"FUNNY AND STRONG

Second and third graders Airk Cochran and K.C. Mayo read a testimonial for their “funny and strong” friend, Trevor Cox, right, one of six members of the kindergarten class who graduated to elementary school last week. Jeff Brady

DOT 'blackmail' backlash

Rep. Kookesh gets back $1.3 million for harbor transfer after DOT tries to pull it for Juneau Access road right of way

By JEFF BRADY
A frustrated Mayor Tim Bourcy teed off on the Department of Transportation last week for “holding Skagway hostage” by pulling funding for transfer of the small boat harbor in exchange for a road right of way through the Lower Dewey Lake area.
And Rep. Albert Kookesh pulled no punches in getting the money back.
At the request of DOT, the money for deferred maintenance was removed from a bonding package while Kookesh was away from Juneau last week. When he returned May 6 and found out what happened, Kookesh said he went immediately to the third floor of the capitol and discussed the situation with Gov. Frank Mukowski’s chief of staff, Jim Clark, and budget director, Cheryl Fresca.
“I prevailed on them that the state should not be pitting harbors versus roads,” Kookesh said, calling it a “blackmail scenario.... For the state to say they want that corridor and refuse the harbor does not make sense.”
Later that afternoon, the money was placed back in a reappropriation measure, much to the frustration of DOT Commissioner Mike Barton and Deputy Commissioner John MacKinnon, who had wanted the Skagway City Council to first approve and sign a Joint Planning Agreement for the Lower Dewey Lake Area. Kookesh said he twice got up to walk out of a meeting with the two state officials, “who were not happy,” and the legislator threatened to go back to the governor’s office.
That evening Mayor Bourcy took the agreement off the May 6 agenda, and spent the first 10 minutes of the meeting detailing the situation. At the time, he was unaware of the outcome of Kookesh’s meetings.
Transfer of state-owned harbors to cities, where appropriate, has been a long-term goal of DOT, and such a transfer has been on the Skagway’s legislative priority list for a couple years, with a line item request for deferred maintenance. A figure of $1.3 million was reached but was not included in Governor Frank Murkowski’s budget this past winter, apparently due to budget constraints. With the city wanting to take over the harbor this year so it could begin work on its expansion, city lobbyist John Walsh attempted to solicit DOT support for getting the transfer rolling, and put money into a reappropriation bill. All was going well, Bourcy said, until the council passed a resolution setting up a Special Management Area and possible park for the Dewey Lakes Trail area.
Even though Bourcy had repeatedly mentioned that the resolution would not affect the proposed Juneau Access road route, the creation of a park was viewed by DOT officials as an obstacle to a right of way. It could hold up permitting of the project, they warned. Bourcy said he was confused, because he had been under the impression from DOT officials last fall that DOT had a right of way already. Walsh set up a meeting between Southeast Regional Director Gary Paxton, Juneau Access project manager Reuben Yost, Bourcy and Council members Mike Korsmo and Mike Catsi on April 16 to straighten out the situation.
During the meeting, Paxton give the mayor a copy of the Joint Planning Agreement, already signed by the commissioner, and urged them to pass it “with the boat harbor as a carrot held over our head,” Bourcy said.
“He informed me that the Council is not representative of the community, and I questioned where he got that,” Bourcy said.
Polling for the Juneau Access Environmental Impact Statement last summer had shownd 60 percent support for better ferries over a road. An ad in the Juneau Empire last winter showed 200 Skagway signatures in support of the road, but testimony during a Council resolution on the topic remained tilted in favor of improved ferries.
The three Skagway officials left that meeting “very upset,” so they set up a meeting with Commissioner Barton. “I told him that I felt DOT was trying to extort a right of way agreement out of myself and the council,” insisting that the boat harbor was a separate issue, Bourcy said.
Barton then agreed to “take the brakes off” and get money back in a reappropriation bill, but it would not be Skagway-specific, Bourcy said. When Rep. Bill Williams, at Kookesh’s request, tried to move the funds into a bonding package early last week, all was fine until a recess when MacKinnon apparently talked legislators into removing the Skagway money, Bourcy said.

Mayor Tim Bourcy explains the city's take on recent meetings with DOT officials.

“I’m very upset with what I believe is very inappropriate behavior on the part of DOT,” Bourcy concluded. “The fact that this amendment happened two days ago means that these issues are not separate.”
He said Kookesh was very upset and had talked to the governor’s staff upon his return to Juneau that day. Bourcy said he had also talked to MacKinnon, and told him that he would be removing the Joint Planning Agreement from the agenda that evening.
Council members were just as upset.
“I am pissed off about the whole thing,” Korsmo said. “We need things done to the harbor.”
He urged the Council to proceed with planning for the Special Management Area, saying that a photographer for DOT had been overheard saying that the Lower Lake area would make a great spot for a housing development.
Even Council member Dave Hunz, who has been consistent in his support for the road and wary of turning the area into a park, was not happy with DOT.
“I still support the city taking over the boat harbor but not tied to anything else,” Hunz said. “There should be no strings attached.”
By the next day, the situation was resolved, Kookesh said. The money was back in the reappropriation bill, a better vehicle since the funds would be available July 1. In the bonding package, there could have been a three-year wait.
Kookesh said that he stressed to state officials that the road has no legislative support yet, no money appropriated, no EIS completed, and likely will have to survive environmental lawsuits.
“When they get to the point of building a road, then we can sit down like gentlemen and work it out,” Kookesh said. “Jim Clark and I shook hands on it ... road and harbors are two different things.”
He added that after a long discussion with Barton and MacKinnon, they agreed to work out the right of way issue later.
This week, Bourcy said the issue was not over yet. He fears that in the absence of a fiscal plan from the Legislature (they adjourned Tuesday without passing one), the governor may veto legislative appropriations.
But he praised Kookesh for his effort to get the Skagway harbor money back.
“Albert Kookesh basically jumped on it,” the mayor said. “When he found out what DOT did with the bond package, he went off and took the time to straighten it out. He deserves a pat on the back.”
When asked to comment on the issue, MacKinnon in an email referred all questions to Paxton.
In a letter to the mayor on May 7, Paxton committed the harbor transfer funds to Skagway in the reappropriation bill, but urged the city to help him and the administration improve transportation throughout the region.
“The Juneau Access project will significantly improve transportation for all communities in northern Southeast Alaska, and as you know it is a priority for this administration,” Paxton wrote. “The Right of Way corridor remains an issue and I strongly encourage you to approve the Joint Planning Agreement for the Lower Dewey Lake Area we provided to you last month.”
In a phone interview Wednesday, Paxton said he was sensitive to Skagway’s concerns.
“We backed off and said we will treat them separately,” Paxton said. “I don’t want to inflame anything,” he added, but written correspondence from Yost about the possible park included references to “a Right of Way that wasn’t there.”
Paxton said the discussions “got much too strident” but the state has legitimate concerns about a park, under a federal highways section 4F, holding up the process.
He said his most recent conversation with the mayor was positive. Paxton added he has been to Skagway three times since becoming S.E. Regional Director.
“We clearly know there are significant local concerns and we want to be open and give good information,” he said. “We have no intention to influence Skagway politics and want to go forward in a rational manner.”

Helicopter at low tide

TEMSCO pilot, four passengers safe after chopper loses power, makes emergency offshore landing

A TEMSCO helicopter on return from a tour to Meade Glacier lost power and made an emergency landing on the shoreline of Taiya Inlet Tuesday afternoon, about four miles southwest of Skagway.
No one was injured, according to a press release from the company. The pilot, whose name was not released, and all four passengers off the cruise ship Diamond Princess were picked up by a rescue boat from the southbound Fairweather Express, and then transferred to the Chilkat Express which was heading northbound. Both vessels run between Haines and Skagway.
Inspectors from the Federal Aviation Administration arrived on the scene Wednesday to conduct interviews and hopefully get a look at the aircraft.
Jim Vuille, supervisor for the FAA Juneau Flight Standards District Office, said the helicopter was heading back to its Skagway base when it lost power.
“The pilot reported losing power on his engine,” Vuille said. “He didn’t have much time, but was able to find a spot, get the ship down, and the people off.”
Vuille said the tide was low but coming in. The passengers walked off in a little bit of water and watched the helicopter go under before they were rescued off the beach.
Tim McDonnell, TEMSCO vice president of tours and marketing, said the pilot built a fire. “It’s part of his training,” and it alerted the Fairweather Express, McDonnell said. “All on board said the pilot was excellent.”
They waited 30-45 minutes until they were rescued, and were back in Skagway by 4 p.m.
Dave Herbig, TEMSCO’s Skagway manager, said Wednesday that he hoped they don’t lose it. The chopper had been tied off by a dive crew and a salvage barge was en route Wednesday during deadline for this issue.
McDonnell said it was “sitting fine” and, as long as it is not disturbed, should be able to be picked up by the salvage barge. Then the FAA, National Transportation Safety Board, and insurance agents will start looking for causes to the engine failure.
He said the company elected not to fly Wednesday while investigations began, but planned to be operating as usual on Thursday. – JB

Noble moving on to Colorado

Acting park superintendent named, due in June

By JEFF BRADY
Bruce Noble will be leaving Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park at the end of the month, having accepted a superintendent job with Colorado National Monument.
Noble said he started looking at park openings in the Inter-Mountain region this past winter, and was offered the job at the monument outside Grand Junction, Colo. after an interview in February.
“So I took it,” he said, “based on the fact that it is a nice area, and a larger park in a bigger region with more opportunity for me down the road.”
Noble will be leaving on the May 31 ferry south. Nancy Swanton of the Alaska Region Office in Anchorage will arrive in early June to serve as acting superintendent until a permanent replacement is selected. Noble said advertising for the Skagway job closed early this month and someone should be on board by August.
Noble was just the fourth superintendent in the Klondike Park’s 28-year history, and had one of its shortest tenures. He will have served the Skagway-based park just over four years, having moved here from Harpers Ferry National Historic Park in West Virginia in April 2000.
He will be moving to a more natural resources-based park. Colorado National Monument, just off I-70 near the Utah border, has some cultural resources like Native American cliff dwellings and a few historic buildings, but it is mostly known for its colorful erosion and rock formations, he noted.
Noble said he felt “100 percent positive about the four years we spent here.”
He cited better relations with the community, staff improvements, and completion of the Northern Southeast Area Plan with the state Department of Natural Resources (regarding state lands managed by KGRNHP) as major accomplishments.
While his efforts to save the Ice House from demolition were at times contentious, Noble said he was happy with the way it has turned out.
“We raised a legitimate concern over the loss of historic buildings in the Historic District,” he said. “We drew attention to that concern and raised awareness. In a way, all the attention it drew ended up with a positive outcome.”
At the top of his list of things that still need to happen is acquisition of the Rapuzzi Collection.
“The park, the Rasmuson Foundation, and the community support it,” Noble said. “We just need to come together with the owner and reach the terms of sale.”
He said the park has made a lot of progress working with residents and users in Dyea and needs to continue making positive improvements. A final remaining challenge would be making the White Pass trail area more accessible to the public.
Noble said his wife Pat and he will miss everyone in town, the Rec. Center where she taught a yoga class and he played basketball, working with Parks Canada counterparts in Whitehorse, and the natural beauty of the area.
“I’ll miss the trails, the hiking here is spectacular,” he said, “And the view out my window. I’ve seen the view down there (Colo.), it’s nice but not as nice as this.”

Two visitors on May 6 pass by the huge hole at 5th & Broadway, where the site being prepared for a new building. the Ice House is in the background, behind the dump truck. Jeff Brady

Move afoot to save Ice House
Ice House owner Andrew Knorr and the National Park Service are working on an agreement to have the historic building moved across Fifth Avenue to park property, Theresa Thibault told the Skagway City Council last week.
The building, believed to be one of the last ice houses in Skagway, was on a schedule to be demolished as early as May 9 to make room for a new building on adjacent property at 5th and Broadway. The demolition, initially approved by the Historic District Commission in November, had survived several appeals by the Park Service to stop or delay tearing down the building until the agency secured funds in next year’s budget to save it.
It was back on track to be demolished when the HDC decision was upheld by the Council in early April, but there was still some desire to save it.
Local contractor Gary Heger, who had been hired by Knorr to document the building, used his negotiating skills to get the parties talking again about moving the building. When visiting preservationists toured the building during a conference last month, a number of emergency funding possibilities were suggested and the process began.
Continued from p. 1
The park’s procurement office in Anchorage began working on finding funds for moving the building, and Thibault said it could be accomplished by the end of May. She asked the council for any help it could offer – money, equipment or manpower – to assist with the move.
The current plan is to move the park’s Goldberg Cigar Store over to make room for the Ice House to have a straight shot across the avenue, Thibault said.
A request for proposals for the move was being sent out to contractors this week to get a cost figure. Council members were reluctant to commit to a dollar amount from unused sales tax money this fiscal year, until they see a figure. Dave Hunz suggested 10 percent, but with a ceiling of $12,000, but for now members just agreed to providing assistance in shifting and replacing boardwalk for the move. Other than that, members did not want city labor involved.
That was enough support for Thibault to proceed until Council takes formal action May 20, and Knorr said he is fine with holding off until the end of the month.
“A big thank you to Gary Heger,” Knorr said. “He reinstated the discussions to a level where it should have been months ago.”
Reached this week, Heger said that when he met with Thibault and park historian Karl Gurcke to discuss how the building should be documented, he said it would be nice if the building could be saved. They agreed, he went back to Knorr, and they were all amenable to a solution to find some emergency money and have the building moved within Knorr’s time frame, Heger added.
“Andrew said he would rather see it moved than tear it down,” Heger said. “I just felt that we had to give the best effort to save it and if there was any way for me to be a mouthpiece between parties, I’d give it my best.”
Thibault suggested Heger deserved a historic preservation award for his efforts.

CITY DIGEST: Kirko selected new fire chief
Cordova Fire Chief Mark Kirko has accepted the job of Skagway Fire Chief and is due to be in Skagway in about a month, City Manager Bob Ward announced at the May 6 City Council meeting.
Kirko was chosen by the fire chief hiring committee over local candidate Wayne Greenstreet, who has been the acting chief, and Steven Chellis of Ketchikan. The three finalists were interviewed April 13 and the committee met again and made Kirko its top choice, but it took a while for Kirko to secure housing and accept the job, Ward noted.
He has been able to find housing through August, Ward said, and will be looking for something permanent for his family over the summer. Kirko notified the City of Cordova last week that he had accepted the Skagway job and would be leaving his position in 30 days.
Greenstreet, who was the hiring committee’s next choice, will remain acting chief until Kirko arrives next month. He then will go back to being a paid fire technician with the department, said Public Safety Committee chair Monica Carlson.
Four of the five members of the hiring committee voted for Kirko, who has 20 years of volunteer firefighting experience, and was the elected chief of Cordova’s department, she said. The other vote was for Greenstreet.
Carlson set out to give the fire department volunteers a greater voice in the selection process this time. Two members were on the selection committee, and the volunteers agreed on four of the five finalists selected, she added.
“We were on the same path,” Carlson said. “We are excited to get (Kirko) into town.”

Barry Beckett conducts the school jazz band at the annual Spring Concert. After this performance, students traveled to the Southeast Music Festival in Juneau and came home with two superior ratings.

SCHOOL REPORT: Beckett withdraws arbitration request over RIF decision
Teacher Barry Beckett has withdrawn his request to arbitrate his non-retention by the Skagway City School District, and the National Education Association has also withdrawn a grievance over the legality of the local school board’s March 15 reduction in force (RIF) vote that eliminated the music program.
In an April 26 letter to the district’s attorney, Thomas Wang, NEA attorney Mike Dinges wrote that the music teacher had decided to withdraw his complaint. However, the NEA still has problems with the RIF, he noted.
“The Association’s decision to drop this issue in no way validates the legitimacy of the RIF Plan adopted by the Skagway City School District,” Dinges wrote. “It is the Association’s position that the RIF Plan suffered from various deficiencies, but our respective interests would be better served if we put this issue behind us and instead focused on ways to preclude it from happening again, if possible.”
Superintendent Michael Dickens informed board members after the letter was received and called it a positive step.
When asked to explain the reasons for his decision, Beckett said he had no comment.

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

WORKING THE DOCKS - Skagway Newsie Alicia Mitchell passes out Skaguay Alaskan visitor newspapers and a bear give hugs to passengers coming off the gangway before boarding the WP&YR summit train after the arrival of the first ship of the season, the Norwegian Sun, on May 6. See our first "Heard on the Wind" entries too. JB

OTHER NEWS

• HEARD ON THE WIND: A "Big White" Burnout...

• SPORTS & REC.: Bike Relay early registrations due May 21, Yukon River Quest entry deadline May 26

• FISH THIS!: "There are no fish in Skagway" and other myths

• FEATURE: Blazing new roads destroys toads' abodes

• ARTS BEAT: Lucchetti library painting unveiled, Folkfest fotos, Big STC weekend ahead, Case and Draper exhibit at museum

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