Kaitlyn Surdyk (foreground) helps adult skiers (from left) Torrie Clyde, Wendy Anderson, Denise Caposey, and Julene Fairbanks mug for the camera after the Skagway Ski Club kids wrapped up some top three finishes at the Marsh Lake Loppet. See story in SPORTS below. Skagway Ski Club photo

Conditional use refused by P&Z for A.B. Mtn. heli-hike tours

Thirty-one testify before P&Z against Alaska Mountain Guides proposal

The Planning and Zoning Commission had never seen an audience this big.
Nearly every seat in the City Council chambers was taken, and most had come to speak out against a commercial tour operation on A.B. Mountain.
After hearing from 31 citizens at its Feb. 12 meeting, none in support of the proposal, the commission voted 3-0 against allowing Alaska Mountain Guides a conditional use permit for a commercial tour operation in the Residential Conservation zone.
AMG had asked for permission to helicopter in clients to state and federal land above 3,000 feet between the Skagway River and Taiya River, specifically circling the line of peaks from A.B. Mountain to the Canadian border. Clients would then participate in “off trail” hiking, glacier trekking and ice climbing. On cloudy or rainy days, they would use the A.B. Mountain trail for access.
While most in the audience were concerned about possible helicopter operations over a residential area and any commercial tour on A.B. Mountain, commission members noted that the AMG application was incomplete and did not satisfy any of the four criteria needed for a conditional use permit. It also went against two chapters of the Skagway Comprehensive Plan, and a city code prohibition against commercial tours on the AB Mountain trail, they said.
The application said flight paths would be away from the city, but residents wanted to see a plan. Many who spoke live along the Dyea Road at the bottom of A.B. Mountain, and noted that the city also plans a subdivision on a lower slope of the mountain and in the West Creek valley.
Barbara Kalen, who has hiked more Skagway trails in her lifetime than anyone, said A.B. Mountain is a special place for hikers and does not need the helicopter noise.
“Hikers enjoy the quiet and the peace of the mountain,” Kalen said.
“Most of us are pro-tourism,” added Bruce Schindler. “That being said, we have few areas of refuge.... I’d like us to respect certain areas and keep them noise free.”
Ken Russo said that when Temsco started its Skagway operations over a decade ago, it wanted to use A.B. Mountain and halted its plans because it would be flying over a residential area.
“There is even more of a reason to stop this now,” Russo said, adding that A.B. Mountain was one of the few areas where Skagway people can “get away from the insanity of this town.”
Dyea residents and Klondike Park Superintendent Bruce Noble were concerned about more flights within earshot of Dyea and the Chilkoot Trail.
AMG also requested access to West Creek glacier for its clients using ERA Helicopters. Currently, Temsco is allowed flights to West Creek glacier on a route that “lessens the impacts,” Noble said.
Jason Jones and others had concerns about the “off trail” hiking being planned and the impact on the sub-alpine ecology of the area. “Helicopters and hundreds of people will affect the environment,” Jones said.
He wanted to see a plan for new trails, and Nancy Schave added a concern about trash on the mountain filtering down into Skagway’s water supply.
“There are a lot of lovely mountains in Haines, so why are they coming here?” Schave concluded. “Why dump on us here?”

Barbara Kalen testifies about many years of quiet hikes on the A.B. Mountain ridge. JB

Others cited problems with Haines-based AMG from its operation of a rock-climbing tour last summer on land adjacent to a parcel the city had reserved for a rifle range. The city and AMG have both applied for use of the state land this summer. Doreen Cooper, who is a tour guide on the railroad, said the blue AMG tarps were an eyesore that she had to explain.
Others complained that AMG did not answer questions on its application with any specifics, and wondered why AMG representatives did not fly over to Skagway on a clear day to attend the meeting, and why the city was paying for the teleconference call to Haines.
When P&Z member asked him about more specific plans, AMG representative Sean Gaffney apologized for not attending, for the sparse application, and for including the A.B. trail as an access option.
“I apologize for that,” Gaffney said. “Obviously we need to get you more detailed information.... We’ll do that directly, and we’ll remove any use of the public trail.”
P&Z member Craig Jennison, who works for Temsco, excused himself from discussion and voting. Members Jeff Mull, Lisa Cassidy and Deb Steidel said the application was thin.
Steidel noted that business uses in the Residential Conservation zone are allowed, but it has to mitigate four criteria for a conditional use: 1) protect the public health, safety and welfare; 2) not permanently or substantially injure the lawful use of neighboring properties or uses; 3) generally be in harmony with the comprehensive plan, coastal management plan, and other officially adopted plans; and 4) not substantially decrease the value of or be out of harmony with property in the neighboring area.
She said the application would have to come back to them before they could act. “There’s just too many things wrong with it, and I can’t write an application at the table,” Steidel said.
Although the audience grumbled when Mull made a motion to approve the application, they relaxed when the commission cast all three votes against it.
Steidel noted this was by far the biggest turnout for a P&Z meeting in her nearly 10 years on the commission, and thanked everyone for being “well-spoken.”

Road mitigation letter sent to DOT

Dewey Lakes Park resolution on hold for maps

Mayor Tim Bourcy announced at the Feb. 19 City Council meeting that he had decided to send a separate letter to the Alaska Department of Transportation listing possible recreation mitigation projects for the Juneau-Skagway road alternative in the Juneau Access Environmental Impact Statement.
The mitigation options were split off from a proposed Resolution 04-04R which would designate the Dewey Lakes Trail System as a city park. That resolution was tabled until the March 4 meeting, so members could have a better look at the specific boundaries being proposed for the park.
Currently in the resolution draft, the area is listed as the “geologic bench from Reid Falls to Sturgill’s Landing, and the hillside from this bench to the ridge line of the border peaks.”
It would be called Dewey Lakes Municipal Park. Although never designated a park, it has been listed in the comprehensive plan as “Recreation/Open Space,” and the mayor said there had been talk of making it a park since the plan was completed a few years ago. Such a designation would not stop the proposed Juneau-Skagway road, he noted, but it would prevent the area from
being subdivided for housing.
Along with A.B. Mountain, “this is one piece of property with high value as recreation,” Bourcy said.
Half a dozen residents testified in support of the resolution, saying the official designation of the park was long overdue, but Wendy Anderson and Donna Snyder said parts of the park should be considered “off leash” for dog walkers. Such a request would require an amendment to the leash law ordinance, they were told.
Council member Dave Hunz said he supported the resolution but wanted to see boundary lines with other state and federal lands, “so we are not overstepping our bounds.”
A motion to table passed unanimously – all members were present – and City Manager Bob Ward said a map would be attached to the resolution at the March meeting.
Much of this area would be affected by the Juneau-Skagway road, and the city sent a separate letter to DOT listing possible mitigation projects, should the road alternative be selected:
• Improvements of the trail from Icy Lake to Upper Reid Falls.
• Trail connections from Upper Reid Falls to Gold Rush Cemetery.
• Any overpass or underpass necessary for crossing the highway.
• A loop trail from Devil’s Punch Bowl to south end of Lower Dewey Lake.
• Improvements to trail on east side of Lower Lake.
• Recreational trail access to Paradise Valley (Tongass land, so may not be viable).
• Upper Lake Trail improvements.
• Parking areas, picnic table, trash receptacles, and signage at trail connections along roadway.
• Bike pedestrian lane on roadway from Skagway to Lower Lake area.
Reuben Yost, director of the Juneau Access project for DOT, had requested the letter during before last month’s public meeting on road routes into Skagway, and during a recent discussion, the mayor said. City Manager Ward noted that these recreation mitigation projects would be added to the cost of the road alternative. The letter was sent on ahead of the resolution, so its recommendations can be incorporated in the draft Juneau Access EIS. – JB

Ice house demolition back on six month clock

This time, three votes was enough.
The Planning and Zoning Commission, acting on an appeal from Andrew Knorr, voted 3-1 on Feb. 12 to allow the demolition of the historic ice house on Fifth Ave. to proceed. The demolition is back on a six month time clock, with about five months to go by the time this edition appears. Before it can be torn down, it must be documented according to Historic American Building Survey Level One standards.
This was the second time P&Z members had dealt with the issue. Initially approved by the Historic District Commission on Nov. 10, the demolition was stalled when Bruce Noble of the National Park Service appealed the decision to P&Z. The commission then remanded the decision back to HDC and directed
the Park Service and Knorr, representing the property owners, to reach a compromise. When no compromise was reached, HDC voted 3-1 to allow the demolition to proceed, but under its rules four votes were needed for passage and the motion failed. That put Knorr in a position of appealing the decision to P&Z.
In his letter of appeal, Knorr said the original appeal by Noble was six days late and should never have been considered. The ordinance specifies appeals must come in within 10 days of the decision, but City Clerk Marj Harris used the date of her official notification of decision. Knorr also contended that one of the four NPS options at the Jan. 12 meeting was demolition, his first option, and that in itself was a compromise. He also quoted a city ordinances that states a majority vote by the HDC constitutes
“Each of these issues alone has enough merit for legal proceedings against the city,” Knorr concluded in his letter. “When you add all of these issues together the only proper thing to do is uphold HDC’s decision of Nov. 10, 2003, and reinstate the original time frame.”
In testimony, Knorr said the building should be moved and saved, but that he does not plan to do it because the building has no commercial value.
“It’s a warehouse,” he said. “If it isn’t moved, it’s going to sit there and rot. Why wouldn’t the Park Service take it?”
Noble again testified that the moving or demolition of historic structures is discouraged in city code, and said Knorr had not responded to any of his attempts to reach a compromise and has remained consistent in his position.
“(Knorr) wants the ice house to be saved with National Park Service funds being used to move it to a new location,” Nobel said. “To me, this is not a compromise. It is trying to solve a problem using someone else’s money.”
Noble also objected to a statement Knorr made after the last HDC meeting, in which he noted that parking for his new building would not be a problem if the ice house were removed. And he said the timing of his first appeal was at the direction of the city clerk and he could have filed it earlier.
Statements from the public and commission members focused mainly on the building itself, not the process.
“We’re happy to drop it in your lap,” said HDC member Virginia Long, who said she voted to demolish only when her motion to postpone a decision failed and she knew there weren’t enough votes for demolition to pass.
Keith Knorr said the district would be gaining three new historic buildings versus losing an old barn, but Doreen Cooper said the ice house was worth saving.
“Sure it looks like an old falling down building... but it has a story that needs to be told,” Cooper said. “New buildings are not the same.”
Her hope was that the Park Service and other agencies, including the city, could get involved in moving the building versus allowing it to be torn down.
HDC member Nancy Schave, who cast the lone vote that prevented the demolition from proceeding last month, said she would vote that way again, but Mavis Irene Henricksen said the old building should not be holding up a construction project.
Julie Moe said she worried about a child getting in the building, and contractor Charles Doland said it was “structurally unsound” and a hazard.
“It seems the basis (of previous decisions) was more on the emotions of the HDC than good, sound reason,” Doland noted.
P&Z member Craig Jennison said it was pointless for the commission to stall the demolition if the property owner intends to just let the building sit there until it falls down. Lisa Cassidy and Jeff Mull agreed, adding that it should be well-documented with photographs and that some valuable pieces of the building, such as the doors and ice-making pipes, be saved for museum exhibits. Those three voted for the appeal.
Commission chair Deb Steidel cast the only vote against the motion to grant the appeal, stating that the commission made the right call originally to send it back to HDC. In that time, a preliminary historic structures report was completed by the Park Service, showing the building’s value as the last ice house in town, and presenting some viable options for saving it.
“I’m sorry we’re losing this historic building, and it should be a wake-up call to the city,” Steidel said.
What would the city have done if the owners of the Portland House had decided it was not worth saving. Would commissioners have allowed it to be torn down too, she asked.
Jennison noted that putting the ice house back on the six-month demolition time clock might actually save it.
The whole issue, he said, was a reminder to the public of how thankless the jobs of HDC members can be.


BOYS WILL BE BOYS - Dean Anderson, Jacob Cotton, Tim Fairbanks, Devin Fairbanks, and Chris Maggio ham it up during the Marsh Lake Loppet. Skagway Ski Club, Denise Caposey


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