Walking With Friends For Life

Tricia Radey and Abby Kramer take their dogs Kona and Sweet Pea on the walk along one of the new widened sections of the Dyea Road during the 10th annual Fran Delisle Cancer Awareness Walkathon last weekend. See story and more pictures in features below. Ardyce Czuchna-Curl

Rep. Thomas calls for Robin Taylor's dismissal

Ferry chief says he was directed by governor

By CASEY GROVE
Freshman House Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Haines) called for the resignation of Robin Taylor, Alaska’s deputy commissioner for marine transportation, while speaking in Skagway May 27 about his first legislative session.
“Don’t blame me for Robin’s decision to pull the Fairweather out of here,” Rep. Thomas told the 15 or so members at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon. “We’re going to ask the governor to ask Robin to be fired or resign ... We’re going to go after him.”
In an interview later, Taylor was surprised: “I’m sorry to hear that.”
Taylor said the announcement for the ferry changes was “almost” as much of a shock to him as it was for Rep. Thomas. “The administration thinks its a wise thing to do. If it’s successful, we’ll probably be buying more high-speed ferries.”
In a Juneau Empire online poll of 298 people, 61 percent said they disagreed with the state’s plans to move the ferries. One respondent asked why the so-called “experiment” needed to last an entire winter.
“Because you can’t do four or two months,” Taylor said, when posed that question “That wasn’t my choice. The governor wants to do ‘er, and that’s how we’re gonna do ‘er.”
A spokesman for Gov. Murkowski said the experiment was needed to make a well-informed decision on purchasing two more fast ferries at a cost of $100 million.
“The governor needs to answer the question of running fast ferries the length of the Inside Passage,” said Mike Chambers. “There’s still a lot of unanswered questions with these fast ferries.”
The two mainline ferries scheduled to run up Lynn Canal this winter will offer higher capacity, Chambers said, and the state sent out a request for proposals to have a day boat running between Haines and Skagway.
Many Haines and Skagway residents have reminded policy makers that Lynn Canal is the only profitable route in the ferry system.
Rep. Thomas, who grew up in Haines, said it was rude that neither he nor his constiuency were informed of the ferry changes, which some, including Skagway Mayor Tim Bourcy, claim is an attempt to kill the ferry system.
But Thomas, like Taylor, supports a plan to build a road up Lynn Canal. Thomas said his support for the road is based on economic concerns for Southeast. “I want access to the Kensington Mine,” he said. “I just look at it as jobs.”
“If Skagway wants some jobs, let us know.”
He disagreed with the statements of Skagway Mayor Bourcy, who said the decision to move the fast ferries was related to building roads.
“The spin about it for the road is wrong,” Thomas said.
Also speaking at the chamber meeting was Juneau Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Chris Wyatt, who said her organization has supported the highway proposal for 18 years. Unlike Thomas, who said he wanted the road to end at Katzehin across from Haines, the Juneau Chamber wants the road to go on up to Skagway.
But, said Wyatt, “We are open to a lot of things.”
Wyatt also said Southeast lost more than 1,200 residents since the last reapportionment.
“(Rep. Thomas) may be losing his seat (in 2010),” Wyatt said after Thomas had left for a meeting in Haines.
As chairman of the fisheries committee, Thomas said he was able to net Skagway $1 million to either build a hatchery or put into an existing agreement with Douglas Island Pink and Chum.
“We all like to fish, and there’s hardly anything out there,” Thomas said.
Thomas said he was also fishing for input from the communities he represents, including Skagway.
“What do you want?” Thomas asked the chamber members. “We should get a list (from Skagway).”
Thomas said his job as a representative was slightly more difficult being a rookie legislator.
“We had to play catch up,” he said.
Some of the more contentious legislation that Thomas voted on included the UA lands bill, a PERS/TRS bill that shifted public employee retirement to a plan similar to a 401k, and a worker’s compensation bill.
He also supported resolutions to form a rural task force to improve the Village Police Officers program, and one opposing fish farming.

TRAINS, BUSES, TOURS & PEDESTRIANS - The site of contention for tour companies and city officials trying to make the seawalk plan work at the end of the Railroad Dock. JB

Tour companies force seawalk design review
Carlson upset with Ward; meetings set up

By JEFF BRADY
At the request of several tour companies and its Public Safety Committee chairperson, the city will revisit its design for the proposed seawalk at the north end of the Railroad Dock.
Prior to the June 2 Council meeting, the city received a letter from Gary Danielson, president of the White Pass & Yukon Route, that questioned elements of City Manager’s Bob Ward’s written report about the completion of the seawall portion of the project, and White Pass’s role in the design of the seawalk.
“There are many congestion questions, property usage questions and security questions that have yet to be answered,” Danielson wrote, adding that his vice president of sales and service is not satisfied with the overall design, nor has he “signed off on any final plans.”
He said he agreed with other tour operators who have contacted the city, requesting that the project design team must visit Skagway on a typical mid-week summer day “to make every effort to understand all of the potential problems ALL of the users of the area may have.”
At the meeting, Ward initially responded that the city could just take the White Pass property out of the design, “pave what we have south of the tour shed,” and work with the tour companies on a turnaround for the bigger buses.
Ward suggested “tweaking rather than a major going back to the drawing board.”
But Steve Hites of Skagway Street Car Co. responded that the architects need to come to town to see how the design will affect the transportation companies that use the approaches to the dock.
Ward then responded, “They’ve been here.”
But Hites noted that their last visit was in winter and they could not have been looking at 5,000 users of the dock on a day in January. He said 50 percent of the town’s cruise traffic, using eight different operators, cross the approach which will connect the dock to the new seawalk between the small boat harbor and Congress Way.
“All of the tour companies want this to work,” Hites added. “It’s not a fabulous idea if we pour concrete and it’s wrong.”
The walk itself will be built on top of the new seawall uplands, but a major concern with the design is how a proposed visitor center in the area will affect tour vehicle traffic and staging.
Later in the meeting, Councilmember Monica Carlson said she was not happy with Ward’s response to the concerns of the tour operators. Carlson is employed by Skagway Street Car.
“I feel like you are a bit like the kid who wants to take his ball and go home,” she said to Ward.
Carlson added that she was never called to attend a meeting with the architects in January, nor were meetings with different tour agencies like M&M Brokers or SMART shuttle over the project advertised.
“The architects need to come in and deal with it,” Carlson concluded.
Councilmember Mike Korsmo urged calm, saying he was “a little miffed at the righteousness” of the railroad’s letter. From the very beginning of the design process, he said, the architects were taken around to Cruise Line Agencies, White Pass and others in the tourism industry for input, and then the architects returned with 65 percent drawings to show to the Ports and Harbor Committee in January.
“Some parts have moved faster,” he said, “but there has been a lot of public participation all the way along.”
Ward said he can bring the architect back to Skagway, but members suggested a meeting with the tour companies first. That meeting will take place today, Friday, June 10, at 3 p.m. at City Hall.
The city will look into setting up a video camera in the area to monitor traffic patterns to show to the architects.
The seawall portion of the project is complete except for the paperwork and final payment, Ward said. The city plans to bid work on the seawalk this summer and start construction in the fall.
It will be funded with a $2 million federal appropriation granted last year, and about $240,000 in sale tax funds. The North West Cruiseship Association also has pledged $300,000 over five years toward the project’s cost.

Dr. Dickens signs on for three more years

No raise, but granted housing allowance, more leave time

By JEFF BRADY
The laughter coming from behind the closed doors meant something good was happening, and when members of the Skagway City School Board emerged May 31, they announced that a new contract had been reached with Superintendent Michael Dickens.
He will continue to receive his current $100,000 a year salary, but the district has added a $375 per month housing allowance and five additional annual leave days. Dickens has been with the district three years, and the new contract is for three more years.
The board had gone into executive session at each of its monthly meetings since giving Dr. Dickens a positive evaluation in February, but finally got the numbers to agree at the end of its May meeting.
After meeting by themselves for 10 minutes, they called in Dickens and met for another 10 minutes before emerging and making the announcement.
The vote to accept the contract was unanimous, and Dickens and the board members could hardly contain their enthusiasm.
“I’d like to thank the board for being so supportive,” Dickens said, adding that the new contract means he will be Skagway’s longest-serving superintendent in 25 years. “It’s exciting that the board wants me to stay.”
Dickens has been responsible for securing several grants for the school, including foreign language and physical education programs that allowed it to hire two teachers in those areas. Reduced enrollment forced a reduction in force for the music program, but Dickens was able to get the district to offer an after-school music club. Enrollment is still on the edge of falling below 100 students, but Dickens was successful in getting the Department of Education to grant the district a waiver for moving the count period into September so it could average in some of its seasonal students. Several foreign exchange students have been drawn to the district, which continues to show high test scores.
“It’s been an education working with you,” said Board President Chris Ellis.
“I’m just so excited Dr. D has signed his contract,” added Joanne Korsmo. “Who knows what we can do in the next three years.”
Dickens gave each of the board members red roses, thanking them for a “fabulous year.”

Fuel supplier changes pricing structure

By CASEY GROVE
Local fuel supplier Petro Marine has changed the way it calculates the price of most of its delivered product, including diesel, regular gasoline and jet fuel. Petro Marine now averages the cost of fuel among all of the Southeast Alaska communities to which they deliver, instead of basing the price on the market in Seattle.
“We consider all of our inventory of fuel at all of our Southeast bulk plants as one,” said Bob Cox, Petro Marine’s Vice President for Supply and Distribution.
In the past, Petro Marine used Oil Price Information Service pricing for most of their Skagway customers, except for heating fuel customers and fuel sold at the marina.
OPIS is the most widely accepted fuel price benchmark for supply contracts, according to OPISnet.com, because its more than 40 specialists are unbiased and independent. OPIS pricing experts monitor the rack (wholesale) prices for heating fuel, gasoline and diesel, among other fuels, and they pass that information on to distributors in charge of setting the prices.
Petro Marine used to base the cost of fuel on the OPIS price in Seattle. Sometimes the company lost money on fuel when the fuel was bought at a higher price than it was sold, Cox said, because the OPIS price dropped in the meantime. Now the price for one load of fuel will remain the same until that fuel is used up, and when a new batch arrives, a new price is attached to it, thus minimizing the potential loss for Petro Marine.
Regionalization of fuel prices also benefits the consumer in two ways, Cox said.
As the going price of fuel changes, and it does every day, said Cox, there will be less of a “spike” in fuel prices from one day to the next. The new system will smooth out prices, Cox said, “so it’s not as much of a shock to our customers.”
Also, there will be less dramatic cost differences between Southeast communities.
“All these communities talk to each other,” Cox said, and when prices are radically different across the region, people start to complain. “We have to treat the whole region as the same marketplace.”
On June 6, the price of fuel at the Juneau Fred Meyer gas station, which is supplied by Petro Marine, was $2.519 per gallon for regular unleaded gas and $2.599 for diesel. There are at least three gas suppliers in Juneau.
In Haines, Bigfoot Auto was selling unleaded gas for $2.839 per gallon and $2.949 for diesel. The Tesoro station had unleaded for $2.899 per gallon and diesel for $2.989. Both are supplied by Delta Western.
Skagway’s Services Unlimited, supplied by Petro Marine, had unleaded gas for $2.810 and diesel for $2.940.
Darrell Hoover, owner of Services Unlimited, said the fuel pricing changes caused the price of gasoline to drop, but diesel pricing was unaffected at first. During the two weeks prior to June 3, the price for both diesel and regular gasoline dropped a few cents, Hoover said.
“So far, I think (regional pricing) has been an advantage to me and of course I pass it along to the public.” Hoover said he maintains a 3 to 4 cent markup for each gallon he sells.
“I think the highest prices at my pump this winter and spring were, for unleaded, about $3.03 and $3.14 or $3.15 for diesel,” Hoover said. “At one point in time, all the fuel was over $3 per gallon.”
“We were shocked when prices went up as high as they did back in February,” Cox said. He agreed that the price has since come down.
“It’s a good thing, because this is a busy time of year.”

Mill rate lowered after budget meetings
Taxes still go up; Clinic, SDC see increases

Second reading of the FY 2006 City of Skagway budget was approved by a unanimous vote of City Council June 2 with a slightly lower mill rate than first presented.
A series of budget work sessions resulted in some reductions to the general fund budget, which is now at $3.594,878. The mill rates are now: Service Area I, 8.35 (from 8.55); Area II, 6.89 (from 7.05); Area III, 5.51 (from 5.64); Area IV, 3.59 (from 3.68); and Area IV, 1.50 (from 1.54).
However, with increased assessments, taxes are going up an average of 6 percent, and the overall budget is 8 percent higher than the $3.311 million for FY 2005, said City Manager Bob Ward. Much of the increase can be blamed on higher insurance premiums and employee pension costs. The Legislature passed a PERS/TRS bill but it just made a dent in the amount cities are having to contribute to the program.
The budget will have its third reading and final public hearing at the June 16 Council meeting.
The document includes sales tax transfers to cover the clinic and school budgets. The clinic budget transfer was allowed for a year by separate ordinance (see sidebar). The city’s contribution will be $285,184, whittled down from an earlier $290,000, but still about $52,000 more than last year.
The total clinic budget is $847,170. The clinic is waiting its turn for a federal operating grant that could significantly reduce the city’s contribution in future years, said Ward.
Another budget that showed an increase was the Skagway Development Corporation. At the June 2 Council meeting, SDC treasurer Curt Dodd spoke about the organization’s budget while Councilmember Mike Catsi abstained from discussion. Catsi is the SDC’s executive director.
The SDC request this year is for $80,000, an increase over last year’s budget of $56,685. Dodd explained there was a significant carry-over from 2003 to 2004 that allowed the non-profit to have a reduced budget last year.
“This year we have been going full steam,” Dodd said, and will have a total overall budget of $124,374 next year. In the past, the city covered 100 percent of its costs, he said, but they have requested about 64 percent this year.
SDC was able to secure about $200,000 in grants for city projects last year ($15, 000 for SeaTrails, $25,000 for AB Hall, and $160,000 for the new construction waste grinder. Among the projects not funded by the city is the new Skagway Mailing Center, which will be a for-profit entity to bring money into the corporation. It was identified as a need in the community from a survey of businesses last summer, and the facility just opened on Sixth across from the bank.
Dodd and Haines Sanitation’s Tom Hall complimented Catsi on his hard work for SDC. When the final reading of the budget is presented June 16, the SDC portion will be voted on separately with Catsi abstaining. – JB

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

WASHARAMA – Fire Chief Mark Kirko (far right) watches Skagway Volunteer Fire Department firemen Tom Lux, Zach Weber, and Dan Fangmeier wash a car between two fire truck hoses next to the Fire Hall in a fund-raiser for the Skagway School Booster Club. Kirko said the barbecue and car wash raised about $2,000 for the club, and figures they washed about 130 cars and trucks. It began with the idea of using the money for school trophies and then evolved into support for all Booster Club activities. “We washed three tour buses, two S.M.A.R.T. buses and a tractor trailer truck,” said Kirko.” Those are pretty big vehicles.” Dimitra Lavrakas

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