These two bald eagles have taken up residence in a previously abandonned nest on the Taiya River in Dyea this spring.
Photo by Andrew Cremata
Skagway man discovers weakness in Haines dock, the hard way
By ANDREW CREMATA
and Chilkat Valley News
Bizarre accidents happen every day. Tornadoes have been known to pick up a human being and place them hundreds of feet away from their original location without a scratch or bruise. Another person might slip in the shower and spend the next year in a coma, or even worse. For anyone who has experienced a major traffic accident, the months that follow will force the replay of the incident in the mind. It can make one wonder about the many what ifs associated with such a random event, seeking an explanation for something inherently tragic, yet finding few answers.
Some chalk it up to fate.
Local resident Kyle Fairbanks, an employee of Cruise Line Agencies, spends many days on the job running the forklift on the Skagway docks. On Thursday April 27, Fairbanks got an offer to go over to Haines for the day and run the forklift on the borough-owned dock.
It was a chance to go for a boat ride and help out, said Fairbanks. It seemed like a good idea.
Fairbanks worked throughout the day placing camel logs on the dock using a forklift along with a crew from Ketchikan. Camel logs are used as a buffer between the docks and the cruise ships when they tie up.
The dock in Haines is comprised of an older section near the shore and a newer section that extends further out into the ocean. Fairbanks explained he had mostly been working on the newer section and, being done with work for the day, drove the forklift back to a spot on the older section where it is normally parked.
Fairbanks said, I almost had it parked when I heard a snap and felt it sink a little.
Fairbanks described what came to pass next as happening in a split second, but as with many others who experience freak accidents, he can remember many of the details of that moment in time.
In the instant following the snap, Fairbanks said his first instinct was to jump from the forklift, which has no doors. He made it a couple inches out of his seat when the 23,000 pound machine broke through the dock and plummeted 20 feet to the icy water below, tilting backwards during its descent. When it hit the water, it was practically facing straight up.
Fairbanks said he thought to himself, Oh man, this is it!
The water did not slow the descent of the forklift and when Fairbanks cleared the entryway he was already 10 feet deep in the water.
Said Fairbanks, I was swimming for dear life toward the surface, but there were bubbles everywhere. There was no sense of direction. I was swimming as fast as I could but I hadnt had time to take a breath before I hit the water, and I wanted to take a breath. I swallowed a bunch of salt water.
Fairbanks describes his time in the water as happening in slow-motion. All the while he was asking himself, Wheres the surface?
When he finally did reach the surface he was choking from inhaling salt water, but quickly noticed that large pieces of the dock were still falling around him, one particularly large piece bobbing right next to him had the business end of long nails sticking out. He resisted the urge to grab hold of it for support.
I was freaking out, he said.
Fairbanks was finally able to grab a support beam on the dock that had not collapsed, and pull himself up to apparent safety. He kneeled on the beam and waited for help.
I was in such shock and my adrenaline was pumping so hard I didnt even feel the cold, he said.
The forklift is lifted out of the water and through the hole in the dock by a crane. Haines Borough photo from CVN
Some of Fairbanks co-workers were already in a boat that is used during the placement of the camel logs. Fairbanks said they described the sound of him hitting the water as being like that of a bomb exploding.
Fairbanks yelled to them that he was all right, and they picked him up in a skiff a few minutes later.
During the fall Fairbanks hit his head on the forklift as he tried to escape, but spared himself a direct blow by his quick actions. He also suffered some bruising and said he still has a sore neck and head.
It could have been a lot worse. When the accident happened it was nearly high tide, and since Fairbanks did not suffer any unconsciousness from his blow to the head, he was able to get out of the water without drowning. Had it been a low tide, it would have been nearly a 30 foot fall to the surface of the water, which would only have been a few inches deep in the place where the accident happened.
I was an unlucky person, I guess, said Fairbanks. But everything went perfect, so I could walk away.
Fairbanks said that he was glad it happened to him as he didnt think anyone else would have made it out of the lift as quickly as he did, and they might have suffered far worse injury.
After getting cleaned up Fairbanks immediately went back out to the dock to look at the new hole and ponder his brief encounter traveling through its opening.
After that I had some lunch and went home, he said.
Fairbanks has already returned to his job in Skagway. He said the first time back on the forklift wasnt easy, but he has a lot more confidence in the construction of the Skagway docks.
When asked if anyone from the Haines Borough had called to ask how he was doing Fairbanks said, I havent heard from anybody.
Borough manager Robert Venables apprised assembly members of the accident on May 1 and said municipal insurance covers this type of event.
Were going to see how good our insurance is, assembly member Norm Smith said after learning of the accident.
The portion of the dock that failed is about 80 years old, Venables said, but had been refurbished 20 years ago.
An engineer from Peratrovich, Nottingham and Drage was in Haines last week to inspect the dock.. His initial report, issued this Tuesday, said the collapse was most likely caused by the forward momentum of the forklift. When the machine was stopped, the force was transferred through the deck and stringers to the pile cap forcing one end of the spliced pile cap off the pile. The pile cap was then carried downward by the machine, causing it to hinge on the next pile and throw stringers and deck boards upward.
The report recommended repairs to the pile cap and six other piles in the vicinity that need to be reinforced with through-bolted timber members to increase bearing surface at the top.
CLAA pulled the forklift from the bottom using a barge and crane during a high tide on May 1. The hole on the docks surface had to be widened for the salvage. Rick Erickson, who works in CLAAs corporate office in Ketchikan, said the company will ship up a new forklift to be used during the cruise season. Well ... swap it with a new one.
Venables assured assembly members the dock would be fixed in a timely manner. The first cruise ship arrives in 24 days. We will be ready for it.
It wasnt 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 wasnt 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. Id just like to say thank you, and, yes, I will definitely be taking another cruise with them.
Contaminant count tallied
Heavy metals in soil, but not in Pullen Creek
By ARDYCE CZUCHNA-CURL and JEFF BRADY
Lead and zinc contaminants are all along Pullen Creek, Scott Host, environmental consultant, with Powtec from Juneau reported May 5 during a public presentation at the Skagway Traditional Council Center.
Host told the ten individuals present that a Pullen Creek assessment indicated heavy metals in the soil, but not in the water. Heavy metals are no longer being added, and there are no indications of excessive hydrocarbons, but new inputs of hydrocarbons (fuels) and detergents continue, he said.
In 1996 Pullen Creek was listed on EPAs impaired water body and Alaska Clean Water Act (ACWA) list as containing zinc and lead, but there was lack of data to begin clean up process. In July 2003 the STC received an ACWA grant to gather baseline data on Pullen Creek. Five sites were sampled in February, May, August and November 2004: Pullen Pond, the confluence to tributary 1, the Jerry Myers Fish Hatchery, confluence to tributary 2 and the headwaters at the rail yard.
Arsenic, barium, chromium and lead exceedences were found in soil and sediment, but no exceedances were found in the water; and no exceedances of hydrocarbons were found.
Elaine Furbish, Taiya Inlet Watershed Council (TIWC) board member, asked if citizens should be concerned about their childrens safety. Host had no answer for that.
Asked what the next step should be, Host said the preliminary goal should be to develop best management practices with Pullen Creek stakeholders to reduce risk of re-suspending soil/sediment contaminants into the creek during construction projects along the creek. He recommended monitoring water quality and contaminants to prevent the situation from worsening.
Amber Bethe, director of TIWC suggested advising people not to plow gravel-laden snow into the creek, monitoring soapy water that might be going into the creek, and urging individuals and companies to use a special detergent and to wash vehicles on gravel or lawns instead of blacktops.
Beike said excavation had been discussed as a way to get rid of contaminants, but what to do with the contaminants excavated would be a question.
When asked if TIWC should continue to sample the water, Host said, Yes, but it will cost a lot to continually monitor and gather water samples. We need to develop more ideas, submit a draft to the public, make changes, put it out for comments and do a final copy.
Proposals Host offered included: Do construction only when fish are not in the creek; assure contaminated soil is not dispersed to other locations, provide public education about riparian zones and habitat, clean up debris in creek, devise erosion control plans, monitor fish populations and continue water quality monitoring.
Host said an agreement could be drawn up between stakeholders. This need not be law but could be a set of recommendations for property owners to which it would be hoped they would conform.
A Recovery Plan for Pullen Creek will be drafted by the STC; the public will be invited to pick up a copy at the STC building, add comments and return them to STC President Amber Matthews. Property owners who live along Pullen Creek are especially urged to submit comments.
City Manager Bob Ward said, People with property next to the stream will have the most to say regarding the plans.
At the May 4 City Council meeting Bethe gave a progress report on TIWCs fish stream enhancement project at the lower end of the creek. The culvert under Spring Street and the railroad tracks will not be replaced, but other work could commence soon. Although $300,000 has been raised for the project, more funding is needed and she received permission to place a project sign and donation box at Pullen Pond. TIWC also has Dump No Waste, Drains to Stream signs that will go on stormwater drains.
Mayor tells school district to cut budget by $58,000
By JEFF BRADY
The Skagway City School Board began to point a knife at its budget this week after Mayor Tim Bourcy wrote the district that all city departments must hold the line this year. He instructed the district to cut $58,000.
The district had requested a local contribution of just over $1.22 million for a $1.8 million total budget in its initial submission to the city for approval. The request was about $143,500 more than the city gave to the district last year. But at the April 20 meeting, Bourcy said the budget as presented had to go back to the board.
No one from the school district was at the meeting, and at its own board meeting the following week, Superintendent Michael Dickens and board members said they were surprised the budget got on the city agenda so fast, and no one notified them.
We werent looking for it, said member Darren Belisle. Usually they contact us in May.
In his letter, the mayor said all departments were asked to not request increases because of the number of critical issues facing the city. Top priority is a new clinic building which will require $4 million set aside over the next three years, plus a $500,000 improvement at the sewer plant, he wrote.
With this in mind, the City Council and I ask that you and the School Board review your budget once more and, taking into account that you have no control over the increase in utilities or the PERS/TRS issues, please cut an additional $58,000 from your budget, Bourcy wrote.
He added that the Council would like to meet with the board regarding the budget but only after a new proposal is presented.
The board met in work session May 9 to start work on cuts, but after bouncing around some ideas, members concluded that they needed to meet with the city first.
The upshot of the entire meeting was they wanted a work session with City Council, said Superintendent Michael Dickens. Usually we do that.
He said members stated there are some apparent misconceptions about the school that need to be cleared up.
The city budget was due to be introduced during a special meeting Thursday May 11 after this issue went to press.
Emily Jashki, wearing her State DDF medals, and Caroline Botman react to the crowd gathered at the ferry terminal.
DDF team finishes fourth in Alaska; Jashki claims two first place medals
The first-year Skagway Drama, Debate and Forensics team continued its winning ways at the First National Bank/ASAA State Meet in Anchorage during the last weekend of April.
While the team placed fourth overall in the Class 1A-2A-3A division, it landed several individual awards among schools of all sizes.
Emily Jashki, an exchange student from Japan, took first place in solo acting for M. Butterfly and first in oration for her piece on Youth Suicide. She also took third in duet with fellow Belgium exchange student Caroline Botman for Love and Peace, Mary Jo. Freshman Shelby Surdyk also took third in oration for Made in China..
The powerful readers theater piece Judgment Day by Erica Harris (captain), Cody Burnham, Arielle Stegall, and Botman about the Columbine shootings took third. That high place factored into an overall drama score that missed knocking off perennial 1A-2A-3A state champ Whitestone by just four points, said Coach Kent Fielding.
Skagway was one of four new teams at the state meet in what is turning into a more popular activity. Fielding said Southeast teams bonded and cheered for each other as they knocked off Anchorage schools.
For eight kids to do what we did was amazing, he said. Now I have more kids coming up and wanting to do it next year.
A group of parents, staff, fellow students and coaches greeted the team at the ferry terminal when it returned home.
During the annual Awards Banquet on May 2, Fielding thanked all his team members, describing how hard some of them worked, especially during the days leading up to regional and state competitions. Most students would be at the school from 3 to 10 p.m. working on their routines.
I really thought and the students really thought that we could do something good, if not great, Fielding told the audience.
For more on the Awards Banquet, see page 16. JB
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
The most talked about item picked up at this years Clean Sweep was a marijuana pipe that U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer Boyd Worley found in a ditch north of the Port of Entry. He showed it off at the dinner. See more photos on the Clean Sweep and Folk Fest page. Jeff Brady
HEARD ON THE WIND: Hard to figure questions for the Hardware gang...
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