SLEEPY SPRING SUNDAY

A harbor seal enjoys a morning stretch and yawn on a recent, quiet Sunday morning down by the bay. See what critters are keeping our award winning columnist awake at night in Fish This!

Photo by Andrew Cremata

Yukon prevails in Dyea lottery

By ANDREW CREMATA
A hush fell over the gathering at City Hall on the evening of April 15 while Mayor Tom Cochran pulled names from a cookie tin for the first lottery of municipal entitlement land parcels in many years.
Six lots were available, and persons entering the lottery could request which lots they were interested in purchasing in order of preference.
Winners of each parcel are as follows with thier values:
Lot 25 - John Rauscher (Skagway), $133,000.
Lot 27 - Christy Murphy (Skagway), $125,550.
Lot 28 - Brendan Hanley/Lise Farnowski (Whitehorse), $126,900.
Lot 29 - Helen Holway (Whitehorse), $32,700.
Lot 30 - Rhonda Holway (Whitehorse), $37,650.
Lot 31 - David Sennett (Whitehorse), $108,900.

Mayor Tom Cochran holds up the cookie tin with tickets for the Dyea land lottery. AC

It came as a surprise to some, including members of the Skagway Borough Assembly, that two-thirds of the parcels went to Whitehorse, Yukon residents.
Liz Lavoie was one of the local residents whose names were not drawn. She said her decision to enter the land lottery came the night before at the Red Onion after having a couple drinks.
“It was a spirited effort to commit,” she said.
Lavoie said she felt a sense of disappointment and relief after the drawing. She said she thought it was interesting Canadians were allowed to participate, as she thought the lottery was for Skagway residents only, but added she was not bothered at all by Canadian involvement.
“Part of the fun is to let fate ride,” she said with a laugh.
At the April 17 assembly meeting, Cochran said the next land lottery would hopefully take place in the “summer or fall.” That sale will focus on the highly coveted lots in the Dyea Point area.

Scrambling to rescue the Haines-Skagway shuttle ferry
Chilkat Guides will take over boats for Four Seasons Marine after Klukwan, Inc. board cancels Chilkat Cruises & Tours for season

By ANDREW CREMATA
For 10 years Chilkat Cruises has provided a vital link between the communities of Skagway and Haines, shuttling tens of thousands of passengers back and forth for cruise ship and independent tours, as well as Little League games and the Southeast Alaska State Fair.
Tour operators relying on the fast ferry service from Skagway to Haines woke to bad news last week when they learned Chilkat Cruises and Tours would not be operating for the upcoming season. Klukwan Inc., the company which ran three vessels linking the two communities, decided at a meeting of its board of directors during the weekend of April 12 they would cease all ferry operations.
Klukwan Inc. owned one vessel, the Chilkat Express, and leased two others, the Fairweather Express and Yukon Queen, from Four Seasons Marine Services in Seward.
Tom Tougas, president of Four Seasons, said via telephone from Seward that he was “working with our crew and several former employees of Chilkat Cruises to start up operations.”
He added that Chilkat Guides, a Haines-based tour operator, was setting up a separate company to work with the cruise ships and other tour vendors.
Tougas said the previous schedule would hopefully be operational by the start of the summer season.
“I think we’re in pretty good shape,” Tougas said.
Bart Henderson, president of Chilkat Guides, said he would be the CEO of a new corporation leasing boats and in charge of all operations. He said they were working hard to restructure the ownership and starting an entirely new organization.
Henderson said existing employees were being plugged in whenever possible, but Four Seasons would be bringing in some of their own people so it was unclear if all existing employees would retain their jobs.
Tougas said current operations manager Kori Gertz of Skagway would retain her position with the new company and three persons would be brought in from Four Seasons’ home office in Seward.
Four Seasons runs 16 boats in Alaska, which gives them the resources and experience to make the new company a success, Tougas said. He added the company was seeking to lease the Chilkat Express, but would not know for sure if their offer was accepted until Klukwan Inc. held its next board meeting.
Locally, there was a great deal of speculation over why Chilkat Cruises ceased operations, and why it happened so close to the start of the tourist season.
Tom Crandall, president of Klukwan Inc., declined to comment on the situation when contacted at his office.
Tougas speculated the decision had to do with high startup costs for the operation, as much as half a million dollars, for training, inspections and other essential aspects of running three boats.
Tougas said a plywood plant in Port Angeles, Wash. owned by Klukwan Inc. shut down over the winter and could have caused a “domino effect” within the corporation, leaving them short on funds for the necessary startup costs.
He said the costs of running the boats are definitely higher due to rising fuel prices, and would be reflected in ticket prices for the upcoming season.
“We know what it costs to run a boat,” said Tougas. “How contracts are handled are up to (the cruise ship companies).”
Tougas said he has spoken with cruise ship companies about the increases in costs, and they were realistic about the changes in ticket price.
“We can’t ignore the cost of fuel. The cruise companies will have to be flexible. They’ve been very good about that,” he said.
Henderson said local tour companies were also being made aware of the changes.
“There are plenty of little contracts we’re working on now,” he said.
Henderson said it was still too early to know about exact prices, but up to this point everything was operating as planned. He said he envisions a more user-friendly fast ferry service that is diligent in being aware of upcoming local events and providing the necessary transportation for Haines and Skagway residents.
“We want to make the bi-fjordal experience more of a reality and provide a closer relationship between Haines and Skagway,” said Henderson. “We want to shorten the distance physically and mentally.”
Henderson said the new corporation would encourage local travel for events like Little League, the State Fair, and other events for both Haines and Skagway.
“I think we’re in pretty good shape,” he said.

SPECIAL REPORT:

FINDING HOPE AMIDST FEAR: Two Skagway girls share a message of peace with the world

Assembly approves school budget request

By JEFF BRADY
The Skagway Borough Assembly has approved the $2,201,453 million operating budget presented by the Skagway School District, with a local contribution of $1,526,807.
The borough contribution is broken into: $1,228,898 for the operating fund; $170,388 for extra-curricular activities; $41,879 for the food service program; and $42,821 for the technology improvement fund.
Superintendent Michael Dickens and the entire school board met with Mayor Tom Cochran and most of the borough assembly during a joint work session on April 14. The only elected official not present was Dave Hunz, but Cochran brought a Hunz and Hunz cap so his presence would be felt.
The meeting was cordial, and Dickens explained many of the increases. The district will be in the final year of a three-year contract with staff, so there are salary and benefit adjustments. The music teacher and program is also built into the operating budget this year, instead of being funded through timber receipts.
In addition, insurance rates have increased 20-23 percent, and the fuel and electricity budgets have increased 65-70 percent. The district recently learned it will receive a $25,688 energy grant from the state legislature toward this year’s fuel bill, which was budgeted for $37,000 but will end up at about $54,000. Next year the district is budgeting $61,400 for fuel.
The only major program increase is in extra-curricular activities, from $119,690 to $170,388. Aside from increased travel costs in all activities, Dickens said the district is adding more academic activity travel for the DDF team and for the state Science Fair. Skagway students took first place in both areas this year.
“This speaks again to the type of students we have in our school,” Dickens said.
Cochran said he was “extremely pleased” with the academic focus. “We have a lot of bright, intelligent kids who aren’t athletes,” he said, noting that programs like DDF “give our students well-rounded opportunities for such a small community.”
Dickens explained that he was seeking foreign language and community grants to help the district draw more students. “We are trying to get away from this 100 kids problem,” he said.
When enrollment drops below 101, it kicks in a lower funding mechanism from the state. Next year’s budget is based on 102 students. Dickens said more kids are expected next year than originally thought, even with a large graduating class leaving this year. However, if the October pupil count does drop below 101 again, then the legislature recently put back a “hold harmless factor” to help districts adjust over a three-year period.
Assembly members had no problem with the operating budget as presented.
“To get this level of education and opportunities for students, we need this level of money,” Cochran said.
The discussion then turned to an ongoing capital request and how to deal with such needs in the future.
Replacing the worn-out dry sprinkler system was a contentious issue over the winter, as the $100,000 in this year’s budget was less than a third of what the engineer estimated. The project was put on hold in January, with Hunz insisting that it should wait until next year’s budget cycle.
However, a recent discovery of three pin-sized holes in the pipes has the assembly moving on it again. A section of pipe failed a year and a half ago, and the district learned that it was both substandard pipe and due to be replaced after 25 years. The building is now 23 years old.
At the April 17 regular assembly meeting, members instructed Borough Clerk Marj Harris to add bidding the project to the May 1 agenda in an effort to try and get the work done this summer. It would be started with the $100,000 in the current budget and completed with funds in the next fiscal year budget.
During the work session, Dickens said he also could put the project on the state capital project request list in September, and that the state is more likely to approve a project where it can reimburse funds already spent by a district.
At the work session, Assembly member Mark Schaefer asked board members if it would be prudent to set up a regular equipment or building maintenance fund annually, so long-term capital issues like replacing the sprinkler system can be identified ahead of time.
Board President Darren Belisle said in the past the district had dealt with capital projects within its own budget, but then the city insisted that it handle line item school capital projects “since you own the building.”
“That’s okay as long as the money is there,” Schaefer said.
“We have the money for it now,” Assembly member Dan Henry added.
Board member Robert Murphy and Assembly member L.C. Cassidy spoke in favor of a capital maintenance fund. Cassidy said at the National Park Service, where she works, they do an annual condition assessment for every building, and identify projects ahead of time. Future projects on the school district’s timetable could include replacing boilers and carpet.
The assembly will take up the long-term needs issue more in its own budget work sessions over the next few weeks.
Belisle closed by saying, “It’s good to be able to work together. We got a lot done tonight talking about capital items.”

BOROUGH - Hall steps in with low-cost cemetery tour

There is one place in Skagway where tourists are dying to go. The Gold Rush Cemetery is the final resting place of Skagway’s most notable historical superstars and a frequently requested destination for visitors, according to the Skagway Convention and Visitors Bureau.
A request by SMART to arrange regular service to the cemetery via the muncipality shuttle system was met by opposition last month from a variety of tour operators, and a fear that the cemetery was potentially dangerous for the handicapped due to lack of access improvements. Efforts to arrange a SMART stop at the cemetery have been put on hold until improvements can be made, and a tally of requests for the service is completed early this summer.
Enter Tom Hall and his new Gold Rush Express Tours.
Hall initially approached the Civic Affairs Committee with his proposal to avoid misconceptions about his planned tour being a “shuttle service.” The tour will do pick-ups downtown every half-hour at dedicated municipal loading zones and make stops at the cemetery and the Klondike Gold Dredge, also owned by Hall, before returning clients to town. The $10 tour will also feature a guide at both the cemetery and the dredge.
Assemblyman Dan Henry asked if the buses would be sitting in the loading zones for extended periods of time. Hall said the tour would operate on a set schedule with a quick turnaround for unloading and loading.
Hall said he was sympathetic to concerns the tour could be misconstrued as a shuttle, which would be a violation of municipal code, but wanted to be able to provide access to the dredge as there was currently no regular SMART service across the bridge.
“We have something to gain when they come out there,” said Hall.
A lengthy discussion revolved around how persons inquiring about options for travel to the Gold Rush Cemetery at the CVB would be made aware of the tour. Borough Manager Alan Sorum said it would be handled no differently than other tour requests; interested parties would be given a list of tour providers and would make the ultimate choice on their own.
Henry voiced concerns over the perception the low-cost tour would create with other tour vendors.
“I know for a fact there is a market to go to the Gold Rush Cemetery,” said Henry, inquiring what mechanism the municipality should put in place to “avoid issues.”
Committee chair L.C. Cassidy said, “It doesn’t matter what we do as a (municipality), if (Hall) is within the code.”
Henry said when Hall started generating revenue there would be a commodity for the service, and others would potentially start up similar tours. Hall agreed and said if the tour was successful “others will be doing it.”
Assemblywoman Colette Hisman asked if there would be any solicitation from his bus, and Hall reassured her they would not violate the municipality’s outcry ordinance.
“I think we’ll get them without doing that,” said Hall.
Mayor Tom Cochran commended the Halls for coming to the borough first with their plans. The tour will start at the beginning of the summer season. – AC

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

AIMING HIGH - Doug Breen gears up for the Sister Cities Dart Tournament by practicing his refined and accurate dart throw. Many participants of the tourney discovered that alcohol seldom improves accuracy, but the charitable event was a hit with all sister city residents. Promoter Howard Mallory said he hopes the tourney will become an annual event. See more April event photos above in features. Photo by Andrew Cremata

• APRIL EVENTS: Folk Festival, Dart Tourney, Earth Day, Canadian Navy visit

• FISH THIS! Return of our award-winning outdoors column

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