HEADING HOME

Two gaggles of snow geese have been flocking around Skagway for the past two weeks. One group has made a temporary home of the Skagway School ball field. This particular goose made a successful rounding of third base only to discover he was going the wrong way. Seattle Mariners fans are sympathetic.

Photo by Andrew Cremata

Hovercraft supporters fail to win enough votes to overcome parking appeal

By ANDREW CREMATA
One vote can make a difference. For Luke and Emily Rauscher, one vote was the difference in failing to obtain a conditional use permit for parking from the Municipality of Skagway.
The Rauschers were seeking to start up a hovercraft tour on the Skagway River. Before they could approach the state to take the operation to the next level they needed to obtain the parking permit 50-yards south of the Pat Moore Bridge, in accordance with Skagway zoning code.
The Planning and Zoning Commission approved the parking permit after a spirited debate by members of the community at its March 20 meeting. Many of the comments and testimony went far beyond the simple issue of parking.
Former mayor and current wilderness tour operator Tim Bourcy appealed the P&Z decision, which was to be addressed at the May 1 Borough Assembly meeting. The Borough Assembly acts as the board of appeals for decisions made by P&Z.
Those who filled the standing-room-only assembly chambers waited for the start of the meeting in anticipation of the upcoming debate by assembly members.
Bourcy’s appeal outlined his reasons for questioning the decision of P&Z. Bourcy wrote that the Seven Pastures area was a “developing municipal recreation area that has been paid for and belongs to all members of the community.” He said the granting of the permit removed land from the area and thus all community members should have been notified by mail before the decision was made.
Bourcy also said the conditional use permit failed to take into consideration safety issues, public health concerns, impact to the community and the surrounding area, potential environmental hazards, and the broader issue of whether the borough or the state owns the river.
As has been the case with much of the public testimony regarding the issue, many of Bourcy’s concerns dealt with issues regarding the river and not just the issues involving a parking variance.
However, Bourcy did state there would be conflicts with current users in the area who walk their dogs without leashes, play softball, Frisbee golf enthusiasts, and municipal staging and composting.
Correspondence to the municipality covered a wide range of topics. Susan Fredricks wrote she was concerned that noise and activity from the hovercraft tour would affect the natural habitat of the Skagway River as a “corridor for wild birds.”
Klondike Tours owner Greg Clem wrote that for persons along the river south of the cemetery, the hovercraft “would be a big attraction for kids and tourists alike. Enticing them to watch the loud and cool looking boats on the river distracting them from watching where they are going and making the banks and fast cold water even more deadly.”
Letters in support of the hovercraft tours also dealt little with the parking variance. Andrew Tronrud and Jed Greenstreet both questioned those who said noise would be an issue by citing the current noise level created by the highway and airport.
In another letter, Howard Mallory wrote, “Please give them a chance. Even encouragement.”
The large gathering at assembly chambers on May 1 was disappointed when Mayor Tom Cochran recommended the appeal be postponed until at least five or all six borough assembly members were present. Assemblymen Dan Henry and Mike Korsmo were absent.
Cochran said that the minimum quorum of four votes would not be fair to anyone, as the issue was a controversial one. “It does not do justice to the appellate, the applicant, or the community,” he said.
The board of appeals meeting was rescheduled for May 7.
Another large crowd filled council chambers for what would become an unusual outcome.
As the meeting started, Assemblywoman Colette Hisman recused herself from the proceedings. She cited her relation to the appellate as her reason for stepping out, and did so with the blessing of the rest of the assembly. She is a sister-in-law of Bourcy.
Bourcy first took the stand and immediately questioned the board’s decision allowing Hisman to recuse herself.
“I believe in order to recuse yourself you need a financial interest,” he said.
Bourcy then outlined his appeal in detail and said the issue was about more than just a parking space, but also about a staging, loading, embarking, and disembarking area.
He said he did not want to “stand in the way of some folks starting a business,” but urged the board to take some time to resolve all the issues.
Luke Rauscher then stepped in to address the questions set forth by Bourcy. He said he was following the necessary steps required by the state and all the concerns about operating on the river would be met, but he could not move forward until the permit was granted.
“We don’t make a ton of money,” said Rauscher, who added the permit fees to the state were substantive and the money would be wasted if he were denied the parking permit.
Rauscher said he didn’t see why there were problems granting a parking permit, as the municipality should be promoting business.
Gary Brummett, Chair of P&Z, was next up for testimony. He said P&Z looked at the issue of parking on municipal land, and that there was nothing in code to prevent granting the permit.
Assemblywoman L.C. Cassidy asked whether P&Z reviewed the Skagway Coastal Management Plan in making the decision; specifically, section 3.10.4 which deals with recreational uses for the Seven Pastures area. Cassidy said there was nothing listed in the section pertaining to allowing a commercial operation in the area.
Brummett said they only considered parking. “There is nothing in that to deny the application,” he said. “We only dealt with parking.”
Section 3.10.4 of the SCMP also lists the City Overview Lot along with Seven Pastures, an area frequented by commercial operations in the summer.
Bourcy addressed the board a final time and urged members to address all the issues up front. He said it was more than just a parking issue, as the activity on the river was associated with it.
Cochran took some time to address all the issues. He said there was plenty of notification for the permit, and he didn’t see why the tour should be treated any differently from other tours when it came to safety.
He said the other issues had been adequately addressed, and asked everyone to stay on track with the issue at hand.
Assemblyman Dan Henry said the issue was whether the criteria for the permit had been met. He said personal feelings were “not proper,” and he would uphold P&Z’s decision.
Assemblyman Mark Schaefer said the applicants were simply asking to park and other issues were not applicable to the case. He said there were already commercial operations in the area, a wood chipper, and he supported P&Z’s decision.
Assemblyman Mike Korsmo and Cassidy said the other issues were applicable and important to consider. Cassidy added that any decision would set a precedent for the area. Both said they would vote to overturn P&Z’s ruling.
Assemblyman Dave Hunz said the conditions P&Z reviewed were all met and if anyone wanted to change the zoning of Seven Pastures, P&Z would need direction to do so from the assembly.
However, because four votes were needed to uphold P&Z’s decision to grant the conditional use permit, the vote of 3-2 meant it failed.
Hisman’s recusal from the vote made for an unusual set of circumstances. Had she voted in the affirmative, the permit would have been granted. If she had voted against the permit the tie vote would have made Cochran the tiebreaker.
Rauscher mentioned during testimony there may be other options for parking on state land or even private land. Only time will tell if the ultimate decision comes down to one vote.

Canol connection?
New route proposed to link mines to port

By JEFF BRADY
Mineral prospects in the Yukon are so hot that a new industrial haul corridor is being proposed to provide more direct access to the port of Skagway.
The proposed route is actually over an existing highway, the Canol, a windy dirt road that follows an old military pipeline corridor from Johnson’s Crossing, Yukon on the Alaska Highway to the Northwest Territories border.
The Canol Resource Corridor is being proposed by Alcan Rail Link, a company that had previously worked on the now-completed study for the proposed Alaska-Yukon rail link. Now it is proposing upgrades to the Canol road system that would make it suitable for hauling longer “truck trains” from big mines at the Selwyn and Wolverine properties.
In a short presentation to the Skagway Borough Assembly on May 1, Roy Mattson, one of the partners, said “Skagway is a very important element to get resources to international markets.”
Since 70 percent of a mine’s costs are usually associated with transportation, any way to reduce those costs could help keep a mine alive if there is a downturn in metal prices, he said.
By using the Canol corridor in combination with the Tagish Road, and then connecting down to Skagway on the South Klondike Highway, the added cost per tonne would be $9.03 compared with the longer Faro-Carmacks-Whitehorse-Skagway route of $21.60 per tonne. The costs go much higher if transporting through Watson Lake ($67-$76) or down to Stewart, B.C. ($87).
He said they have been looking at Australian truck trains that operate on industrial roads on the island continent. The Yukon version would not be as long, but it would still double truck configurations from the current 50 tonnes. The trucks would be broken up into smaller loads for the “legal” highways after reaching Johnson’s Crossing, said Kells Boland, who assisted in the presentation.
The consultants did not address the summer public use of the Canol Road, especially the southern end which connects to Quiet Lake, a popular camping area and starting point for paddling trips on the Big Salmon and Nisutlin rivers. When the road is closed in winter, it also is used by dog mushers who train for the Yukon Quest.
Boland said Skagway was being looked at as a possible “subscriber” to pitch in $30,000 toward a multi-client study on the Canol route. So far, they have interest from two mines, Yukon Highways, and the Ross River First Nation, Boland said. They are trying to raise $180,000 from six subscribers.
The study would also be a mechanism for getting the various “common stakeholders” to “talk to each other.”
Mayor Tom Cochran made no commitments, but asked the assembly to look at the request as a possible line item in the upcoming budget.
After the study is completed, the consultants said they would then propose a “public-private partnership” to fund road improvements.

Fraser Superintendent Terry Joss explains procedures for entering Canada. To his right are fellow officer Carol-Lynne Luelo. and Skagway Port Director Boyd Worley. Jeff Brady

Border bus boarding will be ‘normal’

By JEFF BRADY
The Skagway Port of Entry, with its high level of bus and train tour traffic, has been given permission by the Department of Homeland Security to waive a requirement for every person on a bus or train to be individually processed.
Port Director Boyd Worley made the announcement at a gathering of tour operators on May 2 at the National Park Service auditorium. He was joined by Officer Maggie Osborne and two members of Canada Customs, Fraser Superintendent Terry Joss and Immigration specialist Carol-Lynne Luelo.
Worley told a relieved crowd of about 30 that the protocol would be basically the same as the past few years. Officers will be presented with a manifest, and then board the bus or train. They will walk through the bus while passengers hold up their passports. Operators were asked to have the visitors ready to show ID.
“We need to match face to ID,” Osborne said.
Worley said the purpose of the meeting was to show operators and the public that “this is not Big Brother coming down on you – we want to work with you.”
Joss said the procedure will be the same entering Canada at Fraser, B.C. There are some slight differences, especially regarding those who need visas. A visa that allows a foreigner to work in the U.S. will not work in Canada – they need a separate Canadian visa that can only be acquired through a Canadian Consulate.
He urged drivers to be prepared. And if they are just stopping at Fraser to pick up train passengers, they need to be on a list that can be checked ahead of time.
“We want to expedite what we have to do, but at the same time we have to follow our regulations and procedures,” Joss said.
Luelo cautioned drivers about throwing boxes or packages on buses for delivery to Whitehorse. “If there is cargo or anything out of the ordinary, we need to know about it,” she said.
Unclaimed stuff, whether it’s a gift box, chunks of firewood, or a hitchhiker pocketing an illegal substance, could lead to “the donation of a bus to the Crown,” she said.
Both borders now require both government-issued photo ID and proof of citizenship for U.S. and Canadian citizens over the age of 19. For those without passports, a notarized birth certificate (not a photocopy) is acceptable with the photo ID.
All of the officers said that if anyone has a problem with an officer’s conduct, to call the border station supervisor.
“Being rude is no longer a career enhancer,” Worley said.

NWCA representative explains lower numbers, cruise issues

By ANDREW CREMATA
Skagway’s present and future economic strength is hinged to the success and prosperity of the cruise ship industry. A variety of issues facing cruise lines in the northwest combined with a drop-off in overall passengers visiting Skagway in 2008 are causing some concerned local parties to ask questions.
At a special Convention & Visitors Bureau meeting April 25, Rod Pfleiger of the Northwest Cruiseship Association attempted to answer some of those questions.
Pfleiger said the cruise industry was currently being challenged by two separate issues which could have a direct impact on Skagway and other Alaska ports of call.
Pfleiger said a general discharge permit for wastewater mandated by the state set unattainable benchmarks for removal of metals. He used copper as an example of the unrealistic demand being made by the state.
He said cruise ship wastewater treatment systems are the best in all of Alaska and “near drinking water quality.” He compared Skagway’s 700 parts per billion of copper in drinking water to the current 14.77 ppb in cruise ship wastewater.
Pfleiger said the state was requiring they meet a standard of only 3.1 ppb, and added there was no current method for scrubbing out metals that could make this goal attainable.
As a result, Skagway and other ports would become non-discharge areas requiring the cruise ships to travel three miles offshore to discharge water, resulting in the cutting of port time.
Pfleiger said the NWCA was currently working on a solution with the state which would hopefully resolve the problem.
A new rule relating to the Jones Act of 1920, implemented by the U.S. Maritime Administration, was designed to level the playing field between domestic cruise ships and the faster foreign vessels traveling to Hawaii. Unfortunately, the language of the law could also apply to Alaska cruise agencies; a decidedly different market.
Pfleiger said if the language of the rule cannot be clarified, vessels would be required to spend 50 percent of their total time in Alaska in foreign ports. That is, for every 30 hours in Alaska, 15 would be required in Canada.
The NWCA is currently working with the Department of Homeland Security to isolate Hawaii in regards to the regulations, but Pfleiger said the most recent interpretation included Alaska. He added the NWCA needed help with the issue, and encouraged those in attendance to get involved.
Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue asked Pfleiger why fewer Royal Caribbean ships were coming to Skagway during the month of May.
Pfleiger said there were two reasons for Skagway’s May drop-off in overall cruise passenger numbers. In an effort to prevent the stacking of multiple vessels in one port, Pfleiger said, “We made some adjustments.”
Pfleiger cited the other reason for decreased numbers locally was due to the success of Icy Straits’ recent efforts to become a prime destination. Cruise vessels are utilizing the new port facilities outside Hoonah.
“We’re taking advantage of that,” he said.

Visitors off the Veendam, the first ship of the season, had to contend with rain on May 5. JB

Pfleiger said overall numbers for cruise passengers looked positive. The first quarter report boasted a 104 percent ridership.
“It looks strong and continues to look strong,” he said.
Pfleiger said efforts to improve Skagway community relations included their efforts for funding the recreation center climbing wall, the Buckwheat Ski Classic, and the seawalk project.
Donahue said, after the meeting, Pfleiger informed interested parties there would be no new money for Skagway’s upcoming clinic construction from either the NWCA or the Alaska Cruise Association.
But, Donahue noted, Pfleiger told him that leftover money from the seawalk could be used for the clinic project.

BOROUGH - Affordable housing gets the comprehensive treatment

Affordable housing has been one of the hottest topics for Skagwegians over the last few years, and on April 23 it became the focus of the Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee meeting.
Once again, the definition of what constitutes “affordable housing” was debated by those in attendance, but planner Barb Sheinberg laid out some options for Skagway’s future.
Sheinberg said there were ultimately three housing issues facing Skagway: lack of affordable housing for first-time home buyers, how seasonal housing – or the lack thereof – affects Skagway, and senior housing concerns.
The majority of the discussion revolved around housing for first-time buyers, young families who will forge Skagway’s future.
Sheinberg said the problem was not unique to Skagway. Juneau appointed an Affordable Housing Commission and Sitka outlined it as their top economic development issue.
Sheinberg said two other options could be suitable for Skagway: a land trust and/or a housing trust.
A land trust functions whereby land is owned by a non-profit trust, and homes built upon it are sold to “low-income” home buyers – families making 80 percent of the median income. The median two-person income in Skagway is $54,000 a year.
Because the cost of the land is taken out of the equation, when the home is sold, 25 percent of the equity goes to the homeowner. The other 75 percent goes to the trust, thus keeping it affordable.
It was unclear how the formula would work if the home were to depreciate in value.
A housing trust offers more flexibility by offering loans to first-time home buyers through a non-profit program of grants and corporate investments. In some communities, multi-family apartment buildings have been constructed via the program. Sheinberg said there are currently 39 states with housing trusts, but Alaska was not one of them.
Sheinberg said the other issue was where to build, and provided a map showing where available or privately owned lots were located in Skagway.
“There are only a few lots left in town for affordable housing development,” she said.
Sheinberg said no matter what path the municipality decided upon, it would require the dedication of a “revenue stream” to support the concept.
“It’s not about money, it’s about priorities,” she said.
Teacher Mary McCaffrey said she was seeking to purchase a home in Skagway, but the obstacles were always the same. She said whenever an affordable house became available, it went to the person with “cash in hand.”
She added a land trust lacked appeal, because persons would unlikely be interested in having a house on land which wasn’t owned.
Tim Cochran said the other side of the issue was the lack of a diversified year-round economy in Skagway. He said jobs were needed to keep a family’s income flowing throughout the year, and no one could afford a house when they were making money only eight months out of the year.
Assemblyman Mike Korsmo said the issue needed to be addressed before young couples decided to “wander off.”
The impacts of implementing any of the programs outlined by Sheinberg were open to some debate.
John Harris asked what would happen to current homeowners seeking to sell if affordable housing was suddenly thrust upon the market.
Sheinberg asked if Skagway was interested in facing the issue with more than just “lip service.” She asked if residents would support selling future land lottery parcels on the Dyea Road at prices below market value.
During last month’s land lottery, the lots were sold at market price and four of the six were sold to Whitehorse residents.
Mayor Tom Cochran said municipal employee Kathy Moody suggested the next land sale be a true lottery. He said he supported the concept of selling 500 tickets for parcels at $1,000 each. Persons whose names were drawn would “win” their lot with no additional cost, and the municipality would make $500,000.
Cochran said anyone would be able to purchase a ticket with the chance of obtaining truly affordable housing.
Affordable housing will comprise a large part of Skagway’s new Comprehensive Plan. How the municipality chooses to address it as yet remains to be seen, but another opportunity may be on the horizon.
At the May 1 Skagway Borough Assembly meeting, it was mentioned by citizen Irene Henricksen that the Garden City RV Park (formerly the old mission school property) on State Street may be up for sale at the end of the summer season. That could be 24 lots.
“We should at least find out the possibility of (buying) it,” said Assembly member Colette Hisman.
She said some of the land could be reserved for borough needs like a senior housing facility or a vocational education center, while a number of lots could be sold to the public. – AC

BOROUGH: Rough budget passes first reading
The borough budget process commenced with passage of first reading at the May 1 Skagway Borough Assembly meeting.
The early FY09 budget draft, based on department head input, sits at $4.58 million, compared with about $4.3 million for the current year. It is based on a starting mill rate of 8.0 in Service Area I.
The budget now goes through the committee review process this month, and will come back to the assembly for second or third readings in June.

SCHOOL: No change to school calendar

The Skagway School Board at its April 29 meeting made no changes to the 2008-09 school calendar as proposed by the faculty. The calendar will be basically the same as this year’s, despite requests over the winter by some parents to extend the Christmas break.
School will start on August 21 and end on May 20, 2009. Christmas break will begin after school ends on Friday, Dec. 19 and start up again on Monday, Jan. 5. Spring break will be the week of March 23-27.
Superintendent Michael Dickens said the staff had looked at results from an unofficial poll by parent Mark Saldi, which showed 10 of 28 respondents in favor of a longer break, but 17 against. He added that teachers did not want to expand the winter break, when most of them take two-week vacations. The break will be slightly longer in 2008-09 due to school not starting up until the first Monday of the new year.
Board member Joanne Korsmo said she would have liked for the holiday break to have been a little longer, maybe an extra week.
“I’m disappointed we did not change it a little...” she said. “We had an opportunity to try it this time and we didn’t.”
Board President Darren Belisle said he favored “leaving it alone.... People will still try to stretch (vacations) at Christmas. You’re not going to please everyone.”

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

KONE HEADS – While kids in the Lower 48 were lining up to see Iron Man or buy the new Grand Theft Auto video game, Skagway kids lined up for a different kind of treat. K.C. Mayo (left) has been first in line for the opening of the Kone Kompany for three years straight and kept the streak alive by lining up at 4 a.m. for their noon opening last Saturday. Other kids joined the fray at 5 a.m. The kids were universal in their citing of love of candy and ice cream as the reason for their early arrival. Photo by Andrew Cremata

• MAY EVENTS: Clean Sweep, BBBS Bowl for Kids Sake, Heart Run

• STATE SCIENCE FAIR - Six Skagway students take home top awards

• SCHOOL PHOTO FEATURE: Spring Concerts

• SPORTS & REC.: Hooligan Run, SHS Track, Tight Fish Regs. KCIBR Registration

• OBITUARY: Everrett C. Hamme

HEARD ON THE WIND: First gusts of the season. (May 9, 2008)

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