A Bureau of Customs and Border Protection inspector holds out his radiation detector. - DL

Dancing lights may set off radiation detectors

On March 2, northern lights danced over the U.S. Border Station high above the White Pass. A normal occurrence, but an instance that has caused a mystery for one Customs inspector.
Michael Klensch, an amateur astronomer and well-known local auroral photographer, was taking a look inside a U-Haul truck when his radiation detector alerted, registering a reading of between one and two microR.
The device is designed to pick up gamma and X-rays and is more sensitive than “Geiger counter-type detectors,” claims the manual. Radiation is read in micro Roentgens (microR), and one microR equals one millionth Roentgen. A typical medical chest X-ray is approximately 15,000 microR, again according to the manual.
It detects radiation that would indicate radioactive material, and is being used as an anti-terrorist tool to make sure no bombs or bomb material make it across the border. It can even detect if a person has undergone radiation treatment within the past few weeks.
But the driver said he had no radioactive material and he hadn’t undergone radiation treatment.
“After finishing the truck, I checked out the auroral activity on the Internet (I would normally do this by ‘looking up,’ but we were under solid cloud cover,” wrote Klensch in an e-mail to his boss, Boyd Worley. “Sure enough, the activity was very high as Earth had been hit that day by a coronal discharge that emanated from the sun two days earlier. This solar ‘plasma’ is exactly the type of material that the detector should react to, given sufficient quantities.”
He asks Worley to consider alerting other inspectors to “this solar-auroral effect.”
“Maybe this should be sufficient argument to get all Alaskan inspectors ‘hazard pay’...what do ya think?” he jokingly wrote.
So Worley forwards up the chain, saying he thinks it should be included in an article in the Customs Today magazine.
But Klensch’s theory was pooh-poohed by a superior who said he was an amateur astronomer and he didn’t believe there was any way for radiation to penetrate to the Earth’s surface.
But Klensch disagreed, saying that it’s not the aurora that’s causing the radiation leak, but the cosmic radiation that causes the aurora.
“The tremendous amounts of ionizing radiation (protons and electrons) that the sun discharges during big events like coronal mass injections are mostly absorbed in the ionosphere and high atmosphere, (it is the interaction of the incoming solar radiation with high atmospheric gases that produces the aurora),” Klensch replied.
Klensch wonders if any inspectors at the ALCAN station on the Alaska Highway or in Fairbanks have had similar situations. Another inspector at the Skagway station has noticed the pager registering when auroral activity has been high, he said.
Klensch continues to test whether his conjecture is correct, and doesn’t want to say it’s a certainty until he has all the facts.
In the meantime, when the sky lights up, so might pagers at U.S. border stations at higher latitudes.

Council agrees flood control should go forward
Appeals to guv

With the commissioners of Fish & Game, Department of Environmental Conservation and the Department of Natural Resources determination that the flood control project does not comply with the Alaska Coastal Management Plan, the Council needed to decide what to do.
It could bag the project, reapply for the east side or reconsider the entire project.
Spring may be a good time to send the flood control project out for requests for proposals, said Ward.
“How much have we put into this so far,” asked Councilmember John Mielke.
Ward replied, “$350,000.”
Councilmember Dave Hunz, who owns land involved in the project, said he thought the project should be pursued. But Mielke was not for “dumping more money” into it.
Councilmember Mike Catsi wondered what would happen if the City just went ahead and did the project. Under the state’s project guidelines, Hunz would lose three acres of land the river has reclaimed since the gold rush days and three acres for Dairy Creek mitigation for salmon habitat.
“We’d be dealing with more than the state and the Corps of Engineers,” said Ward. “We’d be on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.”
“Just a question,” said Catsi.
The City has exhausted its appeals to the state, and the Council directed Ward to write a letter to Gov. Murkowski explaining the situation in an attempt to gain his support.

Public Works ponders industrial waste disposal
Grant for curtain incinerator possible

“Somehow we have to have the ability to burn, but we also have to be sensitive to people when we burn,” said Councilmember John Mielke, who chaired a Public Works meeting Feb. 26 . “Some people like the smell of wood smoke, and it bothers others.”
The Public Works Committee delved into what to do with industrial wastes after the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s notified Hunz & Hunz Enterprises of its non-compliance with open burn regulations. As a result, H&H voluntarily closed its industrial waste burn pit down, and placed the issue in the city’s lap.
March 6, the City Council agreed with City Manager Bob Ward’s suggestion that a request for proposals go out to all local contractors for a curtain incinerator operation, that would also be open to the public.
Josh Magee, H&H general manager, said at the Public Works meeting that a tent incinerator would be a good alternative as it contains the burn and also has air compression blowers that would incinerate the pile faster and direct the air upwards.
“It’s $30,000-$40,000 for a four-wall, tent incinerator, but that’s something Hunz wouldn’t be interested in investing in,” Magee said.
Talk at the Public Works meeting touched on buying a grinder and then sending the material to the city’s incinerator to burn in small amounts, but Public Works Director Grant Lawson said grinders have been found to be high-maintenance.
Stockpiling the stumps somewhere was a possibility, as was moving the burn pile itself.
“The best site is Hamilton’s,” said Lawson, referring to Hamilton Construction’s pit up the Klondike Highway.
But Councilmemebr J. Frey said Hunz’s was best because it‘s next to the river in case the fire jumps from the pile.
Magee said increased costs would be passed on to the public because DEC requires that small piles burn quickly. He said the cost is now $25 per user, no matter how much is dumped.
“There is some political fallout with this,” said City Manager Bob Ward, “We spend $100,000 a year on sprinkler grants to the private sector that doesn’t benefit the public. If we did a grant for development of an air curtain incinerator, it would have to be made available to the general public with restrictions on certain materials.”
But Magee said the city has to take into account the cost of having someone feed the fire. He also mentioned that H&H takes all the dump loads of garbage from Clean Sweep, charging only for the rental of the dump trucks, because the incinerator is at capacity with city garbage.
“A few years ago, when White Pass burned, they threw everything into the pile and torched it, but stopped when more environmentally concerned people moved into Skagway, and rightly so,” Mielke said.

Getting back to basics
Groups aim to complete preliminary work on Denali grant

Conceptual work on a “campus” project at the Rec. Center site was reworked at a Health and Human Service meeting March 5. Representatives from the Skagway Medical Board, the City Council, and the Recreation Committee attended, but the Senior Task Force, which has not met in some time, was not represented.
The Denali Commission grant was targeted last year for a “campus” project on the Rec. Center site consisting of senior housing, a new clinic and expanded recreational services. The groups involved now have to develop a conceptual plan for Denali technical assistants to review.
Mayor Tim Bourcy said a new clinic was the most important thing the city could do for the community.
Attendees seemed to agree that the Rec. Center site is too small to add the clinic, and other sites were suggested – 17th and State, where the old skating rink used to be and 14th and State – a lot owned by Wells Fargo, but which may be donated to the city. The donation would create another member of the partnership, and that would carry weight with grantors, said Kendell Simm, chief of staff at the Skagway Medical Clinic.
Simm said the Denali grant staff expressed concern that the groups were trying to do too much at the Rec. Center site, and that they needed to consider how to sustain the project financially, then expansion could be considered.
She said the clinic had new equipment so it would only have to be outfitted with a new X-ray machine.
“The X-ray machine will be outdated by 2004, then it’ll be duct tape and Super Glue,” she said, explaining that parts would no longer be available by then.
It would take $40,000 to purchase a new digital machine that would no longer require a dark room or chemicals,” she said. “We could E-mail it to the technician in Juneau for diagnosis.”
A wave of wonderment rippled through the assemblage that an X-ray could be read so quickly. Compared to the usual waiting time for it to be slow-mailed to Juneau, and its departure and arrival dependent on whether planes were flying – it just seemed so 21st Century.
Essentially, the clinic has everything it needs except for more room, Simm said.
Especially for the seniors, Simm said there was a need for a room for longer periods when a patient is waiting to be medevaced or needs to be stabilized, or is in no condition to go back and forth between home and the clinic.
Bourcy said he’d spoken with seniors at a recent luncheon about what they preferred – assisted living arrangements or a visiting home helper. Most seniors, he said, wanted to stay in their homes as long as possible and just have someone come in and help with chores. Discussions with seniors will continue, Bourcy said. –DL

New rifle range in the works
A new and improved rifle range is being planned in Skagway. The place has been set, money is starting to come in. Councilmembers Mike Korsmo and Mike Catsi along with grant writer Stuart Brown are hopeful.
“We want to move it out of where it is now because it is identified as a recreational area. It’s too close to people’s homes, and it’s just trashed,” said Korsmo.
All fall and winter the trio have been looking for an alternative site, but all of them had the potential of nearby neighbors. Finally, they have chosen 180 yards between the incinerator and Customs, pointing away from the road.
“This is good because it’s just 10 minutes away, it’s handicap accessible, and it cuts down on noise pollution in the town,” said Korsmo.
They have the land leased for five years, agreeing to “see how it goes” and renew the contract again if all is well.
If it had to be completely paid for – clearing, putting cement down, and purchasing a bullet trap to catch the bullets – the whole thing would cost $103,000. Of that amount, $45,000 would be the bullet trap itself, but Brown says that if they receive volunteer help, that would cut the cost dramatically.
Brown has already received a $3,000 grant from the National Rifle Association, and is in the process of applying for other grants.
“All I said was, ‘Hey Stuart, do you want to get involved?’ and here he is with all the paperwork,” Korsmo joked.
They are thinking of asking the city for $60,000 and rely on volunteers and grants, to “promote ownership among the volunteers.” They plan to start after June because of the budget. –LUCIE STRAUB

Land lottery date moved
Because of the school’s spring break, the Panther teams’ possible trip to State, and the stipulation that potential landowners be present at the drawing, the City Council moved the land lottery date to April 7 at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers.
It had previously been scheduled for March 27.
A Horan & Corak appraiser put the price at Lot1 Block 1, $57,600; Lot 2, Block 1, $56,000; Lot 1 Block 2, $59,400; Lot 2, Block 2, $71,300; Lot 3 Block 2, $85,000; Lot 4, Block 2, $81,100. The sale would add $410,400 to the City’s coffers.
Mayor Tim Bourcy asked at the City Council’s March 6 meeting if someone could have a representative present if the person holding the ticket couldn’t be here.
“We had that with the ballfield lots, but these lots are far more desirable than the ballfield lots,” said City Manager Bob Ward.
The Council moved the date to April 7 with the 10 percent down payment due April 14 and the balance due May 1 unless financing is arranged through the city.
Tickets to the lottery are $100 and limited to one per person.
Bourcy will put all tickets into the drum and select tickets. The person first selected will have the choice of lots, and so on until all the lots are gone.
If a person rejects a lot, selection will fall to the next person drawn.
The lots can never be subdivided; construction of a single family dwelling must be commenced within three years; after the building is completed it must be the owner’s primary residence; it cannot be used for any commercial purposes including residential rental space, and cannot be sold until the full purchase price has been paid or the building has been constructed and the owner receives permission to sell it by the City Council. – DL


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