ROAD WARRIORS

Governor Frank Murkowski (center) introduces DOT Commissioner Mike Barton (left) and Deputy Commissoner Robin Taylor at the reception for the cabinet at A.B. Hall during their ferry stopover. - Jeff Brady

yGovernor supports Skagway borough

Road and ferry talk dominate reception for cabinet

By JEFF BRADY
Governor Frank Murkowski brought his cabinet, staff and the first lady up Lynn Canal on the ferry Columbia on Monday and was hoping to hear a clear message from the community on the Juneau Access issue.
He heard plenty, but the one issue he was clear on was Skagway’s support for forming its own borough.
During his introduction of the governor at an A.B. Hall reception, Mayor Tim Bourcy mentioned the city’s desire to be a borough, and Murkowski urged him on.
“Most of them (other communities) say they don’t want a borough,” the governor said. “Go ahead. I’m right behind you. Fantastic. We’d love to have another borough.”
“Well, good,” Bourcy responded, possibly getting the first positive response from an administration on the issue after years of battling the Local Boundary Commission and taking the state to court.
“Is it a unanimous position? Are there differences of opinion?” the governor asked.
Then Bourcy turned to the crowd of about 75 residents who had trudged through heavy snow to attend the event, “Does anyone in here not want a borough?”
After two seconds of silence, the governor said, “You better run with it!”
The crowd erupted.
The governor then introduced all 14 members of his cabinet who spoke briefly about what they do. Adjutant General Craig Campbell talked about Skagway soldiers with the Alaska National Guard in Iraq, and Education Commissioner Roger Sampson said Skagway was “the envy of most of the districts in this state.”
The governor saved Transportation Commissioner Mike Barton and Deputy Commissioner for Marine Highway Robin Taylor for last. The department late last week released the Environmental Impact Statement for Juneau Access, with the new preferred alternative being a $189 million road from Juneau to a $16 million Katzehin terminal, and a $33 million shuttle ferry to Haines and Skagway. A 30-day public comment period has begun (see public notice in classifieds this issue for more information on how to see the document).
Barton spoke briefly about his mandate to meet the transportation needs of Alaska, and Taylor then launched into his reasons for getting behind the road.
“I’m a road man,” Taylor said. “I never met a road I didn’t like.”
He then compared the costs of the average road in Alaska, a penny a mile, to the $2.50 per mile cost of running ferries up and down the canal, about 50 cents higher than a decade ago due to escalating fuel costs.
While acknowledging the cost per mile of a Juneau road would be more than a penny a mile, Taylor said “any road is going to significantly save money for this transportation system and provide you in the long run with a much better opportunity to transport goods and services, get to the doctor, what have you.”
In the meantime, he added, his mission is to get the marine highway running regularly, and said Skagway now has the highest level of service in many years. The 30 percent discount program on roundtrips this winter has boosted winter ridership for the first time in 11 years and increased net profit 18 percent, he noted. “We’re turning that system around.”
Taylor added that the department was moving forward on the shuttle ferry’s design so it will be ready to use before a road comes.
The governor had asked for pro and con viewpoints on the road. Bourcy said he contacted Jan Wrentmore on the pro-ferry side, but said he had trouble getting someone from the pro-road side to speak. This drew some grumbling from the audience that he didn’t try hard enough, and John Tronrud stepped forward to speak after Wrentmore.

BIG BERMS – City and state crews tackle the big white stuff on lower Broadway Monday after more than two feet of snow fell on Skagway in about a 12-hour period. The snow had turned to rain by the time the governor and his staff showed up, but they were able to make the reception at nearby A.B. Hall. Jeff Brady

Wrentmore spoke about how well the fast ferry is working in Lynn Canal and that the Katzehin road would basically force the 45 percent of ferry riders who are walk-ons to pay for a $100 taxi ride to Juneau. She also said a portion of the road along the canal dubbed “avalanche alley” would be closed 30 days a year.
She said traffic on the fast ferry and in Lynn Canal is high enough to warrant a serious look at having a regional ferry authority modeled after the Inter-Island Ferry Authority operating its own vessels from Prince of Wales.
“Certainly if the IFA can make it work, we can,” she concluded, adding that capital costs for a ferry would have to come from the state, but a Lynn Canal Ferry Authority could generate enough revenue from ridership to operate it.
Tronrud said he disagreed with a lot of people in the community who feel a road would hurt Skagway, saying it would level the playing field for businesses to compete with other communities.
“It’s ironic how many people who are against the road down Lynn Canal drive the road up to Whitehorse, are seen shopping in Whitehorse...” Tronrud said. “To me, with what transportation is out there, what’s good for one should be good for all. To keep our neighbors penned in is kind of narrow-sighted.”
Tronrud said the ferries do well with what’s available to them, but that it’s hard to keep all vessels running and all communities happy. “I think the road is the most efficient way to use state dollars for the benefit of all.”
Both residents received long applause for their positions. Then, after an explanation of what fuel prices have done for and to the state, the governor let everyone know how he felt about the two fast ferries he inherited from former Gov. Tony Knowles.
“You want to get your heart stopping, take a look at this fast ferry system,” which at $37 million a vessel, was not a well-thought out decision, he said.
“They’re designed for high density traffic like Vancouver to Victoria to get to the other side,” he said. “We can justify it for about four months out of the year.”
He said they have tried to run the fast ferry in the highest density wintertime route they could identify – Juneau to Petersburg – with limited success. The fast ferries haven’t always held up in Lynn Canal because of weather, and “they burn 500-600 gallons of fuel an hour, and suck up a few logs,” Murkowski added.
Running the Fairweather in Lynn Canal and over to Sitka in the summer is viable, he said, but there’s also the Chenega which appears only viable for the summer in Prince William Sound. He said they can’t afford to operate them year-round.
“What do you do with them?” he asked, mentioning the possibility of selling them, but they have all of a sudden dropped in popularity due to rising fuel costs. No one’s buying new ones, he said, and the state cannot afford to exercise its option on two more.
But ferry rider John Warder said the fast ferry service has been wonderful. “That’s the best ferry I’ve been on,” he said, and reminded the governor of the 62 percent vote here two years ago in favor of better ferries versus a road.
Local DOT foreman Keith Knorr then got the last word before the state officials got back on the ferry, saying the Juneau road could be kept open as much as the Klondike Highway. “We haven’t been closed yet and if there was Juneau Access, it wouldn’t be closed either.”
In a quick interview, the governor was asked if he was disappointed at not being able to bring the road all the way to Skagway due to the probable 4(f) status of the National Historic Landmark, a position brought forward by the National Park Service. A federal 4(f) status likely would have prevented a road cut coming down from the Lower Lake area into town unless no other prudent and reasonable alternative could be found. The City of Skagway, on record in support of better ferry service versus a road, also had concerns that the entire Dewey Lakes Recreation Area qualified for 4(f). The Federal Highways Administration dismissed the Skagway concern but recommended to the state that the NPS claims were too big to overcome.
“I think there was a concern over the dictate of the Park Service,” Murkowski responded. “But that’s kind of the way it came out. The Park Service has never been particularly favorable to roads. It didn’t come as a surprise, but it (came down) to what does Skagway want, as opposed to the Park Service.”
He also commented about port issues. Before coming over to the reception, the governor took a ride over to “OUR ore terminal.”
“It’s kind of interesting in that we don’t own the dock, we just own the erector set that’s on top,” he said. “It’s not making any revenue and we’ve got to figure out what to do with it. We’re interested obviously in bringing that facility back.... the White Pass relative to expansion, and the prospect, if the gas line goes, of using the facilities of this port of entry for northern British Columbia. There’s a lot going on and a lot of potential.”
Ron Miller, head of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) and “your partner in the ore terminal” said he had meetings with potential users in B.C. last week. “It’s our intention to get that terminal back to work to provide jobs,” Miller said.
As for the gasline, Skagway hasn’t come up in the talks with oil producers about how to pay for the pipeline, the governor said later. But outside of the negotiations, Skagway has come up as one of the potential locations for moving supplies for the proposed natural gas pipeline from the North Slope down the Alaska Highway.

City plans for land demand

Mayor signs plat for 932 acres, wants fall sale

By ANDREW CREMATA
Skagway residents this fall may have the option to purchase property in the Dyea area. Plat approval of 932 acres of the Municipal Entitlement Land selection from the state paves the way for the future subdivision and sale of the land by the City of Skagway, where lack of adequate housing has become a major issue in recent years.
At a special meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission on Jan 26, the board unanimously approved the plat approval of tract A and B of the Alaska State Land Survey No. 97-61. The area approved extends from Taiya Point to just north of the Chilkoot Trail Outpost and includes portions of the Dyea flats; land in and around the Slide Cemetery, and extending south of Dyea along the west shoreline to a point parallel with Taiya Point.
In 1998, the city hired Pat Kalen to survey the land, which put the state and the city at odds over issues dealing with the historical wagon road in the area among others. Those issues have since been settled, making it possible for ownership of the land to transferred from the state to the city.
“I’m all for this,” said commissioner Dave Vogel.
The approval gives the city final patent for proposals to subdivide the land.
“When the subdivision plats come through, we will need to know where to go,” said City Clerk Marj Harris.
She added that the commission will need a plan for zoning the land, suggesting that a special strategy may be needed much like the current Dyea Management Plan.
The special meeting was held because Mayor Tim Bourcy requested the proposal be fast-tracked so that people could potentially own tracts of the land by 2007.
The mayor announced at the Feb. 2 City Council meeting that he had signed the plat, and the next step is for the state to record it. He also wants to schedule a work session with Planning and Zoning soon to give commissioners a clear direction.
“I think we really need to keep this on track (for a fall sale),” Bourcy said.
In a related issue, the city has sent a letter in opposition to further state land selections by the Mental Health Trust within municipal boundaries. The MHT had sent a representative to Skagway last summer to “square up” boundaries, but the housekeeping turned into more land for the MHT.
At stake are about 7,000 more acres of state land for the city, which would be reduced if more went to the MHT.
“To now request additional withdrawals only adds insult to the injury we suffered due to the original inappropriate disposal of Trust lands by the State of Alaska,” said the mayor’s letter to the Dept. of Natural Resources. “We have shouldered more than our fair share of the burden of making the Trust whole once again.”

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

LAST LOOK BACK

Hugh Neff and his team look back before breezing down a trail near his Laughing Eyes Kennel on Annie Lak off the Carcross Road near Whitehorse, Yukon. See our Yukon Quest Preview for story and more photos of Neff training his team. Andrew Cremata

• YUKON QUEST PREVIEW: Hugh Neff's 'Quest for Success'

SPORTS & REC. ROUNDUP: Seven girls ready to rumble in Sitka all-female wrestling tourney; SHS gets second hoop win

• OBITUARY: Tim Lannan, 1950-2006

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