Robin Williams’ stunt double, Mike “Mitch” Mitchell, creeps toward the edge of a cliff overlooking a ravine near the international border on the White Pass during shooting of the film “The Big White” on April 15. Williams was also filmed that day doing closeups from the cliff, and baiting a body for bears. See more pictures and Andrew Cremata and Jeff Brady's stories about the film crew in Skagway below. Photo by Chris Helcermanas-Benge, courtesy of “The Big White

• ACTION SKAGWAY: On the set of "The Big White", Stars are out in Skagway

Welcome Waiver

DOE moves pupil count dates for trial year

Possibly the most welcome news of the budget season for the Skagway City School District came last week from the Commissioner of the Department of Education and Early Development.
In a letter dated April 15, Commissioner Roger Sampson informed Skagway Superintendent Michael Dickens that the district had been approved for an alternative count period, owing to the community’s transient population that services the tourism industry.
Dickens, citing the loss of up to 20 percent of the student body at the end of tourist season before the state’s count period at the end of October, had asked for the count to begin just after Labor Day in early September.
These transient students go Outside with their families and return in March, April and May, Dickens said.
The commissioner decided to grant a compromise period of Sept. 13 to Oct. 8 for the next school year, allowing the department to determine if other districts in the state are serving any of the Skagway students who move away.
“This approval should allow you to count these students for at least half of the count period,” Sampson wrote, “providing you with funding equal to the approximate amount of time you will actually be serving these students during the school year.”
Sampson added the alternative 20-day count period is for one year only, but leaves open the opportunity to apply for it on an annual basis if the number of transient students remains high.
“This approval will allow the department an opportunity to evaluate the fiscal impact on your school district as well as the state,” Sampson wrote.
“It will also assist the department in determining if future requests for alternative foundation count periods are appropriate for your district. Note that this is not an approval for all future count periods. This is one time only and, if if does indeed prove advantageous to your district, you must request this same opportunity in writing prior to the count period every year.”
Dickens had been denied a change in the count period by the previous commissioner, but had ongoing discussions about approaching the new commissioner on the subject, and submitted a formal request in writing April 8, timed to coincide with a visit last week by a delegation from the city.
“I got a call at 11 a.m. (April 15) from Eddy Jeans (DOE School Finance Manager) who said the commissioner felt some of the issues I brought up were compelling,” Dickens said.
Sampson noted the state statute was not intended to allow districts to maximize student counts for their benefit, but alternative count periods can be allowed for “unforeseen circumstances that impact their student count.”
He made his decision because of his interest in “providing quality education to Alaska students.”
Skagway is not alone in having a transient student population, but Dickens has argued that the impact is felt greatest here in a district with a small enrollment. Skagway started with about 120 students last September, and had as low as 95 a month ago.
Over the past decade, Skagway has lost about $1 million in funding from serving students who were never counted.
The letter followed and was announced at that evenings’ City Council meeting by member Mike Korsmo, who had seen a copy earlier that day in Juneau.
“This is very exciting,” Dickens said. “I’m delighted to have the commissioner open to this idea, and to Eddy Jeans and the finance department for the waiver.”
It could mean an additional 12 students above the 102 already projected in the 2004-05 school year budget, or an additional $40,000, Dickens said.
Insofar as how the decision will impact the budget, Dickens said it was too early to say. A proposed increase in the foundation formula that has passed the House also could have a positive impact if it makes it past the Senate and is approved by the governor.
This news comes as the School Board and City Council sit down and review the school budget in detail. They met in a special joint session Thursday night after this issue went to press.
As presented to the city, the proposed school budget balanced without a music program and an activities budget. The music program was scratched by a reduction in force vote by the board last month, but teacher Barry Beckett has protested the decision and requested an arbitration hearing. The district and National Education Association attorneys are involved, Dickens told the Board last week.
The district has made separate funding requests from the city for the $106,818 student activities budget, in addition to continued funding for the food service program, technology upgrades, and the fish hatchery.

Pizza Station license gets city approval

Following a public hearing April 15, the Skagway City Council voted 5-1 to approve the Skagway Pizza Station’s application for a new beverage dispensary-tourism license before the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.
Pizza Station owner Beth Winslow addressed the Council for more than a half hour about her application to have a 10-room motel with three shared baths at her property on Fourth between State and Main. The Pizza Station currently has a beer and wine restaurant license, and she wants to add hotel rooms to address a “serious shortage” of rooms in the wintertime.
She said staying open in the winter has been a “community service” and a full liquor license will help pay for the improvements. She hopes to expand beyond the 10 rooms toward the back and east of the Pizza Station, which has been zoned commercially since its days as a gas station.
Winslow said her entrance is well beyond the 200 feet required by the state for separation from a church. The Presbyterian Church is 500 feet away, she said, and she has spoken to the Church Session about remaining closed before noon on Sundays and not having music played on her outside deck.
Addressing a letter of objection from the Red Onion Saloon and Westmark Hotels that the liquor license would not help tourism, Winslow said just because she would start with only 10 rooms with shared baths, they would not be “substandard.” Ten rooms are allowed by the state in communities under 1,500 population, and there are no bathroom requirements, she added.
“There won’t be bathrooms in every room but they will be nice,” said her partner, Mark Smith. “People said we couldn’t make a restaurant out of a gas station.”
The only other objections in writing came from Dennis Spurrier and Brent Moody, both police officers, who are concerned about noise and intoxicated people walking home on Main Street. Winslow said people walk from bars downtown too.
She presented 218 signatures in support of the application, and several spoke up for it at the hearing. Nearby resident John L. O’Daniel said his daughters’ rooms face the Pizza Station, and he has never had a problem.
Others said the city needs to help a year-round business expand.
Dennis Corrington, who closed the Golden North Hotel after the 2002 season, said the economics of Skagway are pushing hotels and restaurants off Broadway’s more expensive real estate.
Red Onion owner Jan Wrentmore, the “lone voice of dissent,” said her biggest worry was the precedent the Council would be setting.
“Do we want to encourage business with a full liquor license?” she asked, adding that other establishments could qualify and the city and ABC could be seen as acting “arbitrary and capricious” if it denied a similar application. “I have no problem with a fourth bar. I have a problem with no standards for how a new bar comes in a place.”
But Colette Hisman, a restaurant owner, said the Council should support this application because it will help the year-round economy.
“This is the perfect opportunity for the Council to show support for economic development in Skagway,” Hisman said.
Except for Monica Carlson, Council members were supportive of the application, with conditions set for no outside music and remaining closed before noon on Sundays.
Carlson said her objections were based on parental concerns about alcohol being around kids at too many functions in the community.

Greg Blalock, chief mining engineer for the Kensington Gold Project, displays photos of the proposed mine site as Goldbelt’s Randy Wanamaker waits his turn to talk about jobs. JB

Kensington mine awaits permit

Skagway, Haines workers could commute for shifts

Representatives of the Kensington Gold Project and Goldbelt, Inc. visited Skagway April 16 to speak to the Chamber of Commerce about employment opportunities at the proposed mine north of Berners Bay.
A Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the mine is due to be released soon, and, if permitted by the U.S. Forest Service, construction could begin later this year at the site about 50 miles south of Skagway.
Greg Blalock, chief mining engineer, explained how the project has evolved. The area between Comet on the Lynn Canal side and Jualin on the Berners Bay side was an active gold mining district in the 1880-1890s. Coeur Alaska has been attempting to develop the property over the past decade, and received a permit for a site on the Lynn Canal side in 1997-98. However, gold prices plummeted to a point where it was not economical to develop at that time.
Over the past couple years, as gold prices rebounded, the company has been involved with a consortium of Native corporations in an alternate proposal to move most of the shoreside activity to the Slate Creek Cove area on the Berners Bay side. The 1997 proposal called for a dry tailings area and a workers camp, accessed by helicopters, on the Lynn Canal side. The 2004 Alternate B would have the tailings from the underground mine stored behind a dam at Lower Slate Lake, and workers would be transported daily by shuttle ferry from a camp on Goldbelt land on the south side of Berners Bay at Cascade Point. Concentrate from the mine would be shipped out via barge.
It has less of a visual impact than the previous plan, Blalock said.
When asked how workers from Skagway could get to the site, Randy Wanamaker of Goldbelt, Inc. said a shuttle ferry of Haines and Skagway workers could transport employees every two weeks to Cascade Point, where they would be housed. He encouraged anyone interested in working at Kensington to fill out a form to get a name on a data base of workers in Southeast who can be trained in Juneau to work in the mine. Wanamaker said he would be sending the forms to chamber officer Kathy Hosford.
The expected life of the mine is 10 years, but both Blalock and Wanamaker said it may go longer once more discoveries are made. For example, Greens Creek on Admiralty Island was supposed to have a 12-year life, and new discoveries have extended its expected life to 25 years.
For now, the Kensington mine is being planned as if no Juneau Access Road was going to be built, Wanamaker said, although he said Goldbelt supports the proposed road link to Skagway. If built, the road would go by the mine site, and make access for workers easier, but it may not be completed until 2010 or later. Wanamaker said Goldbelt would allow right of way for the first phase of the road through its property at no cost, “because we think the project is good for Juneau.”


TAKING PUPPY'S PULSE - Kiara Selmer shows how to take a dog’s pulse on a model puppy at the Paws and Claws booth at the Skagway Health Fair on April 10. JB


• SPORTS & REC.: Yukon River Quest entry deadline May 26

• ARTS BEAT: Poet published, Skagway Film Festival preview

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