Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Kremlin is almost empty...

The UAF Palmer Research and Extension Center (aka the Kremlin building) on Fireweed Ave.

The future of the Kremlin building on Fireweed Street in Palmer is "uncertain," according to Jud Scott, the farm superintendent at the University of Alaska-Fairbank's Palmer Center for Sustainable Living (aka the Matanuska Experiment Farm on Trunk Road).
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced earlier this month it was terminating the Fairbanks-based Agricultural Research Service due to budget cuts. Scientists who’ve spent the last decade with the Subarctic Agricultural Research Unit doing plant and fish byproduct research are vacating premises they’ve rented from UAF.  Scott said ARS has rented space both in the Kremlin Building and at the farm.
According to Sandy Miller-Hayes, the public information officer for ARS in Washington D.C., Fairbanks was designated an official research station in 2001 and currently hosts 10 employees there and in Palmer.  Many have already relocated to other jobs within the ARS system, which includes 100 locations around the U.S. Although local scientist, Dan Barney, referred questions to Miller-Hayes, the Alaska ARS team's research objectives included utilizing fish byproducts in a variety of ways, from composting to pet food and working on crop management for northern latitudes. (Click here for more.)
Scott said the USDA’s plans to vacate the Kremlin coincides with an influx of money for long overdue building maintenance. One goal is to renovate office space and move farm employees out of the Kremlin and to the farm to centralize operations and tighten the budget.
“This is the first substantial kind of funding we've gotten for any kind of maintenance at the farm for years,” Scott said.
He couldn’t say what the plans were for an empty, 1949-era Kremlin building, other than that its destiny is in the hands of the University of Alaska Land Management Office. That office is closed until Jan. 4.
“The dean is working with groups already to try and get somebody else to utilize that space,” Scott said. “As far as I know, they haven't decided who to work with.”

--Melodie Wright

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Get off your lazy axis!

A poem by Scott Feschuk

Dear Earth,
We’re still sweet on you and everything, and you totally remain one of our favourite spheres—but over the last couple months, something has changed between us. You’re different. You’ve grown colder, less hospitable. You’ve gotten… darker.
In the hopes that you’re willing to change, we wrote this poem for you.
Love, Everyone

Like, WTF, Earth?
In the annals of what prompts despair
Ranked just above losing one’s hair
(But below wedding a Kardashian)
Is the sun going down at 4 p.m.

The roads with headlights are festooned
Though the clock says it’s still afternoon.
Our skin so pale, our moods defective
Disorders seasonally affective.

The early dusk makes tempers short
Our smiles the dark will surely thwart.
Reduced we are to glares and glowers
When our star is keeping banker’s hours.

And in our homes as many yawns
As shirtless scenes in Breaking Dawn.
PJs, slippers, vim diminished
And Jeopardy’s not even finished.

Up north the dark’s a constant pest
The sun no more than fleeting guest.
It peeks out briefly just to tease
Like a thong above a woman’s jeans.

December’s global truth behold!
Some must be hot, some others cold.
A tilt of 23 degrees
Makes Earth one big McDLT.

(Was that last reference too obscure?
I know that’s not the meal du jour.
But I thought it surely would be glib
To compare our Earth to a McRib.)

Each year it takes us by surprise
The early gloaming, late sunrise
The street lights coming on at four
And your grumpy eight-year-old just swore.

Come summer we’ll stand in ovation
To praise the ways of your rotation.
But a curse, a hex, a thousand pox
Upon autumnal equinox.

And winter solstice, even worse
The hour of dusk just plain perverse.
It’s a cruel and truly heartless ruse
To make a day short as Tom Cruise.

Across our cranky hemisphere
There comes a unifying cheer:
Hey Earth—get off your lazy axis!
Autumn’s no time to relaxis.

We hear you’re suffering climate change
Hot flashes have you feeling strange.
And word is that we are the cause
Of your planetary menopause.

Perhaps a deal we can beget
(Though technically it’s more a threat):
Spare us from the winter bummers
Or we’re all buying H2 Hummers.

It’s not as though we’re asking much
Just angle your fat arse a touch
So your top half leans toward the sun
And the next four months don’t make us glum.

For some there’ll be a cost, we’ll vouch
The briefer daylight hours will ouch
Much like a kick in the genitalia
Thanks for your sacrifice, Australia

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Hospice has an important role in our community

Photo by Rindi White
Eva Colberg and Helen Munoz volunteered at the
hospice tree at Palmer's Koslosky Building.
When Valley Hospice asked me to do some writing for them, I used the opportunity to take a closer look at this long-standing Valley organization and came away impressed with their commitment to caring for a sector of the community that is sometimes overlooked. - Rindi White

The holiday season is upon us, bursting as ever with good cheer, long to-do lists and generous deeds from friends or strangers that remind us this is truly the season of giving.

It’s also the season of thankfulness – for time shared with family, for a chance to reflect on the events of the last year and the milestones achieved. For many Mat-Su families it’s a time to remember loved ones who have passed on and won’t be celebrating this holiday season. And for some families it’s a time to be thankful for every moment spent with a relative nearing the end of his or her life.

Valley Hospice Resources helps dozens of families each year as they care for loved ones living out their last days. The group is a Mat-Su based nonprofit that got its start nearly 30 years ago when three local nurses saw a need for the kind of care hospice provides.

“Some people are afraid of the word ‘hospice’,” said Valley Hospice chair Pat Karella. “We strive to make every day you have as good as possible; to live until you actually die.”

Being told you have a terminal illness is a chance to reprioritize your life, she said.

Valley Hospice Resources partners with Mat-Su Regional Home Health and Hospice, a program run by Mat-Su Regional Medical Center. The program is certified to accept Medicare and offers nursing and respite care for hospice patients and their families.

Making life more enjoyable
Valley Hospice Resources supplements Mat-Su’s care with programs aimed at enriching the hospice experience. One such program provides palliative art for patients. Artist-in-residence Sandra Falkner Chandler visits patients and their families and designs art projects to meet their needs.

“It’s strictly for the patient, to create empowerment,” Chandler said. “They can talk about something that is not their illness.”

Chandler also helps patients make hand-painted Christmas cards to give family members and friends. Many patients also make cards for Valley Hospice to sell to fund future hospice programs. Chandler said the cards are available at Carrs stores and at the Wasilla and Palmer Light Up a Life hospice trees.

Telling the story of hospice
The hospice trees, available at the Koslosky Building in downtown Palmer and at Meta Rose Square in Wasilla through Dec. 24, are the primary fundraiser for Valley Hospice.

But it’s more than just a fundraiser. People can stop by and purchase an angel or star to place on the tree with the name of a loved one who has passed away. At 2 p.m. January 8, Valley Hospice will hold a Gathering of Remembrance ceremony at the Palmer Depot where the names on the hospice trees will be read aloud.

The group also holds a yearly community event aimed at helping people better understand end-of-life issues and it coordinates the Mat-Su Grief Support Group, which meets Thursdays from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Trinity Barn. It’s a place where people who have experienced the death of a loved one can go to share their experience and receive support.

Sandra Wagenius facilitates the grief group and is a hospice chaplain, serving the needs of both hospice patients and their families.

 “The most important thing is just to be there and listen,” she said.

Wagenius knows the benefits of hospice from both sides. Before she became a hospice chaplain, she and her husband cared for their daughter, Kibby, as she battled multiple sclerosis. Kibby passed away seven years ago. The family relied on hospice care during the final year of Kibby’s life. Wagenius said it was vital for her family during that trying time.

“I can’t do anything but praise hospice. It went like clockwork from the very first day,” she said. “They think of the littlest things.”

Looking to the future
Valley Hospice has deep roots in Mat-Su and is striving for big goals in the near future. Top on the list is a hospice house – a place for Valley residents for whom receiving hospice care at home might not be possible or preferable.

A February 2011 McDowell Group study of senior showed there is currently a need for 11 hospice beds in the Valley. That number is expected to triple in the next 20 years.

While many hospice patients are served in the comfort of their own homes, not everyone who needs care is eligible to receive it. Patients must have a 24-hour caregiver to qualify for hospice care.

Karella said staying home is sometimes not the best option for patients. Perhaps an elderly couple has been caring for each other and suddenly one is too sick to care for the other. Both could temporarily move to the hospice house, she said. And unfortunately, hospice patients are sometimes young, with small children. Staying home might be more disruptive than comforting.

A hospice house would address these and other needs, she said. However, there are hurdles to reaching that goal.

“It’s not just the cost of building a house – that’s the easy part. But we need the community to step up and provide an endowment large enough to allow us to care for people effectively,” she said.

That’s where you come in. Valley Hospice Resources is a non-profit organization so all donations are tax-deductable. They’re also affiliated with Alaska’s Pick-Click-Give website, so it’s possible to give a portion of your Alaska Permanent Fund dividend next year.

Need to add a few more tax deductions this year? Donate with a credit card through the Network for Good. Find a link under “make a donation” at Valley Hospice’s website, Or send a check or money order to Valley Hospice Resources at 1150 S. Colony Way, Suite 3, PMB 349, Palmer, AK 99645.

Need more information? Email them at

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Tough budget passes

Ladies and gentlemen, Palmer has a 2012 budget -- $14,357,622.

But that number comes with a cost, which includes two layoffs and several vacant city positions going unfilled in the coming year. 
Basically, Mayor DeLena Johnson and city manager Doug Griffin told the Post today, the city juggled a couple of complications while still recovering from several years of pricey capital projects and little money in reserve. The city’s general fund is actually down from last year by more than 5 percent, the mayor said. 
The city council emerged just before midnight Tuesday after passing a budget made tricky by at least two factors. 
Number one, a state retirement fund policy could require the city to pay retirement costs even for eliminated employees, Johnson said. That left the city very mindful of eliminating employees and adding positions. 
“We were very careful to not add any kind of permanent additional positions and we didn’t increase our personnel as much,” she said. “We didn’t give step increases.”
Number two, the insurance carrier that covers city employees waited until just a few weeks before the budget was drafted to drop a bomb: health insurance costs are going up by 16 percent next year, according to city manager Doug Griffin. He’d figured on what he thought was a conservative 10 percent increase. The city’s employees are insured through the Alaska Public Utilities Insurance Trust, a fairly small pool of some municipalities and utility companies. Nobody is saying what steps the city will take to remedy the increase -- switch carriers, increase premiums?
But in the meantime, the surprise cost forced the council to take that extra 6 percent out of the rest of the budget. 
The city cut two positions - a grants coordinator and a quality assurance inspector - both related to a run of capital projects in the last few years, officials said. The city also didn’t fill one electrician/maintenance position and left an administrative assistant position at the Palmer Library at 15 hours per week rather than boosting it to full time. The last amendment of the night - there were more than 30 - cut all out-of-state travel, Johnson said. 
One bright spot, according to the mayor, is the fact that the council managed to build a more than two-month reserve into the general fund, despite this tough budget cycle. “We’re being careful and we’re coming back,” Johnson said. “It’ll allow us next year to be able to start to decide what to spend money on instead of looking at it and deciding what we have to cut out.”

-- Zaz Hollander

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Feed store pulls up roots

Photo courtesy Mike Presley.
Budget Feed's new spot on Outer Springer.
Budget Feed and Farm, the 37-year-old Palmer feed store, has moved from the old red shop on S. Colony Way in Palmer to a new spot on Springer Loop. The new address is 301 E. Outer Springer Loop, Suite B4.

Owner Mike Presley said he was chased out of the old building by a crummy economy and business costs that made it tough for him to continue milling pet and livestock feed at the store. Without the need for so much space, he said, it just didn’t make monetary sense to keep leasing the old shop.

Rest assured the feed he sells is still being made with all-natural and locally sourced ingredients, like Delta Barley and Alaska Wild Salmon meal. Same ingredients, same formula, Presley said. It’s just being milled at a different location.

Budget Feed opened at the new location Oct. 11, Presley said. And while the shop meets his needs for now, he said he's looking for a long-term spot. But he’s also trying to pin down future plans.

“Business has changed,” Presley said by phone.

Retail sales are down, he said, and the part of his business that is growing best is wholesale feed sales. His Alaska Grown Dog Food, made with salmon meal, potatoes and kelp, is sold at Alaska Mill and Feed at several stores between Anchorage and Fairbanks, including grocery stores and even a health food store in Eagle River (Ri-Generation Nutrition). It might make sense just to focus on the wholesale end of things, he said. But Presley said he’s still looking at the possibilities for his business.

Bob Thom, who previously owned Budget Feed and Farm, still owns the building on S. Colony Way. There are “For Lease” signs on the building but Thom wasn’t immediately available Wednesday afternoon to talk about its future.

For now Duane Clark, who has sold Christmas trees there for several years, is using the space. Presley said he and Clark discussed selling the trees at his new location but the new space just isn’t as good a fit as the roomy old shop.

Clark and his family sells trees at the S. Colony Way spot from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and will be open from 2-5 p.m. for the next two Sundays. He’ll be there through Christmas Eve unless he sells out before then.

Check out Budget Feed and Farm online at their website,

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Madrigal Christmas

Stan Harris directs the PHS choir during the Madrigal Feast
Last night, I attended the dress rehearsal of the Palmer High School music department's Madrigal Feast, held annually as a fundraiser at the Protestant Presbyterian Church.

And, except for a few minor senior moments (hey, it's a dress rehearsal. Actors are allowed to miss a few lines) and a doomed skit involving Darth Vader, Princess Leia and Beowulf, the students pulled it off beautifully.

This year's theme was "The Sorry Tellers" and the play itself revolved around a group of traveling story tellers from the Land of Sorry who enter a contest held by the king and his court. The silly word play - think puns, bad jokes and toss-offs such as "I like poop!" - is mixed liberally into skits involving grass houses, a Mad Libs-style holiday yarn, three pears who live in porridge and, oh yeah, Darth Vader and his eclectic group of buds.

The glue between the skits are Christmas songs ranging from the precisely beautiful Carol of the Bells to the sentimental Christmas Shoes. Veteran teacher Stan Harris directed the large group of voices to a gloss so shiny I had to remind myself these were high school kids and not a professional group.

Pairing the serious with goofily hilarious makes for an emotional roller coaster ride. But the high schoolers kept us all on board. If the old superstition that mistakes during dress rehearsal mean a perfect performance opening night, those of you with tickets (it's generally sold out) to the dinner theater are in for a treat. Unlike the dress rehearsal folks who sat in pews that made for difficult photo taking, dinner guests are treated to round tables with wide views of the stage area.

For the rest of you, mark your calendar for next year to get tickets. You get a good meal, fun entertainment and support a worthy cause by contributing to music scholarships at PHS.
The singing king and his court

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Local turkeys fly the coop

Triple D - Alaska's only commercial poultry farm - is out of business. Where's a Palmerite to get a local turkey? If you know, please share!

The Post shook a few trees but just hasn't heard of any local poultry providers who could help put a bird on the table for Thanksgiving. Triple D Farm & Hatchery, of course, was the place former Gov. Sarah Palin made famous during a Thanksgiving turkey pardon when she showed up on TV with a little bird-slaughtering as backdrop. But the farm was a Thanksgiving tradition for folks who liked their birds humanely raised and chemical-free. It closed this year. Owner Anthony Schmidt said debt and burdensome federal regulations forced him under.

There is one local retailer doing a brisk business in fresh turkeys they describe as free-range and all-natural: Mat Valley Meats on the Palmer-Wasilla Highway. The turkeys come from Washington state; Mat Valley couldn't find any local suppliers. Neither can their customers, apparently. While bigger birds are still available, all the turkeys under 20 pounds sold out within five days, before they actually arrived at the store. 

"We've been crazy crazy crazy, busy," said Colsie Burris, staffing the counter this week. "It's been insane."

-- Zaz Hollander  

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Alaska Bible College comes to Palmer

Alaska Bible College in the former Matanuska Christian School
Photo by Melodie Wright
Glennallen-based Alaska Bible College has purchased the Matanuska Christian School building in downtown Palmer. The accredited college has been in Alaska for 45 years and plans to move its administrative offices and main campus to Palmer in the next few years.

Nick Ringger is the current president. He's a former student of the school and moved through the ranks from professor to assistant dean before assuming his current post four years ago. He says the Glennallen campus's library - the largest theological library in the state with 45,000 volumes - and wilderness setting is perfect for the school's more rugged training programs.

Nick Ringger

But, "we're looking for something a little more central to the state," Ringger said. "We like Palmer. It has a good blend of metropolitan and rural."

Although ABC wants to headquarter its four-year program in town, it will make the change gradually. The organization hopes to add on a library to the existing school and gradually transfer its books south. Right now, the Palmer site hosts just one class with eight students. Five are high-schoolers, Ringger said, and the other three are adults looking to further their education.

No matter their age, the college requires students to perform some kind of community service. Ringger said that students look forward to the number of volunteer opportunities available in the core Mat-Su area. In Glennallen, fulfilling that mandate can be a bit trickier.

"We're excited about what that opportunity brings to organizations in the Valley," Ringger said. "It brings a whole group of quality young people to help in so many venues."

Check out Alaska Bible College here and click on the video for more information.

-- Melodie Wright

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Wanted: reindeer wranglers. Elves preferred.

Holly the reindeer peers through a fence at the Williams Reindeer Farm.
Photo courtesy of the Williams family
The holiday season is officially upon us.

The Williams Reindeer Farm is hiring.

Just check the jobs listing on craigslist for today. You'll find an ad seeking "Reindeer Trainer - (Butte) customer service"

"We are looking for adults that enjoy working with animals. We will be training and refresher training some reindeer in preparation for the upcoming Holiday season. We are looking for help one day a week for 1 hour. We will teach you, you just need to come with a good patient attitude and willingness to learn. Please do not call..our phone already rings off the hook. You can respond via email if you are interested. ( We will pay $10 per 1 hour session. I'm looking for approx 4 -5 people over age 21."

The Post did call the farm, only because we had some questions. And we know the Williams are nice people. Denise Hardy, Tom and Gene Williams' oldest daughter, now runs the day-to-day operations on the farm, located in the Butte on Bodenburg Loop. Hardy's duties include tours and the gift shop. They also include the reindeer training. 

Hardy posted the ad because she's looking for some new folks to handle the animals after relying on volunteers. Time is of the essence -- it's getting late to prep for the holiday season but the farm was busy with fall events like the Hay Maze.

Successful job candidates will get to train the farm's youngest animals - "babies" born this summer - to wear a halter and eventually a harness. They'll give the more experienced animals a refresher course on getting in a trailer and wearing a harness, jingle bells and all. 

Reindeer trainers with the right qualities might also end up trotting out with the animals at holiday public events coming up next month. The reindeer pull Santa's sleigh in Anchorage and at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, take part in Colony Christmas and, yes, scramble around with strange humans at the Fur Rondy Festival event known as "Running of the Reindeer." 

To that end, Hardy said, she's hoping to find some animal-savvy trainers who are good with people too. The Anchorage Tree Lighting Ceremony in Town Square draws thousands of people looking to pet some friendly reindeer. So it would be great, she said, if the reindeer trainers are friendly and approachable, "smiling and kinda elflike. We really don't need any grumps."

The farm doesn't expect candidates to have lots of experience training reindeer. But people responding to that ad do need to love animals and be able to read them. A little courage would be good. Reindeer do have antlers, after all. 

 Hardy is looking for reliable workers. She knows $10 an hour isn't a lot. 

"It's not a position they're going to get rich on but it's certainly something they'll get rich rewards from watching the animals grow and change," she said. 

-- Zaz Hollander

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

History lurks underground in Palmer

Photo by Rindi White
Tour participants got a glimpse of the famed Palmer tunnels. 

In keeping with this spooky season, Palmer Arts Council recently held its second annual "Palmer Underground" tour.

The tours are kind of a behind-the-scenes glimpse of early Palmer. On a gorgeous sunny Saturday, more than 40 people criss-crossed downtown to ramble around in basements, old buildings and historic homes to learn more about Palmer's roots. The Post was allowed to attend for free as a member of the media. Everybody else paid $25 a person.

Topping the list of sites to see were the fourth and fifth (!!) floors of the Colony Inn, both underground. Inn owner Janet Kincaid told tour participants about her first, frightening visit to the Inn's first and second basements before she purchased and renovated the building. She also shared a few interesting facts about the giant boiler in her lower basement (it heated the town at night!). Check out the video for clips of Kincaid's tour of the Inn.

At another stop on the tour, participants learned about the former scientists, since passed on, who knock around in the old Kremlin building. That's the circa-1949 University of Alaska Fairbanks office building on Fireweed Avenue. No longer open to the public, the building houses more than 100 years of agricultural research and plant studies.

Photo by Rindi White
Pipes in the tunnels below Palmer leave little room for mischief.
One of the most popular stops on the tour was to the former Colony generator building, a nondescript concrete block that housed generators and the large boilers that provided heat to homes and businesses in the city. The city water supply was also treated there and the building provided a spot for farmers to stop for a hot shower.

The generator building also houses one of the only remaining access points to the underground tunnels that carried heat and hot water to buildings throughout town. Long rumored as a hide-out and playing spot for teens, the access tunnel proved to be crowded with pipes that left little room for mischief.

The tour stopped at two private homes, inspected the lower level of Rusty's at Dahlia Street and learned of the building's varied past as a shooting range, potato sorting area, staging spot for U.S. Marshals and ballet practice space. They also were treated to a piano recital on the first concert grand piano brought to Palmer and toured the former city jail, in the basement of Palmer City Hall.

Palmer Arts Council plans to hold another underground tour about this time next year. Tickets for the three-hour tour generally sell out quickly. The arts council is considering offering other tours, such as the spiritual geography of Palmer (touring local churches) and an earth, wind, and fire tour that would stop at the Tsunami Warning Center and visit Sherrod Elementary's wind turbine, among other spots. People who are interested in these or other tours should contact Palmer Arts Council at 745-7735.

-- Rindi White

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Palmer on tap

Photo by Rindi White
Arkose co-owner Stephen Gerteisen pours a growler of "Blue Skies" Wednesday.

Beer lovers, rejoice! At long last, Palmer is home to a microbrewery.

Stephen and June Gerteisen this month opened Arkose Brewery, named for Arkose Peak and Ridge in Hatcher Pass, in the Palmer Industrial Park. They’re located at 650 East Steel Loop, off Outer Springer Loop.

Blue Skies Golden Ale, which Stephen Gerteisen described as a “malt-forward, smooth-drinking, light-bodied, approachable draft beer,” is currently the only beer Arkose has on tap. An IPA, Wild Like the Wind, will be added to the lineup Friday, Gerteisen said. A pale ale, not yet named, should be on tap Nov. 4. 

A large grey barn-like building in the Palmer Industrial Park is Arkose’s home. Gerteisen said he and June looked all over Palmer for an appropriate brewing spot and found that the industrial park specifically lists breweries as an allowed use. The garage-like setup works well for the brewing and fermenting equipment and there’s a large walk-in cooler to house brewed beer. A tasting room (dubbed the “Growler Cache”) up front has four taps and a rack full of Arkose gear.

Asked if a brewpub is in Arkose’s future, Gerteisen said he plans instead to focus on getting his beer on tap at local restaurants. He’s a brewer, not a foodie. But pleasant pairings are planned – a beer tasting is planned at Rusty’s at Dahlia Street in Palmer. Gerteisen said the event is planned for 7 p.m. Dec. 3.

What makes Arkose’s beer stand out from the rest? Freshness and good ingredients, Gerteisen said. Like vegetables and just about anything else that can be consumed, beer just tastes better from the source, he said.

Arkose is open Tuesday through Saturday, 2-7 p.m. Find out more at their web site,

-- Rindi White

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Seniors celebrate new digs

Rep. Carl Gatto addresses the crowd
It took nearly 18 years to build, but perhaps it was worth the wait. Palmer Senior Center has moved to its new building on South Chugach Street and has a new name - Mat-Su Senior Services. Anyone who visited the old building, just down the street, is familiar with the cramped rooms, lack of storage and abundance of files that seemed to appear in every corner, including a bathroom.

The new place has oodles of storage, a large and welcoming dining hall, roomy kitchen and plenty of office space for the numerous services offered for local seniors.

Kitchen staff made a field of tasty treats.
At the grand opening Wednesday, local and state dignitaries were on hand to congratulate the seniors on their perseverance in obtaining funding for the new center. Rep. Carl Gatto, who represents Palmer and has been pushing for project funding for several years, said as a former fireman, he cringed at seeing the state of the old senior center.

"If anything was a fire hazard, that building was one," Gatto said. He called the new building "the Taj Mahal for seniors."
Gift shop volunteer Lynne Atkin shows cozy wrist
warmers to Senior Center driver Caralee Kleewein and her
 mother, in foreground, Mona Smith, of Anchorage. 

It certainly is an improvement over the old center and there are many fun new spaces, from a library and TV room with floor-to-ceiling shelves and a game room with a pool table, to a roomy workout area with a flock of exercise equipment and several meeting areas. Perhaps one of the nicest additions is a gift shop near the front doors that sells lots of Alaska made items. It was one of the most popular attractions at the grand opening celebration and is open to the public throughout the week.

-- Rindi White

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Smoking ordinance fizzles

Smoke 'em if you got 'em, Palmer. The city council last week voted down a smoke-free ordinance, 4-3. Only four bars on South Alaska Street would have fallen under the new law that banned smoking in public places; all the eateries around town are already no-smoking zones by choice. Apparently Palmer isn't unique -- and the vote might not be the last word on the issue. Kenai and Soldotna voted down an ordinance in 2009, according to Becky Stoppa, with Breathe Free Mat-Su. The city of Wasilla considered a measure in 2005 to ban smoking in public places but allow it in bars and places with fewer than four employees. That city council let the measure die on the table. Nome tabled an ordinance back in 2007, but officials there passed it in May of this year, Stoppa said. A smoke-free zone ballot measure in Sitka failed in 2004 and passed in 2005.  

-- Zaz Hollander

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Winner of the coffee card!!

And the winner of the Get the Word Out $20 coffee card is:


Dan, please send us an email at palmerpostnews (at) gmail (dot) com to claim your prize. Please let us know where you like to get your java so we can buy it from the right place!

Thanks to everyone for helping us get the word out!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Anatomy of a Gold Miner story

There were lights on at the old Gold Miner hotel recently. Anyone curious enough to take a peek in one of the building's giant windows will see construction debris - corded up drills, levels, pieces of masonry laying around. After almost three years of sitting vacant, of languishing as Palmer's version of the giant tan elephant  on the southern end of downtown, there are signs of life.

So I decided to get the skinny. And I started at Sicily's Pizza, the Anchorage-based chain that houses a buffet off Dimond and recently opened branches in Wasilla and Palmer's Key Bank plaza. My husband is a huge fan and came home carrying a pizza box and a rumor that Sicily's had bought the Gold Miner building and planned to open a buffet there.

Yay! I thought.
Not so, said Palmer Sicily's manager, John Selimi. "We're not going anywhere."
Bummer, I thought. As the mother of a teenage boy, I'm all for buffets. They're the cheapest places to eat out when you're the parent of a human food vaccuum.

But there is truth to the rumor that Sicily's owner, Lee Dubrova, has purchased the building. In my hunt to separate fact from rumor, I had to take a few steps back to review the building's recent history.  According to the Alaska State Fire Marshal's office, the business was initially closed in Jan. of 2008. (Just getting this date required a FOIA request faxed, followed by the one-sentence email from Lloyd McDonnell in the Anchorage office.)

Employees of that office out here were a bit more forthcoming. Mahlon Greene remembered health and fire code violations shutting it down.  Zaz wrote a story for ADN in April, 2009 that the hotel owed more than $100,000 in back taxes to the city.

All of these items contrived to relegate the once bustling Gold Miner to a shell.  Until now.
John Bond said the fire marshal's office is working "closely" with the new owner to make sure the building is up to code prior to opening. What exactly those plans are is still under wraps. Three phone messages for Dubrova left with Sicily's reservation number - all with the same woman-with-a-Russian-accent - resulted in zero return calls. (One would think they wouldn't mind a little positive publicity but alas. Nyet.)

Three phone calls to Sandra Garley, community development director for the city, also resulted in nada.  No idea what happened to the $100K bill.  Evidently, bureaucrats/business owners have higher priorities than answering the questions of a humble resident/pizza patron.

Fortunately, we bloggers have all kinds of free time. :)  If Sicily's ISN'T hosting a buffet there, fingers crossed they're not going for yet another bar. Karaoke or otherwise. So what would you like to see there?  A three story flea market? A bunny boots outlet? Or another community meeting space that'll relieve the crowding at the Palmer depot?  Speculate away!

--Melodie Wright

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Palmer election results - a change for the council

A new face with a familiar last name will be joining the Palmer City Council, along with incumbent Brad Hanson: Linda Combs, wife of former Palmer mayor John Combs, longtime local volunteer and bookkeeper. With results still unofficial and some votes to be counted, Combs actually came out ahead of Hanson and former council member Mike Chmielewski. The top two vote-getters win seats in Palmer elections. Combs got 230 to Hanson's 228 when polling places closed last night. Chmielewski trailed with 163. More votes remain to be counted, though it doesn't appear they'll change the election outcome. Some 61 early, questioned, absentee by-mail and special needs ballots will be counted Friday at 2 p.m. in council chambers.

A proposition to spend up to $2 million in bonds on water and wastewater system improvements passed handily, with nearly three-quarters of the unofficial results in the yes column.
Oh, and here's a little something from the Post soapbox. Boroughwide, bonds for both road improvements and school capital improvements passed last night. Wondering how much of an increase you'll see? Click here for the school district's estimate on paying for their $215 million bond.
Yesterday's turnout in Palmer was a ho-hum 14 percent. Looks like the other 86 percent of the city's 3,855 registered voters gave up the right to complain about their government this election cycle...not to mention their property taxes.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Palmer council candidates share views on parks, spending and more

Post photo by Rindi White
One Palmer resident took an equal-opportunity approach to candidate support.

Mike Chmielewski, Linda Combs and Brad Hanson are running for two seats on the Palmer City Council. Election day, Oct. 4, is fast approaching. We contacted the candidates by email to seek their views on issues facing the city. Here are our five questions, followed by the responses they sent. 

The city's $1.1 million upgrade of the MTA Events Center was necessary to move the Alaska Avalanche junior hockey team to Palmer from Wasilla. Was the city's investment of tax dollars justified?
MIKE: Yes. I supported the concept when originally presented. This was a case where the city was able to see an opportunity for the expansion of a much-used hockey facility. The obligation however, remains for a continuing oversight of our contractual relationship with users. We must ensure that we have staff up to the task of continuing negotiation and oversight.
LINDA:  The initial investment and any ongoing expenditures do seem to be rather large given the City of Palmer's limited funding options in today's economic climate but I do feel they are justified because of the potential of profitability just like the Palmer Golf Course and because it adds a great deal to the quality of life for the citizens of Palmer. Palmer did not have a multi-use facility in the past and the MTA Events Center is addressing that need.           
BRAD: Upgrading the MTA Events Center is in the best interest of the City of Palmer.  When the building was opened in 2005 there were still improvements that were necessary to maximize the functionality of the building. With this latest round of upgrades it will become a fully functioning, multi-purpose facility.  The Avalanche is a by-product of increasing this functionality. Additionally, when the MTA Events Center was originally constructed, the city leveraged our resources with many other organizations and built a cost-effective facility. In this second phase of construction we are using this same philosophy. Over $975,000 came from state grants and from other sources. $565,000 came in the form of grants from the state, $50,000 came from the Mat-Su Health Foundation, $60,000 came from the Avalanche and $300,000 was for the naming rights for the facility. The city investment was justified when you consider for a couple hundred thousand dollars we get an organization that provides quality entertainment, and increases the economic vitality of the community, while the community has a facility that will long serve as a center of social, recreational and economic activity at very little cost to its residents.

A decision on the hotly contested measure over banning smoking in public places in Palmer has been postponed until Oct. 11, after the city election. Where do you stand on this issue?
MIKE: I support the ordinance. Over the last two years I have carefully studied the issue. From a public health standpoint there is no question in my mind that second-hand smoke is harmful. From an economic standpoint there is overwhelming evidence that places that have gone smoke free are not harmed, with perhaps one exception: declining sales from tobacco products. From a freedom of choice perspective, I believe limiting smoking falls within the category of other laws such as speed limits.
LINDA: I am conflicted on this issue due in no small part because of the conversations I have had with dozens of citizens, many of whom are business owners, who feel that the ordinance is in fact an example of too much governmental intrusion. In the past decade the majority of Palmer businesses have voluntarily chosen to become smoke free and there has been no need for a city ordinance. With a citizen's petition before the City Council containing 675 names opposing the ordinance I feel that we have to listen to these voices as well as to the ones who are in favor no matter how emotional the issue. At this time either some more changes need to made to the ordinance or it needs to be set aside and the issue placed on a ballot.
BRAD: Undecided at this time.

All three council candidates have been active in Palmer city government, Palmer-area nonprofits, or both. What keeps bringing you back, even though public service and volunteerism can be demanding and, sometimes, thankless?
MIKE: I'm not so much coming back as rearranging my focus. For me, public service is more a lifestyle choice that manifests in a variety of ways. I've been fortunate enough to have been elected to positions. I've also volunteered and worked with nonprofits. My experience suggests that after about three to six years I need to shift focus. Sometimes I make that decision, sometimes voters do. What I'm most interested in seeing is where any skills I have accumulated might be put to good use. I've also learned that whatever I contribute goes into such a mix of others’ efforts that suggesting I am responsible overstates the situation. Bottom line is that we all play a role in making a community.
LINDA: One of the greatest things about Palmer is that dozens of its citizens genuinely and deeply care enough about Palmer to volunteer their time and efforts to continue to improve their community. I am proud to be counted amongst those who continue to do so.
BRAD: (See the answer to the following question) 

In 50 words or fewer, what philosophy do you live by (or plan to use) when making decisions at the council table?
MIKE: Learn from others. Ask questions. Withhold judgment. Trust the process. When in doubt, amend. Actions speak louder than words. Opinions are everywhere. Facts are like diamonds, hard to find but extremely valuable.
LINDA: I would like very much to be the voice of the citizens of Palmer drawing on my 25 years of ongoing involvement in the community at many levels. I am truly passionate about Palmer and believe with all my being that it is an excellent city to live and work in. I believe that an elected official must listen to the community and combine that information with common sense and experience to make the best choices possible for majority of the citizens.
BRAD: I have served the City for approximately 20 years. My motive has always been to increase the quality of life for the citizens of Palmer, and make this the best place in Alaska to live.  Foremost, government is to serve the citizens.  Further, I believe that we must be fiscally responsible and maintain an efficient, affordable form of government.  Those are the principals I believe in.  

The city council recently reviewed its new parks and open space plan, which recommends connecting trails to improve walkability and updating old playground equipment, among other suggestions. In a time of tight budgets, how important is it to spend city money on recreation improvements? How much would you spend and where?
MIKE: I believe Palmer must walk its talk as a walkable, bike-able city. We are very close to providing a connecting trails system and should pursue as a high priority being an active partner with non-profit groups in the soliciting of grant funds and careful allocation of city funds. The completion of the downtown railroad right of way project creating a park and trail system from the river in the north to the Alaska State Fair property would be at the top of my list.
LINDA: Parks, trails, open spaces and playgrounds are very important to the makeup of a community's quality of life factors. In particular, I would like to see connections made to all of them that lends itself to continuing the "walkability" factor as well as for bicycles since many of our citizens enjoy the current trails in Palmer. As for the budget process, we must first fund all of the necessary functions of the city, such as police and fire protection and public works and then make every effort to use any funds available to continue to update, maintain and improve the existing parks and trails. At this time I am unable to attach a dollar amount to that process. 
BRAD: The park and trails plan is not completed yet.  The city is currently reviewing the needs assessment portion of the plan.  This plan is a result of a grant we received from the Mat-Su Health Foundation for $50,000.  It will guide necessary maintenance and improvements to our existing parks and trail improvements. No money has been spent implementing the plan. I am willing to spend money on parks and trails if it makes fiscal sense at the time. I do believe however that park and trail improvements have spurred a renewed sense of community pride within the city.
Over the 14 years I have been on the city council my priorities have always been on infrastructure, police and fire, while maintaining an efficient and affordable government. I have always been an advocate for parks and trail improvments, which I feel have been greatly enhanced during my time in office. Revenue to the city is at historical highs, the city council must continue to monitor expenses so that City Council can continue to reinvest the citizen’s money in public improvements that increase the quality of life in Palmer.

Have a question for the candidates? Post it in the comments and we'll let the candidates know so they can answer. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

City looks for teen-friendly places to play

Photo by Ron Wilmot
The City of Palmer recently posted this sign at the A-Moose-Ment Park 
By Zaz Hollander
Post reporter
The teenage invasion is familiar to anybody who's taken their kids to Palmer's A-Moose-Ment Park.
There are rambunctious boys climbing the castle walls and doing flips across the wood chips as part of their Parkour routines while toddlers waddle past. You can't miss the throng of teens turning the air blue with cigarette smoke and language under the covered pavilion. Or the girls in the swings until an adult warns them to watch their mouths, and they decide to go someplace else.

Thing is, where do they go?
That's a question the City of Palmer is trying to answer.
Finding a place for teenagers and young adults to play is part of the city's ongoing Parks, Trails and Recreational Fields Master Plan.
The city will hold a community meeting from 8:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. today (Thursday, Sept. 29) and Friday at the city fire training center.
The process involves a lot more than youth facilities. Topics range from trails and river access to playing fields, which are in short supply. To review the city's planning efforts so far, go  here. 

But one of the needs that surfaced during a consultant's survey earlier this year was a teen-friendly park to shoot hoops or pedal around a pump track, said Palmer's community development director, Sandra Garley. A pump track, by the way, is a place where bicyclists cruise around a course filled with berms and rollers. It's not a BMX track, insists Ed Kessler, a 26-year-old who's hoping to work with the city on a pump track for Palmer. The goal is to not pedal, and the activity ends up being a great core workout, said Kessler, who co-owns a trail construction company. 
Given his business, Kessler has a clear interest in getting a pump track built in Palmer. He also comes armed with a striking statistic: about a third of Palmer residents are under 18, according to the last U.S. Census. "That's a large demographic that's not being covered in our recreation areas," he said.
What form any new teen-friendly park will take has yet to be decided, Garley said. The city does have a skate park, though it's drawn some criticism for design and access problems.

Garley said she did hear from Kessler, who proposed putting a pump track next to the A-Moose-Ment Park. But, she said, the city is trying to keep kids and teens separated.
A sign now informs users that the park is for children only -- little ones, in the under-12 range.
While police say they don't field many calls about trouble at the park, the city does get some complaints - "my kid doesn't feel comfortable swinging around the big kids," that sort of thing - that prompted officials to take action.  There have also been cases of vandalism, including problems with the port-a-potties, though city officials say they can't pin the blame on teens.
"It's just a continual struggle  for the littler kids and their moms when the teenagers come in," Garley said. "It's not overt. Nobody got beat up by a teenager. They have louder music, they have rowdier games. The park really was designed for littler ones."

Let us know what you think: Does Palmer need another teen hang-out? And where should it go?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

MTA upgrade slips a bit on delay, seat scarcity

Post photo by Melodie Wright
A $1 million upgrade is underway at the MTA Events Center. 
By Zaz Hollander
Post reporter

If you build it, they will come. 

But what if you don’t have enough seats? 

Last year, the City of Palmer lured the Alaska Avalanche to town from Wasilla’s Curtis C. Menard II Memorial Ice Arena, a roomy venue where the junior hockey team served as an anchor tenant.

The move came with a cost to Palmer, too: city officials here are spending $1.1 million to upgrade the always busy ice rink, the MTA Events Center.
To accommodate the team, the MTA center needed to meet the standards of the North American Hockey League, the body that oversees the Avalanche and 27 other teams. In exchange for $50,000 from the team over a four-year period, city officials agreed to expand the arena with new locker rooms and equipment storage. They also promised to expand seating to hold at least 1,500 spectators. Some $400,000 from the Legislature helped pay for the project. 

Work got under way earlier this year. Then things started to slip.

Word came in late August that delivery delays for structural steel would push the project's completion back to Feb. 1. The Avalanche start their season in a few weeks. For a second year, the team will play without real locker rooms, instead changing in a trailer out back. 

It's also clear, however, that even when the project is done the Avalanche won’t have enough seats to meet the league requirement. Right now, the MTA center has about 800 seats. Once the upgrade is finished, city officials say the center will have about 1,160 seats. The design of the building doesn’t allow for more - and never did. 

But Avalanche owner Mark Lee never told league officials about the seating shortage. The league didn’t find out until this reporter called them Monday.

“One of the conditions of the move was getting the building up to that standard,” said the league’s director of communications, Alex Kyrias. “The league office has not been notified officially by anybody of that standard not being able to be met. Other than that, I’m not sure what to tell you.”

Kyrias said any request for a variance to the seating rule would probably have to be reviewed not only by the league but by USA Hockey, ice hockey's national governing body. He couldn't say what, if any, sanctions the Avalanche might face.

Lee, trying to build a following for his hockey team in a tough market, was less than happy to hear about that phone call.

“Thanks very much,” he said.

When asked about any plans to contact the league, Lee said, “I don’t really think it’s any of your business.”

Told that the business of the Avalanche is the business of the City of Palmer, Lee said he would have no comment.

The city has said it could be possible to add another 400 seats though that would take a whole other construction project and a new addition to the north side of the building. On Tuesday night, the city council unanimously approved changes to the city's agreement with the Avalanche. Among the changes: the city promised to provide at least 1,100 seats in the arena, with a commitment to pursue grant funding for 1,500 in the future. Lee told the council he was OK with the changes. He's been very complimentary of the city's desire to work with this team.

This week, city crews were busy installing wall-mounted brackets for television monitors. Fencing in the upper mezzanine of the arena will give the Avalanche secure storage, public works director Tom Cohenour said.  The city also bought a used washer and dryer and installed plumbing and electric in a utility room so the team can have a working laundry.

City council member Brad Hanson, a longtime hockey and football coach, was instrumental in the construction of the ice arena. Hanson said before Tuesday's meeting that the upgrades at the MTA Events Center are about more than the Avalanche. Hanson said new restrooms will be accessible to soccer players outside. Mayor DeLena Johnson is hoping to hold Palmer High School's graduation in the arena; right now it's slated for the Menard in Wasilla.

It's Mark Lee's responsibility to work with the league on seating, both said.

Hanson, though, said he wanted the story to be less about conflict and more about the good things the arena brings to Palmer.

"This is a good thing for the City of Palmer and the community of Palmer to have a facility like this," he said. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

How this will work

Responses to our survey are steadily climbing! Thanks for getting out the word that we exist, and taking the time to shape our coverage.

And now - a few housekeeping items to file away. 

The Palmer Post will post regular news stories on Wednesdays. Our event calendar will be updated every Thursday and we'd love to see some guest posts here Fridays. The topics are wide open - recreation, politics, opinion, nonprofits. You are all welcome. Our only request:  you avoid using this blog to promote your business. We'll have buttons for that in the future.

This is just a start. The beauty of a blog is the flexibility to post whenever something newsworthy happens. The only deadlines are our own. So if you hear/see/experience an event that MUST be shared outside of that timeframe, let us know. If we have the time (we're all gainfully employed, overscheduled parents) we'll track it down. If we're swamped, we'll invite you to give it a whirl. After all, it's your story idea. We'll be there to help you whip it into shape.

Zaz is working on our debut story about the MTA (Palmer) ice arena expansion and how a million-dollar upgrade that helped lure the Alaska Avalanche junior hockey team from Wasilla is leaving the team in the lurch this season. It doesn't meet National American Hockey League requirements -- and it was the Post that just broke that news to the league. She's also discovered the Amoosement Park's ban on teens. Okay, it's more an insistence that older kids go elsewhere. Worry not, Palmer youth: the city is trying to find you a place to play. Can you say "pump track?"

See you Wednesday!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Why we're hosting a Palmer news blog and the Get Out The Word Giveaway

Our mission: We want to provide a Web-only local news source that spotlights all things Palmer -- events, government, schools, recreation and business. We are the only media outlet with such a strong Palmer focus.

The Palmer Post strives to give readers a street-level view of what’s happening around town, from new businesses opening their doors to the old-fashioned fun of Colony Christmas, from investigations at city hall and school news to restaurant reviews and Hatcher Pass hikes.

The Post was founded by three journalists with many years of experience and a desire to see the news of our hometown reported with clarity, fairness and insight. In order to make this blog the best it can be, we'd love your feedback and hope you'll partner with us on this journey.

We're starting off by offering a drawing for a $20 coffee card to the spot of your choice when you help us Get Out The Word that we exist! How can you help, you ask? Several ways, and each way earns you drawing points. Scroll down (WAY down) to fill out the form for:

+1 follow us
+2 fill out the survey to your right
+3 blog, FB or tweet about this contest and paste the URL 

Drawing date is Oct. 28.

Rindi White

Melodie Wright
Zaz Hollander