With her daughter Piper watching closely, Governor Sarah Palin reads a legislative proclamation honoring life-long resident Barbara Kalen for her service to the arts and humanities of Alaska. See Special Coverage of the governor's visit back to her first Alaska home below.

Photo by Chelsea Bennett

SPECIAL COVERAGE - GOVERNOR'S VISIT: Governor Palin visits her first Alaska home, vows to 'clean up' state government (5-11-07 issue)

Borough election time is near

Borough questions, 16 candidates fill ballot to be mailed to voters on May 14


Are you ready to vote? This next election is a big one.
Next week every registered voter in the community will receive a ballot in the mail asking if they approve of dissolving the city and creating the new first class Skagway Borough.
While the state Local Boundary Commission earlier this year approved of the Skagway Borough petition, the question must now go before voters to be ratified.
Also on the ballot will be a full slate of elected officials, unlike anything Skagway has seen since it was incorporated as the first city in Alaska in 1900.
In this pre-election issue, the borough question is presented in a commentary by the city on page 2, while statements from all 16 candidates for public offices begin on page 7.
A Skagway Borough Election Forum, co-hosted by the News and KHNS, will be presented at the A.B. Hall on Tuesday, May 15, from 7 to 9 p.m. The borough question will be explained further by petition representatives, and there will be opportunity for questions. A candidate debate will follow with questions posed by the media, the candidates themselves, and the public.
Two candidates are running for mayor. Incumbent Mayor Tim Bourcy is being challenged by the man he appointed to a vacant city council seat earlier this year, Tom Cochran, now serving his second stint on the council.
For the six new Skagway Borough Assembly seats, there is a crowded field: Incumbent councilmembers L.C. Cassidy, Mike Korsmo, Dan Henry and Dave Hunz, as well as former members Ed Fairbanks, Mavis Irene Henricksen and Colette Hisman, and political newcomers Dennis Corrington and Mark Schaefer.
Councilmember Mike Catsi recently announced he is leaving town to take a new job and will not seek re-election (see sidebar).
The Skagway School Board has no contested races, with incumbents Darren Belisle, Christine Ellis, Joanne Korsmo, and Chris Maggio filing, along with former city councilmember Robert Murphy. Two-term member Julene Fairbanks said she decided not to run to focus on her businesses. She said she plans to stay active on the school technology committee and advising the Class of 2009.
Once elected, the elected borough assembly and school board members will draw lots to determine the length of their terms. It was unclear at press time what the mayor’s term would be, according to the Division of Elections. which is researching the question and should have an answer by next Tuesday’s forum.
Because the ballots are sent back by mail, they must be signed by the voter with at least one identifier (voter number, driver’s number, social security), and then witnessed by anyone over 18, the postmaster or an election official at City Hall. The ballots can be mailed back to Juneau any time after they are received, until the official election date, June 5. However, because it is expected that many voters will choose to go to City Hall and fill out absentee ballots starting May 21, the state has approved hiring someone to witness and process ballots, said City Clerk Marj Harris.
The effort to form a Skagway Borough has been ongoing for years, receiving strong public support at meetings and hearings, while being controversial at times on a statewide stage. The city and petitioners successfully challenged the LBC’s initial rejection of the borough based on its size, and won another hearing in court. Earlier this year, the LBC, forced by superior court to not look at size, approved of the borough on a 3-2 vote.
However, the dissenting statement has recently received more focus than the decisional statement. An election preclearance letter from LBC staff member Dan Bockhorst to the federal Department of Justice noted allegations of racism brought forth in the dissenters’ statement that were never raised during the hearings. Dissenters Bob Hicks and Tony Nakazawa alleged that a mostly white Skagway borough could be perceived as unfair to mostly Native Klukwan, within the Haines Borough, by somehow not making school funds available to the village.
The allegations of racism toward a village 50 miles away have been refuted by several city and state officials, as well as Native leaders, but Commissioner Emil Notti of the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development recently stated in a reply to the Chilkat Indian Village that the state was simply fulfilling its requirements to DOJ.
“The record shows that three members of the LBC concluded that the Skagway borough proposal satisfies the requirements of the federal Voting Rights Act,” Notti wrote. “Our preclearance submission quotes the complete findings and conclusions on that point by the three-member majority. In contrast, only limited portions of the two-member LBC minority’s findings and conclusions are quoted in our preclearance submission.”
Notti also referred to an accompanying letter by LBC Chair Darroll Hargraves, who voted for the borough, saying that “our preclearance submission fairly presented the views of both the majority and the minority.”
Hargraves’ letter lashed out at former city manager and borough petition representative Bob Ward for his attacks on LBC staffer Bockhorst. Hargraves said Bockhorst and Notti were conveying to DOJ what was stated in the decisional and dissenting statements “without interpretation.”
“I will conclude by saying that if DCCED’s preclearance request had ignored the positions established by two members of the commission in their minority opinion, it might have been viewed as an abrogation of responsibility on the part of DCCED,” Hargraves wrote.
Hargraves last week announced he will resign his seat and chairmanship in June after 11 years on the LBC to pursue business and political options. He did not return requests for further comment on the Skagway matter.
The election is going forward, and there will be voting through June 5, the last day to postmark ballots. Counting of ballots will be held on June 15, the last day overseas absentee ballots can be accepted, and results will be posted at
The News will have coverage of the Skagway Borough Election Forum in the next issue.

UPDATE – According to DOE, The mayor's term will be three years, but shortened to two years and four months because of the election occurring in June, as opposed to October. The other terms, drawn by lot for assembly and school board, will be four months, one year and four months, and two years and four months.



No sunset for Dyea Flats tours

Tourists on the Dyea Flats will be able to saddle-up on either horses or bicycles this summer thanks to the passing of a new Dyea Management Plan ordinance by the Skagway City Council. The good news for those vendors operating on the flats, Alaska Excursions and Sockeye Cycle, is there will be no riding off into the sunset.
The plan is the culmination of a winter-long effort by the Dyea Advisory Board and also addresses tours in Dyea proper, as well as revamping of roads and recreation areas on the flats.
A sunset clause in the original draft presented to council would have ceased both tour companies’ operations on the flats in 2014. Public support for the measure had been positive, albeit limited, during the DAB’s process and led to a unanimous decision by the board to present the plan to city council. However, a dramatic public response at the May 3 council meeting opposed to the sunset clause resulted in the item being removed from the language of the plan.
Most of the public testimony revolved around Alaska Excursions’ Chilkoot Horseback Adventures tour, which operates on the flats. Owner Robert Murphy, a year-round local resident, has suggested he, and his family, were considering moving away from Skagway if the plan passed with the sunset clause intact. He said the prospect of being forced to shut down in seven years would prevent him from further investments and upgrades to the business, such as building a barn.
Murphy said he was not offered any alternatives by the DAB and asked, “What are we doing wrong?” One reason mentioned by the DAB for the termination of commercial use was a “quality of life issue,” he said, but if his employees lost their jobs, their quality of life would be adversely affected.
“It’s a manageable resource. There is a way we can work together. I am flexible,” Murphy said.
Twelve people spoke against the ordinance with the sunset clause, five spoke in favor, and two suggested a compromise. Citizen John L. O’Daniel was one of many who spoke out in favor of Murphy specifically. O’Daniel said the council needed to support the “year-round community,” and felt there were serious problems in Skagway that needed to be addressed.
“I definitely see a crisis,” said O’Daniel. “Our school is dying. There are holes in our community our kids are falling through. I am really scared.”
O’Daniel said there would always be a “summer future” in Skagway, but the year-round future was in jeopardy as evidenced by recent drops in school enrollment. He urged the council to allow Murphy to continue operations without a sunset clause for fear the school may lose more kids and an employer who hires nine year-round locals for his business.
“We need to save this town and protect our schools,” he said.
Murphy’s wife Christy showed the council three separate petitions dealing with the subject. One was in support of continued operations for Chilkoot Horseback Adventures, the second called for the city to seek an alternative off-road trail in Dyea for horseback tours in the future, and the third requested council review a consensus by the (Skagway Development Corp.) before a final decision be made.
All three petitions had more than 275 signatures, the overwhelming majority of which were year-round Skagway residents. While the petitions were not officially entered into public record, there is no doubt they, and the public testimony, had an effect on the council’s final decision.
Two weeks prior, at the April 19 meeting, council approved a contract to be signed by the two vendors which included a sunset date on December 31, 2014. Only Councilmember Tom Cochran voted against the agreement. Yet during the meeting, Cochran said public input from the time of the original plan up to the current day had always been in favor of no commercial use on the flats. After the meeting he said he voted “no” simply to be a voice of dissent like former Councilmember Jay Frey, who was known for doing the same.
Concerning the eventual ceasing of tours on the flats, Mayor Tim Bourcy said, “We’re getting back to what the public wanted.”
The council’s opinion of what the public wanted changed during the May 3 meeting. Cochran specifically cited the signatures on the petitions for arriving at a decision, and agreed with O’Daniel’s assessment of a “dying community.” He said he was voting against the ordinance to represent people who needed to be represented.
Hunz suggested the removal of the sunset clause and said it was better to have guided tours on the flats than a “free-for-all.” The amendment to the ordinance passed with Councilmembers Mike Korsmo and L.C. Cassidy voting no.
The revised plan, minus the sunset clause, passed with only Korsmo voting no. “The original intent was for no commercial use and I’ll stand by that,” he said.
The plan limits commercial use on the flats to one group of no more than 12 at a time for each company. It also limits overall numbers to standards set in 1999, before the state deeded the land to the city, and calls for a yearly review by the DAB and a five-year review by City Council.
After the meeting, Councilmember Dan Henry said the review process precluded the need for a sunset date because if problems were to arise, either operation could be shut down at any time.
City Manager Alan Sorum said council’s decision was unexpected and meant the contract with the vendors, already approved by council, would have to be rewritten with the sunset clause excluded. He said the city would enter into negotiations with the two vendors to rework the contract, which would then be presented to council for final approval. The vendors will be allowed to operate without a contract until that time.
After the meeting DAB Chair Wayne Greenstreet said via telephone he was glad the issue was settled and they could move ahead with other topics. He said the plan is ultimately not much different than it was before. “Hopefully, it will be managed better,” he said.
Murphy said the plan was “not the best,” but he was moved by the outpouring of support. He said he and his family recently felt discouraged and frustrated, but he was appreciative of the unexpected support he received from so many people, many of whom he had no idea were even aware of the issue. – JB

Million dollar Rapuzzi collection acquisition complete

An extraordinary, one of a kind collection of artifacts encompassing the Klondike Gold Rush and early 20th Century life in historic Skagway will be protected and made available for public viewing and research through the collaboration of the owner and four Alaska partner organizations.
The George and Edna Rapuzzi Collection, which was started a century ago by a Klondike Gold Rush stampeder, was purchased in April for $1 million by the Rasmuson Foundation. The foundation will develop a plan to distribute the collection to the City of Skagway, the Alaska Natural History Association, and the National Park Service, according to an NPS press release.
The collection, which includes an estimated 450,000 items and five historic buildings, was started by Martin Itjen, a stampeder who later led Skagway’s developing tourist trade. His long-time friend, George Rapuzzi, was a tourism promoter and tour guide, as well as a consummate collector in his own right. He and Edna passed away in the 1980s. Together the collection came to be owned by Phyllis Brown, the Rapuzzis’ niece, who finalized the sale at the end of April after years of effort by many parties who wanted the collection to remain in Skagway.
“This is an amazing accumulation of Alaska’s history,” said Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park Superintendent Jim Corless. “The generous support of the Rasmuson Foundation is providing a fabulous opportunity to share with both visitors and Alaskans an important part of our nation’s history through authentic objects in their original location.”
Brown was away from Skagway and could not be reached for comment.
Among the stunning number of items in the collection are these:
• The 1897 parlor that belonged to the famed Jefferson “Soapy” Smith. After the gunfight which caused his death in 1898, the saloon became a restaurant and then the home of the Skagway Hook and Ladder Company. Martin Itjen acquired the building around 1935, remodeled it, and re-opened it as Jeff Smith’s Parlor Museum. This landmark structure retains much of its 1898 appearance as Soapy Smith’s headquarters.
• The 1900 YMCA Gymnasium and Reading Room and Meyers Meat Market complex, later used as an automotive garage and still holding many automotive artifacts from the 1930s.
• Martin Itjen’s famous “Skagway Streetcar,” a home-converted 1906 Packard, used in early Skagway tours and still emblazoned with his marketing slogan “Nothing Like It In the World.”
• The original silk banner of the Arctic Brotherhood, formed in 1899 by stampeders to provide mutual assistance, friendship, and social interaction in the northern communities. The Arctic Brotherhood Hall is owned by the City of Skagway, now operating as visitor center for Skagway’s 900,000 visitors each year.
• Numerous objects representing Native Alaskan stories including Tlingit carvings and baskets and a unique “Native Packers for Hire” sign from the gold rush. The collection also holds scores of photographs, hotel registers and ship manifests that add depth, texture, and personality to the story already told by Skagway’s historic architecture.
The collection will be managed by the three Skagway partners, with a comprehensive inventory being the group’s first priority. The plan is that the National Park Service, which has orchestrated the partners’ purchase from Ms. Brown, will preserve and display items related to the Gold Rush era. The City of Skagway is contributing $100,000 toward the purchase, and will add to its museum collection those items that tell other city stories, including those of Native Alaskans, tourism, and its port. The Alaska Natural History Association will restore the collection’s World War II Commissary building and focus its Skagway operations there and partner with the city in exhibiting Skagway’s WWII history.
The Rasmuson Foundation was founded in 1955 to support projects of lasting impact for the public benefit of all Alaskans.

House acts on amended ‘disclosure bill’ as tour vendors win Temporary Restraining Order

Several Alaska shore excursion operators, including two of Skagway’s biggest, filed suit last week against the state to hold off enforcement of the pricing disclosure provisions in the Alaska Cruise Initiative, which passed a statewide vote last summer.
The White Pass and Yukon Route and Skagway Street Car Co. were two of the plaintiffs which filed suit May 5 and a day later won a 10-day Temporary Restraining Order from Superior Court Judge Larry C. Zervos of Sitka.
The suit states that the requirement in the initiative for wholesale pricing details to be displayed on board ships in contrasting 14-point type is discriminatory and unconstitutional.
“The main point is we Alaska shore excursions are not unlike any business in the state or the United States in the way we have a wholesale-retail sale with a client,” said Gary Danielson, president of WP&YR and one of the named plaintiffs.
He said the shore excursions mistakenly were “lumped in” the initiative with the onboard shopping programs, which have stores pay to be advertised onboard ships.
“The shore excursions do not pay to be on board,” Danielson said. “In fact it’s just the opposite. They pay us for a service.”
He said if the railroad were forced to display its net wholesale pricing on a ship for its tours, then Fred Meyer should have to display what it pays wholesale for every grocery item in its stores.
Danielson said he was pleased the judge granted the order while the Legislature rewrites the section of law as it applies to vendor arrangements.
On Tuesday, the House passed HB 217 on a 27-10 vote. For the tour vendors, the section reads like this:
“(b) A person or other entity aboard a cruise ship conducting or making a sale of tours, flightseeing operations, or other shoreside activities to be delivered by a vendor or other entity at a future port of call shall disclose, in writing at the point of sale, (1) that the onboard sale is a retail-wholesale relationship between the cruise ship and the shoreside vendor that results in a percentage of the sale being retained by the cruise ship with different features may be available at a port of call; (3) the address, Internet website address, and telephone number of the existing visitors bureaus at each future port of call; and (4) if the amount of commission or percentage of the total sale retained or returned to the person or entity making or attempting to make the sale exceeds 20 percent of the total cost of the services or goods provided by a shoreside vendor, that more than 20 percent of the total sale price is being retained as a commission by the person or entity making the sale.”
Steve Hites, who with his wife Gayla are listed as plaintiffs for Skagway Street Car Co., said the legislature came up with an arbitrary percentage, but said their arrangement with cruise lines should not be viewed as commissions.
“It’s wholesale-retail,” he said. “We come to an agreement with a ship on a wholesale price for a tour, and give them a suggested retail price, which they don’t have to follow.”
Danielson said the legislation is workable, and now must pass the Senate and go on to the governor. The suit was filed when it became apparent that the legislature would not pass by last weekend, when the first ships of the season entered Alaska waters.
He said the Vision of the Seas and Mercury, which arrived here on Monday, did not sell Alaska tours when they entered state waters on Saturday, because they did not want to break the new law. But when they got word that the temporary restraining order was granted, they were able to sell on board. Still, Danielson said rail tours on Monday morning were down significantly, but by afternoon they had picked up.
“We were still down 25 percent of where we should have been (at the end of the day),” he said. Tuesday was better because the Golden Princess got word it could sell without posting “Waiting for Alaska Legislature” signs on board.
The legislation is on the move in the Senate, and so is the court process.
Gayla Hites is in Sitka testifying at a hearing this morning before the judge to determine if the order should be extended, and Danielson said he will testify via teleconference. The Senate Judiciary Committee is taking up HB 217 this morning.
The onboard shopping section of the bill says a ship must disclose “if the value paid by a business (to a ship) is more than 10 percent of any single sale.”
Like the tour section, the shopping business section would not require the posting of pricing, but state that alternatives can be found by contacting local visitor centers. – JB


DRAMATIC FORM – Blaine Mero and many others took to the lanes at the Elks Saturday for the annual Bowl For Kids Sake, raising money for the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. Jeff Brady

• CLEAN SWEEP: Photos from annual town clean-up

• SKAGWAY SPORTS & REC.: Hather joins Hall of Fame; Track team fielded, Little leaue and softball sign-up; KCIBR bike race and YRQ canoe/kayak race registration deadlines loom

• HEARD ON THE WIND: Prepping for the season... (May 11, 2007)

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