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Alaska Digest

Posted: Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Gas prices don't scare off drivers, tourists

KENAI - Alaskans and visitors to the state may be grumbling at the high price of gasoline and diesel, but many are perfectly willing to top off those RV tanks and hit the highways in search of nightless summertime adventure and fish without bound.

An informal, purely unscientific poll of tourist industry businesses in the central and lower Kenai Peninsula showed hotels, RV parks, campgrounds, charter boat operators and others generally are seeing or expect to see a very good tourist season.

"We're not seeing any changes" from last year, said Tom Timmel, vice president of Alaska Wildland Adventures which, among other things, had been running Kenai Riverside Campground near Cooper Landing for the past three years. Between 80 and 85 percent of his business comes from serving folks from outside the state.

"You might think gas prices would affect day fishing and rafting trips, but both of those are strong," Timmel said.

Bill Tooker drove to Kenai from Phoenix, Ariz., in a motorhome with his wife and their dog. While enjoying the sunshine near the Kenai bluff on Saturday, Tooker said fuel prices didn't affect their decision to make the drive north.

"Our big plan was to come up," he said. "We never thought about the cost."

Tooker said he believes a trip to Alaska is the kind of once-in-a-lifetime experience that is more important than the extra cost associated with high gasoline prices.

"Life has no guarantees," he said.

"RW" Weilbacher, owner of Big Eddy Resort on the Kenai River in Soldotna, said tourists continue to arrive despite the price of gas. But then, that's the way it's always been, he said.

"I've watched this for years and every year the gas price has gone up," he said. "There hasn't been one year that it has slowed them down. Nothing slows 'em down. Think about it. What's it going to cost them, maybe $200 to $300 total for the whole year?"

Searchers seek plane with three aboard

ANCHORAGE - Searchers were looking Monday for a plane that went missing three days earlier in Southcentral Alaska with three men on board.

The search was launched Sunday after the wife of John Phillips, 63, of Columbia, S.C., reported her husband had not checked in with her as expected, Alaska State Troopers said.

The other two men on board the Cessna 207 were Patrick Leverett of Charleston, S.C., and Ken O'Connor, 77, of Charlotte, N.C. Leverett's age was not available but troopers said he is believed to be in his 50s or 60s.

Searchers believe the men took off Friday afternoon on what was supposed to be a short flight from Homer in the Kenai Peninsula. The men's luggage was still at the Homer hotel where they were staying, troopers said.

The weather at the time was cloudy with a light breeze and visibility at 10 miles, good conditions for "low-level flying," said Dave Vonderheide, a spokesman for the National Weather Service in Anchorage.

All three men are licensed pilots, but Phillips - a flight instructor - is believed to have been flying the single-engine plane. He is a seasoned pilot who has logged about 18,000 hours of flight time, said Maj. Mike Haller with the Alaska National Guard, whose Rescue Coordination Center was leading the search.

"That's a very extensive amount of flying. That's huge," Haller said. "It takes many, many years to amass this kind of flight time."

Kodiak officials warn of cloudy water

KODIAK - Cloudy water may soon start pouring from taps in Kodiak, but city officials say residents can still drink it.

The water is "safe to drink, safe to use," city manager Linda Freed announced at a Kodiak City Council meeting.

The slightly off-color water will start running when the city switches from the Pillar Creek reservoir back to the Monashka Creek reservoir. Pillar Creek has been the city's primary reservoir since the Monashka site saw a rise in sediment levels this spring.

The city expects the switch to occur sometime over the next week, perhaps even as soon as the weekend.

"We'll do it just before the rockfish comes to town," Freed said, "because the plants use a lot of water when they process the rockfish."

When rockfish arrive, demand for water in Kodiak typically grows from 3 million gallons per day to 10 million gallons per day in one 24-hour period.

The Monashka water has been monitored and tested and the sediment levels, Freed said, are now safe for public consumption.



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