Ice sculptors Bruce Schindler, Ken Graham (under mammoth), and Peter Lucchetti of Skagway put some finishing touches on their ice sculpture in the glow of a February night at the recent Sourdough Rendezvous in Whitehorse. See the story of the "Neander-Clause" in features below. Photo by Stacy Eaton
Skagway weighs in against road
By JEFF BRADY
If a count of public testimony is a telling indication, then the Juneau Access Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statements preferred alternative a road between Skagway and Juneau remains far from winning community support over existing or improved ferry service.
At the Feb. 24 public meeting at the Skagway City School, 76 people signed in at the front desk, and 33 testified. Of those, 24 testified against the road, seven testified for the road, and two either asked questions (the newspaper) or offered information (the mayor).
Project director Reuben Yost and moderator Dave Hanson stressed that written testimony would be weighed equally with oral testimony, and the public has until March 21 to submit written comments. A more accurate count of support for alternatives will be in the compilation of written and oral testimony in the final EIS, due in July or August.
Ironically, because of the then-labor impasse over the fast ferry Fairweather, the planners had to charter an Allen Marine boat to the Haines and Skagway hearings that week. For an hour and a half they explained certain parts of the plan - avalanche paths, economic impacts, environment, routes in special areas in the school hallway.
The three-hour public hearing followed and had a formal air about it. Speakers had three minutes, and no questions were answered. Hanson said no disruptive behavior would be allowed, such as cheering or booing. Except for one small burst of applause, the crowd followed the rules and Hanson praised everyone. I appreciated the cooperation of everyone in Skagway, he said.
Below is a rundown of the testimony.
Barbara Kalen - Favored alternative 4C (mono-hull shuttle ferries, Auke Bay to Haines/Skagway), calling it dependable and frequent enough to be useful.
Beth Cline - Worried about the roads impact on Lower Dewey Lake and the north end of town where she lives.
Dennis Bousson - The report underestimates the recreational significance of the Dewey Lakes area, and its historical significance, and under-reports the citys Oct. vote and the citys positions.
C. E. Furbish - Asked everyone to remember their grade school days, learning the capitals of states, and why Juneau was so special because it was the only one without a road to it. This place is special. If we build a road up Lynn Canal it will turn into another Puget Sound.
Judy Selmer - Hoped people wont become too divided over the issue but loves the ferry system the way it is, and Lower Lakes solitude.
Dimitra Lavrakas - Questioned the $281 million cost of the road alternative, when an Anchorage road project this year is going to cost $37.5 million. Based on a mile-by-mile comparison, the Juneau road would run over a billion dollars.
Ken Russo - Pointed out that the reports estimate of 16 road closures for avalanche control each winter is for the Juneau Road only, and that the Klondike Highway closures need to be factored in, which could push the number of days closed beyond the 30-plus estimated in the report.
Doreen Cooper - Noted that people in Skagway are discouraged with DOT and the report. It takes the rosiest picture and where it does perceive problems, it glosses over them.
Roy Nelson - Worried about the roads destruction and how tourists will view it. Who wants to see a bare rock cut in one of the most beautiful areas in the United States.
Cory Thole - Concerned about the roads impact on Lower Dewey Lake area, both on the trails and off, which are used by many people. He added that while the report addressed the big three (eagles, sea lions, bears), it did not include potential impacts on goshawk and murrelet populations.
Raymie Eatough - Supported alternative 4A (catamaran shuttle ferries, Auke Bay to Haines/Skagway, with some mainline service), adding Dewey Lakes is my sanctuary.
Roger Griffin - Supported the no action alternative 1 (combination of fast ferry Fairweather and mainline ferries), citing fiscal concerns with the federal deficit and the states ability to maintain roads. If the Fairweather ran more often, it would address concerns about service.
Kristin Wilkinson - If a road is built, of course Ill use it, she said, but said it would have a huge impact on Skagways quality of life. She questioned why the state did not include a design for the ramp coming into Skagway. Youre here, you should be showing it to us.
John Warder - The report underestimates the impacts to Dewey Lakes as it relates to 4(f) and does not adequately recognize the support of Juneau, Haines and Skagway for improved ferry service. In addition to the avalanches, the report should account for road closures due to drifting snow, and noted that Victoria, B.C. (on Vancouver Island) is a capital in North America without a road directly to it. The report had said Juneau was the only one.
Scott Home - The report does not address the 65 miles of road going by an active fault and seizure zone. The most active fault is opposite the steepest part along Taiya Inlet, he said.
Jen Haugh - Wished money would stop going into the report and go into the ferry system, adding that she doesnt have to lock her car and parents dont have to worry about their kids having a safe place to ride their bikes. Bringing this road in is going to take all of this away.
Jan Wrentmore - It comes as no surprise that (the report) is a twisted piece of work, she said, accusing DOT of downgrading ferry service, raising fares, and discouraging growth of the system to win road support. She also targeted the Murkowski Administration for having the Lt. Gov. meet with a pro-road group on voter registration, trying to take away the citys harbor money if it didnt sign a Joint Planning Agreement, and using a lawyer to try to intimidate citizens on the Dewey Lakes planning committee. We have no intention of getting out of your way, she concluded.
Bill Barger - Believes the state needs to balance quality of life issues in the report, and questions the maintenance costs for the road versus the ferry system. I personally believe the ferry system can be more efficient.
Buckwheat Donahue - Wishes the governor would look at the plebiscites in all three communities opposing the road, and said it may be time to take the issue to a statewide vote, with the costs of the road presented.
Steve Dobert - While it may be nice to drive to Juneau, wondered how often people would be able to do it in the winter.
Mike Konsler - Thinks the ferry service can be improved If you put in as much energy and creativity (as the road alternative) to make it work and pay for itself, he said. I dont doubt you can build a road... but I like it the way it is. (A road) would diminish the things I like about Skagway.
Seth Plunkett - Urged the state to invest in ferries, even making them free. The highway visibly would be an affront to me and economically doesnt make a lot of sense.
Andrew Cremata - Struggled with his decision but said he enjoys Skagways coziness and worries a Juneau road would turn the community into a rest stop where crime and petty vandalism would increase. Im concerned that if a road were built, I would choose a new place to live.
Tori Clyde - Prefers a better ferry system. Being an EMT, especially in the summer, is a stressful job. She uses Dewey Lakes to get away. If a road were built there would be more and more calls for EMS and SAR crews and they would have to develop a different response system.
Left, Beth Cline holds her baby while testifying on the roads possible impacts to families living at the north end of town as Dennis Bousson waits his turn. Right, Kurt Kosters talks about problems with the ferry system and how people who oppose the road will still drive it. Photos by Jeff Brady
Kurt Kosters - In his 35 years here, has seen the ferry system go downhill. It is prohibitive in cost and the service is unreliable, and added that those who were against the Klondike Highway seem to enjoy the road up there.
Bert Bounds - After at first opposing the road, has come around to supporting it on quality of life issues. He cited loss of access to medical care in Whitehorse, and said the ferry service is bad. He can understand why the state took the Fairweather off-line: It costs a lot of money to run.
Haynes Torme - Said he was a Juneau resident who grew up in Haines and had driven from the Lower 48 to Skagway, and had waited two days for a ferry, costing his family money. Im pro-road. I want to be able to go home now. I want to come up here on weekends. He added that he loves Berners Bay as much as Skagway people love Dewey Lakes, but Im willing to make that sacrifice.
Robin Robinson - Likened the road opposition to projects like the Golden Gate Bridge, World Trade Center, and the Concorde that were built and accepted without damaging the environment and local businesses. Who could argue against reducing travel time, cost to the user, cost to the state, and flexibility?
Chris Grooms - Questioned how local people escape tourists at Lower Lake when the tourists are up there too. While he likes the 2.5-hour ride to Juneau when it runs, he said that the Fairweather is an appropriate name for the new fast ferry. I know the state spent a lot of money on it, but it is a boondoggle as far as I am concerned. Although he has mixed feelings about a road to Juneau, as an EMT the preferred alternative deserves consideration because the Whitehorse hospital is not accepting patients from us anymore.
Thor Henricksen - Considers people from Juneau his neighbors and not riff-raff. As a member of the Dewey Lakes committee, he welcomed the states input, but believed the city stacked the committee against the road. He agrees that the area is nice but the road will open it up to more hiking, and it will not be lost. As a highway worker, he said despite the number of avalanche chutes, there are only a few problem areas on the route, and that closures on the Juneau and Klondike portions would be reduced if the state hired two shifts of maintenance workers. The road closures would be far less than what we have now, he said.
Mark Knorr - Thinks the vote in the fall should have just asked if citizens were for or against the road, and would have resulted in a closer number than the 62-38 margin. He said the citys take on 4(f) is a last attempt to lock up the road ... there are national parks all over with roads to beautiful places. He was on the Fairweather the night a wave damaged it in Lynn Canal. It will kill people if you run it like they did that night, he said. As a former highway worker, he said the road will do no more harm to Skagway than the Klondike Highway, and if the state quit cutting maintenance, it would be open more.
Mayor Tim Bourcy - Stressed he was there on behalf of the city to listen to the testimony, and urged people to also forward comments to the city to help them draft an official response for the report. Of concern to the city are Dewey Lakes, the alignment into Skagway and how it will change the north end of town, and who will foot the bill for emergency services on the road to Juneau. And, as a business owner, he had concerns about the roads effect on year-round businesses. A special City Council meeting was held March 10 to formulate the citys response.
Jeff Brady, Skagway News - In the Feb. 25 issue, we posed some questions that must be asked for the Juneau Access public hearing, and we asked them. No give and take was allowed during the hearing itself, but before and after the meeting, our questions were answered by state and federal highway officials.
QUESTION: Why, given the fact that letters to and from the state DOT, Federal Highways Administration and National Park Service about potential impacts to Skagway were shown running into December 2004, did the report stop listing all information from the City of Skagway after last June? Missing are results from the Oct. 2004 vote in favor of improved ferries over a road, and subsequent passage (and copies of) the Dewey Lakes Recreation Area ordinance. The report says it is still waiting on a signature from the city on last Aprils proposed mutual planning agreement.
ANSWER: Project director Reuben Yost said there was one mention of the October vote in the Purpose and Need section of the document, but not in the summary or the areas of controversy section that mentioned other public opinion polls and votes in Skagway, Juneau and Haines. Much of the document was forwarded to agencies for review in August, and not all of it was updated before it went out to the public last month. The Oct. election showed 62 percent of Skagway voters favored improved ferries, and 38 percent supported the road. Yost stressed that the SDEIS report is a draft and more up-to-date information like the vote, ordinance and city correspondence would be included in the final EIS and summary.
QUESTION: Regarding 4(f) language and implications, where does FHWA really stand? The last correspondence from 2003 cites the Dewey Lakes areas multiple use, and the report concludes 4(f) applies only to the trail, which will be bridged. Has this stance changed since passage of the city ordinance and the states pursuit of right-of-way purchase?
ANSWER: Tim Haugh of the Federal Highways Administration pointed to Section 188.8.131.52 which states: The FHWA has reviewed the ordinance creating the Dewey Lakes Recreation Management Plan and has determined that nothing in the ordinance changes the original determination that the parcel is managed for multiple use. The only Section 4(f) protected facilities are the two trails (Lower Dewey Lake Trail and Harbor Overlook Trail). Haugh said the basis for the decision was that the area was still being managed as multiple use. After careful consideration, (FHWA concluded) the language to the ordinance with respect to the management of the parcel was consistent with the language in the Comprehensive Plan. The decision was made before any meeting with the land owner, the city. Haugh and Yost met with Mayor Tim Bourcy for the first time before the meeting, and the city conveyed its concerns about the reports conclusions being made without their consultation. Council was meeting March 10 to draft its formal comments, and may protest the decision.
QUESTION: While several photo simulations and technical reports identify the road cut coming into Skagway, there are none detailing the proposed 400-foot-long overpass going over the railroad tracks and linking with a retaining wall to 23nd Ave. and Main. What will it look like, how will it take northbound traffic from State Street and southbound traffic to Main Street, and will any private or public property need to be taken to accomplish this?
ANSWER: DOT has some models being developed for the approach to Skagway and will send them up for community review in the next few weeks.
QUESTION: Why were year-round business owners in Skagway not contacted for a survey on the economic impacts of the Juneau Access alternatives?
ANSWER: Thats a good question, answered one of the consultants for the McDowell Group in the hallway. He said the information in the socioeconomic report was derived solely from traffic projections and an economic model of their subsequent impacts. The report concluded that the benefits of having more independent travelers (75,000 new visitors in 2008) visit Skagway would out-weigh the loss of increased local spending by residents heading to Juneau for purchases. Based on these traffic projections, it foresees a population increase of 90 residents, an addition of 13 students in the school, and increased payroll of $1.5 million in the community from 50 new jobs. It also says cruise ships have told them they will not leave, freight will continue to arrive by barge, and costs of medical care by SEARHC (wrongly identified as operator of the Skagway clinic) would be reduced. Police services would remain basically the same, but officers would be responsible for nine more miles of road in the city limits. EMS/Fire divisions would be more impacted and likely would see a need for more paid staff.
Finally: Deal reached for Fairweather
UPDATE: Lynn Canal service due to resume March 17
JUNEAU State labor negotiators have reached an agreement with the two remaining labor unions involved in operations of the MV Fairweather, approving a contract to return the states first fast-ferry to regular operations in time for the summer tourism season.
According to a March 8 press release, the operating contract was approved by negotiators representing the Masters, Mates and Pilots and the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association. The Fairweather could be back in service on or before March 24.
Terms of the contract allow for the Fairweather to be operated by a single crew four days a week during the winter months between October and May. Two crews will man the vessel seven days a week during the busy summer months. The contract also gives the state flexibility to determine appropriate crew levels to meet future winter passenger demand.
We are pleased to have agreement on the first comprehensive contract under U.S. labor law for operation of a high speed ferry, said Gov. Frank H. Murkowski in a statement. Now we have an agreement that lets us deliver reliable service to the traveling public in a way that the state can afford.
Monetary terms of the three-year agreement remain confidential until they have been reviewed by union membership.
The ferry has been tied up since Jan. 28, leaving Lynn Canal communities with just two ferries a week during all of February.
It was a very difficult decision to tie up the Fairweather until we achieved these agreements, said state DOT&PF Commissioner Mike Barton. But now, the agreements will go a long way toward providing continued service by the Fairweather within a reasonable budget.
Barton said returning the Fairweather to service is made more complicated by the fact that senior crew members who bumped back into the rest of the fleet while labor negotiations continued must now be returned to the fast-ferry without disrupting other ferry operations.
Neff is congratulated after arriving in Fairbanks. Star photo by Kelly-Anne Riess
Neff takes third in Quest, starts Iditarod chase
By ANDREW CREMATA and KELLY-ANNE RIESS
Skagway News / Whitehorse Star
When we last checked in with Skagway musher Hugh Neff in this years Yukon Quest sled dog race, he was due to leave Dawson City in first position in the grueling 1000-mile annual event. While Neff did not finish the race in first place he still managed to take third, his best in five attempts and take home the $18,000 cash prize and 4 ounces of placer gold for being the first to arrive in Dawson City.
The first place finisher was rookie Lance Mackey, the old school musher with the wooden sled. The $30,000 first place prize seems to have catapulted Mackey into the modern age as he will use some of his winnings to buy a more modern aluminum sled. Said his wife Tonya, His other sled is just too heavy.
William Kleedehn, the musher from Carcross, was this years favorite and managed to take second place. Kleedehn offered some excitement in the final part of the race, which was the fastest and closest in its history.
Mackey and Neff had been running together through most of the race. However at Angel Creek, enjoying their mutual lead in the race, something unexpected happened.
William showed up out of the blue, Neff told the Whitehorse Star.
When Kleedehn went roaring past the two men, Mackey quickly put the booties on his dogs and tore off after Kleedehn. I never bootied dogs faster in my life, said Mackey after the race. I bootied 10 dogs in 10 minutes.
Mackey tried to hide from Kleedehn so as to keep from giving up his position but the barking dogs made it almost impossible. Mackey was able to hold onto the lead but admits that if there had been another 10 miles in the race, Kleedehn would have won.
After crossing the finish line, Mackey had nothing but praise for Neff. That man is a book of knowledge, he told reporters.
The praise was mutual for Neff who said, It is a beautiful day to finish. The Mackey family means a lot to me. Neff also had nothing but praise for Kleedehn: He is the great Yukon explorer.
Friends Neff and Mackey both began the Iditarod on Saturday, March 5. As of Tuesday, March 9, Mackey was in 17th position and Neff in 19th after leaving the Rohn checkpoint. Iditarod updates are on the web at www.iditarod.com/raceupdates.
UPDATE: Neff finished in 26th place in the Iditarod with just six dogs, most of them Quest veterans.
Hatching Skagway's future: the DIPAC debate
By ANDREW CREMATA
In 1987 City Councilman Mike Korsmo ran a charter fishing operation in Skagway. At the time, the community was beginning to feel the positive effects of tourism generated by the successful marketing of its colorful history. A fishing charter business would have been a good idea, had there been any fish.
Korsmo gave his business an unofficial, tongue-in-cheek name: Dead Sea Charters.
Fast forward to the bustling summer of 2004. On a calm, sunny morning at the breakwater, a handful of fisherman cast into the mouth of the small boat harbor while a row of charter boats idle past. They are all targeting the kings of our waters, the Chinook salmon, and most of them are having success.
In fact, one local man is fighting a large king on the ferry terminal side of the harbor entrance. A crowd of about 30 tourists has gathered haphazardly around him, slowly crowding in for a closer look. From the decks of a nearby docked cruise ship people are also beginning to take note of the fight, and it is soon standing room only against the rails.
This singular event is the culmination of a hatchery program, years in the making that now faces possible termination by Skagways City Council.
A work session was held Thursday, March 3 in council chambers between City Council, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and Douglas Island Pink and Chum (DIPAC) who is the party hired by the city for the rearing and release of this precious resource. The purpose of the meeting was to outline problems with the efforts of DIPAC in 2004, and for them and ADF&G to make their case for the citys continued investment in the program.
Last year the city spent $80,000 toward DIPACs program. The money is essentially spent for incubating and hatching the eggs, and the use of a raceway for the rearing of the fry in Juneau at their facility.
DIPAC works hand-in-hand with the school hatchery program. Ryan Ackerman is in charge of the operation at the school and is responsible for the weir, the fish cages, and the holding pen, which is the large, black, round floating object in Pullen Pond.
Ackerman and his class capture the fish in the weir and place them in the cages until the eggs are ready for harvesting. DIPAC then steps in and takes these eggs to Juneau to be raised in a raceway. One could imagine a raceway as being a huge, high-tech aquarium. When the fry are ready in the spring, usually in May, they are taken to the holding pen where they will stay for a month.
This is crucial to the development of the fish because it is in this month that the fish are imprinted. That is, they learn that Pullen Creek is their home, and it is where they will return when they are ready to spawn.
The whole process sounds simple enough but problems in 2004 have left the city wondering if the investment, expected to double in 2005, is really worth the price.
(In 2004) we could not get our brood stock needs met because of problems at the weir, said ADF&G representative Rocky Holmes. We only collected 75,000 eggs.
Two hundred thousand eggs were supposed to be collected in 2004. Why the shortage? It depends on whom you ask.
From my perspective, I thought the person (responsible for the weir) was hired by the city, said Holmes. Our biologist tried but couldnt get a hold of him. When they did, he said there were 75 fish in there. When he said they were ready, they were dead. The story wasnt consistent.
City Manager Bob Ward said, A lot of the fish that were in the pens were neglected. There was a significant amount of finger pointing between local (parties), Fish and Game, and DIPAC.
School Board President Chris Ellis, who was upset by the lack of invitation for the school to the special work session, said, The city was yelling at us because things werent being taken care of.... The city, DIPAC thing has nothing to do with the school.... There were the same problems when Rex did it.
Former teacher Rex Kilburn was in charge of the schools fish hatchery program until Ackerman took it over in May of 2004. It was this change that may have generated some confusion over the responsibilities of that position. A Memorandum Of Understanding between the City and the School for running the schools Jerry Myers Hatchery was recently authored and went into effect on July 1, 2004. But school board members were upset that they did not get enough eggs last fall.
While the MOU is clear in its outline of responsibilities, it still makes no mention of any responsibility of the school in regards to DIPAC and its operations.
Vandalism was an issue, said Ward.
Vandalism was a major problem in 2003, but there were only two incidents on police record in 2004. One was the release of 10 kings on July 29 and the other a minor incident involving local kids jumping on the fish weir. These incidents can hardly be used as a reason for the shortcoming of eggs.
Amidst the finger pointing and blame, Ackerman takes responsibility for some of last years errors and is optimistic about the coming year. There were a couple of times we couldnt touch bases, he said of his relationship with DIPAC. There were some misunderstandings. I had a bad learning process, but now I know what to expect. I think it is a good idea for the city to keep working with DIPAC.
Ackerman envisions a production hatchery in the future that would not only eliminate the need for DIPAC, but could be self-sustaining by charging visitors to tour the facility.
DIPAC had also hoped the city would have its own hatchery by now. When we entered into this agreement, Skagway said they would have a hatchery by (2005), said DIPAC representative Eric Prestegard.
Lack of money has been the prohibitive force behind the building of a production hatchery in Skagway. We thought people would be throwing money at us for a hatchery but this has not been the case, said Ward.
Ironically, the state has provided mitigation in the past for making the Skagway River more suitable for salmon runs by adding things like habitat rocks, however, there is no king salmon run of note in that body of water.
Ward commented on the lack of state money for the project but Holmes said that under Skagways unique circumstances mitigation would be available for the project.
This (program) has done more for fishing here in the last 20 years than any mitigation project in the last 50, said Councilman Dave Hunz.
Ackerman agrees. I think it will work. The number of fry Im seeing at the docks is triple or quadruple what Ive ever seen here. Its great for sport fishing.
While the long-term success of the project is undeniable, many are questioning why the output, and cost, needs to double this year. If production was kept at 200,000 eggs this year, the cost would remain the same and it would give other interested parties time to evaluate the local environmental impact of exponentially increasing king salmon numbers in our waters.
I dont see why we cant keep it at $80,000, unless there is some scientific reason we cant, said Korsmo. Also, what does that many fish do to fish runs we currently have? There is definitely going to be a ripple effect on the food chain.
Councilmember Mike Catsi asked the most pointed question at the meeting, Why is this good for Skagway?
Holmes answered, It provides a fishery for locals and an marketable alternative to the historical aspects of this town.
Can Skagway lure tourists with fish?
Many Alaskan tourist destinations are successfully marketing to anglers all over the world to fish their pristine waters. As Skagway sees tourists returning for their second and third visit, alternative-marketing strategies that differ from Skagways traditional historical angle could provide a future economic boom.
Ackerman envisions worldwide enthusiasm and appeal to fishing in a destination like Skagway. A reliable king salmon fishery would complement our access to prime northern lakes via the Klondike Highway. All we have to do is market it and make it a reality, he said.
At the meeting former mayor Stan Selmer said, Skagway should keep this going.
Prestegard agreed when he said with simplicity, Fish are good.
An opportunity for public input is tentatively scheduled for April.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
Rori Leaverton of Skagway (250) leads the pack at the start of her race. See story in Sports. Photo by Vince Fedoroff, Whitehorse Star
OTHER ONLINE STORIES THIS ISSUE
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