Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Erupting creativity

The Redoubt Reporter newspaper is seeking submissions of photos and haiku poetry of Mount Redoubt's recent unrest. As many submissions as space allows will be printed in the April 22 edition. A winning photo and haiku will be selected, and will receive a year's subscription to the paper, a T-shirt and be featured in the paper. The deadline for submissions is April 18.

Photos should be of the volcano, its recent eruptions, steam plumes, ash or anything related to it. Digital submissions should be at least 220 dpi resolution at 6 inches wide, if horizontal, or four inches wide, if vertical, in JPEG, EPS, PDF or TIFF format. Digital photos may be e-mailed to redoubtreporterphotos@gmail.com or saved to a disk and mailed or dropped off at our office, 155 Smith Way, Suite 205 C, Soldotna, AK, 99669. Photo prints may be mailed or dropped off. Please include the photographer's name, town of residence, when and where the photo was taken, and contact information.

Poems must follow the haiku format — three lines, the first being five syllables, the second line seven syllables, and the third line five syllables. Please include the author’s name, town of residence, age category (student or adult), and contact information. Poems may be e-mailed to redoubtreporter@alaska.net, or mailed or dropped off at our office, at the address listed above.

For more information, contact Jenny Neyman, redoubtreporter@alaska.net, 394-6397.

Breaking up is hard to do — Road crews work to keep streets clear

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

It’s a street fight out there.

A battle waged in rubber boots and rain gear, with steam wands and snowplows, where the enemy creeps forward to gain territory at night, and no matter how hard crews work, their efforts end up all wet.

It’s breakup on the Kenai Peninsula. The season of soggy, the damp hurdle that must be mucked through before the first glimmers of spring can sprout and germinate into the promise of summer.

Left to itself, nature takes its course. The almost 14 hours of sunlight and temperatures into the upper 30s and low 40s during the day will slowly thaw the ground and open up the streams, lakes and other waterways that will sluice away the melting piles of snow that have been stockpiled all winter.

In the meantime, it’s up to road crews to keep that process from interfering with civilization as much as possible.

“The public is our number one priority inside Soldotna, especially this time of year. We try to keep streets clear and water puddles and stuff down so they can move freely,” said Morgan Burdick, acting manager of the street maintenance department.

Breakup is one of the street maintenance department’s busiest times of year, Burdick said. It’s a constant daily battle of unclogging storm drains and culverts, shoving sodden snow back from streets and coaxing sometimes lakelike bodies of water to hang out somewhere other than the middle of the street.

The battle can last for weeks or months. This round has been going on in earnest for about three weeks now.

“Breakup depends on how sudden and dramatic it is. If we go into a freeze-thaw type cycle, where it’s cold in morning and warms up in the afternoon pushing high 30s or 40s, we’ll have quick breakup. Of course, it all depends on how dramatic that is,” said Wayne Ogle, public works director with the city of Kenai.

Ed Mallette and Gary Conradi, with Soldotna’s street maintenance department, responded to a clog on Shady Lane near the Veterans of Foreign Wars post near the end of March that was in desperate need of their attention. It was either that or call the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to stock the puddle and post signs recommending life vests be worn at all times.

The several-inches-deep puddle covered the entire road and stretched for about five vehicle lengths. There was no getting around it, only plowing through. That’s the danger of breakup driving. It’s difficult to judge the depth of the water, much less be able to tell if there’s ice, potholes or ruts on the road underneath.

Vehicles can slip, skid or hydroplane, and the water can impair visibility for the driver and whoever is near enough to get sprayed by their wake. And at night, that water turns back into ice.

“With freeze-thaw cycles, people just need to be kind of aware it’s all iced up all of a sudden where it was water before,” Ogle said. “Roads can get black ice on them in the evening. People need to be a little more mindful of that.”

Mallette and Conradi couldn’t see under the water to Shady Lane’s ice ruts, either, so they shuffled more than waded as they worked on drains on either side of the road.

They traded off between a shovel and the wand from a steam truck that is used to thaw ice from chocked-up drains and culverts, giving the water someplace else to go.

“This method is a lot nicer,” said Mallette. Before the city got the steam truck crews would find drains with a metal detector then chip away at them with a steel bar, he said. But even that wasn’t as bad as some of the tasks that fall to the maintenance crews.

“When it’s 25, 30 below and you have to do sewers. That’s probably one of the worst jobs. This is almost pleasant,” Mallette said.

Preventative maint-enance is part of the battle, which is why road crews in Kenai and Soldotna devote whatever time they have left over from plowing and sanding in the winter to scraping off ice and pushing snow berms farther back from streets and drains.

“With a lot of the maintenance and work we do over the year we don’t have near the water problems we used to,” Burdick said. “I can remember (about 25) years before on East Redoubt seeing people out there with canoes trying to get from one side to the other.”

But there’s only so much that can be done in advance.

“It’s more labor intensive when it starts breaking up. If it all happens at once, it ain’t something you can do ahead of time,” Conradi said.

“If it gets really cold at night, some of them re-freeze. Mother Nature has a lot to do with it.”

So do technology and experience. Steam trucks make a huge difference, Ogle said, as does knowing where the perennial problem spots are.

“One of the benefits is we try to know and locate them ourselves. We try to anticipate it and try to make sure it is as free as possible,” Ogle said. “But you can sometimes get fooled by the fact that it looks like it’s getting ready to do the big thaw and be done with it, then it goes back into the freeze cycle.”

Burdick said breakup has been relatively painless in Soldotna so far, with some of the worst spots already taken care of — like the moat that used to form every year on SoHi Lane.

“Things actually are going pretty good. There’s not really any hot spots for us as of yet. Most of the water spots that were deep and a problem the crews have been taking care of very well,” he said. “Our streets are starting to look really good. I know during the day after we leave they get somewhat slushy and freeze. We get some complaints of rough roads and we take care of them as soon as we get in.”

Burdick and Ogle encourage residents to call their local maintenance department to report problem areas that haven’t been addressed.

“If we don’t know about them, we can’t fix them. We take care of them as soon as we get phone calls,” Burdick said.

Just as nature is cyclical, so is the to-do list for those tasked with limiting nature’s inconveniences. As crews begin to turn the tide — literally — against breakup, it won’t be long before they’re preparing for it again.

“The city needs to transition from winter mode to spring mode and everybody wants to see the sand gone. It’s always something we’re rushing around trying to get the sweepers going,” Ogle said. “We start getting winter equipment ready about the middle of July. We’re always about a season ahead of anticipation.”

Electric issues spark HEA candidacies — 11 board hopefuls have different views on what’s best for co-op

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

The Homer Electric Association Board of Directors elections this year have drawn extra attention due to skyrocketing electricity rates, dwindling natural gas reserves, questions over coal power, the pursuit of renewable energy sources and a proposal to merge elements of the Railbelt utilities.

Ballots were mailed out Friday and are due May 6, or HEA members may attend the annual meeting May 7 at Homer High School in Homer to cast their vote. Eleven candidates are seeking three seats in three districts. District 1 covers Kenai, Nikiski and parts of the Soldotna area. District 2 is Soldotna, Sterling and Kasilof. District 3 is Kasilof south to Kachemak Bay area. Members may only vote for one candidate in their district.

Following are questions asked of each candidate and their answers. Candidates’ resumes can be found online at www.homerelectric.com.

1. Gov. Sarah Palin has suggested merging the power generation and transportation functions of the Railbelt electric utilities, which is now being considered by the Legislature. Do you support this move? Why or why not?
2. What’s your take on renewables?
3. Do you support the proposed hydropower projects near Moose Pass? Why or why not?
4. Do you support HEA’s involvement with the Healy coal facility? Why or why not?
5. HEA’s contract to purchase wholesale power with Chugach Electric will be up in 2014. What should be done to secure a sustainable power supply for HEA?
6. What should be done to stabilize and/or lower rates for HEA members?
7. Are there any other issues facing HEA that are a priority for you?

District 1

Alan Bute
1. “The bottom line on anything is my pocketbook, so, financially, if it’s the right thing to do. We don’t want to get into a boondoggle. It sounds like a good idea because it would give us the strength to build whatever we got to to give us a stable power rate.”
2. “I guess you can’t beat it. I look at like the dams and stuff like that where you don’t have no pollution and stuff where you have a lifeline of power, and the same thing with wind power. The bottom line is cost, it always comes back to that. The people who have to put food on the table and stuff like that have to watch the bottom line.”
3. “I know they’re doing studies as far as what, economically, what’s the most feasible. If you can’t get anything pushed through, what can be done? You can’t hurt the fish. If we can build small dams that don’t mess up the community too much, and the bottom line is if the community don’t want it, it’s not a good deal either. You can’t push it down their throat.”
4. “Back to the dollar sign again, if we can do it economically. … You want to make sure the smokestacks are burning clean, but I guess you have to look at it because you have coal everywhere you look — it’s all over. I don’t know about a long-term contract, maybe just something to carry us over until we get something renewable that everybody can agree on.”
5. “Whatever we do, if we get together with other utilities in the state, and we gotta make sure we have some kind of control over the price, as far as how it affects our bills and stuff like that. You can’t in the middle of winter find 20, 30 percent increase in their bill. People on a real tight budget, it’s just too much for them.”
6. “Basically the direction they’re going with the study group out there is seeing what’s the most viable thing we can do, with the bottom line being the cost and affecting the rate payers. All those options, (wind, solar) sound good, we just gotta use some common sense and get a stable power source that’s affordable for everyone.”
7. “No. Over the years it seems like a really solid organization.”

Andrew Patrick
1. “I’m not necessarily a proponent of it. … From what my understanding of it is, it wouldn’t necessarily allow a local co-op like ours to meet the specific needs of our members, by taking control (away), which, I’m sure control would leave us here and go to a distant location. That is not usually a good direction.”
2. “I’m for them. I think it’s something that’s an ideal long-term goal, but I also know not every renewable source out there has true economic viability to use in a commercial application, such as a major utility. But, you know, it’s an avenue that needs to be actively pursued with the utility.”
3. “I think that they’re a good direction in the sense they are renewable. One of the biggest concerns we could have with them is they are small scale, so a lot of the overhead costs (environmental studies, engineering costs, etc.) will be almost the same as a large-scale project. … As far as their impact, there is no perfect project. They’re always going to impact somebody. Unfortunately, maybe here it may just seem like the lesser of the evils that are out there.”
4. “I support the diversification direction, for sure. Whether this is the best direction or best step I can’t tell you right now. It’s something they’re looking at to analyze what are the other alternatives out there, is this the first one that came to the door or the best one to pursue in light of the other alternatives that are out there?”
5. “We’ve been fortunate to have a low-cost power source with natural gas. That era I think is coming to a close. … Once we know the alternatives we can weigh which direction or generation source would give us the best benefit. Not necessarily cost, but also overall impact on people.”
6. “The more our production sources are diversified, the more stable our rates will be. It’s a principle that’s been applied to a variety of industries and types of businesses. … Tied with that is a certain amount of efficiency must be monitored. That’s the job of the board. … Cost controls and efficiency, combine the two and that will give us price stability.”
7. “I’m not critical of anybody. … They do represent the membership, so as such I think they do as good a job as any board can be expected to do.”

District 2

Jim Fassler
1. “I strongly support this. … Every time a kilowatt of power passes through someone else’s hands it costs us. … Right now, we HEA members own about 12 percent of the power that’s generated at Bradley Lake, that’s all we can use of that. The rest of that belongs to other co-op power companies and they sell it back to us. With a generation co-op, wherever it’s generated it will be used there first.”
2. “Those are all terrific. I think that we should be exploring those and moving to them as quickly as possible, but it’s going to be very expensive to do that.”
Fassler noted concerns about the noise wind turbines may generate, and about reliability of wind on calm days and of solar in the winter, and also said he’d like to see tidal power, possibly attached to drilling platforms in Cook Inlet.
3. “I haven’t seen the studies on those, I would support them if its not going to cause problems with spawning and etc.”
4. “Yes I do. One of the things that I understand is that the state wants Homer Electric to enter into a 25-year contract. I think we should go in increments of five, but we definitely need to be looking at power from that source again in order to get through to the point where wind or whatever will take it over. I would just as soon we do not burn coal, but the technology to get us to wind and solar — we need a bridge to get from here to whenever that would be.”
5. “We need to look to coal, we need to look to solar, we need to look to wind and water.”
6. “I think that we need to have the lowest possible rates. The economy the way it is today, hopefully the job loss from the Lower 48 isn’t going to hit us as hard as it has down there, but I’ve run into people who just can’t afford their Enstar and HEA bills and still eat. I really do believe we need to keep them down as low as possible. I’m not going to try to tell you I’m going to lower rates — that would be like the president saying I’m going to cut out all your taxes — that’s a lie. But I’m going to do everything I can to keep them as low as possible and still be sustainable.”
7. None.

Ed Oberts
1. “My first thought is that I would be very apprehensive to merge all the utilities, there’s different equity in each of them and the local control is important.”
2. “I’m supportive of renewables, but I think we have to realize our base load on the coldest day in the middle of winter, we’re not going to have any wind and there’s no sun. We’re going to have to rely on natural gas or coal.”
3. “I don’t know the details but I’m supportive of hydro power in general and suspect that I would be supportive of those projects.”
4. “Again, I don’t have the detailed knowledge on that issue, but I do support coal power generation. I think it’s an economically feasible resource that we need to take advantage of.”
5. “That’s the biggest question out there because it affects rates. Long-tem I think we need to work hard to find a good answer to that. If I get elected I’ll be working positively with all the other utilities around the state to address that issue and find a long-term, stable source of electric power for everybody.”
6. “I believe they need to be stabilized and lowered. My experience working at the borough for the borough mayor’s office, I have extensive knowledge of how to read and understand a budget. I think HEA’s a big organization and needs to have strong leadership at the board level to make sure that a good budget is adopted and adhered to so that we don’t incur expenses that are out of line and force our rates up.”
7. “I think the biggest issue out there is skyrocketing rates that they’re basically out of control, and the utility needs to address them and find a solution. This is my fourth time running for the HEA board. I really look forward to getting elected and representing the members of the association.”

Terry Johnson
1. “Yes, I support it. I think that’s one of things making our utilities so high, pretty much (Chugach) has us where they want us. They charge us obscene rates for our electricity. I think if it’s consolidated, I think it would help us.”
2. “Renewables up here are going to be tough. Those 60-foot blades on them wind generators. Everyone that you talk to says they’re an eyesore. I think there are places in Alaska where people could agree to put them, but right now the biggest problem is the storage. I think we have other ways to go right now.”
3. “It’s a good idea if it’s not cost prohibitive. I think a lot of it would have to do with the bids on what’s out there to build it. The other thing is the permitting, that’s going to be the hard one.”
4. “Yes, I think that that would be one of our best options if we could get a tie-in up there and burn our coal instead of sending it to, right now it’s going to Korea and other places. I think if we could burn our own coal here I think it would be better for the environment all around.”
5. “Everybody’s talking about the (natural gas) bullet line with the price of natural gas where it is and getting permits and being able to build the bullet line in a feasible amount of time. I think it’s going to be a real challenge. I think HEA has quite a few options open to them. I think HEA itself has a lot of costs they can reduce, but nobody seems to be in the cost-reducing mode.”
6. “The biggest thing is to get a low-cost power supply. … I believe coal is going to be one of our best options, being that the natural gas on the peninsula, the supplies are going down. … I think that’s a big one we’ll have to face is what can we do now to ensure power within the next five years?”
7. “(I don’t want to sound anti-growth, but) somewhere down the line it’s going to get where HEA has got to screen how much new growth can come into our community because there’s not enough electricity to go around. With Wal-Mart coming in, and if Pebble Mine gets built, our community now is at the point where, how do we let new businesses in when we can’t provide power for them?”

William Tappan
1. “I think that some kind of coming together and getting rates down for everyone is a good idea. The part I’m not sure about is whether or not it’s necessary — and it may be in the future, but not today — to eliminate or do away with the six Railbelt utilities and make them into one.”
2. “They don’t really add to the base load capacity to keep the lights on. What it does is it helps with peaking. … We must go to renewables. Here on the peninsula there are tons of options. … We have to evaluate the tradeoffs of the cost versus what we get for it.”
3. “The one at Grant Lake seems to be the most proactive and I do support it and I’m a big fly fisherman, by the way. I’m very pro-environment and pro-fishing.”
4. “I do, and the reason is that HEA is not going to own a coal-fired plant. We are only going to buy power. We need to diversify off of natural gas, and that is where that 200 years of coal supply is. Right now they’ve been running unit one cleanly, and I’m impressed with it. If and when they get unit two going, that’s when we will be buying power, which should theoretically be less cost to our ratepayers because coal should be cheaper than natural gas.”
5. “We may get into another deal with them and we may not. We won’t do it if it isn’t right for our members since it’s pre-negotiated. … If that greater Railbelt thing in some form goes forward, that issue may go away anyway.”
6. “I would like to see how (merging Railbelt utilities and creating one, “postage stamp” price for all members) that’s going to work. I would be for it if it’s going lower our rates. If it’s going to raise rates for our members, I’m not for it. We’re just not there yet. It’s a new notion.”
7. “Unity of the board. There is, and I’m not implying that there’s friction, but I think that we all need to have a plan and support the plan. There are a few who certainly are entitled to their views and opinions that don’t share the view of the majority right now. I think everybody wants what’s right for all the members but how we get there is an issue.”

District 3

Steve Franklin
1. “That’s a hard question to answer. I’m not really familiar with it. … I wouldn’t know why that wouldn’t be a good thing if it’s managed properly and handled correctly, I think everybody could gain from that.”
2. “I really think Homer Electric needs to take a real close look at the options and get into renewable sources just as fast and as quick as we can, and what we can afford. Certainly for renewable wind energy, solar, tidal, whatever it may be, I think we need to take a close look at it.”
3. “I do support it for the simple fact it is a renewable type of energy. It is something that we can count on, I think, for the only reason it’s not using fossil fuels. It is something that we can pull off of nature and utilize.”
4. “I think it would be a great partnership. If we can satisfy the environmental needs, keep it a clean coal-burning plant, I think that would be great. But I’m not sure we can afford it in today’s industry in Alaska, to meet all the necessary emissions. … I’m leaving my options open on that one.”
5. “We get back to renewable resources — wind, solar, whatever. … We need to have the energy that we control. We need to be in the saddle. We need to be in control of the energy that we receive and distribute, versus relying on someone else to make it work for us.”
6. “I’m not quite sure but I do think that the renewable energy is what the key is. It’s going to be a major investment, but I think in the long term that’s the best way to go. As long as we’re relying on another entity to supply us with the energy like it is today, it’s very difficult to stabilize it because of the demands and of the increases and decreases of fossil fuels.”
7. “The only priority I have is to speak for the membership. My personal views are the bottom of the priority list. My number one priority is to listen to the members and do what the members want. I may not always agree with it, but if the body as a whole wishes it to go a certain direction, that’s the direction I will vote on.”

Jim Levine
1. “I guess in concept I support it. It seems like a pretty good idea as long as we get what I consider to be the right kind of energy mix, which would be a lot more renewables than what we’re doing right now. I guess I wouldn’t support it if it’s going to be more of the same, more coal and what not. I think it would be economical to have all the utilities joined together, there’s obviously some kind of economy of scale.”
2. “I’m highly in favor of them. I think it’s really the wave of the future. … Solar, wind and the ocean, we have so much potential down here for those types of energy power generation. … A lot of different systems are up and running and ready to be used around the world.”
3. “In general I think that hydropower’s a good thing. It needs to be taken on a case-by-case basis. Obviously whenever you dam a waterway there’s always going be some conflict, so you need to be really careful in that respect.”
4. “I don’t think that they know all the costs involved, so I don’t think that it’s a wise move. I don’t think they should get involved for 50 years. … The Healy plant in particular has never been operated successfully yet. I don’t have any idea what it will cost to operate successfully, if they even can. I think renewable is a much better way to go and trying to go to a coal facility is just sort of looking backwards instead of forward.”
5. “I think a temporary solution would be just to continue with the natural gas system. I think natural gas is a more, I don’t know, earth-friendly means of supplying power in the meantime, until we can get renewable systems online and operating.”
6. “I think moving toward renewables will start to stabilize the rates because there’s no fuel costs once you get these systems up and running. On a more short-term basis, we just need to kind of watch our pennies and see what we can do to keep the costs in line while we’re developing these other systems.”
7. “I would like to see a much more open and transparent type of board meetings where you invite the co-op members to participate, rather than, from what I can see, consider them to be kind of a problem to get around.”

Pete Roberts
1. “Well, I don’t support Enron and that’s how I see it. The economies of scale idea is completely blown out of shape. … There’s no way you could combine these co-ops without taking them into the state or private industry, and I believe HEA is trying to privatize itself.”
2. “If they’re economical I think it’s a great idea. HEA historically does not like renweables, contrary to SNAP, which is bulls---. I like renewables, I think it’s a great idea. I want to know why don’t we have more than 12 percent of the power from Bradley Lake for the peninsula. Actually, I know why — it was purely legislative and politics.”
3. “I’m generally favorable but want to see more details. I start to hear the issue about salmon, but salmon are brought up to knock down everything in this state and we have got to have a balance. If they’re not going to make a significant, say 10 percent, cut in the salmon, I think we need to set that aside because we have other things that are important on this peninsula.”
4. “Whether or not coal power is good or bad is besides the point. You never buy into something where the title is clouded and the management of it is also clouded. That’s been the situation with MEA and the state and we shouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole.”
5. “We need to drill gas wells. HEA needs to contract for gas wells and can put a generator on the top of each one of them. It’s cheaper than sending it through a pipe. We’re in trouble because we haven’t acted as a G and T (generation and transmission), just a transmission utility. We do have a little generation ability but we need to hire the expertise.”
6. “They have to plan ahead. They have all sorts of capital credit money that can be used to balance out the fluctuations between the cost of energy and what it is. What happened with the December, January, February deals was uncalled for for a member-owned co-op. I think the members need to take co-op back from the industrial people who would privatize it and don’t give a damn about their customers.”
7. “The policies that affect the owner member, the customers. The policies need to be reviewed and checked and modified for the benefit of the owner member. I want the co-op back for the cooperative.”

Don Seelinger
1. It’s difficult to take a position on the governor’s proposal when it is still a moving target. I have reviewed the draft proposal dated Feb 11, 2009. I’ve reviewed SB143 and HB182 and have been monitoring the continuing discussions. That said, I could support a unified transmission grid by which there would be a postage stamp rate for wheeling, thereby standardizing the rate for wheeling for all utilities. In some cases this could lead to a significant savings.
2. Renewables must be an important part of HEA’s generation portfolio. I propose that we take renewables to the maximum the system will allow as long as it does not negatively impact rates.
3. Until the studies have been completed, thereby providing us all the data we would need, I have not taken a position on the low impact hydro projects. However, I cannot support any hydro projects that would significantly impact water quality or fish habitat.
4. With regard to HEA’s involvement with the Healy Coal facility, I need to clarify involvement. If by involvement are you asking, do I support HEA being an owner of the facility in part or in whole?, or have an obligation for the start-up of the plant? This I am not in support of. However, I do support HEA’s position of first right of refusal to purchase up to 27 megawatts of power from (Golden Valley Electric Association). If there is an acceptable contract for such a purchase, that is in the best interests of HEA’s members, then I could support it. As of this date, no proposed contract has come before the board for consideration.
5. The stage has been set, the wheels are in motion, the potential sites have been selected to assure HEA has the required generation available by 2014. This will be accomplished by a portfolio that reflects present generation technology and renewables. It may also require, but has yet to be determined, a contract/purchase spinning reserves. The power sales agreement between HEA/(Chugach) is a take or pay contract.
6. I refer you to my answer in #1, and also by HEA becoming a diversified, independent power provider with its own dispatch. These are big ticket items, but I will continue to look for opportunities for cost savings thereby stabilizing rates. Bringing generation and dispatch to the peninsula will mean jobs.
7. None.
Editor’s note: Seelinger composed and e-mailed his comments, rather than participating in an interview as all other candidates did. All grammar and punctuation is printed verbatim, except for parenthetical references added for clarity.

Doug Stark
1. “It would increase efficiency. The estimate is it would be $40 million a year, because most of the utilities at this time are getting ready to build additional generation. Those would be small projects compared to what the giant co-op for transmission and energy production could do.”
2. “I’m very much in favor of them. They’re not going to solve the problem within the next 10 years. They’re certainly the way to go in the interim.”
3. “I’m not that familiar with them. In general I’m in favor with most hydro projects. I would have to have more information before I could say definitely. In a hydro project, there’s always pluses and minuses, mostly dealing with fish on the minus side, and with what the hydro does, is it controls the stream flow, and that makes people nervous.”
4. “The federal government and the state put more than $100 million into it. I think it’s just really sort of obscene the thing has sat there for close to 20 years. I think it’s got to be brought online so it isn’t just a wasted resource. You’ve got to remember that that’s a clean coal facility. That isn’t just a coal-fired power plant. That was designed and a lot of money was put into that to make it a facility that would burn coal cleanly.”
5. “I think what we should do is go into the proposal that the governor is pushing, which will resolve that question.”
6. “I don’t have the information to answer that right now. There’s a lot of stuff going on internally and I understand some of it’s pretty volatile. One thing I would believe in is a little more sunshine and transparency. Springing these rate increases on people, this is a co-op, remember, it’s supposed to be owned by members. I think springing 40 percent increases on members with no notice is absolutely beyond the pale.”
7. “I’ve got some ideas that HEA can do that would help members. I don’t think they’re big deals, but one or both have been done by other electric utilities, is set up a program for reduced cost for buying florescent lightbulbs. The other is to set up a program for funding through local improvement districts the provision of lines for supplying gas to homes when the gas line comes down to the south peninsula.”

Editorial: Shedding light on HEA elections

These are electric times. The Homer Electric Association Board of Directors has always served an important function on the central and southern Kenai Peninsula, but one that hasn’t always garnered much attention from HEA members. Come annual election time, picking names and returning ballots for some voters is fueled more by a desire to qualify for energy credits than it is a concern over the politics and policies of the co-op.

It’s not that who gets elected doesn’t matter, it’s just that voters haven’t had much incentive to take time out of their busy lives to familiarize themselves with the issues facing the HEA board and the views of those seeking seats on it.

Until now. This past year’s dramatic increase in electricity rates has had one positive side effect: It gets people’s attention.

And just in time. The board will soon face decisions of monumental and fundamental importance to how HEA operates in the future. Such basic questions as:

Where will HEA get power? Should it continue contracting for the majority of its electricity from natural gas? Is that even an option with reserves dwindling and prices climbing?

Should HEA invest in developing renewable energy sources? If so, which ones, where and to what scale?

What about coal? Do affordability and abundance factors outweigh environmental concerns? How long and to what level should HEA commit to the Healy coal plant?

What if Pebble Mine gets the go-ahead? Will HEA be involved in providing the massive amount of power the operation will require? If so, how?

Should HEA support joining forces with other Railbelt electric utilities for generation and transportation purposes? Should a single, “postage-stamp” rate be established for the entire Railbelt?

The answers to all these questions will have an impact on pocketbooks. So now’s the time to think about answers. Read up on the issues and candidates’ stances on them. Talk to current and hopeful board members. Visit with neighbors and friends about their priorities. And most importantly, don’t think casting a vote is the end of it. Several candidates stated they want to carry out the will of their constituents. So stay informed, involved and vocal. If board members don’t know what residents want, they can’t advocate it.

Pay attention now, or pay for it later.

Arts and Entertainment week of April 8

  • Artists Without Borders in the 4D Building in Soldotna has “Unhinged,” works done on a door or window, in conjunction with a group show by local artists, through April.
  • Art Works in Soldotna has egg tempera paintings by Andy Hehnlin on display.
  • The Funky Monkey in Kenai has photography by Tony Lewis on display through April.
  • Kaladi Brothers on Kobuk Street in Soldotna has “This Season That We Call Winter,” a photography exhibition by Genevieve Klebba, on display.
  • Kaladi Brothers on the Sterling Highway in Soldotna has artwork by Melody Lee Gleichman on display through April.
  • The Kenai Fine Arts Center in Old Town Kenai has the Kenai Peninsula School District visual arts celebration with work by ninth- through 12th-graders on display through April.
  • 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 for April is Jan Wallace.

  • Curtain Call Consignment Boutique is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 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.
  • “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.
  • “8 Stars of Comedy Gold” will be performed at 7 p.m. at Triumvirate Theatre in Soldotna. See Friday listing.

Coming up
  • Kenai Performers will present “Sudden Theatre,” an evening of 10-minute plays, at 7 p.m. April 17, 18, 24 and 25 and 3 p.m. April 19 and 26 at the Old Town Playhouse in Kenai. Admission is $12 for adults and $10 for students and seniors. Advance tickets are available at Charlotte’s in Kenai and River City Books in Soldotna. The show is PG-13.
  • A concert fundraiser will be held from 5 to 9 p.m. April 18 at College Heights Baptist Church to benefit Isaiah James Charlie, who was born with a heart defect and needs medial care. There will be live music, a spaghetti dinner, auctions for guided fishing trips, a Grant Aviation voucher and more. Contact Kristi Bradford, 394-8224.
  • The BYU Idaho Collegiate Singers will perform “We Are All Children” at 7 p.m. April 21 in the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium at Kenai Central High School. Admission is a donation of canned goods for the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank.
  • Sterling Elementary School will hold an opening for its annual art show from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. April 23. It will remain on display until 11:00 a.m. April 24. This year’s show is dedicated to the memory of Roy Shapley, a third-grade teacher at the school and local photographer and artist, who died in December. The show will include student work as well as Shapley’s photography, literary art and storytelling art, and pieces donated by professional artists in the area. The school is also holding a fundraiser for Roy’s family through the raffle of more than 20 pieces of fine art donated by celebrated professional artists in the community. For more information, contact Principal Christine Ermold at cermold@kpbsd.k12.ak.us or 262-4944.

  • Friday and Saturday nights at The Riverside.

Live music
  • The Clam Shell in Clam Gulch will have music by Butch Leman at 9 p.m. Saturday.
  • Hooligan’s Saloon in Soldotna has a jam night Thursday and live music on Friday and Saturday nights.
  • The Maverick in Soldotna has the Free Beer Band on Sundays.
  • Moosequito’s in Sterling has AK Free Fuel on Friday night.
  • 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.
  • The Vagabond on Kalifornsky Beach Road has a jam session April 17.
  • Veronica’s in Kenai has the Old Believers on Friday night and George Navarre and Nancy Anderson 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.

  • Hooligan’s in Soldotna has Texas Hold ‘Em poker at 5 and 8 p.m. Tuesdays, and a cutest bunny contest Saturday night.
  • The Maverick in Soldotna has a pool tournament at 8 p.m. Fridays.
  • Moosequito’s in Sterling has darts Tuesday night.

Bound to be fun — Book group has been together nearly 20 years

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

There are readers and then there are readers.

The former pack a book for a plane ride. They skim through the paper in the morning. They end the day with a chapter or two before turning out the light.

For the latter, anytime their eyes and hands aren’t immediately occupied doing something else, they’re glued to a page. If they’re not reading, they’re thinking about what they’ve been reading, or planning what to read next. For those, the only thing worse than having nothing to read is having no one to share what they’re reading with.

That’s where book groups come in.

“You just get jived, you know, when you love to read,” said Rosie Reeder, who recently taught a class for Soldotna Community Schools on how to form a book group. “How you read a book and think, ‘Man, I’d love to talk to somebody about it.’

“I have friends who say, ‘How can you be so excited about a book?’ Hey, my name is Reeder. It’s kind of spelled out that I do these things.”

Reeder and the seven-woman book group she’s part of, literally called THE Book Group — “I feel a little like ‘Who’s On First?’ when I say it,” Reeder said — have been meeting “for about 18 years, or some ridiculous thing. I put it in my appointment book. I just hate to miss it.”

The group, Marge Hays, Sammy Crawford, Lois Pillifant, Susan Jelsma, Sherril Miller, Reeder and Peggy Toppenberg, meets every Wednesday morning for about an hour and has become so entrenched in members’ lives they’ve even managed the seemingly impossible — maintaining regular meetings in the summer, albeit on a reduced schedule of once a month.

And these aren’t even the best of friends, desperate for a reason to get together and chat. They’ve know each other for differing numbers of years and interact in various professional, community, philanthropic and social realms, but other than their book group, they probably wouldn’t all get together as regularly as they do, if at all. And that’s good, Reeder said.

“I’ve found that best friends are not necessarily the best way to do it because you tend to talk about some pretty heavy stuff and you’re too busy visiting,” she said.
Just discussing the books leaves plenty to talk about. In part, that’s due to the members’ personalities.

“We’re all kind of type A personalities. We try to give turns, but we’re not very good at it, to be perfectly honest,” Reeder said. “We try to honor each other and try and take turns.”

“The other thing is they have to be skilled at interruptions, obviously, because we all talk at the same time,” Pillifant said.

On April 1, the group was discussing “Exile,” by Richard North Patterson, a thriller set amid the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The group rarely reads novels, preferring nonfiction, especially biographies and the like.

“Our basic thing is we like to learn from what we read,” Reeder said.

The novel is set in real context, which fit the bill as informative. As usual, not everyone was in agreement over specific elements of the book, much less whether they enjoyed it overall.

But that’s half the fun of the discussion.

“I can’t believe that she even went in the first place. Oh lady, what were you thinking?” Hays said, reiterating her take on one of the book’s main characters.
“Oh, here you go again,” Reeder said.

“Some of the books we read, I would not read, and I wouldn’t have read a chapter of this unless you told me too,” Pillifant said.

“But that’s good for us. One thing I like about a book club is it sure expands what you read,” Hays said.

THE Book Group started with Hays and Reeder. The two got talking about their mutual love of books before a college class one day, and said they’d both always wanted to be in a book group.

“Marge said, ‘Well, you know we could start one.’ And I said, ‘Oh, that would be cool.’ Next week I came back she said, ‘Did you get some people?’ I said, ‘Oh, I thought you were kidding,’” Reeder said.

The group’s membership and numbers have fluctuated over the years, but they finally hit on a makeup that works for them: Seven women, amiable but not superclose friends, who love to read to learn and are willing to speak up about it.

“In book group it’s so cool relating something and somebody else will say, ‘I don’t remember it being that funny,’ or that whatever, and you realize it’s the way you read it, so that’s a whole new perspective,” Reeder said.

They occasionally get inquiries from people looking to join a group, but they don’t want more than seven. Yet filling their last opening took some time to find someone who fit well into the group, could meet at the scheduled time and was interested in mostly nonfiction books.

“It took forever for us to find someone and to make the decision, and they turned us down,” Hays said. “We were so sure everyone wanted to join our group. We had to have a moment of silence.”

With this group, the silence probably didn’t last long.

Writing rules for reading
Rosie Reeder, who has participated in a book group for about 18 years, has fielded questions over the years from kindred bibliophiles looking to join or start a book group.

It’s a great activity, but just like some books take effort to get into them, forming a cohesive, consistent group can take patience and persistence, she said.
Here are her tips for forming a book group:

Decide how many and what types of people you want. For numbers, three aren’t enough, because it’s hard to have a good discussion if someone doesn’t show, and 10 are too many because it’s hard for everyone to get a chance to talk. As for types of people, Reeder advises against close friends, because it’s too easy to talk about everything but the book. On the other hand, having people who are extremely dissimilar can cause more friction in discussions than some members may want to endure.

Decide logistics. Where will you meet? How often? What time? For how long? How long will you take to read a book? Are kids allowed? Will there be food, coffee, wine? If so, who’s bringing or preparing it?

Some things to keep in mind: Restaurants can be fun, but also expensive, and wait staff may not want a large, possibly loud group taking up a table for hours on end. But if it’s at a home, you don’t want hosting responsibilities to become disruptive or burdensome.

“If it’s at your house, well I have a family and a life and you’re going to come here every week for four hours on the weekend? I don’t think so,” Reeder said.

“We meet at my house, and I don’t have anything except coffee or tea water. If gets to be a drudge, you’re not going to do it for 18 years,” she said.
Decide what type of books you’ll read.

“The type of books you read, I think, has lot to do with it,” Reeder said. “If you want to meet five or six times and be done, it doesn’t matter. But you really need to have some commonalities, like we read almost all nonfiction and we read a book in about a month. You really need to pick something that holds your interest. We have a hard time with a romance book or a novel, because what are you going to talk about? ‘Did you think he did it?’ ‘Yeah, he did it.’ Then you’re done.”

Decide how you’ll get books. Buying even one book a month can get expensive, but local libraries don’t usually have enough copies for everyone in a book group to read the same thing at the same time.

“That’s huge. You could really spend a lot of money if you end up buying them, and you don’t want to steal them, so you have to figure something out,” Reeder said.

Reeder recommends combining a variety of approaches — including libraries, checking with River City Books about a discount for book groups, shopping at used book stores, shopping online, trading off books with other book groups, borrowing from friends and taking advantage of the Anchorage Public Library’s Book Club Bags, where the library will lend out and ship batches of about 10 books for six weeks at a time.

Sweet dreams: Author wants to share family tales with other kids

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Ken Covey, of Soldotna, may find it a little odd to tell his stories to a group of wide-awake kids, since his tales came about as bedtime stories told to his six children, then 15 grandchildren, over the past 40 years.

He’s scheduled to do a book talk and reading of his book, “The Adventures of a Little Boy Named Kenny,” at 1 p.m. April 18 at the Triumvirate Theatre Bookstore in the Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna. His grandson, Josh Lofquist, a senior at Nikiski High School, will be there to talk about illustrating the book, as well.

Covey wrote the book before Christmas this winter and had it self-published at the urging of his family.

“It’s a compilation of stories that I’ve been telling my kids and grandkids ever since they were small, starting out with the older kids in the 40s now,” Covey said. “As they grew older they wanted them to be recorded so they weren’t lost, so they encouraged me to write them down. And my wife, too, she’s one of the instigators.”

The stories are of young Kenny and the adventures — or misadventures — he gets into growing up in the mountains of Colorado, whether it’s accidentally stowing away on a train in an effort to find out where the tracks by his house go, or building a homemade “hootenanny” go-cart that has no end of go, but is a little short on stop.

The tales are drawn from Covey’s own childhood experiences and they’ve changed somewhat over the years depending on who he’s telling them to and what he wants to get across with the stories.

Each tale can be read in 10 or 15 minutes, and contains a lesson along with the adventure.

“I hope there’s a little wisdom in there, and a little bit of teaching. I guess a moral might be the way to say it. Every story has a moral of what he should or shouldn’t have done, or could or couldn’t have done or whatever. When I was telling the stories to my kids they were designed not only just to entertain them, but also to instruct them about how actions have consequences and how you should think through things before doing them and not just jump into things before thinking,” Covey said.

Covey hasn’t published anything before, but he’s done writing in college while getting his bachelor’s degree in education, and he’s written stories and poems “for my own amusement,” he said.

“My degree is in education and I was a pastor of a church for several years, so I’m a communicator, I guess you might say. Or try to be, anyway,” Covey said.
One of the biggest challenges was switching communication modes — changing oral stories to written ones.

“I’m not sure that they came out the same way they were told. Translating them to the page was difficult. You can’t use hand gestures and facial expressions and voice inflection and all that sort of thing to tell a story in a book, so the language had to be more colorful, I guess,” Covey said. “Actually, it was easy to write the stories, it was hard to get them to sound right on paper — a lot of changing of words and using a word wrench to get the right phrases in there, and the punctuation all had to be in there, which you don’t think about when you’re telling a story.”

Covey also had to break “one of his sacred convictions that adults cannot hear a Kenny story,” he wrote in the forward to the book. “This is one of the things that has endeared the stories to the kids, because they exist in a secret place where adults cannot enter and where one little boy is the center and hero of his world.”
It was a sacrifice he was willing to make in this and his future planned Kenny books, in order to share the stories with more kids.

“Of course, I like kids. We have six of our own and all our grandkids. Kids are special and need all the help they can get,” he said.

The book talk and reading will be part of the formation of a book group for kids, probably at a fourth-grade reading level and up, said Rosie Reeder, coordinator of the Triumvirate Bookstore. The first meeting will be at the bookstore, then may move to the Soldotna library. Reeder expects the group will meet once every three or four weeks and read a book a month.

The book group is open to anyone, and Reeder is seeking sponsors to help defray the costs of purchasing books for the kids to read.

For more information, contact Reeder at 262-2908.

For more information on Covey’s book, visit www.outskirtspress.com/adventuresofkenny. It is available for purchase at River City Books, Triumvirate Bookstore and online at www.amazon.com, www.barnsandnoble.com and www.borders.com.

Wild catch — Fisherman in the middle of bear-shark tug-of-war

By Clark Fair
Redoubt Reporter

Commercial fisherman Bill Holt thought the shark was bad enough — and then the bear came along.

Holt later admitted he was somewhat amused by what transpired next, but mostly he was just irritated because he was losing precious fishing time.

In a world of 12-hour openings and limited resources, Holt didn’t appreciate wasting minutes when he could be netting salmon and making money.

“That’s the one thing about commercial fishing,” he said. “You can never rest on your laurels. As soon as something goes wrong, you’ve gotta be thinking about the next place to go because you have such a small window of opportunity to make it.”

Holt’s notions about taking advantage of limited time have been honed by years of experience. He has been drift fishing Cook Inlet for about 30 years. For nearly 20 of those years he fished the east side until the runs petered out, and then motored across to the west side to extend his season.

Typically, in mid- to late August, he would enter Chinitna Bay, just south of Mount Iliamna, to take advantage of the runs of silver salmon entering the streams there to spawn. At the head of the bay, he might jockey for position with other boats trying to corral schools of salmon headed for Clear Creek, but he preferred the more sedate opportunities along the bay’s northern shore, particularly in tiny Clam Cove, when the weather and the tides were right.

Holt, a local school board member who is the chief caretaker of the Tsalteshi Trails behind Skyview High School, entered Clam Cove one morning in August 1995 and set about preparing to fish the outgoing tide, as he had done many times before.

As water leaves the cove and enters the bay during an ebb tide, it is swept west to east toward the mouth of the bay and open inlet. So Holt fished the cove’s east-side beach, cognizant of the need to keep his fishing vessel inside the cove and not drift into the main tidal current, where it could be pulled eastward and trail his nets into the rocks on the point of the cove.

On this particular morning, Holt backed up his boat — a 34-foot fiberglass vessel named the Loujon — as close as he could to the sandy beach and dropped his 40-inch bright orange buoy right at the water’s edge. Fishing regulations state that a buoy, which marks the far end of a fisherman’s net, must be in the water at all times. Holt likes to tie his buoy close to the end of his net and place it just offshore to prevent salmon from skirting his mesh on that side.

He said he is careful not to place the buoy actually on the shore because he is “paranoid” about breaking the law and bringing down the wrath of fish cops. As the tide ebbs, he keeps enough tension on the boat end of the net to prevent the buoy from going dry.

“We always heard these stories about (former Fish and Game wardens) Dan France and Al Thompson, that they would be over there and they would hide in hollow tree trunks,” he said. “Whether that was true or not, I don’t know, but we always lived in fear of that.”

After dropping the buoy, he and his crew — his 12-year-old son, Galen, and a college graduate named Maggie, who was set to enter Harvard Medical School later that fall and had never fished commercially before — began feeding out the net in a series of small S-turns that Holt likes to call “lollygags.” The lollygags give him handling flexibility with a net three shackles (900 feet) long, and the turns in the net sometimes confound the fish and cause them to become more easily trapped.

“We were catching some fish,” Holt said. “And as the tide started leaving, I had to start pulling harder offshore. So pretty soon, essentially, I sort of had a straight net.

“And so we’re fishing, fishing, fishing — and all of a sudden the (first shackle of) net just goes completely underwater and starts thrashing around.”

The net began to bow outward slightly south toward open water.

“When I first saw it happen, my first thought was we’d just seen killer whales that morning going up the bay. But then I realized, no way; I would’ve seen them. The boat was in only 6 or 7 feet of water.

“And then we saw that it was a shark. You could see its ugly old shark nose and all that stuff. It went back down and started thrashing around.”

The salmon shark, which Holt estimated at 8 to 10 feet long and 250 to 300 pounds, became so entangled in the mesh that it could not escape. Holt’s crew was “pretty excited,” he said, but he was becoming concerned.

“I’m thinking, ‘Oh, man, here we go. It’s gonna wreck the net. It’s obviously gonna wreck the net.’ And I knew that to pull back and get the shark out would cause the buoy to pull too far offshore and then I’d have too much current.”

Then, as if the situation wasn’t bad enough, out of the mix of alders and spruce at the margin formed by the beach and the woods, came a large black bear that ambled down the incline to the water’s edge, apparently drawn by the jerking motions of the buoy.

“It just sat there like you’re sitting on a stool or a chair, sat there watching the buoy. Ten feet away from this buoy, just sitting there watching it.”

The bear didn’t sit still very long. Intrigued or irritated by the movement, it returned to all fours, walked determinedly down to the buoy, grabbed it with both paws, and bit it.

“Then it takes the buoy and starts backing up the beach with it. He pulled it up the beach a little ways to where it was actually on the sand. So he’s actually helping me fish,” Holt said. “And then he dropped the buoy, walked away and sat there, watching.

“And the shark’s still going at it, and pretty soon it starts pulling back off the beach again. Pretty soon the buoy’s back out in the water, so the bear comes down and grabs the buoy again and pulls it back up on the beach. And I think this happened three times.

“It was like a shark and a bear playing tug-of-war with each other, and I’m in there, too, trying to mediate the whole thing. Eventually, the bear quit pulling up, and the shark kept screwing around, and in order to keep things straight I ended up catching some current.”

As the bear disappeared back into the woods, Holt was forced to motor out into the current and around the point to steer clear of the rocks. As he drifted eastward, he used a hydraulic gillnet drum to winch in the net until the shark was free of the water. Once he had slashed at the net enough to liberate the shark, he was able to bring in the rest of the net and pick the fish he had caught. He was delighted to see that, despite his double predator seesaw struggles, he had 100 to 150 silvers in his hold.

The morning wasn’t off to such a bad start, after all.

But, as a true fisherman knows, time spent contemplating one’s fortunes or misfortunes is time lost, so Holt prepared to fish again. “By the time I got the net back in, I’d forgotten all about the incident and I was already trying to think about someplace else to go fish. And I was upset because this thing had taken some time out of my fishing day.

“We only needed two shackles of gear there, anyway,” he added. “What I did was cut all the floppy net out and restart the set. When you’re fishing, you don’t ever give up.”

Sliding into spring — Avalanche hazard in Turnagain Pass

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Snowmachiners, backcountry skiers and climbers beware: the January hurricane crust could come back to bury you.

That’s the message from Carl Skustad, with the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center. The center issued an advisory of extreme avalanche danger in the Turnagain Pass area on Friday.

“The current hazard is out there due to the large amounts of new snow. We’ve actually gotten about one-third of our total snow in the last three weeks, and that is sitting on top of a weak layer that was formed mid-January,” Skustad said Friday.

Conditions formed what Skustad calls a hurricane crust. Winds gusting up to 120 mph on ridge tops and rain up to 3,000 feet in January created an icy layer on top of the snowpack. Subsequent snowfalls, which have gotten heavier as temperatures warm, are sitting on top of that slick surface.

“Now we’ve reached this point where there’s this much stress on top of a weak layer and it’s exceeding the strength of this weak layer. That’s why any additional load could tip the balance, or any skier or snowmobile or climber,” Skustad said.

In these conditions, a slide could be triggered by as little as the warming rays of the sun. On steep slopes, any snowmachining, skiing, climbing or snowshoeing could trigger an avalanche, and risky activities like high marking pose a distinct threat.

“No, that’s definitely not a good idea right now,” Skustad said.

Most avalanches happen on slopes with a 38-degree or higher angle.

“But that’s just another indication of how tender our snowpack is now, that we’re seeing avalanches as low as 25 degrees,” Skustad said.

“I do not have a good feeling for the rest of the season,” he said. “We’re in April, so, really, we’re looking at a month. Once the snowpack has a chance to go through the whole avalanche cycle, which it does every spring, and it gets to what is called isothermal — when the snowpack is all the same temperature. Past that we’re golden, but until that point this weak layer will live under there.”

The hazard was issued for the Turnagain Arm area, but Skustad cautions that the same conditions probably exist throughout the highway backcountry corridor.

“It’s confirmed all the way through Summit Lake, and I expect all the way into the Lost Lake area. There’s nothing to think that it’s not at Lost Lake. I think it’s safe to assume this hazard does exist all the way down to there,” he said.

The death of 35-year-old Yancy Flair, of Anchorage, who was buried in a slide in Johnson Pass while snowmachining March 28, and a slide that closed the Seward Highway between Girdwood and Portage on March 27 has punctuated the avalanche danger in the Turnagain Arm region recently. It took searchers until Saturday to recover Flair’s body.

Skustad said conditions are hazardous, but not extremely unusual.

“It’s something that we can expect every few years. It’s the persistent weak layer that happens midwinter that determines how significant our spring instability is going to be. We had a couple really large events midwinter that have now come back to haunt us in the snowpack,” he said.

That doesn’t mean the mountains should be off-limits, just approached with caution and the proper gear — including avalanche beacons.

“I always tell people they should go out and recreate out of doors somehow. You need to keep the slope angle low and have experience, or travel with someone who has experience with avalanche awareness,” Skustad said.

Science of the Seasons: Stone cold crazy in love

It snowed again this week and spring seems to have been put off again. After a long winter, many of us are ready to see a color change from pure white snow (perhaps with a little gray volcanic ash as an accent) to the shades of green that spring offers.

Various trees are showing bulging catkins that are preparing to pop open, and swelling leaf buds will soon give rise to the next generation of leaves. A postponement of what we think of as spring may occur, but changes are ongoing in the streams, whether we know it or not.

If we could see underneath the ice cover of streams and rivers today, there are subtle changes happening. A fair number of aquatic insects have been feeding and growing during the winter months, and some will emerge as adults within a couple weeks. One of the early emerging insects from the Kenai River is a group of small stoneflies (Plecopterans), commonly called winter flies or winter stoneflies. They get these names because they can often be seen crawling on the snow and ice in the late winter or early spring.

Two weeks from now there will be thousands of tiny black, Capnidae stoneflies emerging from gravel substrate areas. If you happen to walk along the river, perhaps near Slikok Creek, every large rock along the stream edge will be crawling with slender, half-inch long stonefly adults. A close examination will reveal that these little insects have transparent wings folded flat on their backs, indicating they are in fact adults and no longer nymphs.

They aren’t very strong fliers so they prefer to crawl. You’ll find them crawling all over you if you sit down for any length of time or even stand still for a few seconds. They do not feed as adults and will see you as a tall, drumming platform and a possible place to find a mate. One might argue that they are “looking for love in all the wrong places,” but there will be lots of them using you as their personal dating service.

In some years the Kenai River ice cover has been melted away by now. This year it seems that the ice cover could remain intact during their chosen emergence period; but that will not deter their massive emergence. Most of these insects use light duration as their “zeitgeber” or timing cue, and they don’t really care if there is still ice cover or not.

Hidden from our view are air-filled spaces beneath the ice because of lowering river levels. There are lots of exposed rocks or even ice surfaces for the insects to use as an emergence platform. Winter stoneflies can emerge underneath the ice cover, find a mate, lay eggs and die, all hidden from the gaze of curious entomologists or insect predators.

For shortlived aquatic insects, and these stoneflies might only survive for two weeks, synchronous emergence of the entire population is important. By having most members of the population becoming an aerial insect at the same time, there is a high likelihood of everyone finding a mate. Since they are emerging early in the spring, very few avian predators are around to disrupt their party.

Along the Kenai River, various shore birds, like lesser yellowlegs, will work the shoreline, feeding on as many stoneflies as they can, but they cannot eat them all. These winter stoneflies will emerge by the tens of thousands so the predators that do appear will soon become satiated. The surviving flies will be able to complete their reproductive duties.

Because of a diverse number of microhabitats in the Kenai River, there are a fair number of different species of stoneflies. This species diversity probably comes from the variety of possible food sources available for stoneflies. Many, like the winter stoneflies we’ll be seeing in a few weeks, are leaf shredders. They feed on leaves, mostly those from riparian trees that are infested with nutrient-rich bacteria and fungi. The nymphs (immature stoneflies) chop the leaves into fine fragments and pass them through their gut. Because their guts are relatively inefficient — they can only extract about 5 percent of the nutrients they take in — they process a lot of leaves. Now you know why we don’t find many leaves in the river after the ice melts.

Another guild of stoneflies are active predators on smaller aquatic insects. These predators target the most abundant stream insects, the midge larvae and young mayflies. Some stoneflies combine the two lifestyles by starting their nymphal careers as a detritivore but slowly change into omnivores and eventually become predators.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects about many stoneflies is their novel approach to finding a mate. The males will crawl into a nearby shrub or tree and begin to “drum” on the limb with their abdomen. A receptive female, upon sensing the drumming, will answer with her own abdomen tapping and crawl toward the male virtuoso. Eventually the male will find the responding female and they mate. Each stonefly species uses a unique drumming cadence so inappropriate species are not attracted. Eggs are then laid on the stream surface or along the shoreline on submerged structures like a rock or tree limb. Soon stonefly nymphs hatch out and start the yearly cycle again.

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: Speeding up PCs doesn’t have to empty out wallets

This week, I’d like to discuss the last few cost-effective computer upgrades. Some of these upgrades, such as CPU and system board replacements, are more likely to require the services of an experienced local technician to actually implement them.

CD/DVD drives. Modern CD and DVD drives are inexpensive and faster than earlier drives. I’ve bought good-quality Sony CD/DVD drives for as little as $20 to $40. This is an easy and worthwhile upgrade. Remove both side panels and unplug the power and ribbon cables, noting the correct orientation for later reassembly. Unscrew the four screws attaching the drive to the case, slide out the old drive through the front panel and slide in the new drive from the front panel. Reattach screws, power plug and data cable.

Upgrading CPU processors and system boards. I usually don’t recommend that an inexperienced home user upgrade either the CPU processor or the system board even though they can be a worthwhile upgrade. Unless you have prior experience replacing a CPU, there is a very good chance that you will permanently damage this expensive but fragile component. A professional technician can usually do the upgrade in a fairly short time.

The most cost-effective CPU upgrade would be one in which you substitute a significantly faster version of the same processor type. Usually, the most economical and beneficial approach involves replacing an entry-level CPU with a later, faster version of the same product line, installing additional cooling as needed. I believe the best cost-performance ratio is usually found in CPUs that are one speed grade lower than the current top-end model. Because system board and memory hardware may differ among product lines, you probably should consult an experienced local technician to evaluate whether it’s worth upgrading your system, determining the most appropriate replacement CPU, and have that technician do the upgrade.

Upgrading system boards is even more difficult. You’ll need to make many different sorts of connections and set numerous options during system board installation. Unless you already have significant experience installing new system boards, this is definitely a job for an experienced technician.

My current preference for cost-effective CPUs is the 2.8 Ghz AMD quad-core Phenom II line. Although most operating systems do not efficiently use all four CPUs on any processing chip, this new processor line does have significant overall performance improvements compared to earlier models. You’ll most likely need to upgrade the system board and memory. The Phenom II requires DDR2 1066 memory and a system board with an AM2+ socket. I like the Gigabyte boards built around the AMD 790 series chipsets.

Power supplies. The fast new hardware that we’ve discussed over the past several weeks does require a lot of power and cooling, and you may need to upgrade your power supply. At this time, I am using 600-watt power supplies to ensure that there’s ample power, especially if you have installed more than one hard disk. The brand is not important but be sure it has enough of the right kinds of power plugs — at least two, preferably four, SATA hard disk power plugs, at least one six-pin PCI-E video card plug, plus the usual 20-pin and four-pin system board main power plugs. You’ll want a floppy disk power connector and some spare, traditional four-pin Molex power plugs for your CD/DVD, fans and front panel power lights. The power supply should have one or two large, quiet fans. I prefer 120-millimeter fans to move a lot of air quietly.

Replacing the power supply is not difficult if you take care to avoid disturbing other cables, connections and settings inside your computer. Open up both side panels of the computer case. Disconnect the main AC power card from the wall outlet. Then disconnect all internal connections to system boards, disk drives of all sorts, fans and video cards. Remove the four rear screws that attach the power supply to the case, carefully sliding it out to avoid hitting and damaging other components. Slide in the new power supply, attach the screws and reconnect the various power plugs.

Ideally, rather than leaving a tangled mess of power wires inside the computer case where they can get caught in fans or tug on other connections, take some heavy wire ties, loop the extra connectors and overly long cables into one or more neat bundles and wire tie them together.

Video card upgrades. Upgrading to a really fast video card is worthwhile only if you are a serious gamer, a designer using AutoCAD or using the latest version of Adobe PhotoShop CS4 and other higher-end Abode products. Most business users will not see any obvious benefit.

Having said that, upgrading a video card can be easy if your intended upgrade card contains the same brand video chipsets as the video card you’re replacing. Although there are many video card brands, almost all include basic video chipsets made by either ATI or nVidia.

Both of these vendors use what’s often termed “unified drivers,” which means the recent ATI or nVidia device driver software will work with nearly all brands of recent video cards using a wide range of low-end to high-end ATI or nVidia chipsets. That’s a positive development because mismatched video driver software will usually result in a complete system crash at boot-up.

For this reason, a home upgrader is well-advised to purchase an upgrade card that incorporates the basic video chips from the same vendor as their existing display hardware and to first ensure they have already installed the latest stable device driver software from either ATI or nVidia, as appropriate. Under the best circumstances, physically swapping the video cards will be all that’s required.

To determine whether your computer currently uses either ATI or nVidia video chipsets, check the printed materials that came with your computer. If that is not clear, go to “Start,” “Settings,” “Control Panel,” “System,” “Hardware” tab, “Device Manager” button, “Display Adapters” and then click on the “Display Adapters” + box. Windows will list the video chipset manufacturer and series. Double click on the chipset listing and you will bring up the “Properties” box. Click on the “Driver” table and Windows will list complete information about which video card device driver software is currently installed. If it’s within a year or so, there should be no problem.

You can manually check for a standard update by clicking on “Start,” “Windows Update” and select the “custom” button. After Windows Update checks your computer for currently installed software, click on the “Hardware, optional” button to see whether newer video software is available and certified by Microsoft. If so, choose and install it.

If you decide to upgrade with a video card using a different vendor’s chipsets, then you simply need to temporarily set your display to VGA 640 x 480 or 800 x 600 before starting your upgrade. To do this, right click on a blank area of your Windows desktop, choose “Properties,” then the “Settings” tab and adjust the “screen resolution” slider to these lower resolutions.

Because I use several high-end Adobe products in my legal practice, I looked carefully for an advanced video chipset that supported all of the various Adobe Master Suite CS4 products, not just PhotoShop. Weirdly, some of the Adobe products packaged together as Abode Master Collection CS4 are certified with some video chipsets and other Adobe products are certified with an entirely different group of video chipsets.

The only economical video chipset that I found to be broadly compatible was the ATI Radeon 3870 set of products. Because I have been using lower-end Radeon video cards for some time, installing a 3870-based video card was easy, at least for Windows XP systems. I found the single ATI 3870 GPU cards made by Sapphire were fast, well made and affordable, costing between $85 and $100.

Summary Upgrade Specifications. Here’s a modern computer system that I would consider a very good balance of performance and cost-effectiveness:
1. Mid-tower case with 600-watt power supply, brand unimportant.
2. AMD Phenom II 2.8 gigahertz CPU processor.
3. Gigabyte Socket AM2+ system board, model depending upon your particular peripheral device needs. I prefer the newer AMD 790 series of chipsets.
4. Four gigabytes DDR2 1066 DRAM memory.
5. Video card based upon ATI single-processor 3870 GPU chipset. Sapphire brand has been reliable and inexpensive.
6. Sony or comparable 16x DVD and CD burner.
7. Standard 3.5-inch, 1.44 MB floppy disk for operating system installation.
8. Western Digital Black Caviar 640GB WD6401AALS hard disk. If you are interested in maximum performance, then use a 10,000-rpm Western Digital. 300GB VeliceRaptor hard disk as your C: boot drive and program storage drive and the 640 GB WD6401AALS drive as your D: drive where your data would be stored.
9. Logitech wireless keyboard and mouse. Surprisingly, the less expensive models seem more reliable.
10. Digital monitor to taste. At the moment, the 23- and 24-inch 1080p flat screen monitors from Acer, ASUS, HP and Samsung seem like the best deals.

Video Card Setup: WARNING: If any technical setup information below seems at all confusing to you, then I would urge you to stop at this time and either abandon any video upgrade or get the job done by a competent local technician.

A few days before you update your video device driver software, and again when you later upgrade your video hardware go to Windows “Start,” “Settings,” “Control Panel,” “System,” “System Restore” and be absolutely sure that “System Restore” has been operating and tracking all drives. Use your system regularly for a few days to ensure that you have at least one good system restore point..

When you are ready to install the new video card, shut down your computer, ground yourself to avoid static discharge, and unplug the power cord. Open the side panel that allows access to the system board. Find the first PCI-E card slot. If your computer is too old to include a PCI-E slot, then it is too old to be worth upgrading even if you could still find the older hardware.

The physical side of the upgrade process can be straightforward unless other computer components physically get in the way. Many modern computers, particularly less expensive systems, often include a lower-end video display on the system board rather than as a separate video card. In that case, you will not have a separate display card to first remove but instead you’ll just plug the new video card directly into the first PCI-E slot, secure it to the case with the appropriate screw, and, if required, plug in a 6-pin auxiliary power cable.

However, when you next reboot, you will first need to go into the BIOS setup and configure your hardware to set the new video card as the default boot-up display. If you don’t have a free 6-pin power plug, then you will need to get a simple adapter from older 4-pin Molex power plugs to a 6-pin PCI-E video card power plug.

Again, don’t try this at home if you are at all uncertain about what to do. Instead, have a local technician do the work for you. Making a mistake in the BIOS setup can make your system unusable until a technician restores the BIOS to factory defaults.

Physically installing a powerful new video card can be sublimely easy or really tricky, depending upon whether your system has a modern power supply with a free 6-pin power plug for the PCI-E video card and depending upon whether your existing computer has system board components, hard disks, cables or other hardware that physically get in the way.

Even if your system does not have a free six-pin PCI-E power connector, a computer technician often can provide a simple adapter that converts traditional four pin Molex power connectors to 6-pin PCI-E, so this is not a serious problem. Likewise, if you have cables or hard disks that physically interfere, these can be moved if you know what you’re doing. However, both of these factors should be taken into account before you decide whether to install a faster video card. Upgrading simply may not be worth the trouble.

I upgraded three Windows XP and Windows XP x64 computers with these Sapphire video cards and found that the upgrades to Windows XP systems were easy and worthwhile. Upgrading the Windows XP x64 system was troublesome because ATI’s newest 2009 x64 drivers were not stable, forcing me rebuild the system and revert to ATI’s older but stable July 2008 x64 software. I would expect the same stability problems with the 64-bit version of Windows Vista, which is based upon the XP x64 software.

If you experience any crashing after upgrading device driver hardware, then boot up in Windows Safe Mode by passing the F8 key several times during your next boot-up. Windows Safe Mode will start and then ask you whether you wish to boot normally. Answer No and then choose a system restore point that you know will work reliably. Your system will revert to the earlier software and settings, thus giving you a stable system and another chance to cause yourself grief.

After you have physically installed any new video card, then run the installation disk that comes with your new hardware and again go to “properties”, “settings” to configure your new display to your taste.

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.