Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Wild life — Kasilof duo laughs through volcanoes, Exxon during 30 years in the Bush

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Mary and Bob Haeg’s version of paradise would be some people’s version of hell, or at least purgatory.

Thirty years with no running water, no electricity, no regular mail, no phone, no TV, no computer or Internet, no neighbors, no way in or out except by boat or plane.

“No stores, no roads, no people,” Bob said.

“It sure was nice,” Mary said.

“Yeah, there was no baloney. I’d still be there if I wasn’t so damn old,” Bob said.

Now in their 80s, the inevitable march of time has taken its toll on the Haegs and the subsistence life they carved out for themselves in remote Chinitna Bay across Cook Inlet and a little north of Anchor Point. Age kicked them out of their own, self-made Garden of Eden about two and a half years ago and landed them in their version of purgatory — civilization. Or as much civilization as they could stomach, anyway. They packed up what they could from their wilderness home, shipped it all across the inlet and moved into a house near the beach in Kasilof.

“Only a couple cars a day go by. It’s already too busy. But we can stand it,” Bob said.

They made the move for an easier life. One where they can stay warm without chopping wood and eat dinner without having to find it, kill it, dress it and cook it.

“We had to do with what we had, you know,” Mary said. “Now over here you can get fettuccini sauce. We never had any of that before. It’s different being able to go to the store and cook with all that stuff.”

Different surroundings have forced a different lifestyle on the Haegs, but at heart they haven’t changed much. Their activities are still governed by daylight, rather than the irrelevant numbers on a clock, and they’ll make appointments for “when it’s light out” and head home “before it gets dark.” After a few days holed up with a cold, they need to confer with each other to determine what day it is, and only then if there’s a good reason to bother knowing. Bob still makes his famous pickled salmon; he just does it with fish from a subsistence set net site on the beach near their house. The Haegs bring the “young people” lunch, and the fishermen share their catch.

Though they say they’d just as soon not have so many gal darn people around, the Haegs can’t seem to help being friendly to anyone they meet, a throwback to their years hosting tourists in Chinitna Bay after fishing went south and they opened Haeg’s Wilderness Lodge instead. At the same time, three decades spent without having to impress or get along with anyone but themselves have left the Haegs without concern about what people think of them.

They’re equally as colorful in their stories as in real life — driving a shiny black Hummer with yellow flames custom painted on the sides and wearing bright Hummer jackets to match. The custom plates say “THXXON” — a sarcastic salute to the monetary settlement they got after the Exxon Valdez oil spill ruined fishing in Chinitna Bay.

The Haegs laugh over the plates as much as they do everything in life. It’s hard to say which came first with them — their “Oh, what the hell,” attitude or their spirit of adventure. Either way, the combination has made for an interesting life.

Life on the bay
The Haegs’ decision to move to Chinitna Bay came as spur-of-the-moment as many things in their lives have. They were living on the central Kenai Peninsula at the time, in the 1970s, after Bob convinced Mary to move to Alaska. She had been living in Minnesota with her five kids when she lost her husband, who was Bob’s first cousin and best friend. She was working at a liquor store when Bob came back to visit and showed her a picture of Alaska.

“He said, ‘You know, Mary, if you ever came to Alaska you’d never go back. You’d love it,’” Mary said. “I went to lock the liquor store door one night and thought, ‘I’m going to go to Alaska.’”

She bought a Winnebago, packed up the kids and headed north. She got into Kenai late at night.

“Where did I find Bob?”

In a bar. But neither that nor anything that’s happened since has made her regret her decision to come to Alaska.

“It never entered my mind,” she said.

Bob blames Mary for the Chinitna Bay scheme, but in fairness it was only half her doing. Mary said she loves to fish, and told Bob about a set net site she’d seen on the east side of the inlet. He’s the one who went looking across the water.

“She comes home after seeing a fishing site and said, ‘We want to buy a fishing site.’ I said, ‘Sh-- we don’t need another job.’ I was paving. I never seen a fishing site, didn’t know what it was, but I’m game for anything, gal darn. I didn’t need another job and I didn’t know anything about fishing, so I said, ‘We’ve got to buy a fishing site where you can’t do anything else.’”

It wasn’t hard to find someone who knew of a site for sale matching that bill.
“Anytime you sit down and get to bullsh---ing, you’re going to start talking about fishing. If you don’t like talking about fishing, don’t live in Alaska,” Bob said. “The guy said he knew of a site, but you can’t live there. I said, ‘Oh, hell, that’s going to be interesting.’”

Bob’s cousin, George French, flew them to Chinitna Bay, a 10-mile-long inlet east of Iliamna Lake, in French’s Super Cub to check out the site. It was blowing about 70 knots out of the west, so they couldn’t see much. A beach and some trees were all Bob had to go on.

It was enough.

“We couldn’t even land the airplane it was blowing too damn hard. We flew back and said, ‘It’s just what I always wanted,’” Bob said.

In the spring of 1976, Bob and Mary packed up the few belongings and supplies they could gather and headed across the inlet by boat. The skipper dropped them on the shore and told them they had two days to haul everything up off the beach before a big tide came in.

When they first arrived there was just an 8-by-16-foot trailer house. When they packed up 30 years later, they left 10 buildings behind.

The 2.5-acre site was more than just the buildings, though. It was all as much of their home as the 34-by-34 log cabin the Haegs built and lived in. Their walls were the mountains behind them and the cliffs that cut off the beach in either direction, making it so they couldn’t walk more than two miles either direction, and so visitors had to come in by boat or plane. The laundry room was series of racks and clotheslines strung high enough to catch the breeze. Their refrigerator was the garden they planted in an old wooden dory, the berry patches they picked in the fall, the smokehouse they used for their salmon, the traplines Bob and their son, David, tended during the winter, and the rich clamming beds and fishing grounds in the bay. Their television, playing nature and wildlife shows 24-7, was everywhere they looked.

Boom, bust at sea
Fishing was mythical when the Haegs first got to the site. They set netted for salmon — kings, reds, silvers and chums. Their summers were filled with the hard work that comes from having a hot spot — mending nets, tending buoys and dealing with the flopping, flashing bounty that came in when they pulled their gear.

There was ample sportfishing, too. Halibut were easy to find. And they’d occasionally hook a king crab so big they’d swear it was a halibut until it got up to the boat.

In the winter there were tanner crab in the bay.

“When the tide would go out they’d forget to go back so you could go pick them up,” Mary said.

They had a clam beach nearly to themselves, except when a visiting pilot would mistakenly think it’d be a good spot to land and ding a prop or wreck landing gear on the rocks.

“How many planes did we pull out that tried to land in our clamming spot?” Bob asked Mary.

The Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 put a stop to that way of life. Oil balls floated up the southern reaches of Cook Inlet and invaded Chinitna Bay. Halibut, the Cook Inlet herring fishery, even the salmon runs were destroyed. They used to get 3,800 chums a day, but after the spill, a good day was 363 fish, Mary said.

“It changed quite a bit. The fishing really never did come back,” Mary said.

“Yeah, it was a mess. It still is, really. It hurt us and all we got out of them was a Hummer,” Bob said.

“Our land wasn’t worth anything because there wasn’t fishing anymore. We started taking in tourists, otherwise we couldn’t have stayed there,” Mary said.

Life off the grid
Even before the tourists, the Haegs were isolated, but they weren’t completely alone. The National Park Service created Lake Clark National Park and Preserve in 1979, extending park boundaries around the few private inholdings on the bay, including the Haegs’. The Park Service people were good neighbors, the Haegs said. They’d help out if the Haegs got in a bind, and the park made it so unauthorized fish camps couldn’t spring up on the beach and in the woods, which used to be a serious headache, Bob said.

The squatters would build plastic shacks, litter, harass wildlife, catch too many halibut, bury them until their boat showed back up and shoot the bears that were drawn in to the fish.

“Then we’d have wounded bears around. The Parks Service helped clean that dump out. We put it out on the beach, I gave them a gallon of diesel and we burned it. That was the end of that crap,” Bob said.

A citizens band radio served as a link to the outside world, on the Kenai Peninsula and much farther beyond. It was entertainment to a point, but also proved incredibly helpful on occasion, like when the Haegs’ refrigerator went on the fritz and someone from Outside talked Bob through fixing it. Or when their pet goat ate insulation and a guy on the CB talked to a vet and relayed treatment information — “We had to pour Wesson oil down his throat,” Mary said.

Marine radio kept them in periodic touch with civilization across the inlet, especially if they needed a fishing tender to haul supplies over for them or needed a flight somewhere. Bob learned to fly when he was 62, and they had their PA-12, a little bigger than a Super Cub, painted with pink flames during a trip to Soldotna.

“Oh, it didn’t fit our lifestyle, with pink flames all down the side of it, but it was a pretty airplane,” Mary said.

Their son, David, the only one of the kids to grow up in Chinitna Bay instead of leaving to attend school in town, also became a pilot.

David Haeg regularly flew supplies and equipment in and out for his parents, in all kinds of conditions. During one trip, on Jan. 24, 1990, David had guided a larger plane delivering two snowmachines out to his parents’ site, then was dropping a passenger off in Port Alsworth, which took him near Mount Redoubt just as it was erupting. Being a photography buff, he got a gorgeous shot of the mountain before getting out of there to avoid ash damage to the plane.

That luck held with all the volcanoes in the area. In the 30 years the Haegs lived at Chinitna Bay, both Redoubt and Spurr erupted and Augustine erupted twice, but not one dumped any ash on them.

Mount Augustine is a mere 30 miles south of Chinitna Bay, and the Haegs could see the steam and ash rising when it erupted in 2005.

“We could see where it blew. It went up in the air and went east and went across and dumped on you guys. Boy, that was funny. We thought we were going to get it,” Bob said.

Never a dull moment
“We had something happen all the time. There were no dull moments,” Mary said.

Animals accounted for many of those not-dull moments, and General Custer the goat was at the center of many of them. A friend from Homer told Mary she had a young goat she couldn’t take care of and wondered if Mary and Bob could keep him. Custer made himself right at home. He was housebroken, so he got to come inside. His favorite spot when he was younger was curled up on Bob’s lap in the rocking chair. When he got bigger, he liked to stand right next to the barrel stove.

“In the winter you had to watch him ’cause he’d stand next to the stove and you could smell him,’” Bob said.

Being a goat, it was a constant battle to keep him from eating things he shouldn’t, like the insulation and the entire instructions to a brand-new three-wheeler kit Bob had had delivered. Tales of General Custer traveled far and wide over the CB, prompting one woman from down south to make and send a blanket for the goat with five stars on it.

“He got promoted to a five-star general,” Mary said.

They had a series of dogs, including Howler, who would lie under the stove and howl in the middle of the night if it went out. Then there was Tasha the horse, who learned how to open the cabin door. One day Bob and Mary heard knocking on the door, and it opened to reveal Tasha with a face full of porcupine quills.

“She knew they had to come out, and she sat there and let me do it,” Bob said.

Moses the raven was an ancillary pet, adopting the Haegs rather than the other way around. Moses liked to perch on Tasha and go for rides, and the raven was deadly with clothespins when Mary hung out the laundry, and with anything shiny.

“You couldn’t put down a socket or wrench or anything shiny,” Bob said. “We never did find all those.”

Wild animals were all around, including the brown bears that became a huge draw for wildlife viewers when the Haegs and other park inholders starting hosting tourists in the 1990s.

“We lived with 20 brown bears. I never petted a live bear. I petted a lot of dead ones and I’m still alive. If you’re dumb enough to pet a live bear, they make a movie of you. If you’re smart enough to stay alive with them for 30 years, there’s nothing to that,” Bob said, referring to “The Grizzly Maze,” a documentary about amateur naturalist Timothy Treadwell, who was killed by a grizzly in Katmai National Park in 2005.

Actually, a filmmaker did think there was something to the Haegs’ life in Chinitna Bay. Nature filmmakers Bob Swerer Sr. and Bob Swerer Jr. got a hold of Mary over Marine radio about eight years ago and told her they wanted to come film a documentary about them.

“I went out and told Bob and David. They said, ‘Oh Mom, you’re just kidding us.’ But I said, ‘Yeah,’ and they came out and did it,” Mary said.

The film, “Alaska Off the Beaten Path,” is available for purchase at www.dickproenneke.com and by calling 800-737-0239. It has aired on PBS, and the Haegs sometimes get stopped in the grocery store by people asking if they’re the ones on TV. It’s a kick to see themselves on TV, Mary said, and to look back at the life they created on their own, in their own little corner of the wild.

“Oh, we had so much fun, and we’re still having fun,” Mary said. “We’ve been laughing ever since.”

Borough is ready for rumbles — Emergency management team keeps tabs on Redoubt eruption

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Scott Walden usually gets up at 4:30 a.m. He was about ready to head to bed around 10 p.m. Sunday night. But when you’re the coordinator of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management and a volcano starts erupting across Cook Inlet, sleep can be hard to come by.

After three months of on-and-off rumbling, Mount Redoubt finally made good on its threats. The volcano began a series of eruptions at 10:38 p.m. Sunday night, followed by others at 11:02 p.m., 12:14 a.m. and 1:39 a.m., according to the Alaska Volcano Observatory. The largest blast of the morning occurred at 4:03 a.m. Monday, sending an ash cloud more than 60,000 feet — 12 miles — into the air. Another large eruption occurred at 7:41 p.m. Monday, sending another ash plume 60,000 feet into the air.

Walden’s work cell phone, a 24-hour necessity for occasions such as these, started ringing between 10 and 10:20 p.m. Sunday, he said, when it became clear Redoubt was ready to do more than just rumble.

With that, the borough’s Office of Emergency Management was in motion.
Built in 2006, the borough’s Emergency Management Center on Willow Street in Soldotna is a self-contained, state-of-the-art facility that serves as incident command center when a natural disaster or emergency strikes — be it a flood, wildfire or volcanic eruption.

It’s a huge step up from the trailer behind the Borough Building OEM used to inhabit, Walden said. Now there’s the necessary space, equipment and facilities to do what needs to be done in times of emergency.

For the most part, that’s gathering and distributing information, Walden said.

“Our job mainly is to coordinate information to get accurate information out,” he said. “We don’t create the information so much as contribute to the creation of it.”

OEM is the borough’s link to the agencies and experts monitoring the situation — in this case, primarily the Alaska Volcano Observatory and the National Weather Service. OEM also is the point of coordination between Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and any other areas of the state facing the same situation, and the multitude of departments, organizations and agencies that have a hand in weathering the storm — the Federal Aviation Administration, National Guard and Alaska Department of Transportation, to name a few.

It’s a two-way interface, with OEM getting updates from the volcano observatory and the weather service on eruption activities, ash cloud trajectory and weather forecasts, and being expected to return the favor if the borough has any information to report, such as ash fall observations.

“We get a lot of e-mails from people saying ‘Redoubt is erupting, there’s ash fall in Safeway parking lot.’ And I go and look, if need be,” Walden said. “We got reports of ash fall here around 2 o’clock (a.m.). I looked again, and of course it wasn’t happening.”

In a situation like Redoubt that’s happening beyond the borough’s boundaries, OEM’s main role is to disseminate information. OEM gathers updates on volcanic activity and ash fall advisories — basically, everything everyone needs to know — posts them to the borough’s OEM Web site, e-mails them to an extensive list of contacts in the media and community, updates the borough administration and department heads, the school district, hospitals, service areas, emergency response agencies, maintenance departments and a long list of others across the borough that most people wouldn’t even think of. But OEM does.

“If there is a really bad situation, we’ll let everybody know what’s going on,” Walden said.

The OEM office is staffed 24 hours a day for the duration of an emergency and has different levels of response it can escalate to, up to having 30 or 40 people working around the clock, with 100 extra phone lines patched in and a chaplain at the ready for the community, if need be.

The Redoubt eruption had staff at the lowest level of response, Walden said. Extra personnel were brought in to answer phones, which were ringing off the hook for about 40 minutes when power to all Homer Electric Association customers across the peninsula — 28,000 meters — went out around 8 a.m. Monday. Though it was just a coincidence, people assumed it was caused by the volcano erupting, Walden said.

Joe Gallagher, spokesman for Homer Electric Association, said the outage was caused by an unknown problem with the transmission line between Anchorage and the peninsula. Engineers were working Monday to determine what exactly happened, Gallagher said.

“We don’t have any reason whatsoever to link this to the ash fall,” he said.
Heavy ash fall could potentially cause a problem if it accumulated on power lines, transformers or electric facilities, Gallagher said, but that would only cause a localized outage.

“We’ve had experience with ash fall in the past. It’s never been anything where we had to shut down the system or anything like that. There’s been instances of isolated arcs, where in fact ash did get into the system, but it was isolated to distinct spots,” he said.

The transmission line was brought back online by 10 a.m., and the system was fully restored by 10:40 a.m.

Other than that curve ball, the day went smoothly, Walden said. The school district was apprised of eruption activity and ash plume trajectory early in the morning, and decided by 5 a.m. to go ahead with school. All the communications systems and information releases came in and went out as expected. Mother Nature even cooperated, from the Kenai Peninsula’s perspective, in keeping a steady wind out of the northeast that spared the Kenai from ash fall.

It was a relatively undisastrous disaster, even for the areas that were directly affected, like the Susitna Valley. Ash fall was light, Walden said, probably lighter than the images people conjure up about it.

“A trace amount is under a millimeter. Medium ash fall is one to three millimeters. When you realize a trash bag is 10 millimeters, that’s not a lot of ash. If we got significantly dumped on, that might be as much as a dime,” he said.

Even small amounts of ash can be a big problem, though. If mixed with snow, ash can contribute to roof collapses and other weight-bearing issues. It’s a health risk if inhaled, especially for people with respiratory problems. It can turn roads into Slip ’n’ Slides and wreak havoc with delicate machinery and electronics.

That’s probably the biggest difference between this eruption and the last time Redoubt was active — the amount of electronics equipment in use.

“Even the grocery store, you don’t have someone who figures out your bill and gives you a receipt, it’s all electronic,” Walden said. “That kind of stuff needs to be looked at now, whereas 20 years ago it wasn’t a concern. Nowadays it’s vital.”

Other than the rash of calls during the blackout, the emergency center was relatively quiet, Walden said. People seemed to know how to get information and were already prepared in the event of an ash fall.

“We did a lot of public information before the eruption about what people should do, so when something like this occurs you don’t have people panicking,” Walden said.

People Outside seem more concerned about the eruptions than locals, Walden said, probably due to imaginations or sensationalized news coverage running wild.

“It’s just kind of an unusual situation to have a volcano in your backyard. The image of what a volcano does and what we’ve seen it actually do are two different things,” Walden said.

“For the most part people are pretty reasonable. They listen and don’t react too much to what cable television is telling them.”

Image courtesy of Game McGimsey, Alaska Volcano Observatory / U.S. Geological Survey
Flooding and tephra deposits — volcano-produced, airborne material that settles on the ground, churn down the Drift River Valley off Mount Redoubt after eruptions Monday.

Luck of the drill — Kenai, Soldotna differ in water supplies

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Along with the weather, fishing and speculating how much the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend will be each year, swapping tales of distasteful water is an easy way to strike up a conversation on the central Kenai Peninsula.

Live here long enough or move around the area enough times and residents develop a lexis for describing what comes out of their taps much like wine connoisseurs contrast different vintages and varietals — except the wannabe sommeliers are more likely to use favorable terms.

Cloudy with a bouquet of rotten eggs, leaving an indelible green circle around the bathtub and rendering every load of white laundry somewhat gray.

Drinking water is something Alaskans can love to hate, or at least debate. Which is better, Kenai’s or Soldotna’s? Chances are, the arguments miss the point, involving factors that are distasteful — like color, smell and taste — but not mentioning the invisible contaminants that may be harmful, like arsenic.

In that regard, the argument’s clear, even if the water isn’t — Soldotna is in compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum limit of arsenic allowed in public water sources, and Kenai is not.

Well, then
It’s not for a lack of trying, though, according to Kenai City Manager Rick Koch. Kenai’s water woes just happened to be the luck of the draw, or drill, as it were.
“Soldotna had better luck finding wells with low arsenic,” Koch said.

Soldotna has plenty of wells that provide water with arsenic levels below the EPA’s limit — Well B on Aspen Drive, Well C behind Soldotna High School, Well E at the airport and the newly drilled Well C-2, near Well C, will start providing water soon, said Steve Bonebreak, public works director for Soldotna. Well R-1 is barely above the 10 ppb limit, but would only be used in the case of emergency, like a forest fire, Bonebreak said. Of the city’s production wells, arsenic levels range from 4 ppb to 9 ppb, he said.

“We’re fortunate to have wells that meet the new arsenic regulations. They serve good water to our customers that meets the new regulations without the added costs of any kind of arsenic treatment,” he said.

Kenai is in a different boat. It has only three production wells, all drawing off the Beaver Creek aquifer in the vicinity of the Kenai Spur Highway and Beaver Loop Road. Well 2 tests fine for arsenic, but wells 1 and 3 fail the new EPA limit. In the city’s 2007 water quality report, 27 ppb was the highest arsenic level listed.

When the EPA’s 10 ppb limit went into effect in 2006, Kenai was granted an exemption to allow more time to find a solution to its water problems.

“EPA developed an exemption procedure and said water systems needed more time to research options and pilot study treatments out there and could request an extension of time to complete the process,” said Susan Bulkow, the local Alaska Drinking Water Program coordinator with the state Department of Environmental Conservation. “In the meantime they’re required to issue public notice so the public is aware of the fact they have high arsenic levels in the water.

“The city of Kenai started trying to solve their problems earlier than most water systems by piloting studies of some different treatment options, and study of the water. These efforts have been ongoing. I feel confident that the city of Kenai is trying to solve the arsenic problem.”

Water treatment is an option, but not one the city wants to pursue, Koch said. There are two types of arsenic found in water. Arsenite is relatively inexpensive to remove through filtration. The other — arsenate — costs about the same to treat as removing color from water — the tannins and other elements that make water look dirty, a common complaint in Kenai, Koch said.

“One of the types of arsenic is easy to remove. And of course that’s not the kind we have,” he said.

Removing arsenate from the city’s water would involve building large holding tanks where chemicals can be mixed with the water that bind with arsenate and turn it into arsenite, the kind of arsenic that can be filtered out. Not only is that costly, it would produce large amounts of wastewater, which would eventually be flushed into Cook Inlet. That may be a problem in the future, if beluga whales’ endangered listing results in tighter restrictions on wastewater discharge, Koch said.

If existing water isn’t treated, then new water must be found. But unlike Soldotna, which replaced its offending well with a new one, Kenai has had a harder time finding a spot for a new well that meets requirements.

The city has been drilling test wells looking for another suitable water source, even before arsenic became a hot-button issue, to increase the city’s production potential and avoid water shortages in high-demand summer months.

“Some places you don’t have the challenges that we have here in the city of Kenai,” Koch said.

It was already difficult for the city to find a new well site with decent water volume, high enough water pressure, low enough color and a lack of other contaminants. Finding one with those attributes that also tested low enough for arsenic only added to the difficulty.

“What we have under our feet is very jumbled up, there’s just not any consistency in what we find in wells,” Koch said.

In lieu of finding a new water source, Kenai has decided to make the most of what it has — Well 2. Koch said the city plans to increase production of Well 2 and bring a new, 16-inch diameter well online in the same vicinity to tap into the same water source.

That will allow the city to take wells 1 and 3 offline and bring its arsenic level in line with EPA requirements. In order for that to happen, Well 2 needs to be upgraded to allow higher production and Well 4 needs to be constructed and connected to the water grid. The city also plans to upgrade about 3,200 feet of aging, 10-inch water main along the Kenai Spur Highway that’s currently the city’s only connection from the wells to the rest of the water grid.

Those projects have a budgeted price tag of a little over $3.5 million. Koch said the city has the money for those projects and expects them to be completed by the end of the year, which is when Kenai’s exemption from the EPA 10 ppb arsenic limit expires.

Koch said the 10-inch pipe connecting the wells to the rest of the city has too small a volume to serve the city’s expanding water needs. The longer-term plan is to run a new, 16-inch main from wells 2 and 4 under the Kenai Spur Highway, along Beaver Loop Road, down Togiak Street, over to Lawton Drive and up Swires Road.

Even farther down the road is a plan to run city water all along Beaver Loop Road and up Bridge Access Road back to the city, in order to boost development in those areas and get residents with high-arsenic private wells access to cleaner water.

In the meantime, Koch is hoping science catches up with the EPA’s lower arsenic limit.

“I think the day’s going to come when somebody’s going to figure out arsenic. It’s better to live with some amount of color in the water and hope technology improves in the area of arsenic removal, and I think that it will,” he said. “We’ll keep looking. We’ll respond to what we have to respond to now and work hard to clean that water up.”

Historic comedy — Sidecar tackles Alaska history with humorous bent

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter


“State nickname: The Last Frontier. Not to be confused with the final frontier, which is definitely space.

“State bird: The Willow Ptarmigan. The ‘P’ is silent. The ‘X’ and the ‘Q’ are both silent and invisible.

“State fish: King salmon. When king crab found out, he waged an epic war on king salmon’s kingdom, which ended abruptly when someone reminded king crab that crab is not a fish.

“State gem: Jade. Runner-up: Jewel.

“State fossil: Mammoth. Runner-up: Ted Stevens.

“State mammal: Moose. Bears campaigned heavily for the position but lost after eating their speechwriters.”

Comedy commemorating Alaska’s 50th anniversary of statehood, including these Alaska factoids listed above: “Eight Stars of Comedy Gold.”

Triumvirate Theatre of the central Kenai Peninsula, the performing arm of the Alaska Children’s Institute of the Performing Arts, applied for a grant from the Alaska Humanities Forum last year to launch an ambitious project — create a show that would tackle 3,000 years of state history in a format that’s both factual and funny.

“This type of project is needed because the commencement of something as important as Alaska statehood should be a memorable event, and live theater, when done with the kind of professionalism as this show, will accomplish that,” said Joe Rizzo, president of Triumvirate Theatre.

Triumvirate enlisted the help of Sidecar, an improvisational acting troupe from New York City, comprised of Justin Tyler, Matt Fisher and Alden Ford, to write and perform the show. The project was a good fit for Sidecar, Ford said, because the group tries to create an original comedy sketch show a year, and “8 Stars” was a chance to expand their horizons without having to take too big a leap from the work they usually do.

Sidecar’s writing style typically involves coming up with a silly premise for a sketch and filling in random, obscure or detailed information.

“It works for us to come up with scenarios where we just fill in the jokes with specifics for Alaska history — with gold rush stuff and oil boom specifics. But it’s sort of the opposite direction we have to go in — start with specifics and then find a funny premise and plug those specifics in and it still makes sense. So it’s close to what we already do, but just far enough that we had to reverse engines on a bunch of processes to do it right. But I think it turned out really well,” Ford said.

To cover the Alaska purchase, Sidecar places William Seward in a car dealership, with a salesmen trying to talk him into the “roomy” and “gently used” Alaska model. Seward is skeptical at first.

“It’s a little remote,” he says.

“Salesman: Exotic!

“Seward: And it’s really cold, right?

“Salesman: Only for 11 months out of the year.

“Seward: Well, it sure is beautiful. Does it have gas in it already?

“Salesman: Oh, yeah. Lots. Oil’s good for a while too.”

For a show celebrating statehood, the material starts way, way before that event and ends beyond it. The first sketch is of weary nomads making their way across the land bridge from Russia to Alaska in the Pleistocene Era — “Are we there yet? But we been travelin’ for 4,000 years awready!”

Before that, Sidecar gets an admission out of the way — yes, the group is from New York, yet they’re doing a show about Alaska history. Tyler and Fisher take an uninformed stab at state knowledge:

Tyler: “During World War II, the land that would become Alaska was won from the Germans in a poker game on the deck of the Lusitania!”

Fisher: “And in 1996 a giant pipeline of oil was discovered built in ancient days, perhaps by sasquatches, no one truly knows!”

Ford, who’s from Alaska, comes onstage to correct them and get the show on track. The group is actually not a stranger to the state, having done improv performances and workshops on the peninsula before, and Ford having grown up in Nikiski. They researched state history in writing the show and got input from script contributors Rizzo and Carla Jenness, with Triumvirate, and Mario Bird, of Anchorage. But having an Outside perspective proved useful in writing the script, Ford said.

“When the other two guys write something that’s funny and interesting to them, it gives fresh perspective on things that are quirky and funny about Alaska that I never thought of. Then I can add an inside eye of things that Alaskans think are funny that wouldn’t occur to a lot of New York comedy writers,” Ford said.

The show kicks off Friday and Saturday with 7 p.m. performances at Triumvirate in the Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna. Shows are also planned for 7 p.m. April 3, 4, 10 and 11 at Triumvirate, a dinner theater performance at 7 p.m. April 9 at the Funky Monkey in Kenai, an Anchorage performance at Cyrano’s at 7 p.m. April 2, a Seward show at Seward Middle School at 7 p.m. March 30, and a Homer show at the Mariner Theatre in Homer High School at 7 p.m. April 1. Tickets for community shows are $7 for adults and $3 for children. In between the 90-minute community shows, Sidecar will do school visits around the peninsula, performing half-hour versions of the show.

“We really like performing a lot. We try to write in a way that makes it easy and fun to prepare. We try to keep things light by keeping characters pretty simple and fun. When we rehearse it’s less about trying to make sure we have really intricate characters and fabulous blocking (stage movements). It’s more just focusing on the timing and our relationships and what’s funny about the sketch,” Ford said. “It’s hard to know from here what will be funny. We’ll have to get up there and see what’s working and not. We’re looking forward to evolving the show and tweaking it and concentrating on the things we like about it and the audience likes about it.”

For more information on “Eight Stars of Comedy Gold,” visit Triumvirate’s Web site, www.triumviratetheatre.org. For more information on Sidecar, visit www.sidecarcomedy.com.

Art Seen: Keeping it simple on a whole new level

Chris Jenness came into my gallery many years ago, wanting to frame a number of small pastel drawings he had created. At the time, my inside exhibition room had rotating exhibits of many artists, just a few pieces from each. I expressed an interest in his work, and recommended that he show some of it in my gallery. He acted surprised that I would like it, but I have since learned that humbleness is just a part of his character. He has a creative well that seems always available, and the necessary energy to finish the projects he starts.

The exhibit that currently is running at the Kenai Peninsula College Gary L. Freeburg Gallery is from a series of acrylic works exploring the “Details” of comic strip panels. Whereas Roy Lichtenstein was known for painting large canvases of individual comic strip panels, Jenness takes it further, by looking even closer and dramatically cropping.

There is a kind of awe present when the application process of the paint virtually vanishes and all the viewer can see are large areas of perfectly flat color. Jenness’ design sense is basically flawless, and each of the works has enjoyable shapes and lines that seduce the eye. He certainly utilizes humor in his approach, as do most pop artists, although sometimes I am aware that it is an inside joke — and one I don’t necessarily need to get in order to enjoy the pure aesthetics of the piece.

The college at which I finished my bachelor of fine arts degree was the State University of New York at Oswego, where Lichtenstein taught for a while. There was an unprotected mural he had done in one of the stairwells in the art building. By the time I was there in the late 1980s, he had already gained quite a bit of notoriety, so I was amazed that the stairway was still in use and that the painting was completely accessible. But there is something necessarily accessible about pop art; images we are familiar with, but produced in such a way as to incite new feelings about them.

Jenness’ work certainly follows in that tradition. There is just enough of the recognizable to gain our trust, and enough precision and design sensibility to really appeal to our senses. As Lichtenstein said himself in an interview in 1997, “The subject matter helps because there’s a reference to reality. Some kind of reality, anyway.”

Jenness was born on the Navajo reservation in Arizona in 1973 and spent his high school years in a small town near El Paso, Texas. College and a biology scholarship found him, but he only stayed in the science building for two years before he shocked everyone and transferred to an art major. It was a good match, and he focused on the still-new genre of computer design. A couple of internships and lots of art classes later, Jenness graduated from Stephen F. Austin State University with a bachelor of fine arts degree and worked in the design arena for a while. The adventurous streak and teaching career of his wife, Carla, brought them to Alaska in August 1999.

A job in the composition department at the Peninsula Clarion helped pay the bills while Jenness continued to hone his art — both computer-based and pastel. He has worked part time and full time as a teacher, as well as starting his own commercial art business, Jenness Graphic Design, allowing him to work throughout the state, as well as nationally. He has had numerous solo exhibitions all over the Kenai Peninsula and in Anchorage, and continues to tap that creative well. His show “Details” is on display until April 3.

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.

Capturing dogged determination — Documentary follows Junior Iditarod musher from training to finish

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

What’s it like to be 14 years old on the runners of a dog sled mushing in the most prestigious junior mushing race in Alaska?

For 26 minutes, audiences can find out.

“Trails North — One Girl’s Quest to Run the Junior Iditarod,” is a 26-minute documentary film following Meredith Mapes, a young musher from Wasilla, as she trains for and races in the 2008 Junior Iditarod. The film will be shown at 4 p.m. Saturday at Triumvirate Theatre in the Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna. Admission is free.

Joe Rizzo, president of Triumvirate, got a grant to film the documentary with his daughter, Miranda, who is a junior mushing fanatic herself. Bob Mabrey, who has a production studio in Nikiski, helped with the filming.

The documentary follows Mapes as she trains for the race in the summer of 2007 up through running the Junior Iditarod on Feb. 28, 2008.

“We wanted to do something on the Iditarod and have a way to teach kids about the Iditarod in a way that would capture their interest and attention, so we thought by documenting someone their age in the Junior Iditarod race we could also convey information about the big race to them,” Rizzo said.

There are interviews with Mapes, her parents, one of the founders of the Junior Iditarod, and a special guest appearance by musher Libby Riddles, the first woman to win the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. During the race, the Rizzos took a snowmachine out to Yentna Station checkpoint and filmed and interviewed mushers as they came in to rest.

Meeting the mushers was the highlight for Miranda.

“It was really fun. I got to meet Meredith, she’s my new friend now. It was fun meeting Libby and going on a dog sled ride and learning lots of new stuff. It was exciting to see Meredith coming in. I waited out there until she got in,” Miranda said.

She said the film would be especially good for other young mushers to watch, because they’ll learn about what it’s like to be in Junior Iditarod and about mushing in general.

Rizzo said he was impressed to learn the determination the kids have in training for and competing in a 140-mile, two-day race.

“That’s a tremendously long way to go on a dog sled. It’s a long ways on a snowmachine, much less dog sled,” he said.

Copies of “Trails North” are on sale for $10 and will be available at Triumvirate.

Arts and Entertainment week of March 25

  • 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 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.

  • The grand opening of the Curtain Call Consignment Boutique will be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Kenai Performers’ Old Town Playhouse in Kenai, as a fundraiser for Kenai Performers. Organizers are taking consignments of new or gently used namebrand and designer clothing, handbags, shoes, jewelry and accessories. Contact Mary Krull at 398-2931.
  • “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. at Triumvirate Theatre in the Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna. Tickets are $7 for adults, $3 for kids, available at the Triumvirate Bookstore and at the door. For more information, visit www.triumviratetheatre.org.

  • Curtain Call Consignment Boutique is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Kenai Performers’ Old Town Playhouse in Kenai. See Friday listing.
  • “Trails North,” a documentary about the Junior Iditarod, will be shown at 4 p.m. at Triumvirate Theatre in the Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna. Admission is free.
  • “8 Stars of Comedy Gold” will be performed at 7 p.m. at Triumvirate Theatre in Soldotna. See Friday listing.
  • Renown ukulele artist Jake Shimabukuro will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Peninsula Grace Brethren Auditorium on Kalifornsky Beach Road with special guest artist, fingerstyle guitarist Linda Thiele. Doors open at 6:45 p.m. Admission is $23 for adults, $20 for seniors, students, veterans and KDLL members, $15 for teens with an adult, and $50 for families. For more information, contact Mike Morgan at 262-6548 or mjmorgan@gci.net, or visit www.jakeshimabukuro.com.
  • The Friends of the Kenai Community Library will hold a fundraiser dance from 8:30 to 11:30 p.m. Saturday 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.

Coming up
  • The Soldotna High School drama department presents a comedy, “The Panic Broadcast of 1938, “ at 7 p.m. April 2, 3 and 4 at SoHi. Admission is $5.
  • “8 Stars of Comedy Gold” will be performed at 7 p.m. April 3, 4, 10 and 11 at Triumvirate Theatre in Soldotna. See Friday listing. There will be a dinner theater showing at 7 p.m. April 9 at the Funky Monkey coffee shop in Kenai. Tickets for dinner and the show are $25.
  • 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 Align Centerboard members.

  • Friday and Saturday nights at The Riverside.

Live music
  • The Clam Shell in Clam Gulch has a smoke-free night Saturday with live music.
  • Hooligan’s Saloon in Soldotna has a jam night Thursday and Tuff-e-Nuff on Friday and Saturday nights.
  • The Maverick in Soldotna has the Free Beer Band on Sundays.
  • Moosequito’s in Sterling has Nick the Dream Weaver on Friday and Saturday nights.
  • The Place in Nikiski has bluegrass by Them Other Shuckers on Friday nights around 7:30 p.m.
  • 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 Friday and Ian Uponen 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 Twister night Thursday and darts Tuesday night.

Getting to the meat of the issue — Shots fired over dinner disagreement

By Clark Fair
Redoubt Reporter

In the early morning hours of Monday, Dec. 11, 1967, Alaska State Troopers were alerted to a possible shooting at the Hilltop Bar and Café (current site of Good Time Charlie’s) on the Seward Highway. When they arrived, according to a brief account of the incident in The Cheechako News, they found two wounded men and an odd explanation.

Lying on the floor of the bar was Wilford L. “Bill” Hansen, the Hilltop’s owner and bartender, who had been shot at least twice in the stomach and was in critical condition. Lying on the floor of the dining room was Elbert M. “Marshall” Dorsey, the café cook, who had been shot in the left shoulder. Early reports indicated that Hansen and Dorsey were victims of a gunfight with two other men, who had fled the scene.

On the lam were Harvey D. Hardiway, an employee of the Chemical Construction Company of North Kenai, and T.L. Gintz, whose last known address was at the Port Inn on the North Road. According to the news story, Hardiway and Gintz, who were both also injured, had driven through Soldotna and Kenai and gotten as far as the Wildwood Air Force Station when they realized that their need for medical attention could wait no longer.

They drove onto the base, and from there were taken by an Air Force ambulance crew to the Central Peninsula Clinic in Soldotna. Gintz had a minor head wound, and Hardiway was suffering from unspecified injuries, according to the newspaper.

Back at the Hilltop, the Kenai Volunteer Fire Department readied Hansen and Dorsey for transport to the Soldotna clinic, where they were treated by Dr. Elmer Gaede. Later, the paper said, Hansen, Dorsey and Hardiway were all flown to Providence Hospital in Anchorage for further treatment.

Authorities had been alerted to the scene initially by the Hilltop’s daytime bartender, C.L. “Smiley” Newton, who was living in a trailer behind the bar but had not heard any of the gunplay. In fact, Newton might have slept longer, the Cheechako implied, if he had not been awakened by the “cleanup boy.” When he entered the establishment at 3 a.m., he discovered Hansen and Dorsey, and he then called for law enforcement.

Troopers reported that the gunfight, which started at about 2:30 a.m. and involved three revolvers, was apparently an escalation of an argument concerning hamburgers. The news story contained no further details on the cause of the conflict.

There is, however, more to the story — from Funny River Road resident Eugene Hansen, the son of Bill Hansen.

According to Eugene Hansen, the Cheechako story was fraught with errors. He said recently that there was only one gun involved (not three), that neither of the fleeing suspects were injured, and that the conflict centered not so much on food but on the payment for the food.

Eugene Hansen recalled that when Hardiway and Gintz paid for the food, the payment was made with an inordinate amount of change, which was not appreciated by Dorsey and Bill Hansen. Tempers flared, and a gun appeared.

At the trial several months later, Eugene said, “Marshall (Dorsey) wouldn’t I.D. the shooter. I think they must have gotten to him or something.” Kenai magistrate Jess Nichols said that, without Dorsey’s testimony, there was not enough evidence to continue the trial, so he dismissed the case, and Hardiway and Gintz went free. Bill Hansen, who was still recuperating, did not testify.

Bill Hansen, who had been involved with the Hilltop for years, was 69 at the time of the shooting. In the hospital, said Eugene, his father was “recovering great” from his wounds when he apparently developed a blood clot and suffered a stroke, which robbed him of his ability to speak and left his right side paralyzed until his death in the early 1980s.

Eugene Hansen said that Bill’s family tried to continue running the establishment after the stroke, but finally they sold the place to “Good Time” Charlie Cunningham.

Perhaps a bit too optimistic
Tucked into the final 1967 edition of The Cheechako News was the pilot issue of a news magazine called Today In Alaska, created and published by North Publications Inc., in College, near Fairbanks. The cover story in this inaugural issue concerned the frenetic growth of the city of Kenai.

The lead story was called “The City Builders,” with a subtitle that read, “Kenai: Riding the Black Gold Boom.” It was a highly optimistic appraisal of the city’s oil-fueled future. Prominent among the paragraphs and photographs of the article was the name Mike Gravel, a staunch Democrat and an Anchorage developer who had recently opened a real estate office in Kenai and was less than a year away from being elected to the U.S. Senate.

Gravel and his real-estate mouthpiece, Jay Lietzke, provided nearly all of the quotes in the article, including this one early on from Lietzke: “Unemployment in Kenai is now almost non-existent. There is work here for everybody if you’re healthy enough to walk through the door and pound a nail. If you want a job, you have one — it’s as simple as that, even during the winter.”

The reason for Lietzke’s grand assessment was statistical. He cited Kenai’s gross property evaluation, which he claimed had been $7 million in Jan. 1965, had risen to nearly $12.5 million by Jan. 1967, and then climbed to $18.5 million by September of that same year.

Kenai homestead lots that had been selling for $200 to $300 per acre in 1966 were now selling for $1,000 per acre, he said.

Lietzke also cited the growth of Kenai’s population, which had climbed from 321 in 1950 to 778 in 1960 (shortly after the 1957 Swanson River oil discovery), and on to approximately 2,500 by 1967. And there was, in his view, no reason to expect a slowing down of the growth.

In fact, in the bold-print teaser to the article, it seemed that virtually exponential growth was likely, although no author is cited for the article, and this bold prediction is not attributed to any individual: “Black Gold is flowing from Cook Inlet and Swanson River, and the city builders are riding the crest of a boom. By 1980, the city will boast 20,000 population, maybe more.

“Development effects will range far and wide across Alaska, but today the word in bustling, dynamic Kenai is BUILD!”

Building was going on — but not just in Kenai. In Nikiski, heavy industry was enlarging its footprint. In Soldotna, a new hospital was under construction. In Cook Inlet, offshore oil strikes were multiplying, and the future looked bright for oil development on the North Slope.

It was easy to see why Mike Gravel — whom the article dubbed “City Builder Number One” — might be wheeling and dealing so heartily. Even as his own company pushed for more subdivisions and more businesses in Kenai, he began what would become a 12-year run in the U.S. Senate.

Unfortunately for Gravel, the wild predictions (and his subdivision sales) fell far short of the mark, and his Senate career hit the skids when he was defeated for re-election in 1980 by Frank Murkowski.

Editorial: Peninsula scores passing marks for Redoubt round 1

OK, be honest now:

Who went to bed Sunday or woke up Monday thinking: “Gee, I really should have stocked up on water/air filters/flashlights/etc.” by now?

Consider this your warning.

Attention to Mount Redoubt wound down after months of activity without an eruption. Then, within a day, Redoubt decided to no longer be ignored.

The great news for the Kenai Peninsula is the ash plumes spurted out in the series of eruptions have missed us so far, and weather forecasts predict continued favorable wind patterns through Friday.

The good news is it appears as though, even if we had gotten some ash, the peninsula would have been more or less ready for it.

There were lines at some stores with people stocking up on last-minute emergency supplies, but Scott Walden, coordinator of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management, said all remained calm.

Even with what may be one of the most poorly timed coincidental power outages in the history of Homer Electric Association, Walden said he didn’t see or hear of any panic. Concern, yes, and a lot of phone calls to OEM and HEA, but people listened to explanations that the outage was not linked to the volcano, and went on about their day.

Walden credits preparedness with the peninsula’s response to Redoubt. OEM and other organizations have been spreading information on what to do if Redoubt erupts for months now.

Chances are, you’ve heard the message. But if you still have question needing to be answered or supplies needing to be prepared, now’s the time. Visit the OEM Web site for ash information, supply lists and other preparedness information, at www.borough.kenai.ak.us/emergency.

Guest editorial: Pitching in to keep salmon moving

A single road crossing with a bad culvert can prevent fish from reaching miles of habitat.

Small tributaries provide a path to salmon nurseries, and juvenile salmon, particularly coho, migrate up streams.

Studies have shown that juvenile salmon that successfully migrate up and down small streams survive better in the ocean. It is important to keep these migration routes free of barriers.

Damaged, poorly designed or poorly maintained culverts all create a significant impasse to fish migration. Addressing the needs of fish passage is one of the primary focuses of the Kenai Watershed Forum’s efforts on the Kenai Peninsula.

A large culvert restoration project has recently been completed by the Kenai Watershed Forum. A culvert at Daniel’s Creek in Nikiski had been so badly crushed that parts of it were sticking up through the road surface. And the culvert was too narrow compared to the normal width of the stream. To avoid the jagged culvert in the road, drivers were illegally trudging through the salmon stream, destroying habitat for spawning and rearing.

The crushed culvert was located along a shared right-of-way and pipeline crossing. A single-lane, 16-foot span bridge was installed during the replacement of the crushed culvert, allowing unabated movement of anadromous fish. The bridge allows for the most natural conditions possible while still allowing recreation and heavy equipment access along the right-of-way.

Tesoro Alaska stepped in as a financial partner in the restoration project, and the Tesoro Alaska refinery provided 15 volunteers for a day’s effort toward the bank revegetation and stabilization. The banks were repaired with willows and coir logs. This restoration project opened over one mile of stream habitat in addition to a large lake.

The Daniel’s Creek project was completed during the spring and summer of 2008, with a total project cost of approximately $75,000. In addition to Tesoro Alaska, the Kenai Watershed Forum partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to complete this project supporting fish habitat in our Kenai Peninsula watershed.

Looking ahead, the 2009 spring and summer construction season will be a busy one for the Kenai Watershed Forum’s culvert restoration staff. At this time, nine culvert replacement projects are planned within the Kenai Peninsula.

To find out more about culvert restoration projects, how culverts are assessed or a map of the highest-priority culvert projects on the peninsula, check out the restoration link on the Kenai Watershed Forum’s Web site at kenaiwatershed.org.

Rhonda Orth is the accounting and office manager for the Kenai Watershed Forum.

Season kickoff — Youth comp league soccer springing into action

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Come this weekend, about 150 Kenai Peninsula kids will kick off a rite of passage for spring, even if there is still snow on the ground.

It’s soccer season, ushered in by Kenai Peninsula Soccer Club tryouts Friday and Saturday at the Kenai Central High School gym. The club soccer program is a more competitive level of play than recreation leagues, and it isn’t affiliated with school sports programs so the season lasts longer into the summer, from April into August. It’s for ages 9 through 18 on 11 local teams. Teams practice or play games at least four days a week during the summer, and travel to tournaments in Anchorage and Fairbanks two or three times a summer.

It is a time commitment, but one that is well-rewarded, said Paul Ostrander, coach of the under-13 girls team Riptide and KPSC board member.

“It allows kids that maybe want to play at a more competitive level than, say, rec leagues available around here, to travel around the state and play against other comp teams. There’s a great amount of soccer skills that they gain, and I think that playing competitively and committing to something like this can really build up a kid, too. For example, my oldest daughter. I think it’s done wonders for her self-confidence and ability to compete, not only in athletics, but in school, as well,” Ostrander said.

Shelby Daly, a senior at KCHS, has been playing comp league soccer since she was in sixth grade and now is trying out for soccer teams at college next year, either at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash., Corban College in Salem, Ore., or Northwest Christian College in Eugene, Wash. She said she’s enjoyed the level of play and the opportunity to travel.

“In comp soccer you go out there and try to win. It’s a way to keep pushing yourself to be a better player,” she said. “I really like the traveling and getting to become friends with people in other cities. That’s really been enjoyable.”

Daly’s played volleyball and basketball, as well, but neither have the appeal of soccer. Volleyball is a mental game, she said, with too much sitting around waiting and analyzing, and basketball can also be restrictive in where you go and what you do.

“With soccer you can make it up as you go. You can fix it and kind of take the game into your own hands and it’s not so back and forth, like basketball,” she said.

That aspect of the game probably has a lot to do with why soccer is growing in popularity on the peninsula, Ostrander said.

“When it comes to match time it’s really on the players. There’re no timeouts in soccer. The coach has very little control during matches, other than subbing,” he said. “I think kids like the fact that it’s more independent. In soccer, it’s up to them. It really generates creativity on their part. It’s very free-flowing and kids need to understand what’s going on and they need to react to what the game gives them. It’s a very different type of game than the others.”

That may be a foreign concept to people who grew up in the area, since soccer hasn’t been around for all that long.

“If they grew up around here there wasn’t really soccer, so people have a hard time understanding what the appeal is, but the kids, they absolutely love soccer if they play it and get involved. It’s just something they love to do,” Ostrander said.

This season promises a unique chance for players to improve their love and aptitude for the game. Ostrander said the KPSC is bringing a coach up from Georgia with an A license — the highest level attainable — for six weeks this summer to work with all the teams. Chas Frisco was here last year and worked with the program, and since then has gone on to bump his B license up to an A, which makes the opportunity even more exciting for local teams, Ostrander said.

“It was really good. Several teams really could see a huge benefit,” Ostrander said. “The kids reacted to him very well. Personally, I could see a huge benefit from the time he spent with the team. And it really helps our coaches out, they learn so much just by observing him coach the kids. The coaches glean so much from his time and some of the techniques and things he’s stressing continue on after he’s gone.”

To Ostrander’s knowledge, this is the first time the area will see an A-licensed coach.

“He knows the specific skills that the kids need to learn to really get their game to the next level,” he said.

From Aug. 9 to 15, KPSC teams will have a chance to display their skills to local soccer fans and the larger comp league community as the central peninsula hosts the comp league state tournament.

Kenai hosted the state tournament in 2007, which brought an estimated 1,500 people to the area.

“It was a huge undertaking for the club at the time, but all the reports from 2007 was it was a great success and very well run,” Ostrander said. “For 2009 to happen a ton of stuff needs to occur. We’re always looking for people willing to volunteer and help out. It’s a 100 percent volunteer effort. There’s an amazing amount of work that needs to go into it.”

As with club participation overall, there’s benefits to the commitment.

“It’s a huge deal for kids to be able to sleep in their own beds have that home field advantage that you enjoy,” Ostrander said.

Science of the Seasons: Little insects have huge role in Kenai River ecosystem

Over the past couple weeks, the Kenai River channel has been slowly opening.

Initially there was only a patch of thin ice at the outlet of Skilak Lake and then a few small areas of open water about a half-mile downstream. A number of overwintering swans and a few mergansers used these open-water areas to forage for food and find a little protection from predators.

Then the river channel opened up about a mile farther downstream. This slow downstream opening of the river will continue as the days lengthen and temperatures rise. Usually in April, the entire river will have an open channel with slabs of ice along each bank.

As the river opens and spring seems to be arriving, a number of aquatic insects will start to appear along the shore. Some of the very first insects will be a number of species of the dipteran family called chironomidae or “midges.”

These insects start emerging from the water when it reaches about 0.5 degrees Celsius. A large number of species of midges will emerge throughout the summer and fall until the water temperatures fall back down toward freezing again in late October or November.

We know at least 88 different species of midges live in the Kenai River. They are certainly the most abundant group of insects in this river, and probably the most abundant group in any freshwater river of the world. Not only are there more species of chironomidae than any other aquatic insect in the river, they are also going to be the group of insects with the largest number of individuals. It would surprise most people to know that there are probably around 100,000 midges that grow, develop and emerge from every square meter of river surface area. That equates to some staggeringly large numbers of insects emerging from the river each year.

Anyone who has traveled along the river in summertime has probably seen swarms of tiny bugs along the shoreline on a sunny day. These swarms of miniature, mosquitolike insects are mating swarms of midges. The males form the swarm and use a species-specific pitched sound to attract females. The females enter the swarm, mate and fly off to lay their eggs. Females can lay thousands of eggs in masses that stick to twigs, rocks or debris along the shore.

The eggs may hatch immediately into tiny larvae or may delay their development until many months later. These young larvae feed on algae, diatoms or fine detritus in the stream or river. Once they reach a certain size, they become pupae. After only a few days as pupae, they emerge and fly away as aerial insects. The adults usually do not feed, although a few are known to take in some sugar-rich fluids from flowers. The adults quickly mate and die within a week or two.

When the pupa becomes an adult, the pupal skin is left floating on the water surface. These pupal skins, called exuviae, remain on the water surface for a couple days and can be collected and identified to species. By collecting these exuviae, I was able to identify which midges were found in the Kenai River and when they emerged.

Even though these insects are only a couple millimeters long, they are a very important component of the aquatic community. They are a favorite food for virtually every species of fish. Young salmon fry feed heavily on midge larvae, pupae and adults. Many of the aquatic insect predators, like stoneflies, frequently feed on midges, too.

If you have ever seen swallows flying back and forth over the river or along most streams, you have seen another predator feeding heavily on midges. Because the adult midges are so small, we rarely recognize what the swallows are capturing. Dragonflies are well-known for feeding on mosquitoes, but they are also a major predator of adult midges.

While midges are certainly some of the smallest aquatic insects in the river, they play a disproportionately large role in the food web because of their high diversity and enormous numbers.

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: Hardware upgrades can be relatively easy fix to sluggish PC performance

After this weekend’s bout of upgrading my own computers, recalibrating printers and then shutting down for Mount Redoubt’s tantrums, I’m not inclined to write a sassy lead, so let’s dive straight into geek speak mode and examine how to implement some useful and cost-effective PC upgrades.

Adding RAM and why
Microsoft and most third-party software vendors constantly add more and more “little” bits of software that automatically load when your system first boots. Every “little” bit demands more of your system’s DRAM memory, sometimes as much as an additional 25 megabytes. As a result, 2- or 3-year-old Windows XP systems, which typically sold with 512 MB installed DRAM memory, frequently no longer have enough free DRAM to work quickly and efficiently, even with undemanding application programs like basic word processing, Web access or e-mail. Demanding applications like photographic programs need a great deal of free DRAM or they’ll slow down to the point of unusability.

Luckily, upgrading DRAM is fairly easy, and DRAM has become quite inexpensive. I’ve seen a four-gigabyte matched pair of brand-name DDR2 1066 DRAM for as little as $63 plus shipping prior to a substantial rebate.

Modern replacement DRAM must always be installed in matched pairs and be of the correct type and speed for your system. There are several current types of DRAM, termed DDR, DDR2 and DDR3. These are absolutely NOT interchangeable.

Plan upon removing any DRAM that’s already installed in your system — it’s not going to work reliably with your newer-upgrade DRAM. All installed DRAM in all channels should be identical.

A 32-bit Windows XP or 32-bit Windows Vista operating systems are physically unable to use more than four gigabytes DRAM. Although two gigabytes should be sufficient for most consumers, DRAM has become so inexpensive that there’s little economic benefit to installing less than a full four gigabytes.

A-64 bit operating system like Windows XP x64 or 64-bit Vista can physically access much more DRAM, so an upgrade to at least four gigabytes DRAM would be in order.

Before you start your upgrade, discharge any static electricity by touching the metal exterior of the computer case, then unplug your computer’s power cord from the back of the system.

Memory modules are notched off-center so they will snap and lock into place only when correctly inserted. Don’t force the module but be sure that the lock on each end of the memory slot snaps securely into the notch at each end of the DRAM module.

Modern computers typically include four slots for two separate memory channels; each channel will have two separate memory slots. Be sure that your upgrade modules are properly inserted into the two matching slots for the first memory channel. Although these are usually color-coded, check your computer and system board manual if you’re not sure which slots to use. These manuals are often found online at the system board manufacturer’s Web site. If you decide to upgrade to four gigabytes, then installing two, two-gigabyte memory modules will usually be preferable and less expensive.

If you haven’t installed the new DRAM properly, your system will not boot, a situation that’s usually the result of bad memory or improperly installed memory. Be sure that your memory is fully and properly seated in the correct slots. If you’re not sure, remove all memory modules, check your system board manual and start over.

Be sure to buy DRAM that is the correct type and has a rated performance at least as fast as the minimum speed rating required by your CPU and system board. As a relatively inexpensive precaution, I generally prefer to buy upgrade DRAM that is one grade faster than the minimum required by my system. It will work at the lower speed and provide a little extra margin of reliability. For example, if your old DRAM is DDR2 800, then I personally would prefer DDR2 1066.

Replacing hard disks
Hard disk performance is another area where a fairly inexpensive replacement can yield substantial performance benefits. However, changing to a newer hard disk can be daunting.

Do the easy part first. Not all new model hard disks provide equally good performance. Generally, hard disks with higher rotational speeds and higher storage capacity tend to perform better for the simple reason that high-rpm hard disks, and hard disks with a great amount of data stored in a very small area, will mechanically rotate that much more data under the magnetic read-write heads inside the hard disk.

Before you upgrade
Before deciding to upgrade your hard disk, however, I suggest you try a free optional feature in Windows XP — disk compression, which improves the efficiency of how Windows stores hard disks data. My tests indicate that compressing a disk can improve some hard disk performance metrics as well as freeing up some storage capacity.

I have not experienced any problems associated with compressing the disks of my own computers, but I strongly recommend against trying compression on a multidisk RAID array because RAID arrays store data in a manner very different from an individual hard disk. I believe that the risks associated with compressing a RAID disk array are unpredictable but potentially severe.

Disk compression is very slow, so it’s something that should be done overnight. To access disk compression, click on My Computer, then right click on the C: drive icon. Left click on the Properties menu item, and then choose Disk Cleanup to delete any junk files. Empty the Recycle Bin. Then, in the same disk Properties window, check the Compress Drive check box, choose to apply to all subdirectories and files, and then wait several hours.

Do not use your computer and do not turn it off until the process is competed. Repeat this sequence for any D: or other internal hard disks. Ideally, any computer running disk compression should be connected to an uninterruptible power supply to avoid an unplanned shutdown in the event that there’s a power outage.

Recommended hard disks
Consumers have relatively limited choices in high performance hard disks because the really fast 15,000-rpm SCSI drives are too expensive and too complex for consumer-grade computer systems. Most consumer-grade hard disks are SATA drives that rotate at 7,200 rpm. Some of these can be surprisingly good performers.

The fastest consumer hard disks are all SATA type drives, and of these the 10,000-rpm Western Digital Raptor drives are remain the fastest consumer-level hard disks. The 300-GB VelociRaptor currently costs about $229, while the slightly slower 150-GB version costs about $179. The older but still very quick 74-GB Raptor is now $99. You’re paying a premium, though, per gigabyte of storage for the fastest possible hard disk performance.

The overall performance of Western Digital’s Black Caviar and Caviar SE16 hard disks is only slightly slower than the Raptors and the cost per gigabyte is quite a bit lower. The 7,200-rpm, 640-GB Black Caviar drive (WD6401AALS) is an unusually good performer among 7,200-rpm drives, and only costs about $80 plus shipping, a very reasonable price that works out to about 12 cents per gigabyte.

My recommendation for the performance-oriented user would be to use a Raptor drive as the C: boot drive, from which Windows and all application programs are loaded, and a WD, 640-GB Black Caviar drive as a D: drive, where all data and documents are stored. Not only does this arrangement optimally balance performance, cost and storage capacity, but it’s easier to reliably back up your data if the data is located on a physically separate hard disk.

If your system board is fairly new and has the necessary SATA RAID hardware attachments, and if your computer’s case and power supply are sufficiently robust, using four WD6401AALS drives in a RAID 10 disk array would result in a very low-cost. but fast and reliable, RAID 10 disk array. I recently installed such an array in my own law office file server and have been very happy with it. Although the RAID 10 disk array would not have as much storage capacity as the four individual drives, the cost per gigabyte is still excellent and your shard disk performance will be quite a bit faster and more reliable.

How to change a hard disk
Changing hard disks is not necessarily for the computer novice, so if you’re uncertain, have the job done by a local technician. Before you do anything, be sure you have completely backed up every hard disk in your system and that the backups are reliable.

It’s not physically difficult to replace a hard disk, mostly consisting of loosening four screws, an SATA power plug, and an SATA data plug, switching the hard disks, and then replacing screws and the data and power cables. The real trick is to move your operating system, data and paid-up program activations as easily and smoothly as possible.

To do that, you’ll need fresh hard disks, some external SATA disk enclosures that connect to your computer system through USB 2.0 ports, and a special program from Acronic called Easy Migrate 7. You can buy a copy of the Easy Migrate program as an Internet download from www.acronis.com. Easy Migrate basically copies the internal hard disks of your computer to the new target hard disks, which are usually connected through USB external hard disk enclosures.
Most external hard disk enclosures will work OK if you make sure the enclosures are specifically intended for use with SATA drives. I’ve gone through many external hard disk enclosures over the years and they’re mostly a yawn. As long as they work reliably, that’s usually good enough.

However, I recently found a series from Bytecc, the ME-300SU-BK 3.5 Black USB 2.0 Easy-Open Enclosure, that cost only $27 each including base and power supply. This external disk enclosure seems faster than average and is quite compact because it fits the SATA drive so snugly that the case itself becomes the cooling unit for the hard disk, neatly solving several problems at once. These are also recommended as a home and office data backup solution when used with the WD 640 GB Black Caviar drives and Microsoft’s basic backup accessory.

Acronis Easy Migrate 7 generally does a very good job of transferring the Windows operating system, application programs and data to new hard disks and then setting these disks up properly for physical transfer into your computer.

I found the program properly transferred most program activation data but failed to transfer activation and license data for some lesser-known utility programs and some device drivers. As a result, I had to delete, then reinstall, a few scanners and printers. I also had to find my purchase invoices and transfer the activation data and serial numbers manually into several programs. Aside from that fairly minor glitch, using Easy Migrate was fairly reliable and certainly much easier than re-installing operating systems and application programs to new hard disks.

Next week, we’ll continue the hardware upgrade discussion with information on changing out CPUs, video cards and power supplies.

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.

Legal Ease: Death and taxes together again

Editor’s note: Legal information listed here is intended to be general preventative measures and legal first aid to help readers avoid problems before engaging legal counsel. These are not a substitute for hiring an attorney and should not be considered to be legal advice specific to any situation.

When President Bush took office eight years ago, he began changing the estate tax system with an eye toward phasing out the “death tax,” which is taxation on an excessive estate. During the Bush presidency, only people with million-dollar estates had to pay taxes. This was not always the case before he took office.

Over the years, the federal government had increased the gate or the level by which the government would start to tax. For instance, there was a time when, if a husband and wife had a combined estate of $1.2 million or less, they would not be taxed federally. But any estate above $1.2 million was taxed between 33 percent and 45 percent, depending upon the size of the estate.

Before his inauguration, President Obama’s administration signaled its displeasure with the elimination of the estate tax. Suggestions from the Obama administration indicate that the threshold figure would be substantially reduced from the levels set during the Bush administration. A recent Wall Street Journal report suggests the Obama administration may be focusing as low as $100,000 on an estate.

At the present time, the largest amount of money possessed in the United States is held by the Baby Boomers, who are gradually retiring, and also dying. If the average citizen has a house of $150,000 and savings of approximately $50,000, under the $100,000 cap the first $100,000 would not be taxed, but any amount over that could be taxed as much as 35 percent. So there would be a $35,000 tax on the $200,000 estate, more than one-third of the estate after the cap is met.

Generally, people think about a will when they die. A will is a good start but if the estate tax gate amount changes, a trust may become a viable option. A trust, for lack of a better comparison, is a sort of company you and your spouse control until one or both of you die. Then, a designated person takes over the management. It allows for a disabled person — child or spouse — to receive care from the trust as long as there is money and a need for it.

New probate laws will be needed, and this brings with it several other problems. For instance, many estates are never “probated,” or taken to court. The estates are moved by transfer through deed by adding a son or daughter. Moving the property by deed would bring its own set of red flags. The Internal Revenue Service monitors such things and capital gains taxes are required. Additionally, one family member may get on the deed and the other kids get nothing.

A trust would be a worthwhile vehicle provided that people put most of their substantial assets that are over the government cap into the trust. All the family is protected and there are no real IRS consequences, depending on the amount of the trust and the estate.

People who are thinking about estates ought to consider a trust before federal legislation changes. There was a time, not long ago, that a trust had to be approved by the Internal Revenue Service (called a Q-Tip trust) thus ensuring regulation of what was happening with unreported trusts. I expect those days to return, too.

A trust document is worth its value and meeting with an estate attorney to go over estate plans is worth the money. A little bit of planning now can save your family a substantial amount of taxes in the future.

Remember, the government has to make up for its budget shortfalls, and taking the money from the deceased meets little resistance for the government. After all, dead people only vote in Chicago — or so I’ve been told.

Mark Osterman is a lawyer in Kenai and has practiced in Alaska, Michigan and federal courts for 19 years doing family, commercial, divorce and criminal law.