BIG BUNNY HUG

The Easter Bunny saved her biggest hug for Dee Mulkey at the annual Easter Egg Hunt last Sunday.

Photo by Jeff Brady

Skagway man's cruise cut short by Star Princess fire

Barger praises crew for 'professionalism'

By JEFF BRADY
Bill Barger has spent much of his life catering to cruise ship passengers in Skagway, whether passing out wooden nickels to lure customers in the door or engaging in conversations with people from around the world as he rang up sales in his family’s gift shops.
So when it became time for Barger to turn cruise passenger, he knew the importance of “good customer service.” Little did he know how much service he and 2,690 passengers would need until 3:12 a.m. on March 23.
It was the third day of a six-day cruise on the Star Princess, a ship that has called in Skagway many times over the past decade, but was doing winter duty in the Caribbean. The ship had left Grand Cayman Island for Montego Bay, Jamaica.
Barger was asleep in cabin 403B, an inside berth on the 11th floor, when the fire alarm woke him up.
He didn’t know it at the time, but a fire had ignited on the balcony of an 11th floor cabin toward the rear of the ship. Flames from the blaze would blacken about 100 outside cabins before they were extinguished.
Barger woke his roommate, Texan Paul Resignato, and the two quickly dressed. Resignato was on a cruise with his elderly parents and had been assigned to Barger’s room, but his parents were on a different floor. Resignato grabbed his wallet and passport and set out to find them, while Barger went down to Muster Station C, a restaurant on the seventh floor.
The elevators were shut down, and Barger, who is handicapped and walks with a limp, had to negotiate the stairs with hundreds of others. He said he didn’t see anyone running, as some press accounts reported, but people were walking fast.
“It took me eight minutes,” he said after returning to Skagway in early April. “I was quite pleased with myself.”
Barger said there was a white haze drifting in the air which smelled of burning plastic.
“Under the circumstances of the fire, everybody was under control,” he said. “The greatest concern I saw was among very young kids and the very old who seemed very stressed, but I didn’t see anyone panicking.”
When he arrived at the muster station, there weren’t any more chairs available. Most people were in their bathrobes, pajamas and shorts.
“One of the crew picked up a short couch for me and I sat down with a gentleman from Israel,” Barger said.
It was a long wait before their next move.
Life boats had been lowered to “second position” while the crew put the fire out, and the captain made several announcements, said Barger, who has great praise for how the situation was handled onboard.
Three times, crew members did a roll call of passengers to make sure everyone was accounted for. “They asked people to stay in their areas,” Barger said, as they didn’t want anyone wandering around the ship. Only once did he see one man sneak outside with his video camera.
“A lot of people just sat down on their life jackets and went to sleep,” he said. “They brought us bottled water.”
He said the crew was professional and polite, and he heard only one complaint from passengers. “A couple of ladies said the buffet was not up to their standards, that was the only negative I heard.”
Passengers remained at the muster stations for seven and a half hours until they were allowed to go back to their cabins, he said. Those whose cabins were damaged went to the restaurant. Barger said he remained in his stateroom until about 7:15 p.m. when an announcement was made that people could go ashore at Montego Bay.

Bill Barger stands on the outside deck of his home berth on Main Street with his mini sign forest. Jeff Brady

It wasn’t until he was disembarking that he saw the blackened side of the ship. “It was quite extensive,” he said.
Barger also learned that a Georgia man had died from a heart attack, and 11 others were treated for smoke inhalation or minor injuries.
He said a pre-cruise briefing warned people not to fling cigarettes off balconies because “they could blow back into the ship.”
Once on shore, Barger was bused with others to Ocho Rios, where he stayed in a hotel for two nights. It wasn’t until he was waiting for the bus that he saw his roommate again.
Rooms and meals were paid by Princess, which also arranged his flights home, gave him a full refund on the cruise and all air fares, and a 25 percent discount on a future Princess cruise, as long as it is booked and completed by the end of 2007.
When he arrived back in Skagway on April 4, there was a letter in his mail box from Alan Buckelew, president of Princess Cruises.
“We wanted to take an opportunity to once again extend our most sincere apologies for the disruption of your voyage aboard Star Princess,” Buckelew wrote. “We understand that this experience was frightening and uncomfortable. We appreciate your patience during the event and while we arranged your return travel home from Jamaica.”
The letter said the company would continue to answer questions and gave an update on the ship, which was then en route to Bremerhaven, Germany for repairs. It is expected to be back on line May 15 – it was scheduled to work the summer in the Mediterranean this year instead of Alaska.
“Please know that everyone at Princess Cruises is deeply saddened by this unfortunate situation,” the letter concluded. “We have a rich history of cruising and never have we faced such a challenge. We certainly recognize that you did not experience a proper vacation and sincerely hope you consider us in your future plans.”
A smoldering cigarette is believed to be the cause of the fire, though the investigation has not concluded. This week Princess announced it is implementing stricter restrictions about not only smoking, but leaving towels and T-shirts hanging off balconies, and will have a manned 24-hour fire watch from the ships’ wings, according to a story in the Miami Herald. Princess is also looking into installing sprinklers on balconies.
Barger said he was never worried about his safety. He said the crew did a great job of taking care of everyone.
“They were very, very professional, from the captain on down,” he said. “I’d just like to say ‘thank you’, and, yes, I will definitely be taking another cruise with them.”

Land sale faces growing number of questions

Too many variables likely to delay fall sale

By ANDREW CREMATA
In a series of recent meetings, issues concerning the municipal entitlement lands were raised that will definitely affect the surveying, subdivision, and eventual sale of the land. The city had hoped that a land sale in the fall of 2006 could provide affordable lots to those in Skagway looking for a place to build a home, but with unforeseen obstacles popping up from different places, it is starting to look unlikely that the land could be made available at such an early date, or if the land will even be affordable to the average buyer.
In his report to City Council on April 6, Ward said that one issue that hasn’t been discussed is that while some people would benefit from lower priced lots in the newly acquired state lands, the entire community would benefit from higher priced lots. Ward said future meetings with Planning and Zoning could establish not only affordable lots but a variety of parcels including high-end lots, recreational cabin lots and even commercial lots in Dyea proper.
This issue was discussed at a Public Works special meeting on April 11. The meeting also addressed the surveying of land in the area, and the fact that only one bid was received for this work, from Kalen and Associates.
Councilman Dan Henry said the sale of the land should ultimately help citizens of Skagway offset property taxes and questioned whether the objective was simply providing land to would-be buyers, or if the sale should garnish the highest dollar amount to ultimately benefit the city.
Councilmember Lisa Cassidy suggested the proposed subdivisions be considered in separate sections, with the Dyea Point area coming first. She added that the “mixed density” of some portions of that area could make parcels of land more affordable.
Henry said it was doubtful that any of the land in and around Dyea Point would be considered “affordable.”
Concerning the bid for surveying the land, those at the meeting were disappointed by the fact that only one bid was received and a representative from Kalen and Associates was not present at the meeting.
Members said portions of the bid seemed out of tune with reality, such as extremely high travel costs and the overall timeframe of the survey, part of which allotted less than a month to build a road accessing the property.
The committee recommended that council reject the bid calling it non-responsive and decided to set up a new Request for Proposals that might divide the land into sections so work could be competed sooner, rather than later.
Some Skagway residents are expressing concern over a broad range of topics concerning Dyea such as potential traffic problems on the Dyea Road, quality of life issues with the possibility of many new homes in the area, and the use of public property by private business.
In a letter, Nola Lamken stated tour buses often speed down the Dyea Road during the summer and that it has become common habit rather than the exception. She said parked buses and cars on the flats have created a disturbance and questioned further development in the area.
Another letter, from Wayne Greenstreet, addressed the land sale issue by saying that the city should develop roads and septic system infrastructure prior to any sale. He wants to see all right-of-ways and easements in place and added that he could not see all of this happening by the fall.
Other issues with the property that remain to be tackled do concern potential septic problems and access to the property, which will have to be coordinated with Dyea Point resident Bruce Weber. There also is an issue with the state over who controls mineral rights.
Councilman Dave Hunz said, “The state stuff is as big as the Weber issue.”
The city had hoped to use gravel in the municipal land for projects such as road construction, but it is unclear whether the state is going to relinquish rights to that resource.
At a meeting immediately following the Public Works meeting, members of City Council and the Mayor discussed a Patent Draft concerning the land. The draft was issued by the State of Alaska and was presented by Ward at the April 6 council meeting. The state said that the city had 10 days to respond to the document.
The alarm by the council over the draft document stems from the fact that the state will retain land rights over natural resources and archaeological and historic materials, as well as the inclusion of a 50-foot buffer around roads that remain in control of the state. This could potentially cut back the 932 acres of entitlement land by as much as 200 acres.
Still, it is unclear if the language of the document is normal for this type of land exchange or even if the 50-foot buffer has already been excluded from the total acreage.
The portion of the draft causing the most trepidation concerns the archaeological aspects. Questions raised included whether or not archaeological surveys would have to be done by property owners on a regular basis, and which areas specifically would be targeted for such surveys.
Henry said that the city should request more clearly defined language concerning those areas and criticized the short 10-day review period.
The council also requested that the state clarify the archaeological issues, whether or not the city has rights to gravel and sand, and if the 50-foot buffer is included as part of the entitlement land.
As of deadline, the city had not heard back from the state.
As for the eventual decision on land subdivision and sale Ward said, “...Everyone will have the opportunity to be heard and the ultimate subdivision will be the result of this input as well as the practical and feasible issues that arise in this field.”

SMART assessment: Accusations of ‘short routing’ countered by driver, operator

By JEFF BRADY
Local merchant Dennis Corrington recently accused SMART City Transit of “short routing” on busy mornings last summer by “forcing people off buses” at its first two stops on Second Ave. and lower Broadway, so they can get back to the ships more quickly to pick up more people.
SMART has responded that its drivers are supposed to follow a script that tells riders about several stops in town, but that ultimately their customers decide where to get off, in part based on their own whims, pack mentality, and how they’ve been lectured or hit with advertising on an off the ships.
Corrington first spoke at the April 6 City Council meeting, and then presented photos to the Civic Affairs Committee April 18 which showed buses stacked up at the Second Ave. stop in front of Diamonds International and at the 3rd and Broadway stop in front of the Mascot Saloon interpretive center.
Corrington said he first noticed a decline in early morning traffic at the north end of the Historic District, where he has two stores, in 2004 and it got worse in 2005. He sought to find out why and watched the buses unload, and even rode some of them disguised.
He said drivers used different language to suggest that people get off at the first two stops, and pointed out the stop in front of the Red Onion as the one for getting picked up for going back to the ship.
“I’d like to see a level playing field so people get dropped off all over town,” Corrington said. He also cited a recent National Park Service study on congestion in the downtown area.
SMART driver Floyd Matthews said he couldn’t speak for other drivers, but the accusations of “forcing people off are a crock.”
He said he tells people about the Park Service bathrooms and that he goes as far as Seventh, pointing out stops and that a bus will be by every 10 minutes. “We try to be fair,” he said.
One change that he has noticed in the past two years, Matthews said, is that less people are asking about Corrington’s Outlet Store. More want to get off at Diamonds or the Mining Co., a new stop instituted in August 2004. “I say I do go further to a half dozen more stops,” he said.
Committee member L.C. Cassidy said it sounds like an issue of driver education.
SMART owner Stuart Brown, who had sat quietly through the first half hour of the meeting while others talked, then brought out his training script for drivers.
“I’ve never forced a person off my bus,” he said, then read the script which started with a “Good morning, welcome to Skagway,” mentioned that there are six SMART stops on Broadway and how they are marked, and that a bus, with signs indicating which dock they are servicing, would pull up every 10-15 minutes, which he said is required by city code.
The city does not require every bus to stop at every stop on the route, he noted, just hit a stop in that time frame. Brown said he fought the addition of the Second Ave. stop, and said the photo of the four buses lined up in front of the Mascot and into the 20-minute zone in front of the News Depot was an oddity. In the photo, he said it was his bus getting out of there because the area was too congested to allow a handicapped bus in front of him to unload. And he had to break a rule that he tells his own drivers: “Never back up.”
Brown said he was aware Corrington employees were riding with him listening to his spiel which did not change. On two successive trips, all of the passengers first got off at Second, and the next time all got off at Seventh. The Corrington rider agreed with him that he had no idea how that happens, Brown said. Unless someone belts out “There’s a Starbucks” or “There’s Diamonds International, I have this free coupon” and the entire bus unloads.
Corrington and his manager Jerry Epps maintained that they did see subtle hints from drivers to get off in the lower part of town.
“We’d like to see a level playing field,” Corrington said, “so people are dropped off all over town.”
Brown said drivers try to be fair and are trained to mention at least three businesses if questioned about where to find anything. “They’re supposed to say, ‘they are all great places.’” He said he was frustrated by the criticism because a few years ago it was merchants on lower Broadway who were complaining that too many people were being dropped off at Corrington’s Skagway Outlet Store. Now the criticism is coming from the other end of town.
Of the five buses working in the early morning, two do the whole loop, Brown said. “It does get done,” but the ordinance does not require every single bus to hit every stop. Their main function is to get people back and forth, point out the restrooms, and point out the stops so passengers know where to go to get back to the ship.
Brown said there is no incentive for his salaried drivers to rack up more trips for tips. Very few riders tip city bus drivers, he said, and Matthews added that the most he had made in one day was about $10-$15 from crew members who didn’t want change back.
Committee chair Craig Jennison said he had talked to another driver who admitted that before 9 a.m., he would short cut routes “more than Stuart would want me to.”
Committee member Dan Henry said all it takes is for a driver to say, “‘Here’s our stop’ and everyone will get off.”
Committee members said the SMART system works, but suggested more education of drivers, an oversight program, and placing maps in the buses that show all stops on the route. They will continue to look at congestion issues, hinting that there need to be more return stops, possibly on Second Ave. and in front of the old Golden North Hotel.
Brown said most city bus riders expect stops on the other side of the street from where they get dropped off. The new stops would alleviate the bottleneck of return riders that pack the boardwalk and spill out into the street in front of the Red Onion.

Festival and Clean Sweep weekend

Music, garbage bags and movies are the fare this weekend as Skagway ushers in spring.
Tonight the 16th International Film Festival will hit the acoustic haven of the Presbyterian Church. A potluck with musicians from SE Alaska and the Yukon will be held at the Rec. Hall at 5:30 p.m. The concert begins at 7 p.m. in the church. Cost is $10.
Everyone is asked to volunteer for Clean Sweep Saturday morning, and then shower and don their “finery” for the northern premiere of “The Big White,” the movie shot on the White Pass summit near Skagway in April 2004.
It is the showpiece of this year’s Skagway Alaska Film Festival. There will be two free shows at the NPS auditorium at 5 and 7 p.m. It is not recommended for children under 13.
No celebrities like star Robin Williams will be back here and no “Oprah-like discussions” are planned, said festival director Dimitra Lavrakas. Just the movie, that’s what all Skagway’s been waiting for.
The News is soliciting quickie one-two sentence reviews for our next issue. Please fill out a card after the movie or e-mail a review to skagnews@aptalaska.net by our May 8 deadline.
Concluding the festival on Sunday at 5 p.m. will be the one-hour documentary “The Aleut Story” on the World War Two relocation of Alaska Natives. Coffee, cake and good conversation will be served after the film.

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

CREEPY CODY

Cody Burnham performs "From K's Memoirs" at the Debate, Drama, Forensics Showcase before the Skagway team headed off to state competition. See story and photos in features. Dimitra Lavrakas

• DEBATE, DRAMA, FORENSICS SHOWCASE: Skagway and Haines teams enlighten local audience with selections for upcoming State meet in Anchorage

SPORTS & REC. ROUNDUP: Registration begins for Kluane-Chilkat Bike Race; Yukon Adventure Challenge seeks entries; King salmon regs. begin May 1.

• OBITUARIES: Clair Litzenberger, Danny Kalen.

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