

What you’re looking for is well-balanced computer performance that’s tuned to your individual needs. A user who mostly does word processing and e-mail does not need high performance in any particular area. For low-demand users, almost anything made within the past three years or so will be adequate. Business users who use Excel or other spreadsheets to crunch a lot of numbers will want very high CPU performance, particularly “CPU Integer Math,” “CPU Floating Point Math” and “CPU Find Prime Numbers.” Business users who store a lot of very large documents or Photoshop users will especially need good hard disk performance, shown by the “Disk Mark” aggregate score.

Now, put a CD in your CD reader, cancel any auto-start programs and run all Performance Test 6.1 tests as a single operation. To do this, choose the “Tests, Run All Tests” menu item. Print out the results, label them appropriately and move to the next phase of testing.

Using the “Windows Update, Custom, Hardware — Optional” selection, check to see whether there are any approved device driver updates for the software that meshes individual hardware to the overall Windows operating system. Install the updated device driver software. Reboot your computer and run Performance Test again, as above. Print out and label these results and see whether you notice any significant changes. Often, updating to a manufacturer’s latest device driver software from Microsoft’s necessarily generic drivers will provide a decent and free performance boost.

Not all driver software makes it to Microsoft’s Windows Update service. Sometimes, you’ll want to find something newer or perhaps a little more exotic, in which case you’ll need to go to the device manufacturer’s own Web site for the latest driver software. Be a little more careful here — sometimes device driver software is posted by a vendor before all of the bugs are worked out and buggy driver software will often crash a system upon the next boot-up. Personally, I would avoid device drivers that are not dated at least a month earlier.

It always makes sense to ensure that you can recover from a crashing system that’s become inherently unstable due to bad device drivers. The best way to do this is to ensure that your system always has Windows System Restore enabled. To check, go to “Control Panel, System, System Restore” and ensure that System Restore is turned on for all drives.

If your system should start crashing after any software or hardware upgrades, don’t just keep trying to reboot the system continuously. You’ll only corrupt the underlying Windows installation sooner or later. Instead, use the F8 key on the next reboot to go into “safe mode” and, rather than trying to boot normally, instead enter the “system restore” function and revert back to the prior-known good system restore point. It will take awhile for Windows to restore your system back to an earlier status, but after you reboot your system should be stable again.

After updating your operating system and device driver software, there’s another potential bottleneck to examine before throwing money at new hardware. Many programs install “helpful” bits that automatically start up as “processes” or “services,” and their individual or cumulative effect is to slow down your system, often remarkably so, or even make it unstable. In years past, among the biggest offenders, in my opinion, were earlier versions of Norton Utilities, which not only caused system instability but actually reduced overall performance by as much as 30 percent, the equivalent of going backwards one full CPU processor generation.

You’ll be able to check and see which processes are hogging CPU and disk performance by using Windows Task Manager, which is accessed by simultaneously hitting the three-key CNTRL-ALT-DELETE combination. When Task Master pops up, first check the Applications tab to see which programs are running. Close them to get a more accurate reading. Then, look at the Performance tab to see whether there are any unusual spikes in CPU, memory or hard disk usage. Finally, check the Processes tab to see what processes are running and how much CPU and memory resources they are using.

During this check, you should not have any application programs open and no routine system maintenance operations like disk defragmenting or virus checking under way. If necessary, wait until these housekeeping chores are completed. CPU and hard disk activity should be near zero during this rest state check. If they are not near zero, something unusual is happening that may be a wasteful use of computer resources.

While you’re at it, use the Performance and Process tabs in Windows Task Manager check to see which optional processes are using a lot of memory. This does not necessarily slow down your system unless the optional processes grab and hold on to so much RAM memory that your overall system does not have enough memory to run applications quickly without having to resort to much-slower hard disk swapping. Photo editing programs like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom demand a lot of RAM memory, by the way, so check memory status while running these programs, as well. If you are potentially short on available RAM, then the least-expensive and best approach is to simply replace your existing RAM with a matched, two- or four-gigabyte pair for 32-bit systems and a matched, four-gigabyte pair for 64-bit operating systems.

The best way to test whether any optional boot-up software is dragging down your system is to use the Ace Utilities (www.acelogix.com) Optimize, Auto-Start Manager to unload all your optional start-up programs, reboot and then use Performance Test 6.1 as described above to measure the raw performance of your system without any secondary software. If there’s a major improvement, decide what you really need to run routinely and what is superfluous. Again use the Ace Auto-Start Manager to add any necessary programs, such as anti-virus software, back into the boot-up sequence.

Make one final performance test, compare it with your prior test results and decide whether there are any hardware bottlenecks that can be readily upgraded without a great deal of cost and hassle. Generally, the most cost-effective upgrades are faster hard disks, faster video cards and increasing the amount of RAM memory in your system. On the other hand, if your CPU Mark and Memory Mark measurements seem low, you’ll probably be better off simply replacing the entire system if you really need the extra performance.

Next week, we’ll talk about how to do some hardware upgrades and the potential pitfalls along the way.

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.