CASUAL OBSERVER

This stately mountain goat has been watching over Skagway much of the winter from his perch above the Klondike Highway. Andrew Cremata

Board of Fish admits shrimp decline, but denies city request

Canadians, not commercial fishermen, responsible, says BOF

By ANDREW CREMATA
The Alaska Board of Fisheries met in Ketchikan last week where they discussed the city’s proposal that a portion of District 15, which includes waters in both Haines and Skagway, be cut off to commercial shrimping and crabbing to reestablish healthy populations in the Taiya Inlet area for subsistence purposes.
While the proposal was denied, the BOF made recommendations that could eventually have an effect on the fishery.
Some Skagway residents have noticed a sharp decline in their own personal catches of crab and shrimp in the last few years. Many sent letters to the BOF in the hopes that they may adopt the city’s request to restrict commercial fishing in the area, possibly allowing the local table fare to repopulate.
The waters around Skagway are part of District 15 and cover a very large area with diverse geography for the crawling crustaceans. However, the area in and around Skagway is mostly a deep fjord that does not provide much habitat in comparison to much of the area to the south. These environmental factors have led some to believe that the area is susceptible to over-fishing, and Department of Fish and Game numbers that show commercial fisherman catches dropping drastically of late have suggested that this is the case.
Mayor Tim Bourcy attended the meeting in Ketchikan and reported that in response to the decline, Fish and Game reduced the quota from 20,000 to 15,000 pounds. However, since only a little over 5,000 pounds was caught during the most recent season, it seems unlikely the measure would have any affect.
Bourcy indicated that other options discussed included potential emergency orders for closures to the fishery on May 1, and possibly again in the fall.
In regards to the city’s proposal, Bourcy said there was a united front on the part of commercial fishermen to oppose closures in any part of the district, as this would only put additional pressure on other fisheries.
This was in opposition to letters sent from Skagway residents decrying the poor condition of the fishery and who rely on the shelled invertebrates during the winter months for subsistence when there is little else edible to catch in local waters.
Bourcy said there was a lack of consensus on the issue during his time at the meeting.
Fish and Game representative Randy Erickson, from his office is Haines, said that the proposal was not adopted, but did say that they were planning to close shrimping in the area in the next few years because they believe the stocks are down.
Another possibility mentioned by Erickson would be to close shrimping to recreational parties with the exception of locals. This would essentially cut off Canadians from the fishery who, some at Fish and Game believe, are part of the problem. Erickson said that decisions for sport fishing closures would be made in the next couple weeks.
Bourcy hopes the city can approach Fish and Game with a concept for issuing the emergency order in an effort to “stay on top of the issue.” He also would like to see increased enforcement on certain weekends to get a little more insight into exactly what is going on.
In a related issue the BOF also modified the Southeast Alaska King Salmon Management Plan “to allow the sport fishery to fully harvest their allocation during years of high king salmon abundance.”
Fish and Game uses a complex mathematical formula to determine the “abundance index” (AI) of king salmon in the area. Over the last four years the AI has been very high but the sport fishery was unable to capitalize on this increase due the restrictions in the management plan.
Modifications to the plan allow for more lee-way to modify the size and bag limits for both residents and non-residents alike. If the high AI continues, then it will mean more fish on the table for sport and subsistence fishermen.
More detailed information is available through F&G at its website: http://www.adfg.state.ak.us

Diving into the Juneau Access EIS
State maneuvers to fund road, cancels more fast ferries

By JEFF BRADY
The new preferred alternative in the final Environmental Impact Statement for the Juneau Access project is a road from Juneau to Katzehin with regular shuttle ferry service from a new Katzehin terminal to Haines and Skagway.
There is no doubt that such a system would improve transportation in upper Lynn Canal, but a battle is being waged over the long-term costs – financial and environmental – of that alternative versus the existing combination of fast and mainline vessels from Auke Bay.
The 30-day comment period for the EIS ends next Monday, March 13, and a Record of Decision on the project by the Federal Highway Administration is expected some time after March 14.
Once approved, the funding debate begins in earnest. Total estimated construction cost in the EIS for the road, new terminal and two shuttle ferries is $258 million.
The Murkowski Administration wants to access $126 million in federal funds from the Shakwak account and a ferry discretionary fund to jump start the project this summer. Such funds were tapped to build the fast ferry Fairweather, administration officials have noted. They also have a $45 million request before the Legislature this year on top of $5 million approved last year, and have decided against purchasing two more fast ferries like the Fairweather and Chenega, citing their high cost. The state also plans to run them only in summer.
All alternatives are detailed in the massive document and appendices available for inspection at the Skagway Library, or via the Juneau Access link at www.dot.state.ak.us.
Here are some highlights from a Skagway News review of the EIS (also see table S-1 from the EIS on page 9):
• The new road would be extended 50.8 miles from the Glacier Highway terminus to a ferry terminal north of the Katzehin River delta at a cost of $189 million; the new terminal, would cost $16 million; and the two mono-hull shuttle ferries would cost $53 million.
• Under the preferred Alternative 2B, mainline and fast ferry service would end at Auke Bay. The ferry Aurora also would be used as a shuttle in Upper Lynn Canal (starting in 2007), and would operate to Juneau during road closures due to avalanches. The shuttle ferries to Haines and Skagway would run 6-8 times a day in summer.
• Traffic time to Skagway from Auke Bay, if able to roll right onto a shuttle ferry, would be three hours, compared with 3.8 hours on the existing fast ferry and up to nine hours on a mainliner, with the stop in Haines.
• Average Daily Traffic demand in Lynn Canal is expected to be 930 vehicles (1640 in summer) by 2038. The ADT for the no action alternative is 230 vehicles, but capacity would be 167. Alternative 2B would have a summer capacity of 1,190 vehicles by 2038, compared with 260 to 470 for any of the Alternative 4 A-D improved ferry options from Auke Bay or Sawmill Cove.
• Operation and maintenance cost for the road-shuttle ferry alternative is $9 million ($1.3 million highway, $7.7 million ferries) , compared with $10.2 million for the no action alternative. The net cost to the state for the no action alternative over 35 years would be about $61 million, compared with $88 million for Alternative 2B and up to $98 million for any of the better ferry alternatives. (Road opponents have seized on these cost figures contending that the existing system would be the least costly to the state).
• Cost per vehicle mile for a family of four from Auke Bay to Skagway would be $2.55 on a conventional ferry, $2.80 on a fast ferry, and 44 cents on the highway alternative.
• There would be a net loss of 70 acres of total wetlands, most of it between Slate Creek and Point Sherman.
• There would be a 26 percent loss of brown bear habitat, but the state has proposed wildlife underpasses as a mitigation measure to reduce that loss. The document contains a lengthy mitigation list and an offer of $780,000 to the federal government as compensation for losses.
• In many places, the road would be aligned close to shore to avoid eagle nests, and along intertidal areas (near or below high tide line) between Comet and Katzehin where there is high avalanche hazard (36 paths in this area, of which there are three multiple-path clusters).

This shot of an avalanche during the winter of 2004-05 shows one of the high risk paths that the highway may not be able to avoid.
Photo courtesy of Scott Logan

• At Met Point and Gran Point sea lion haulouts, the road would be located further uphill. A maintenance station and rest stop would be located at Comet Landing.
• In terms of economic impact, the road-shuttle ferry alternative would increase traffic between the three communities and even Whitehorse, but it would not substantially affect the overall demographics of Juneau, Haines and Skagway. Access to health care facilities would be improved for Haines and Skagway residents. Commercial property in Skagway would likely increase in value with the increase in traffic.
• The final EIS refers in more detail about the 4F situation with Skagway’s Historic Landmark that led to the state and FHWS to change its preferred alternative from a road to Skagway to a road to Katzehin. It also mentions the new Dewey Lakes Recreation Area Management Plan, but not as a 4F designation.
• It also details more of the controversial aspects before the communities, including the 62 percent vote in Skagway for better ferries over the road alternative, resolutions against the road from Skagway and Haines governments, as well as resolutions in favor of the road that passed the Legislature and barely passed the Juneau Assembly. Yet the EIS notes that total comments received after release of the supplemental draft last year favored the road by a 60-40 margin. The comments are compiled in a separate document according to topic.

Draft school budget exceeds $1.8 million

City to pay more

The Skagway City School Board took a first look at a proposed $1.806 million budget this week for the 2006-07 school year. The draft is based on an enrollment of 105 students and represents about a 5.5 percent increase over the current school year’s budget.
Superintendent Michael Dickens opened the discussion by saying that despite increases in the state funding formula last year, the state manages to place more of a burden on local governments.
“They keep expecting municipalities to come up with more,” he said, even though many cities in the state are hurting. “It’s clever.”
Under the proposed budget, the state would contribute $806,796, compared with $824,076 this year for its final count of 109.25 students. Even with less students expected next year, the city contribution would grow from $868,778 to $955,656.
By law, the city must contribute at least $561,622, but a complicated formula based on assessed valued and mill rates allows a maximum local contribution of about $1.595 million from Skagway.
Dickens noted that the district was able to present a balanced budget with a city contribution far under that maximum cap, but it is still higher than last year.
Most items in the budget are hold-the-line, he said, and the increased total reflects the three percent increase in teacher salaries approved by the board, employee benefit increases, and higher fuel costs.
The budget will be formally presented to the board at its March 21 meeting, and must be approved and presented to the city by April 15.
Dickens said proposals from the governor for $92 million in additional state aid for schools and two-year forward funding would help “if it goes anywhere” in the Legislature. – JB

Mayor: State should pay for plant upgrades due to addition of ferry sewage

Mayor Bourcy reported at the March 2 City Council meeting that he had met with DOT officials and the engineering firm of Carson Dorn regarding the state’s proposed project to tie the ferry terminal into the city sewer system.
He said the state plans on dumping 4,700 gallons of concentrated effluents into the city system when it comes on line, and that sewer treatment plant manager Tim Gladden and the Department of Environmental Conservation are concerned.
The mayor said DEC has sent a letter stating that any additional concentrated effluents should not be allowed without additional upgrades to the plant. A chlorinating pond and ventilation system would be needed to deal with aeration.
Bourcy said he told DOT that the city is not in a financial position to address those issues now due to the current flood control project and clinic project needs over the next few years. He suggested that the state find grant money to allow the upgrades to happen.
There was no objection from the Council to sending a letter to the state reiterating this point. – JB

NOTE: Annual tourism stats and cruise schedule were inserted in this issue. To have full access to these and other features in The Skagway News, you should subscribe to the newspaper.

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

SOCCER SHOOTER

Taylor Eagan accepts her trophy from John L. O'Daniel for taking third in the state in the Elks Soccer Shoot. See more awards given to top Hoop Shooters and essay writers in sports.

SPORTS & REC. ROUNDUP: Panthers draw Yakutat in opening round of 2A Tourney; Elks awards for best essays, hoop and soccer shooters

• OBITUARY: Glenda J. Choate, 1932-2006

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