Cody Burnham, the loyal but sometimes annoying counsel to the prince, is smacked by grandmotherly queen Jo Trozzo for making too many announcements in the Skagway School production of The Princess and the Pea. Jeff Brady
Pool estimate doubles
$6 million to construct, $350,000 to run; study completed for another Oct. vote
By JENNIFER COLLINS
Skagwayans will have to come up with $350,000 per year to fund the operations of the pool of their dreams and likely they will have to wait two to three years to get their feet wet, consultants reported in a feasibility study released this month.
The aquatics center, complete with a waterslide, hot tub, sauna and a lazy river a lane with a slow current to walk or swim against would cost $6 million and likely require a bond measure to fund it, according to the report.
The reality is simply pools are just expensive to build and to operate, said Heather Haugland, research analyst of the McDowell Group of Juneau, hired by the city to draft the conceptual plans following a survey of public desires for such a pool.
The pool has already been tied up in planning and study since 2001, when voters approved a ballot initiative to study the costs and interest in the construction of a community pool. And in October, voters will most likely be asked whether they are willing to proceed with the pool plans produced from nearly four years of study, city leaders said.
Although the construction costs are almost double what was anticipated, the main concern for many is the operating costs, the majority of which will be funded by tax payers, Mayor Tim Bourcy said.
I think when people see the price tag, theyre going to have second thoughts, Bourcy said. Personally, I would love to have a pool, but I dont know if the city can afford it.
If the pool measure passes, voters will likely have to fund its construction in a bond measure, which means a property tax hike, Bourcy said. Operations could be funded by an increase in sales tax or the citys general fund, which comes from property taxes. Sources of funding would still have to be approved by voters, but Bourcy said he was unsure whether those questions would be also put to voters in October.
Other city projects such as the medical clinic and flood control would take precedence over the pool, he said.
The pool is a luxury, Bourcy said. If they say, Yes, we want a pool, it doesnt mean it shows up this spring.
At a City Council meeting May 4, council members discussed returning the pool to the Recreation Board for its input on the conceptual plans. Bourcy said he hoped the Recreation Board could decide if the project could be slimmed down at all.
While Recreation Board Chairman John L. ODaniel said that if the council sends the pool to his board, were kicking it right back to them.
While the bells and whistles such as the waterslide or the lazy river could be trimmed, those special features could also mean a reduction in pool attendance, he said.
I was one of the people who thought it was very important to have those things because thats why you go to the Whitehorse pool, ODaniel said, referring to the Yukon pool, which has both a waterslide and a lazy river.
The Whitehorse pool costs nearly $1.5 million to operate each year, but brings in about $450,000 from users, Haugland said she learned from interviews with the pool manager in Canada.
The waterslide... is the number one thing that gets people in the door, she said. But once they get there all they want to do is stay in the lazy river. So those are two very good things to have in your pool.
Even Bourcy said that trimming is a tricky task, because a reduction in features could also mean a reduction in pool attendance, which cuts off another source of funding collected from pool admission.
If you go to just a four-lane rectangular tub, youre not going to get the people coming, he said.
Skagway Recreation Center Director Katherine Nelson said she believed Skagwayans will still support a pool.
I really liked the design, she said. I think its definitely doable for the city of Skagway. We just have to get the support, then we have our pool.
Nelson said she believes the funding problems could be easily solved by a 1 percent increase in sales tax.
I see an increase in sales tax considering we are one of the lowest on sales tax (in the state), Nelson said.
With its current 4 percent sales tax, City Manager Bob Ward predicts the city made about $4.5 million in 2004. For every half a percentage point of increased sales tax, the city could expect to make nearly $590,000 in additional revenue, according to the study.
Council member Dave Hunz said he worried about depending on sales tax for increased revenue.
If a major disaster comes with the cruise industry, we are going to be in big trouble because we depend so highly on sales tax, he said.
According to the plan, the $6 million pool would be about 12,000 square feet and located in the lot adjacent to the current Recreation Center. The two would have conjoined entrances.
The high cost of building the aquatics structure is partly because the pool had to be about 2,500 square feet larger than estimated in order to accommodate all of the communitys desired features, said Richard Ritter, a principle architect at the Juneau-based Minch Ritter Voelckers Architects, which contributed a tentative design for the building.
A recent hike in labor costs due to a shortage of skilled labor is also partly responsible for the greater-than-estimated design costs, Ritter said.
That $6 million is going to get you a first class facility, Ritter said.
The cost projection is based on a construction start date of summer 2006. For every additional year construction is delayed, the cost will increase about 5 percent.
So its about a $350,000 hit for every year you delay, he said, addressing City Council members, who commissioned the study last year.
The council had originally believed the pool would cost about $3.5 million, and Council member Dan Henry said he was quite surprised at the new figure.
While he still supports the pool, Henry said he worries that the community support will wane when people realize the cost of what opponents consider a frivolous expense.
I dont know if enough of the community, when we put it on the ballot, will support buying an expensive toy for the rest of the community, he said.
A public opinion survey of about 100 households conducted in October by the McDowell Group revealed that about three out of four Skagwayans were either moderately or highly interested in a pool. About a quarter of those interviewed had a low interest in the pool.
Of those interviewed, 65 percent favored city funds, an increased sales tax or a combination of the two be used to fund the pool. One in three opposed public funding.
Haugland based her operating costs on the tab Craig and Wrangell pay for their pools at $316,000 and $234,000, respectively.
Theyre both bigger pools, but they dont have the additional features that the Skagway pool would have, she said.
Haines budgets about $101,000 for its pool, but that is a large underestimate, as the school district also picks up part of the bill, Haugland said.
Haugland said community members in Craig lauded their pool for the number of youngster who learned to swim in their community. Before the pool was built only 10 percent of Craig youngsters could swim, now 90 percent swim, Haugland reported.
But she hedged when the time came to tell the Council what to do.
Were not going to make a recommendation because its really up to the community and the Council to make the final decision, said Haugland.
Logan, Jewell honored for saving a life
By JEFF BRADY
Two Skagway men who saved the life of a Yukon motorcyclist last fall at the Carcross Desert were honored with the prestigious Order of St. John Award on May 10.
It was the first time a delegation from the Yukon chapter of the order crossed the border to present an award to Alaskans. The ceremony took place at A.B. Hall.
On Aug. 7, 2004, Whitehorse resident Dan LeBlanc, 27, went head-first over the handle bars of his motorcycle on the dunes. The accident was witnessed by Skagway teen Max Jewell, who then ran to alert his dad Jim, Scott Logan, and Curt Dodd.
LeBlanc had stopped breathing when the men got to him, but Logan then started mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and he regained color and consciousness. Jim Jewell held LeBlancs head as Logan continued to breathe for LeBlanc for several minutes until police and an ambulance arrived.
Logan and Jim Jewell were honored with plaques and pins at the ceremony, given by Yukon Commissioner Jack Cable and Sgt. Tim Walton, chair of the Yukon executive committee for the B.C. and Yukon Council of St. John.
I am proud to shake the hand of a man who saved a young Canadians life, Cable said.
Logan said he was proud to receive the award. Id like to thank the Park Service for the training I got so I could be of assistance, he said.
Jewell said he keeps up with LeBlancs condition through a website. LeBlanc, who was paralyzed from the neck down, is now in Halifax, Nova Scotia, breathing through his trachea with the aid of a machine, which he likely will need for the rest of his life.
David LeBlanc is coming along quite well under the circumstances, said Nicola Letoria, branch manager of the St. Johns Ambulance in Whitehorse. She said its nice to see people like Logan take their training seriously, and able to use it when someone is in jeopardy.
Max Rispin, a knight with the order, outlined its history dating back to 600 AD in Jerusalem, where it still operates a hospital that is known for treating anyone, regardless or race or religious faith. Its symbol is the Maltese Cross, worn by first aid volunteers affiliated with the order around the world.
This is the first time weve gone across the border with this one, Rispin said. Its a good start.
Jeff Litter is seen passing down part of the A.B. Hall scaffolding to Jeff Mull. Jeff Brady
A.B. Hall unveiled a day early
A May 1 ceremony for the unveiling of the restored A.B. Hall false front was cancelled due to windy conditions, so the plastic tent and scaffolding was taken down on April 30.
Carpenters Jeff Mull and Jeff Litter of Jewell Construction spent all winter removing and treating more than 8,000 pieces of driftwood, and then putting them back up piece by piece. Some of the rotten areas were replaced with more than 100 sticks from Skagway area beaches. They also shored up balconies and other sections of the historic false front that dates back to 1899 when the building was constructed for a now-defunct fraternal organization of gold seekers.
The restored sign and doors were added this week. Total project cost was about $140,000, funded by the City of Skagway and a $20,000 grant from the Alaska Heritage Branch secured by Skagway City Councilman Mike Catsi.
This is the final phase of a four-year long project to rehabilitate the inside and the outside of the A.B. Hall, said Skagway Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue, whose office is in the building, which serves as Skagways visitor center.
Over the past four years, more than a quarter million dollars has been spent on a new roof, drywall, bathrooms, a refinished floor, and interior painting, as well as this winters false front restoration.
It even looks more vintage that it did before, Donahue said. Its just beautiful. Mr. Litter and Mr. Mull did a great job and I bet this time it lasts more than 150 years instead of 105.
Passport countdown begins
Presents financial burden for larger Skagway families
By JENNIFER COLLINS
If Julie Moe wants to take her family to their relatives cabin in Canada in two and a half years, they will all have to have passports.
For six children and two adults, thats about $650 that her family doesnt have.
Right now, I guess we could get two (passports) a year, she said, thumbing through her familys expenses in her mind. I guess wed have to bump that up.
At the rate shes going, Moes family would still need two more passports for a family road trip in 2008.
Thats when new regulations will require every person to show a passport to enter a U.S. land border. At the moment, people are required only to show a government-issued photo identification and a birth certificate.
According to the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, people will already need to have passports to travel by air and sea to the Caribbean, Bermuda and Central and South America in 2006. And in 2007, the requirement will apply to all air and sea travel to or from Canada and Mexico.
For many people in the contiguous United States, crossing a land border is a rare occurrence and the passport legislation is only an annoyance. But unless Skagwayans leave by air or sea, the Canadian border is the only way out of town.
Moe and her family venture to Whitehorse for many of the amenities that are simply not available in the small town school shopping, swimming at the pool, or dining out in a city with a larger selection of restaurants. With the increase in gas prices, theyve had to trim their trips to Whitehorse to one every two or three months. But its an option that would have to be further curtailed in less than three years.
Any time we want to go together, we would (all) have to have passports. That would be a really burdensome thing on us just to have some fun, she said.
Customs and Border Protection Officer Chance Robinson estimated that about one in 10 of Skagways year-round residents use their passports for crossing the border.
Im not surprised that theres a lot of resistance; however, there are two sides to the story, Robinson said. And I think every traveler should look at ... the accuracy and the speed of doing the passport. Actually if you think about it, that benefits the traveler greatly.
The U.S. border crossing here handles about 240,000 trips through the border each year, but by far the largest amount come between April and September.
With three extra people on duty during the summer, the border office tries to keep up with the rush, but Robinson admits sometimes they do get backups.
Between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., the joints jumpin in the summer, Robinson said.
The new passport law will allow Robinson to simply scan each document into a computer and quickly verify a persons identification which is nearly impossible under the current system.
When you have eight people that are just out for a Sunday drive from Whitehorse, and they present you with all kinds of ID.... and then you enter it all one by one. It slows it down, Robinson said. How can you expect the normal human being the inspector to know which one is good, which one is bad?
Tourists make up about 110,000 of the visitors to the border station outside of Skagway, and Robinson said the vast majority already use passports for identification.
Steward Stephens, Skagway port manager for Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska said basically all passengers have been required to carry their passports aboard cruise lines for a number of years.
It must be 99 percent have passports or more, he said. I dont ever remember anybody not having a passport.
Entering Skagway by sea is rarely a problem for U.S. citizens, but many cruise passengers take day-trips to Fraser, British Columbia or Carcross, Yukon.
Currently, if a U.S. citizen does not have proper identification, the border officer will verify their identity and citizenship, usually by calling a government office like the Department of Motor Vehicles, Robinson said.
But when the passport regulation is activated, people will have to apply for a passport waiver and pay a fine, he said. In the past, the fine has been about $100, Robinson said.
Boy, if I get fined, Im going to be in trouble, Moe said when she heard about the fine.
There is currently no provision to waive the passport requirement or pay for part of the cost of the passport families with special needs, Robinson said.
He said he trusts the government will create some sort of avenue for citizens with special needs.
There are people of modest means, but has the government ever turned away a Medicare applicant? Robinson said. If you can demonstrate that the need is great for you, the governments probably going to accommodate you.
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski has already been working to provide some other option for people who need to cross the borders, said the senators spokesman, Elliott Bundy.
Several ideas have been floated including a frequent traveler card, Bundy said. But the ideas are only in the hypothetical stage, and it could take some time before the government has some firm options, he said.
The senators very concerned about the negative impact of this legislation, Bundy said. If you live in a village in Alaska, a passport may not be the easiest thing to obtain.
People may have to travel simply to acquire the two passport photos. They may have to travel to a nearby town to simply apply for a passport.
Luckily, Skagway has passport services available in town.
Skagway Magistrate Susan Reed processes passport applications here and said she typically gets more passport applications in the summer.
Reed said she doesnt keep records of the numbers of Skagwayans who have passports currently, but said her passport services have been unseasonably busy lately.
I have had more people come in, in the last few months, she said.
She declined to comment on the impact of the legislation on locals. Passports cost about $97 for people over 16 years old and $82 for children. Generally passports take about six weeks to process, according to the State Department. They can be expedited which means a two-week processing period for $60 plus the cost of overnight shipping.
After verifying the initial identification information, Reed said she sends passports off to be processed at a passport center in the Lower 48.
In order to avoid a backup over the next few years, Reed said she recommended people start early in anticipation of the passport requirement.
Gary Trozzo, Skagway School activities director, said, in gearing up for a senior class trip to Mexico, some students currently tested the speed of U.S. passport centers. For the trip, he said a few of the students were delayed in applying for their passports.
Even though, they were given a lot of lead time, it was a matter of waiting for a number of months to get it processed, he said.
He said he worried the same thing could happen with students in sports, who cross international borders a few times each year to play games in Tok. He also said the cost could be a burden on some families.
The school would not pick that up, Trozzo said. A lot of (the students), they work in the summertime. They will be able to put some of their money toward accomplishing that.
Moe home-schools her children, but said they join a 4-H cross-country skiing program during the winter. Several times each year, they cross the border to slide through the snow. Now the family will have to shell out hundreds just to have that chance, she said.
But shes not alone. Moe could only list one of her friends or relatives who has a passport.
I dont think that most people here in Skagway have their passports unless theyve traveled elsewhere, she said.
Longtime Skagway resident Wanda Self said that she doesnt see a need for the legislation in a small town like Skagway.
Its unnecessary here for us, she said. Most of us that live here, those customs officers know.
Self used to have a cabin on the Canadian side of the border. She since has sold it, but she still ventures to Whitehorse for medical check ups. She said she will probably get a passport to have just in case of an emergency.
For me, its not a big financial problem. Its a nuisance, she said. I feel bad for people like Julie Moe, with all those children. Its an on-going expense.
Moe does just about everything to avoid extravagant expenses, she said. She often hunts for bargains and tries to save on small things like shipping and handling costs. She avoids government fees by following the law. Shes only had one traffic ticket in her life when she was racing to catch a phone call from her husband while he was serving in the military in Afghanistan.
Now she said this legislation, which she sees as designed to keep terrorists out, is penalizing law-abiding citizens like herself.
Any of those terrorists can fake an ID, Moe said. If they can fake a drivers license, they can fake a passport. All of us who are going according to the law, were the ones who are going to have to pick up that tab on this one.
She said she worries that some Skagway residents will be deterred by cost of the passports or the hassle of the paperwork, and she suspects some people will simply not get the document and just stay homeisolated in this small corner of Alaska.
If this passport thing comes through, I think Skagway will become more of a bush town than it ever has been, she said.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
25 YEARS Gary Hanson directs kids and adults to areas of the town during the town's annul Clan Sweep, which he has helped coordinate for the past quarter century. See more on our Clean Sweep page. Ardyce Czuchna-Curl
OTHER ONLINE FEATURES
To read all the stories in the News, including complete city and school digests, letters and commentary, police and court reports, and view our many advertisers for Skagway products and services, you must subscribe to the real thing. Out of town subscriptions cost $35 per year for second class mail, $45 for first class mail. Send a check to Skagway News, Box 498, Skagway, AK 99840 or call us at 907-983-2354 with a credit card number.