Signs advertising COVID-19 safety protocoals stand outside the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex on Oct. 6, 2020, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)

Signs advertising COVID-19 safety protocoals stand outside the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex on Oct. 6, 2020, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna puts off action on sports center

Spectators at the complex will remain imited to 80 people to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

The City of Soldotna will keep spectators at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex limited to 80 people following a work session and council meeting on Wednesday as part of their efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

The total occupancy limit for the facility, whose capacity is usually 3,500 people, is currently 120 people, including 80 spectators and 40 skaters. According to a memo from Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen and Soldotna Parks and Recreation Director Andrew Carmichael, they have been told by constituents that number is “not enough.”

In September, the council pushed back against the city’s proposed capacity limit of 40 people. At that meeting, Carmichael said that there isn’t an easy answer when determining a specific number due to the nuances involved.

Tami Miller, who said she was speaking as a Kenai Peninsula Hockey Association representative, said the association would like for the council either to not set a spectator limit or to set it as high as possible while still being safe. Miller said she doesn’t want to see the peninsula become like Anchorage and asked the council to consider personal freedoms when determining whether or not to set a capacity limit at the complex.

“I’m not sure if any of you have been to Anchorage lately, but it’s kind of like a little Nazi Germany,” Miller said. “Everywhere you go you’re being monitored, you’re being told you can’t do that, restaurants are at 50% capacity — it’s really miserable to go there.”

Indy Walton, who coaches hockey at Soldotna High School, also asked the council to support an open plan that is able to accommodate as many people as possible and said that limiting the number of people to 80 would be a “disservice” to athletes.

“You’ve got lots of people that would travel to come see their kids play and have invested a lot of time and energy into their kids,” Walton said. “It would be a shame not to let them.”

In their memo, Queen and Carmichael explain how they calculated the amount of spectators the complex can be expected to accommodate.

For example, they found that 311 spectators could be appropriately distanced on the bleachers, however that does not take into consideration players, coaches, referees, volunteers and facility staff who will also be in the building during events, or that some people will be attending events together and thus do not each need their own bubble.

Of the different events that take place at the facility, the ones with the highest attendance are Kenai River Brown Bears games, with an average 2019 game attendance of over 900 people. High school hockey games average between 150-300 attendees and KPHA tournaments average between 100 and 150 attendees.

Another point of contention was mask compliance. Both the Alaska School Activities Association (ASAA) and the USA Hockey Association require masks to be worn by event attendees. The USA Hockey Association also requires people to wear masks when entering or exiting facilities and while indoors but not on the ice.

City Council member Justin Ruffridge said that he didn’t think the city needed to change its current protocols because of the lack of events happening on the ice right now. The start date for high school hockey games is still unclear following an outbreak of COVID-19 at an Anchorage hockey tournament last week.

“I think this would be a pertinent thing to maybe let sit as-is for the time being, knowing that it’s going to be something we have to address prior to anything occurring once we hear if high school hockey is coming back or if the Brown Bears decide to make a decision…” Ruffridge said. “I’m not maybe feeling the urgency at the moment.”

Soldotna Mayor-elect Paul Whitney made a motion to double the spectator limit to 160 people, however the motion failed after no one seconded it.

Because no formal action was taken by the council, the existing protocols remain in place. The next Soldotna City Council meeting is on Oct. 28.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com

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