Renee Gross

Reporter/Host

Renee joined KBBI in 2017 as a general assignment reporter and host. Her work has appeared on such shows as Weekend Edition Saturday, The World, Marketplace and Studio 360. Renee previously interned as a reporter for KPCC in Los Angeles and as a producer for Stateside at Michigan Radio. Her work has earned her numerous press club awards. She holds an M.S. in journalism from the University of Southern California and a B.A. in women's studies from the University of Michigan.

Courtesy of Winter Marshall-Allen

Teachers and students returned to public school Tuesday on the Kenai Peninsula after educators called off a strike early in the morning. The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District and two educator unions reached a tentative contract agreement at 1:37 a.m.  

David Brighton is president of the Kenai Peninsula teacher’s union. He said the school district and the unions have been at an impasse over healthcare costs for over a year and a half.  

Kenai Peninsula Borough School District

Updated: Tuesday, September 17, 5:53 a.m. 

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District and educator unions struck an eleventh-hour deal on a contract Tuesday morning to nearly avoid a district-wide strike. The district and unions came to a tentative agreement for a three-year contract at 1:37 a.m. This comes after more than a year and a half spent at the bargaining table.                            

Residents are desperately trying to conserve water in the Native village of Nanwalek, located on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage. The village, home to the Sugpiaq tribe, is currently in a severe drought.

Nina Kvasnikoff's family is eating off paper plates, collecting water from the ocean to flush toilets and washing themselves with sponges.

"It doesn't feel like you're clean. You feel like you're just splattering a little bit of water," she says.

Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District

The Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District is creating a workforce-training program for peninsula residents.

Tim Dillon is the executive director of the economic development district, and he said it’s critical for young residents to learn basic job skills and explore different trades.

“Carpentry 101,” he said. “Tool Safety.  Basics of, so how do you interact with other folks, when you're working, when you have a boss. What's the interpersonal dynamics with that if you’ve never had a boss. Just a variety of different things.”

Aaron Bolton, KBBI News

The Alaska Board of Fisheries violated the state’s open meetings law. That’s according to Alaska’s ombudsman that released a critical report Tuesday saying the board improperly shifted the location of its Cook Inlet finfish meeting earlier this year with little public notice. The location issue is expected to be revisited again next month.

When the Board of Fish moved its Upper Cook Inlet finfish meeting from Kenai to Anchorage, it took a lot of people by surprise. Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel was one of them. 

Renee Gross, KBBI News

Homer Rep. Sarah Vance defended her legislative positions at a heated town hall last week. During the roughly hour-long capital update, Vance touched on her positions on senior benefits, state revenue and the permanent fund dividend. But multiple residents challenged the representative on her support for Gov. Mike Dunleavy cuts to the state’s budget and complained of difficulties with getting in touch with her.

Roughly forty people crowded Captain’s Coffee Roasting Co. on Thursday to hear Rep. Sarah Vance talk about the Legislative sessions. 

Courtesy of the Kenai Peninsula Borough

The Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor signed a temporary disaster declaration Thursday for two communities on the peninsula that are quickly running out of water. 

Seldovia and Nanwalek are on the southern peninsula and both communities rely on reservoirs that are drying up due to lack of rainfall and low snowpack. 

Dan Nelson is the emergency manager for the Kenai Peninsula Borough. He said the borough’s declaration will open up resources. 

 The Alaska State Fire Marshal shut down a Homer wedding venue  this week and summoned the owner to a court hearing. The state first investigated the AK Diamond J Ranch back in March and found at least two properties on the site that were built or changed without state Fire Marshal approval, according to a press release. On its website, Diamond Ranch says it offers a home, barn and pavilion for lodging and events. The Fire Marshal ordered its owner, Billy Jones, to stop work on the buildings and banned anyone from occupying them.
 

Daysha Eaton, KBBI News

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated how and who delivered water to the village in 2003. The village council arranged for water to be flown in from Homer and for a barge to supply water to the storage tank.

A Kenai Peninsula village is rapidly running out of water. Low snowpack and little rainfall has led Nanwalek to declare a water emergency.

Renee Gross, KBBI News

The Swan Lake fire is causing major delays and closures on the Sterling Highway. And that’s having a big impact on local businesses in Homer, from a loss of tourist dollars to delays in goods.

Save-U-More did not have a good week last week. Mark Hemstreet is at the manager of the grocery store in Homer.

“Deliveries were definitely at least one day and sometimes two days behind so we ran short on some of the perishable items like bread, milk and eggs,” he said.  

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

Oil and gas development company Hillcorp will conduct a seismic survey of lower Cook Inlet within the next few months. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management gave the company the green light this week to conduct the survey on an offshore lease site west of Kachemak Bay, according to a press release.

The bureau’s permit allows Hilcorp 60 days to run the survey on roughly 370 square miles. The company currently has eleven oil and gas units across the peninsula. 

Public Domain

Alaska organizations that keep people from living on the streets have been without partial funding since July. With a state capital budget passed, the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation said it will dole out checks to charities that have been trying to keep Alaskans off the streets. But those checks will only go so far.

Wrangell, a small southeast town of 2,300has no homeless shelter. So the local Salvation Army often steps in to offer assistance for people short on rent to keep folks off the street.

Renee Gross, KBBI News

The Kenai Peninsula is drying out and this summer, fires have sprouted up in some unusual places. Scientists warn about this trend: meaning bigger fires and more of them. 

Ed Berg is digging a roughly foot-wide-hole in a wetland off Diamond Creek Trail in Homer. He’s a retired ecologist from the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

“So what I'm seeing in the plug are all these little woody roots that are from the crowberry and the dwarf birch drawers, and blueberry,” he said.

Hilcorp Alaska

Oil and gas development company Hilcorp is planning to survey an offshore lease site in lower Cook Inlet. This survey is looking for untapped oil and gas deposits it could develop near Anchor Point and Homer.

The Texas energy company had originally hoped to conduct the roughly 45-to-60 day survey earlier this year. However, due to concerns about the effect of the survey during the fishing season as well as permitting delays, its plans were pushed back.

Michael Gaida via Pixabay

A program that gives free books to young children is halting new enrollment due to funding uncertainty. The Homer Imagination Library mails a new book every month to children up to five-years-old in the Homer area.

Jill Lush is the executive director of Sprout Family Services, which helps administer and support the program. She said there are roughly 400 kids currently enrolled.

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