SNARLING & SNOOZING

A big daddy sea lion snarls at his mate and pups, as others nonchalantly sleep the afternoon away. The rookery on east Lynn Canal just south of Katzehin is a popular photo stop on the Fjordland tour boat to Juneau. On this journey, the sea lions and other marine mammals were very cooperative. See more photos in May 29 issue.

Photo by Jeff Brady

Port takes priority

Skagway delegation heads to DC next week

By JEFF BRADY

Skagway will be sending a delegation to Washington, DC next week to begin the process of obtaining federal grant funding for the future expansion of its international shipping port.
The new Yukon Gateway Project, as it is now called, grew out of last summer’s Skagway Port Development Plan, and some revisions on a bar napkin.
In meetings this spring, the Port Development Steering Committee has come up with a proposed cooperative project between the Municipality of Skagway, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, and the Government of Yukon for constructing a new intermodal dock and barge ramp south of the ore terminal, as well as modernization of the terminal and ship loader, and a longer dock for cruise ships.
Construction of these facilities and other infrastructure in the Port of Skagway “can serve as a gateway to new international business venues from cruise ships, container traffic, mining resources, and energy production,” states a one-page introduction sheet approved by the committee and various stakeholders last week. “The resulting investment has the potential to revitalize the port and improve the regional economies of both the United States and Canada.”
The project involves a new rail component where intercontinental rail containers reaching Prince Rupert, BC could be transferred to rail barges and then up to Skagway, where they would go back on rails here for northern shipments.
“Rail barge service combined with a connection with the continental rail service is the centerpiece of the Gateway Project,” the sheet states. “Water and rail service can displace much of the cost and environmental impact of trucking freight up the Alaska Highway. The result is a strategic link from the Pacific Ocean to the north.”
Paul Taylor, a member of the committee with Joe Coveno of Mineral Services and former ferry terminal manager Gary Hanson, presented the sheet at last week’s meeting. Also present were Mayor Tom Cochran, Assembly member Mike Korsmo, and Borough Manager Tom Smith. On the teleconference line were municipal lobbyist John Walsh, former borough manager and current port consultant Alan Sorum, and AIDEA’s Jim Hemsath.
AIDEA had added language to the information sheet, noting that, as owner of the ore terminal, it “has the ability to seek out new users of the facilities as well as to modify and operate the terminal with a long-term economic viewpoint.”
The delegation will be made up of the mayor, Taylor, Smith and Walsh, who has set up meetings June 2-3 with Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young, as well as the Maritime Administration within the federal Department of Transportation which administers project grants. A tentative meeting with Sen. Mark Begich was being set, as well as possible meetings with Canadian contacts suggested by the Yukon Governmnent. In addition to the information sheet on the project, the team will present a letter from the Yukon, a map of current and potential Yukon mines, and executive summaries of the Skagway Port Plan, which highlights the “Skagway Advantage” for cutting shipping costs.
The Minto Mine is the project that has put the Skagway port back on the map, and it is now shipping 90,000 metric tonnes a year through the port, Hemsath said. More customers have been looking, including Western Copper and delegations from both companies interested in building the Alaska Highway natural gas pipeline.
Walsh said the meetings are intended as a heads up before they apply for DOT grant funds in November. “It’s a competitive application,” he said.
Hemsath noted that there were no costs attached to the Yukon Gateway Project information sheet. Walsh and Sorum suggested that they define the scope and attach costs to the individual color-coded components on a map. For example, the ship loader is estimated at $17.5 million to improve, and $20 million to replace. More detailed costs would be outlined in the grant application.
Taylor said a recent meeting with White Pass & Yukon Route President Gary Danielson went well, and the railroad supports the gateway project concept. He noted that most of the project would be within the tidelands lease that the railroad has with the borough until 2021.
Also in development over the past few weeks is a structure for port governance. Committee members met with the Ports and Harbors Advisory Committee earlier this month to go over a proposed ordinance for setting up a new appointed port commission, rather than an elected port authority.
Cochran said he would like to see the commission eventually act like a department within the municipality with its own director, and the harbor advisory board advising the commission.
But for now, no change is perceived in the present structure of having the harbormaster manage municipal facilities. Korsmo has been pushing for inclusion of the almost-complete seawall/seawalk project and the upcoming small boat harbor improvement and expansion in the overall planning.
During the meeting, Taylor described how the Gateway Project evolved from a bar napkin drawing after a local delegation presented the Skagway Port Plan to a number of mining interests at a Vancouver symposium in late January.
Harbor committee member John Tronrud said he was worried that the roll-on, roll-off nature of the intermodal facility would not result in many local jobs, and suggested that Skagway residents be able to compete for trucking jobs.
Cochran said rail component would work best for Skagway in terms of jobs.
“The ultimate goal of the whole thing is to get the railroad back in the freight business,” he said.

Firefighters kept busy as summer hits

By MOLLY DISCHNER

Ninth Avenue was a fire hot-spot the weekend before last.
On May 17, the Packer Expeditions corner office at 9th and State caught fire. The fire did not spread from that corner office to the rest of the multi-use building (which also includes warehouse, living, and restaurant space) but did damage the gear stored inside.
The smoke also spread and damaged other parts of the building, an old World War II structure that had been renovated over the past decade by Jewell Construction/Rentals.
Interim Fire Chief Wayne Greenstreet said the fire was centered around a space heater, and was probably caused by either a combustible part coming into contact with the heater, or an electrical issue within the heater.
Packer’s owner, Tim Bourcy, said the company had lost a lot of their guide equipment, and had to shut down their operations for a day. The company had enough equipment in the field and off-site to continue tours after that, and is still operating, he said.
Most of the damage was from the heat, and some from smoke, Greenstreet said. Bourcy estimated the damages at close to $100,000.
Bourcy said he appreciated that a lot of people offered to pitch in and help out after the fire. “My staff response and community response was really nice,” he said.
The morning fire was reported by a Packer employee, Greenstreet said.
Firefighters also were called to a smaller fire the night before on 9th. A van parked at 9th and Alaska caught fire when someone tried to start it, Greenstreet said. That call came in at about 5:15 p.m.
The whole van was destroyed and emitted a lot of smoke in the neighborhood, but the fire was put out before it spread to a nearby warehouse or containers, he said.
Greenstreet said the exact cause was unknown, but that the old VW camper van had been sitting for a long time and there was probably a fuel leak. Owner Lucas Heger had hoped to restore it.
Fires weren’t the only thing keeping the fire department busy last week.
SVFD also responded to a Search and Rescue call on May 21. That incident was under the jurisdiction of Alaska State Troopers, Greenstreet said, so he could offer few details.
The SAR call was just before 2:30 p.m. Someone tried to climb down from Upper to Lower Reid Falls, but was injured part way and could not continue, Greenstreet said.
The rescue took more than six hours, and was done by hand with ropes, he said. Because the area was fairly rugged, they could not access it using a helicopter.

Firefighters spray water inside the Packer Expedition offices at 9th and State. Jeff Brady

Les McCormick selected interim superintendent

By JEFF BRADY

Les McCormick, a superintendent with administrative experience in small schools in Alaska and Montana, was hired by the Skagway School Board Wednesday night to be the interim superintendent for the next year while Dr. Michael Dickens takes a leave of absence.
McCormick and four other finalists for the position, including local social studies teacher and actitivies director Josh Coughran, were interviewed on May 21. The board met in executive session after those interviews, and then again for about an hour Wednesday night.
When they emerged, Board President Darren Belisle recommended that they hire McCormick, and the vote was unanimous.
“We hired Les because he seemed to be the best fit for the school of all the candidates,” Belisle said after the meeting adjourned.
McCormick and Coughran were the only two candidates who said they would work for a salary of $90,000. But board members said salary was not the main reason behind their decision. Belisle said they considered three of the candidates in the final deliberation.
Chris Maggio said he liked McCormick’s “focus on kids” in his interview.
Robert Murphy and Chris Ellis liked his experience in Alaska.
McCormick grew up in Southeast Alaska and was a principal in Ketchikan right after Dickens came to Skagway seven years ago. For the past three years, he has been superintendent in Belfry, Mont. which has a K-12 enrollment of just 64 students, he said in his interview via teleconference.
The Montana district had gone through 15 superintendents in 10 years before he arrived, he said, and he felt pretty good about getting to his third year, but his goal of trying to reverse a trend in declining enrollment was not realized. And since his daughter was able to graduate early, he and his wife were looking to come back to Alaska.
He said he “wouldn’t bat an eye” at the $90,000 salary.
During questioning, he said any district needs to follow a strategic plan in dealing with enrollment fluctuations, being aware of how many students are coming in and out every year. He said he liked the Montana system where schools are funded in three-year cycles.
“(State funding) doesn’t go up drastically year-end and year-out,” he said, but he added that he knows the Alaska system well and how to build a budget.
When asked how he does evaluations, McCormick said he likes to visit classrooms every day. In Montana, this made teachers nervous at first, but they got used to him coming in.
“I like to build trust and communication,” he said. “It makes for a better evaluation and they know it’s not based on a visit three months ago.”
He said it is important to be present in the community and “never miss a function.” He likes to have an open door policy with faculty and students and will challenge them to perform at a higher notch each year.
He said fair communication is also a key to working with the five voices on the board. “You don’t have to be unanimous, as long as a consensus is reached,” he said.
Coughran, who has been in the district for 10 years, was one of two who interviewed in person. He had earned his administrative degree two years ago from UAA and interned under Dr. Dickens. He had some interesting solutions for dealing with enrollment declines – from combining classes and offering teachers incentives to get multi-certificates, to building a dorm on the Garden City RV property to house more foreign exchange students.
He said he had received a lot of support in the community, where there are concerns about Dr. Dickens leaving.
“I don’t know if you will find someone who knows the school better,” he said. “…I’d love the opportunity to show you what I could do.”
The board also appeared interested in a proposal from UAA education professor Susan Gorton to take a year’s leave from her job to come down to Skagway, but there were concerns that she would not be in the district all the time. She said she would not take a pay cut, but that the proposal could keep her on the university’s benefits package.
Two other candidates, Howard Diamond of Yakutat and Rick Pass of Oregon had a lot of experience and good references, but weren’t willing to take the Skagway job for $90,000.
All candidates said they were impressed with what Skagway was doing, and would not change anything.
McCormick is expected to be in Skagway by early July before Dickens departs for his health leave in Arizona.

Mickey Wilson finishes the 1600 just ahead of 4A champion Zack Bursell at the regional track meet held in Juneau. Soo Bin Kang

Wilson, Weber win SE track titles, finish in top 3 at State

By MOLLY DISCHNER

Skagway earned three region track titles and sent three runners to the state meet this year – pretty awesome for a team that has no running track and only competes at regionals.
At the state meet in Fairbanks last weekend, rising seniors Mickey Wilson and Quinn Weber both ran 1600 meters, and each ran a second race. Wilson placed second in the 1600 with a time of 4:34. Jacob Kirk, from Grace Christian School in Anchorage, beat Wilson by about seven seconds to win the race. Weber finished in seventh place almost half a minute later, with a time of 4:58.
In the 800 meter race, Wilson placed eighth with a time of 2:15.
Weber’s other race was the 3200-meter race, which he ran in 10:11, fast enough for third. Kirk won that race in a meet record of 9:28.81. Second place went to Tyler Andersen from Anchorage Christian, in 9:54.50.
On the women’s side, rising sophomore Rori Leaverton placed eighth in the 3200 with a time of 13:40.
Wilson said the meet was fun, but a different experience. The temperature was about 75 degrees – much hotter than what the Skagway runners were used to.
But the best difference?
“It was kinda nice not having homework on the trip,” he said.

Quinn Weber and Rori Leaverton run at State. Cody Jennings

Skagway sent a larger team to the Region V track meet in Juneau the weekend prior. Seven Skagway athletes competed at that meet.
The highlight of the meet was Wilson’s win in the 1600. He finished the race in 4:35, and beat 4A champion Zack Bursell, who ran it in 4:36. Bursell was the race’s favorite, and no one in Juneau was expecting anyone from Southeast to be close to him. But Wilson said the two sprinted to the finish and Wilson crossed the line first. In that race, Quinn Weber placed second for the 1A-2A-3A division with a time of 4:47.
Wilson and Weber also each won another event. Wilson won the 800 in 2:08, and Weber was the champion in the two-mile run with a time of 10:18. Logan Weber also ran the two-mile, and came in fifth.
On the girls’ side, Leaverton was the top Skagway finisher, getting third place in the 1600 and 3200 races. She finished in 6:04 and 13:25, respectively. Elise Doland raced the 400, and placed sixth. Tylor Forester and Soo-Bin Kang also participated in the meet but did not place.

Klondike NHP receives stimulus funding

By MOLLY DISCHNER

The Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park recently received more than $100,000 in federal stimulus funding for work on the Chilkoot Trail and in Dyea.
Park Superintendent Susan Boudreau said that was a significant amount for the park, and enough to get things done.
Johnnie Powell, the park’s chief of maintenance, said the money was going to three different projects: one this summer on the Chilkoot, one this fall at the Kalvick House in Dyea, and one next summer, back on the Chilkoot.
This summer’s Chilkoot work will focus on trail upgrades, drainage issues, bridge repair and cleaning, and trail brushing. All of the work will be below Beaver Pond, and shouldn’t affect hikers, Powell said.
There is a boardwalk for part of the Beaver Pond area, Powell said, but the area still has drainage issues.
“Those beavers are something to contend with,” he said.
One eight-person SAGA crew (six young adults and two supervisors) will complete this summer’s Chilkoot project in about 14 days, said Powell. All of the money dedicated for that project – about $22,000 – will be spent on the crew and related supplies. The rest of the summer the park’s Chilkoot crew will continue to work on the trail’s regular summer maintenance.
Next summer, two SAGA crews will work on the Chilkoot, Powell said. The park is waiting for the larger workforce to give them more planning time, so they can use the crews as efficiently as possible. SAGA crews are busy, so it’s also easier to schedule them when they have the whole year to plan. Those crews might also do some work in Dyea, Powell said, but next summer’s work plan hasn’t been hammered out yet.
The work at the Kalvick House, where repairs and upgrades will cost about $45,000, is considered deferred maintenance. Those tasks outlined include work on the foundation and upgrades to the electrical and water filtering systems. A ranger lives at the former home of Alf and Edna Klavick, so there is a ranger present in case anything happens on the Dyea-Chilkoot unit of the park.
The park’s employees are doing the work on the Kalvick House, said Powell. Because of the stimulus funding, they were able to hire an additional employee.
Powell said the park started discussing the projects last August, and planning for the money in March when they started figuring out the work season. The money was confirmed in early April.
The park submitted the projects to the NPS’s Alaska Region office. Powell said KGRNHP’s projects were eligible for the federal money in part because they addressed a major tenet of the stimulus package – America’s youth – by using SAGA crews.
The money came from the Department of the Interior’s portion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, he said.

BOROUGH

Second reading of budget passes

After a month of committee work sessions, the FY 2010 municipal budget was brought to second reading on May 21 with an additional $85,170 to bring the operating budget up to about $4.591 million.
The capital budget jumped by about $241,000 to $15.185 million.
Borough Treasurer presented the 26 committee changes in a memo to the assembly. Many were small adjustments in department budgets. Some notable changes include:
• an additional $12,000 for the museum to care for the new Dedman Collection.
• a reduction in anticipated bed tax revenue by $20,000 to $140,000 due to the economy, a subsequent reduction in $34,687 in advertising, but an additional $25,000 to stage a spring 2010 writers conference.
• $500,000 from the Land Fund for the downpayment on the expected purchase of the Garden City RV Park property from the Catholic Diocese, with an additional $125,000 for the first loan payment.
• $30,000 for Dyea Flats improvements.
• $78,483 from the state’s head tax for a Transportation Workers Identification Credential (TWIC) station and a hand-held portable explosives detector, requested by Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska for Skagway.
• $50,000 from the sales tax fund for a columbarium at the Skagway cemetery to hold urns of cremated remains.
• $25,000 for renovation of the old rifle range property.
• $60,000 for bear proof garbage lids.
• $15,000 for flood plain map amendments.
• $23,000 addition for assembly travel to Washington, DC.
In addition, at the meeting, the assembly approved $10,000 for development of a parking lot on two lots at 1st and State offered by Phyllis Brown; an additional $10,000 for Yakutania Park trails and signage improvements; and $3,000 for landscaping at Veterans Park now that the old cottonwoods are gone.
The Service Area I mill rate after second reading was at 7.25 mills, but that may have been adjusted after the Board of Equalization meeting Wednesday night after this issue’s deadline.
Since the mayor and manager will be away to DC next week, third reading of the budget has been moved to a special assembly meeting on Tuesday June 16 at 5:30 p.m. – JB

SCHOOL

Board approves 2% teacher raises, all but 1 staff member returning

After a short executive session on May 18, the Skagway School Board voted to approve 2 percent raises for teachers and support staff in new one-year contracts with its unions, and to continue the benefits package and other provisions in existing contracts.
The board also offered non-tenured teaching contracts to those remaining with the district. Only music teacher David Lecompte will not be returning next year. Tenured staff members were offered contracts last month.
Next year’s calendar and staff schedule will mirror the current one.
School will begin on Aug. 24 after four days of inservice for staff. There will be a long weekend for students starting Oct. 15 when teachers attend two days of training at a math and science conference in Juneau. Christmas vacation begins after school dismisses on Dec. 18, and classes resume on Jan. 5 after an inservice the day before. Spring break is the week of March 22-26. Graduation will be May 19 with school dismissing on May 20. – JB

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

GRADS AT LAST – Class of 2009 members Shelby Surdyk, Alini Jashiki, Tylor Forester, Soo Bin Kang, and Meredith Hisman sport goofy glasses after walking off with their diplomas May 19. See more photos and memorable quotes on our Grads Page, along with the annual awards banquet coverage.

Photo by Jeff Brady

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