Skagway’s Michael Yee takes off from the Buckwheat Ski Classic aid station, which featured lots of volunteers, refreshments and a huge salmon carved in ice and snow. Yee was the only Skagway skier to complete the long 50K race. See story in Features and the BSC box.

Photo by Andrew Cremata

Construction worker dies in accident at Kasidaya Creek Hydro site

Initial AKOSH investigation points to 'parking brake failure'

A young Skagway man was killed in an accident at the Kasidaya Creek Hydro construction site Thursday morning, March 20.
Officials waited until next of kin had been notified before releasing information the following afternoon about the death of Derek Sather, 27, an employee of Hunz & Hunz Enterprises, a Skagway construction firm doing work at the site.
According to a press release issued by Alaska Power and Telephone, Sather was part of a crew involved in the “normal movement of 10 yards of concrete in a mixer truck from the beach at the Kasidaya Creek Hydro project to the project dam site.”
The release continued, “The incident occurred at 900 feet on the Kasidaya Creek Road when a loader was being connected to the concrete truck to assist it up the hill.”
Skagway Fire Department received a call that a man was pinned between two vehicles, said Skagway Fire Chief Mark Kirko. The department began to mobilize equipment for a possible lifting of heavy machinery, but were then called back and told that the man had been freed.
Co-workers from AP&T and H&H then proceeded to try and resuscitate Sather with an AED unit and rescue breathing efforts, the release said.
The Skagway Public Safety boat and a helicopter responded, both arriving there about a half hour after the call came in. Sather’s co-workers were administering CPR, and then Skagway EMTs took over those efforts. Kirko said the victim was moved to the boat for transport to Skagway. EMTs were in communication with an emergency room doctor in Juneau, and Sather was pronounced dead on the rescue boat at approximately 9:48 a.m.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Derek’s family and his co-workers,” state Roger Bargar, superintendent for the Kasidaya project.
David Hunz, owner of Hunz and Hunz Enterprises, said “Derek was a wonderful, energetic, thoughtful young man and will be missed by all that knew and worked with him.”
Kirko said he “feels for the construction workers” when accidents like this occur. “It’s like losing a family member.”
Services for Sather will be held at his home in Gig Harbor, Wash. this weekend, and a Skagway memorial will occur at a later date.

Derek Sather was an avid fisherman, catching this big salmon in the Pat Moore Derby. Andrew Cremata

The hydro site is on the east side of Taiya Inlet, about three miles from Skagway. AP&T is constructing a hydroelectric dam there to service customers in Skagway and Haines. The project is due to be on line later this year.
Officials with the state’s Labor Standards and Safety Division were on the scene last Friday afternoon to begin investigating the incident, according to the press release.
Grey Mitchell, director of the state’s Labor Standards and Safety division said this week that Alaska Occupational Safety and Health (AKOSH) enforcement investigators conducted interviews over the weekend.
“The victim was crushed while apparently hooking up a cement mixer to a loader,” Mitchell said. “Based on the initial report, it sounds like a parking brake failed.”
Investigators have up to 180 days to complete their report on the incident and provide it to the employer. After it is submitted to the employer it is then available to the public by request.
Mitchell said work has been allowed to resume at the hydro site.

Denali Comm. kicks in $2.2 million for clinic, calls Skagway ‘model for state’

Commission impressed with other grant matches, community support

The Municipality of Skagway will soon receive a $2.2 million grant from the Denali Commission toward construction of Skagway’s new Edward A. and Jenny Rasmuson Community Health Center.
This total represents about 30 percent of the construction costs, wrote Denali Daniels, health facilities program manager for the federally-funded commission, in a letter dated March 17.
In a statement via e-mail this week, George J. Cannelos, federal co-chair of the Denali Commission, stated: “The Skagway clinic project is a priority project for the Denali Commission this year. Through a gated process of planning, design and construction the City of Skagway has demonstrated local leadership in bringing this project to reality. We are particularly pleased that the Rasmuson Foundation has partnered on this project which made it more competitive for Commission funding this year. This project is considered a large clinic by Commission standards and we are pleased that the local community members have made this a priority through local contributions. This is a success story we can now use as a model for the rest of the state.”
The grant notice comes as the borough moves forward with its own funding for the project.
Voters last fall overwhelmingly approved a measure that allows the municipality to issue up to $5 million in general obligation bonds for the project. First reading of an ordinance authorizing those bonds was approved unanimously at the March 20 Skagway Borough Assembly meeting. The bonds will be offered for sale to the Alaska Municipal Bond Bank after second reading of the ordinance on April 3.
In addition to the Denali Commission grant, the borough received $800,000 in December from the Rasmuson Foundation toward construction, and last year received $1 million in state grants. Half came from the legislature, and half was matched by the previous Murkowski administration.
From grants alone, the borough will have $4 million for a project that is estimated to cost $7.84 million.
John Warder, chair of the Clinic Board, said the latest Denali Commission grant is actually phase three, as the commission also contributed money for phase 1 conceptual planning, and phase 2 design.
Warder said what “really helped” Skagway secure the latest construction phase was the amount of matching money the community was able to secure and contribute. He said the commission can match up to 50 percent of construction, but Skagway would probably have had to wait longer for the funds.
“We looked really good,” Warder said. “This community has supported this clinic from the get-go.”
By coming up with a larger match from several sources, the community moved up the Denali Commission’s priority list and was able to keep to its timeline for beginning construction this year.
Borough Manager Alan Sorum said the project is “on track for advertising around the first of May.” In addition to final passage of the ordinance, the proposal must be accepted by the bond bank; a construction administration contract with architect Livingston Sloan needs assembly approval; and the final design must be signed off by the state fire marshal, he said.
Warder concluded: “Something I’ve been very impressed with is the degree of support this clinic has gotten from this community, and those of us on the board are very grateful for their support on this project.... It’s nice to be working on something that everyone’s behind.”

Violet 'Connie' Conard, 1924-2008

Perhaps no other woman in Skagway history gave more back to her community

Memorial services for beloved teacher and community volunteer Violet “Connie” Conard will be held at 5 p.m. on Monday, March 31 at the First Presbyterian Church in Skagway.
A community turkey dinner in her honor will follow at the Presbyterian Fellowship Hall.
Conard, 83 , died March 25, 2008, at the Brandon Woods Retirement Community in Lawrence, Kansas. She had returned to her home state about a month ago when her health began to fail – she had been battling cancer for a few years. She trusted that her Lord would take care of her no matter what happened.
She was born on April 27, 1924, in Coolidge, Kansas, the sixth child of Joseph Harvey and Jessie May (Shanstrom) Conard. She grew up in western Kansas, but lived most of her life in Alaska.
She received her BS in Education at Kansas University. While at the university she lived at Watkins Scholarship Hall. She also received a masters at Drury College in Springfield, Missouri.
Conard taught high school for more than 40 years, starting in Springfield and finishing in Skagway. She came to Skagway with friend Waneta Coring. She taught math, English, history and coached several sports for 23 years. Coring, Conard and Elma McMillen all retired the same year but remained in Skagway – now they are all gone but certainly not forgotten. For many years, the three women helped out at the school, and were fixtures at ball games. Connie kept the scorebook at basketball games and officiated volleyball games.

Left, Connie beams as her name is announced for induction in the Alaska Women Bowlers Hall of Fame. JoAnnn Arnold

Right, Connie smiles after winning the American Legion Doll after probably 40 years of selling raffle tickets for it. File photo

Conard was an active member of the Presbyterian Church, where she served as a Deacon and on the Session and sang in the church and community choir. She also was active in the Order of the Eastern Star, the Emblem Club, and the Eagles Auxiliary for nearly 50 years, holding many club offices. And she served as a member of the local elections board for many years.
Her biggest passion was bowling. She bowled in both mixed and women’s leagues, and served as secretary, spending many hours figuring averages, writing news, ordering gifts, paying bills, corresponding with state officers, and submitting state entries. She also wrote the zany scripts for the annual year-end party. For all her work, and keeping her scores up, she was inducted into the Alaska Women Bowlers Hall of Fame in 2005.
For all her volunteer work, she was named recipient of the Helen B. Clark Award for Skagway Community Service in 1990, and recognized as one of the First Lady’s Alaska Volunteers of the Year in 2001. For her work with seniors, she was honored with the 2003 American Association of Retired Persons Andrus Award for Alaska.
For many years, past winners of the HBC award gathered at the home she shared with Elma McMillen to choose the new winner.
In her nomination letter for the Clark award, was this illustration that best sums up what a great person Connie was:
“The word got out that Connie is a masseur. She has had some training, but most of her work came naturally. When people in Skagway find themselves in trouble with aching bones, sore muscles, out-of-place backs, they come to Connie for a massage. Her charge is always the same: ‘You do a favor for someone else.’
“Connie befriends many people and is a very charitable person, not only monetarily but with her talents and abilities. She lives on 4th and Main and her doors are always open to friends and foes.”
Connie was preceded in death by her brothers, Glen, Dean, Don and John, and her sister, Jessie May Klahr. She is survived by many nieces and nephews and two sisters-in-law, many former students, and the community of Skagway.
Family suggests memorials in her name to the Conard Scholarship Fund in Skagway. Warren-McElwain Mortuary, 120 W 13 St., Lawrence, KS 66044 , is handling arrangements. Online condolences may be sent to:, Subject: Conard.

The Skagway News is grateful for the assistance of Connie's family in Kansas, Rev. Ryan Mandeville, Jackie Schaefer, and Maxine Selmer in the preparation of this obituary, and of course, Connie herself. - Jeff Brady, editor

BOROUGH - SMART stop at cemetery on hold for improvements, request tally

For now, the municipality is taking a “wait and see” approach to requests for a SMART bus stop at the Gold Rush Cemetery – wait until improvements are made to make the cemetery safer for the handicapped, and see if the need for cemetery service can be better documented.
The Skagway Borough Assembly discussed the issue for a half hour at its March 20 meeting and decided that it would fast-track cemetery improvements this spring and have the Skagway Convention and Visitors Bureau track the number of requests during the first two months of the summer season.
In the meantime, SMART has been approved for extending its route across the bridge to Jewell Gardens and the Klondike Gold Dredge, but not to the cemetery. At one point, assembly members asked SMART owner Stuart Brown if he could stop at the beginning of the cemetery road off 23rd Ave, but Brown said that stop had been nixed long ago. He said the city was not comfortable with SMART letting people off there, and pointing them up the road with the message, “Watch for trains, watch for rock slides.”
Since then, SMART has been allowed to provide a service to the north end of town, including across the bridge, “on the hour, on demand,” he said. Having a regular service across the bridge did not produce the volumes needed to justify pulling a bus off the busy Broadway-to-ship route. He has maintained that adding the cemetery stop to a north end route would justify regular twice hourly service.
A month ago, with support from the Skagway CVB, White Pass and the National Park Service – all of whom said they receive daily requests for cemetery service – it appeared the new cemetery stop was going to move forward. But letters have since come in from independent tour operators who say they already offer the service but are not being called enough.
A frustrated Assemblyman Dan Henry said reading the differing sets of letters was “like watching two different movies.”
Members were also concerned with the need for improvements at the cemetery and a letter from the borough attorney that suggested they proceed with caution.
“The more we talked and tried to rationalize the route, the more nervous Bob (Blasco, borough attorney) was getting,” said Borough Manager Alan Sorum. “He said at some point it should not be the borough’s fight to get litigated over the existing contract,” suggesting that SMART could share in any legal defense that may result.
One letter from Skagway Street Car had claimed adding a cemetery stop would be a “material change” to the SMART contract which would require re-bidding. Some at the table, including Mayor Tom Cochran, disputed that notion, but heeded Blasco’s call.
L.C. Cassidy, an assembly member who works part-time as a tour driver for Skagway Street Car, said the need is there but the main issue for her was the need for improvements and an outhouse. She added that “there’s a lot of negativity from the tour community coming at us” and that they should talk to the providers.
She said the private operators have insurance for taking people on tours through the cemetery, but worried that, without improvements, the municipality could be liable for SMART dropping people off at an attraction that was not safe. “It’s an accident waiting to happen,” she said.
Assembly member Mike Korsmo said he still believed that “the need was not being fulfilled” but also recognized the lawyer’s concerns. He suggested that if they do not go forward with the cemetery stop, then they work with the tour vendors on making improvements at the cemetery.
“If it’s something that they hold so sacred, then they need to participate,” Korsmo said.
“The improvements are coming,” said Cochran, and he and Sorum asked for some sort of concensus on the stop issue.
Henry suggested a one or two month monitoring period by the CVB early this summer and “put the feet to the fire” of operators to provide the service. Then, if the need is not being met by the end of June, the borough could go ahead with the SMART stop. Although no vote was taken, assembly members supported this direction.
Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue was not at the meeting, but said later that the numbers of requests for the cemetery service from vistitors to the CVB, the National Park Service and White Pass are accurate.
He said the CVB cannot make calls on behalf of visitors to individual tour companies for the service, but gives visitors the option of contacting five different independent tour companies on their own. – JB

BOROUGH - Appraisals high, land sale goes on

At the March 20 Skagway Borough Assembly meeting, several at the table were surprised at the appraisals of the Dyea area lots being offered for sale in the April 15 lottery.
The six parcels accessed by the Dyea Road and the new Toad Circle range in size from 2.18 to 2.82 acres. The four flatter parcels will fetch $108,900 to $133,000, while the two steeper lots will go for $32,700 and $37,650.
Audience member John Harris said he thought the lots would be “half that,” and Mayor Tom Cochran responded, “I’m really disappointed.”
The prices take into account borough-provided road and utility access, but Cochran said they are still high.
“When I first saw them, I though they were high,” added Assembly member L.C. Cassidy. “They were supposed to be the cheap lots.”
But Mike Korsmo said he was not surprised, given “the way things have been going around here.”
Finance Chair Dan Henry said it comes down to economics. People aren’t happy with the higher appraisals in town, but still want “every bit of that when they sell.”
Recent real estate transactions usually drive appraisals,
Cochran said the assembly could reject the appraisal, but no one at the table felt like starting over. First reading of the ordinance passed on a 5-0 vote. Dave Hunz was absent. Second reading will be on April 3, and then the sale can go forward at 7 p.m. on April 15.
Non-refundable tickets are $100 and must be purchased by 4 p.m. on the sale date. Purchasers must be at least 18 years of age. A restriction requiring buyers to have an Alaska domiciles was removed, but any corporation must be registered in Alaska. They also can have no defaults from previous sales and no outstanding bills with the borough. Each ticket holder will rank the lots in order of preference, if their number is drawn, and get the highest available lot on their list.
The assembly also passed first reading of a separate ordinance amending the budget by $110,000 for road and utility access to the two upcoming land sale sites. The money will come from the J.M. Frey Land Fund. A total of $65,000 will be for design, road work and underground utility installation for the Toad Circle Road, and $45,000 will be used for design and permitting the new Nahku Road to the Dyea Point sites due to be sold later this year. The assembly also approved a proposal from R&M Engineering for $44,700 to commence work on the design, which should take nine weeks.
There was some concern at the table about the road names, and Cochran told assembly members “you need to pay attention to what comes out of Planning and Zoning.”
Later, under assembly discussion, Cochran suggested that they look at a different method of sale for the Dyea Point sites and consider whether they should be offered at a discount of fair market value.
He said he is hearing from the 18-25-year-olds in the community that “they want to stay here, but they can’t afford to.”
Cochran said community planner Barbara Sheinberg has some tools from other communities that can be used to set up more affordable land sales. – JB

BOROUGH - Hovercraft tour situation up in the air

Tourists may soon get the chance to hover above the Skagway River courtesy of Hover North tours. Owner Luke Rauscher hopes to begin operations in May with a one-hour tour which will feature 40 minutes of hovertime for up to five passengers on an 11-mile round-trip exploration of the Skagway River.
Rauscher’s application for a Conditional Use Permit to utilize municipal lands for commercial parking in the Seven Pastures area was discussed at the March 20 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting. The parking area Rauscher wishes to utilize is 50 yards south of the Pat Moore Bridge on the west side of the river, in an area zoned Residential/Conservation. Access to the parking area travels along the dirt road accessing the softball fields, and is zoned Industrial.
A variety of comments both in favor and against the proposed tour were voiced. Most of the comments were not in line with the focus of the meeting, which was to address the permit for parking. Some mentioned noise from the hovercraft as a potential problem, and other opinions ranged from environmental impact of the machines to Skagway’s “selling out” to the cruise ship industry.
Carol Bourcy, addressing vehicle access to the parking through the Seven Pastures area, said her concern was for children playing in the softball fields and around the river.
Jan Wrentmore echoed Bourcy’s sentiments and asked if the borough would be responsible for maintaining the road.
Steven Sterling said the area was predominantly used for recreation, calling it an “oasis” for users of the ball fields and the Frisbee golf course.
Tim Bourcy said the community had failed on certain zoning issues in and around Seven Pastures, and called it an “incohesive hodgepodge of zoning.” He added that even though much of the area was zoned industrial, “It is of high value.”
But John Rauscher countered that the area already was full of “busses, trucks, and quads,” and doubted how one van arriving and departing hourly would have any major impact.
Emily Rauscher supplied studies to show there would be little environmental impact made by the hovercraft, and the noise made by the machines would be less than the river itself. She said the maximum amount of noise the craft could create was 75-decibels at full throttle, equivalent to an airplane flying overhead. She said since the craft would not be operated at full throttle, it should normally emit approximately 35 decibels of sound.
She said municipal zoning allowed for the conditional use permit.
Commissioner Gary Brummett asked Luke Rauscher about the size of the operation, to which he said there would only be one small SUV type vehicle at a time accessing the area for parking.
The motion to award the permit passed 3-1 with Commissioner Jeff Mull voting no. Two amendments to the motion were made, one to review the permit every two years and the other to prevent any sale of the business to another party.
“This will be a very controversial thing,” said Brummett who added there was no compelling reason to deny the permit based on the criteria.
Municipal Clerk Marj Harris said via telephone that P&Z’s decision essentially grants zoning permission for Hover North to pursue a Special Use Permit with the municipality of Skagway, the owner of the proposed parking area.
If the municipality grants the permit, Rauscher will seek permission from the state to operate on the river. -AC


GOLDEN EGG - Matthew Leggett captured the egg with the big prize at the annual Skagway Easter Egg Hunt. See more photos in features.

Photo by Jeff Brady

• BSC FEATURE: Buckwheat blooms in its 22nd year: Lovefest signals beginning of spring flings

• SCHOOL FEATURE: Skagway kids add science to their list of skills

• EASTER EGG HUNT: Photos from the big event

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