The Soldotna City Council during their Wednesday night meeting will discuss legislation aimed at bringing the Kenai River Brown Bears back to Alaska for the remainder of the 2020-2021 hockey season.
The Brown Bears, who have been playing exclusively in the Lower 48 due to COVID-related travel restrictions, want to return to the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex beginning March 26 for five weekend games.
According to the resolution that will be considered by the council on Wednesday, Brown Bears Manager Chris Hedlund has requested that the city modify the COVID mitigation protocols currently in place at the sports complex. Specifically, Hedlund has requested that the number of spectators allowed at games be increased from 250 to a minimum of 750 and that the Brown Bears be allowed to operate a beer garden during games.
In a letter to Soldotna Parks and Recreation Director Andrew Carmichael, Hedlund outlined the steps the team has taken to comply with North American Hockey League COVID-19 guidelines and what factors they have been monitoring in looking to return to Soldotna.
Specifically, Hedlund said that other arenas the team has played at have implemented social distancing, face mask mandates, using “pods” to keep households together and plans to clean high-touch spots. Additionally, Hedlund wrote, the team adheres to NAHL waivers, testing guidelines, player responsibilities and symptom-based monitoring strategies, among other things.
This is all on top of day-to-day precautions the team takes, like washing socks and jerseys after each ice event, daily temperature checks, spacing on bus rides, spacing in locker rooms and limiting hotel rooms to two players each.
“We have continually looked to make it safer, cleaner and the best environment we can,” Hedlund wrote. “… We are being diligent in communicating with our players the risks of COVID both in the arena and when they are out in the communities.”
The team is also in possession of a $900 “micro sprayer” that they have been using to disinfect locker rooms before entering and while on the road, as well as masks for all players and staff.
The resolution being considered by the council on Wednesday, if approved, would increase the number of spectators allowed at events to 750 if the central peninsula’s average daily COVID-19 case rate remains at or below 10 cases per 100,000 population over a 14-day period. If the 14-day case rate goes above 10, the spectator limit would drop back to 250.
The resolution would also require everyone in the building to wear masks, including coaches, at all times except for athletes and officials when on the ice, which includes penalty and team benches.
“I would ask for your support for this resolution and in welcoming home the Brown Bears and to the benefit of their many loyal fans who have missed the opportunity to see them play during this hockey season,” wrote Soldotna Mayor Paul Whitney in a memo to the council.
The council last changed the mitigation protocols at the sports complex last month, when they voted to loosen some of the stricter protocols they had implemented during a statewide surge in cases last Fall.
During that meeting, council member Pamela Parker proposed increasing the complex’s spectator limit to 800, or 25% of the total capacity, however, her amendment failed. Carmichael said during that meeting that the maximum number of spectators that could fit in the building with social distancing observed is 311.
The request for 750 spectators, Hedlund wrote, is based on factors related to the team’s “financial perspective.”
The Soldotna City Council’s Wednesday is open to the public but limited to 10 in-person attendees. People can also attend the meeting remotely via Zoom.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at firstname.lastname@example.org.