SNOW DRIFT BLASTER

Rail superintendent Ed Hanousek Jr. sticks his head out of Rotary No. 1 to check the clearance while attacking a drift at Ptarmigan Point on the WP&YR. See more photos on our Rotary Feature page in the May 15 issue.

Photo by Jeff Brady

Massive washout delays rail service into Carcross

Railroad will look at Carcross to Bennett day trips in interim till repairs are made

By JEFF BRADY

A major washout this week of the WP&YR railbed at Mile Post 37, located between Log Cabin and Bennett, BC, has delayed the start of scheduled rail service to Carcross.
A railroad maintenance of way crew had noticed some sinking in the area and were working there Monday night when the washout occurred, said Gary C. Danielson, president of the White Pass & Yukon Route.
He said the track crew had pulled its motorcar back, and then felt the ground tremble, ran back, and watched the whole area slide.
The washout measured 420 feet long, 50-75 feet deep, and about 120 feet wide, he noted. A photo taken of the slide shows wooden posts from the old 37A bridge, which was replaced by an underground culvert and buried in 1963.
“We’ve never had a problem in that area,” Danielson said. Crews suspect that ice built up in the culvert this winter and then caused water to rise up under the railbed, building up pressure to the point where “the whole thing blew out.”

Rails hang over the Mile 37 washout area, which measured 420 feet long. It unearthed wooden supports from a bridge that was replaced by a culvert in 1963. WP&YR photo

The line to Bennett had been opened by the rotary fleet just five days earlier, and Danielson was thankful the washout did not occur then, nor after regular train service started up.
Passenger rail service between Fraser, BC and Carcross, Yukon, scheduled to start Friday May 22, will be suspended until further notice. Passengers booked for travel during the suspension period are being accommodated with a combination of rail and motorcoach service.
“This is a very challenging situation, but we are confident that together with our partners, we will be able to adapt and still provide a memorable experience to our visitors, ” said Danielson. “As soon as we are able to restore the line, we will resume service. However, in the short term, we are exploring options to provide day trips from Carcross into Bennett.”
He continued, “The beauty and history of the Southern Lakes District is a unique experience that has been well received by the cruise lines and independent travelers. WP&YR’s historic eating house at Lake Bennett, and Parks Canada’s Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site are iconic elements of this experience. We’ll get through the challenge of this major washout and consider developing a new product in the interim.”

Governor pops into Skagway

Palin, staff take questions on Skagway issues

By JEFF BRADY

Governor Sarah Palin made a brief visit to Skagway on April 29, her first trip back to her original Alaska home since 2007.
The governor was at a scheduled visit in Haines earlier in the day to sign a bill extending benefits to 26 members of the old Alaska Territorial Guard.
A day earlier, word leaked from Haines sources that the governor would be taking the ferry Leconte over to Skagway. When she arrived, the Skagway Student Council welcomed her with a sign, and she shook their hands. She then drove with Dyea friend Kathy Hosford to Glacial Smoothies & Espresso, where her staff had set up a planned meeting with Mayor Tom Cochran and Assembly member Mike Korsmo. They were joined by Mindy Rowland, the governor’s deputy legislative liaison.
The governor posed for photos inside and outside, ordered an iced mocha, and met with the borough representatives for about 10 minutes. Before heading to the airport the governor made a quick stop at her old Skagway home at 1st and Main.

CHILDHOOD CHUMS – Governor Sarah Palin poses with Mayor Tom Cochran during her brief visit on April 28. She played with the Cochran kids during her early years in Skagway. After a brief meeting with the mayor, the governor stepped outside for more photos. Here she clutches her mocha and Blackberry as she greets baby Annabelle Eskins and mom Maria. Jeff Brady

She did not take questions from the media, as time was short, but she said she would answer questions submitted by e-mail through the press office.
What follows is that electronic interview, with statements forwarded by Rowland of the governor’s office:
QUESTION 1: What are the governor’s thoughts on recent developments in cruise industry with three large ships pulling out of Alaska in 2010, and various cruise line reps now asking for a reexamination of the 5% cruise tax. Also does she plan to sign HB 134 to extend the wastewater discharge permit deadline?
ANSWER: This bill will give cruise lines more time to comply with our wastewater discharge standards, a stance shared by the sponsors of the initiative that imposed those standards. The Governor will be signing House Bill 134.
The $50 head tax also was part of that initiative, and represented the will of the voters in 2006. After two years, the legislature does have the option of substantially revising the initiative. The change in cruise ship schedules for 2010 comes at a time of general economic malaise, so we will be interested to see the industry’s evidence that the head tax was decisive, above and beyond all other financial issues impacting the cruise lines and the travel sector generally.
QUESTION 2: How does the governor stand on the following Skagway capital projects on her desk that were approved by the Legislature:
• $2.5 million from the regional cruise ship tax fund for wastewater treatment plant improvements?
ANSWER: The $2.5 million appropriation matches other funds and might be enough to get this project done. The community is in dire need of a new water treatment facility.
• $1.5 million for Taiya River Bridge rehabilitation?
ANSWER: This is a priority project for our Department of Transportation. This bridge is old and deteriorating, yet it accommodates of a lot of tourist bus traffic and serves as a life line for residents on the other side who depend on it for emergency vehicle access. We included the $1.5 million appropriation in our budget proposal and appreciate that the legislature approved it.
• $620,000 for Gateway pedestrian improvements along the east side of the road down to the ferry terminal from Centennial Park?
ANSWER: These are cruise ship funds and were included in the Governor’s proposed FY 10 capital budget. The project involves construction of a sidewalk on the east side of the Klondike Highway and Broadway between the ferry terminal and 2nd street, and adding an interpretive sign that talks about the gold rush and Skagway. There is a substantial amount of tourism traffic that would use the sidewalk and view the sign. This is the type of tourism project that fits well with being funded by cruise ship funds.
QUESTION 3: Is there anything new since the April 17 press release on the Juneau Access project regarding the Dept. of Law and DOT coming up with a plan to avoid further litigation?
ANSWER: We are weighing our options, including an appeal to the 9th Circuit Court. A representative of the Native corporation Goldbelt has broached the possibility of bringing the parties together for at least a discussion and even mediation. We are open to this approach.

RCI ship carries swine flu patient to Alaska; no more stops in Mexico

A confirmed case of the H1N1 flu by a female crew member of the Serenade of the Seas was discovered after the ship left San Francisco for its first northbound voyage to Alaska this season.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notified the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) last weekend that a crew member onboard the Royal Caribbean Internatonal ship currently traveling through Alaska waters, is recovering from a probable infection with H1N1 (swine) flu. She had been tested in Washington state, and those results were confirmed for the H1N1 virus on May 12.
The patient was isolated, given medication, and was tested again by DHSS when the ship reached its first Alaska port, Ketchikan, on May 7. After three days of antiviral medication, the patient had made progress and the state’s test results for swine flu came back negative, stated Dr. Jay Butler, the state’s chief medical officer, on Sunday.
The ship had been in Skagway on Saturday.
“The Serenade of the Seas medical staff members have done an excellent job in caring for the patient, following strict isolation procedures in order to prevent spread to others onboard the ship, and notifying state and federal health officials of the patient’s illness,” said Butler.
Ship medical staff members routinely evaluate every passenger and crewmember who is identified with influenza-like illness for influenza. One additional crewmember was diagnosed with influenza that began on April 30, when the ship was in California. He was placed in isolation, treated with antiviral medications, and recovered uneventfully. An H1N1 (swine) flu confirmatory test was not performed on this patient. No other cases of influenza have been diagnosed onboard the ship this month, said a DHSS statement.
“Appropriate precautions were taken in accordance with current recommendations for controlling the spread of influenza. This is very reassuring news for Alaskans who might have come in contact with passengers and crew members who disembarked from the ship while it was in port,” Dr. Butler said.
In an earlier interview, Butler had told the News that most ships repositioning for their Alaska cruises were not stopping in Mexico, the center of the recent swine flu outbreak. However, the Serenade of the Seas had stopped in Acapulco, Mexico en route to Alaska. The female crew member started showing flu symptoms around May 2.
On May 12, RCI announced on its website that it had temporarily suspended its port calls in Mexico. This included three stops in Huatulco, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas by the Alaska-bound Radiance of the Seas, which first calls in Skagway on May 26. The ship has scheduled an overnight call in San Diego, Calif. and extra time at sea.
The state also sent out an updated release on May 12 saying that the Serenade crew member’s case was being counted as confirmed for Washington, and that no cases of the H1N1 virus were present in Alaska to date. It also said no other ships had cases at this time.
Health officials are urging the same advice they do for seasonal flu: wash hands often with soap and water; cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze; and stay home if you are sick.

Fairway meat market shut down by DEC

By JEFF BRADY

Fairway Market’s meat processing permit was suspended on April 25 after an inspection of the meat department by the Department of Environmental Conservation found it to be “grossly out of compliance.” After a thorough cleaning and reinspection on April 28, the meat department was allowed to reopen under a 30-day conditional permit. It will be inspected again on May 28.
DEC Environmental Health Officer Janice Johnson said she came to Skagway to perform routine spring inspections on several restaurants, but while here, she received “a few verbal complaints” about the meat market and some people in town possibly getting sick. She performed an inspection on the afternoon of April 25, the first at the market since 2002. What she found was unacceptable and led her to suspend the market’s meat processing permit.
“There was an eminent threat to public health resulting from neglect to properly handle and process the meat in a sanitary manner,” Johnson said. “They were not breaking down their machines and cleaning them. There was a lot of evidence that there was not a lot of routine cleaning and sanitizing going on, and the quality of some of the food was substandard.”
Her biggest concern was for the school, she said, which receives some grinded meat from the market for school lunches. But she said an inspection at the school kitchen turned out fine.
However, she said she made it clear to the market that “the entire city of Skagway depends on them for safe, unadulterated food…. They are going to have to completely reorganize process areas, clean and sanitize completely, and present to our office a plan to make sure they are in compliance with our state food code and practicing good sanitation on a routine basis.”
Johnson said the reason Fairway had not been inspected since 2002 was because that was the last year it ran a deli serving processed food to the public like a restaurant. She said it is rare for a grocery store to be out of compliance, so they don’t routinely check them. It was not due for an inspection until next year, but “there were valid complaints,” she said.
Johnson said market owner Ed Fairbanks and staff were cooperative.
“They were very humble about it,” she said, “and I truthfully don’t believe owner was aware of the conditions. Somebody dropped the ball there.”
She emphasized that taking the stern action of shutting a place down is not done lightly.
“We have to shut down when there is an eminent risk of public health,” Johnson said. “Ultimately we want him to come in compliance and run a sanitary facility. We are never in the business of putting people out of business. He was very humble and agreeable to fix it, and they are busting their butts to get in compliance and never ever allow it to get to that point again.”
The facility was reinspected the following Monday morning by another DEC office, Jason Wiard.
“After looking at it, I recommended they can get back open with a temporary conditional permit for a month,” Wiard said. “It was better, but I thought it could be a little bit better. I’ll be back in 30 days.”
Rod Fairbanks, the manager of the meat market, said they addressed the cleanliness and sanitation issues, but still have some “code things” to do. These include installing light covers and moving a grinder out of a cooler, he said.
“We’re back up and they’ll be back up in a month to make sure it’s clean and the code things are addressed, and hopefully we’ll be good still,” Rod Fairbanks said.
Wiard’s re-inspection report is also online now. It addressed several reporting and signage issues relating to cleaning and keeping hands clean, instructed meat department employees to wear hair netting, ordered placement of thermometers in cold and hot areas, and required the market to immediately resurface or replace a cutting board that was grooved and blackened from mold and bacteria. State law requires a smooth surface that can be easily cleaned.
Rod Fairbanks was given instruction on proper cleaning with bleach, and he is being required to take another Certified Food Protection Manager Course.

BOROUGH

New rifle range grand opening Saturday; new fees, rules will apply

The new AB Mountain Rifle Range recently passed final inspection and is ready for its grand opening this Saturday, May 16. A potluck barbecue will commence at 6 p.m. The gates will be open and everyone is invited to bring their own food and beverages, but no alcohol – it’s forbidden in the new rules.
The new site is located at the “new old dump” on Dyea Road. The turnout is just past the AB trailhead on the right, up a paved road to the new range.
At its May 7 meeting, the Skagway Borough Assembly passed a pair of resolutions setting up a fee structure for the range and rules for its use. The rules passed with no objection, but there were some differences over the fees.
Darren Belisle of the newly-formed Skagway Sportsman’s Club, said the fees were proposed to give users some ownership and pride in the new range. The unregulated old range down Yakutania Point road “looked like a garbage dump… with so much broken glass on the ground,” he said.
The fee structure is as follows: annual fee $50, daily fee $5, senior pass free, and group special shoot fee $25. But it was the $25 key deposit and sign-up sheet at the police department that caused the most debate.
Dan Henry said he had a problem with fees for parks, but liked the deposit idea so there would be a log of users. He said he would vote for it, reluctantly.
Dave Hunz then proposed to strike the $25 fee for the key.
“If I pay an annual fee, I should be entitled to a key,” he said. Members debated whether to have a punchpad lock instead, but most said they would like to try the lock and key system proposed by the sportsmen.
“We have to start somewhere,” said Mayor Tom Cochran.
Hunz’s amendment failed, and the resolution passed as written on a 4-1 vote. Colette Hisman was absent.
The rules passed unanimously. At the top, it stresses that the range is for all users and it is the responsibility of each person using the range “to be aware of your surroundings and other using the range.”
There are nine additional rules that include recommending eye and hearing protection, use of firearms and their state when not being used, firing at paper targets only fastened to backboards, picking up brass, and prohibiting alcoholic beverages.

No objection to school budget

The school district’s budget, with its request of $1.341 million in sales tax funds for school operations, and $450,392 in forest receipts for special programs, eventually passed with no objection from the assembly.
Hunz said he has a hard time making guarantees to the school district when numbers from other departments are still going through the budget work session process. But others at the table said the timing with the school budget is the same every year due to state mandates.
Cochran asked if they could agree to fund the operations money at the state-approved cap for the municipality, and then come back later and grant the forest receipts money. Hunz called it, “a way for them to get around the cap, that’s all.”
School Superintendent Michael Dickens said he’d like a sense of whether the district could use the forest receipts money, a so-called rainy day account for schools and roads, that was suggested at a previous work session. The district lost a significant chunk of state funding when it dropped below 101 students. Next year’s budget is built on an enrollment of 95, but it is expected to rebound the following year. The forest receipts money would fund the technology and music programs, school lunches, pre-school, and extracurricular activities. He said the school year will end soon, and they need to know the numbers before getting teachers to sign their contracts.
Henry then made an impassioned speech that how they deal with the school budget speaks to the health of every family in the community, and that to cause a program like music to be dropped because of a timing disagreement would make it hard for anyone at the table to face a parent in the community.
“I would not have the courage to look that parent in the eye,” he said.
Cochran then asked if there was any objection to the school budget request, and there was none. He added that for the school to lose more than $200,000 in state funding over the loss of just five kids was a problem that needed to be addressed in Juneau.
“Welcome to Alaska,” Dickens said.

SCHOOL

Board approves leave for Dr. D

As expected, the Skagway School Board on April 28 approved a one-year leave of absence for Superintendent Michael Dickens, so he could address health issues.
Board President Darren Belisle read the following motion, crafted by the school district’s attorney: “In recognition of Dr. Dickens’ service to our district and our heartfelt hope that he will consider returning to serve in the capacity of Superintendent of Schools, I move that Dr. Dickens be granted a one year leave of absence without pay commencing on July 1, 2009, provided that Dr. Dickens would need to let the board know in writing on or before January 15, 2010 of his desire to return to the district effective July 1, 2010, and, further, that the same terms and conditions of his employment would apply upon his return unless otherwise agreed to between Dr. Dickens and the board.”
Before the 5-0 vote to approve the motion, board member Chris Ellis said, “I’m glad you decided to accept a leave of absence.”
Dickens responded that it was “very creative of the board” to come up with the leave option, rather than seeing him resign. He said he plans to return.
“That’s my plan, I want to come back,” Dickens said, then jokingly added, “I’m negotiating with Monica (his wife). So far I’m up to three cars and a helicopter.”
In the meantime, the district’s hiring committee of Belisle, Ellis and Dickens has begun reviewing applications for the interim superintendent position. About 20 had come in by the end of April. Interviews with finalists will be held later this month after school is out on the 20th.

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

FIRST KING – Capt. Joe Warchuk of Fat Salmon Charters proudly displays the first king salmon of the season in front of his boat "Badly Bent." The 32-inch chinook was valiantly fought to the rail by Warchuk and netted handily by Aaron Thomas, who also agreed to pose for the photo.

Photo by Andrew Cremata

• RAILROAD FEATURE: Rotary fleet steams back into action

• HEARD ON THE WIND: Early wind doth blow strong...

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